Nobody Told Me
Updated: Sep 2, 2019
In the interest of full disclosure, I may not be in my right mind while writing this. To find out, keep reading why. Nobody told me this was coming. In conversations with ladies of the same age, no one told them either.
The P word.
I remember years and years ago when a character on One Life to Live (Nora Hannon Gannon Buchanan, in case you used to watch too) went to the doctor seeking answers for her mysterious symptoms, and this is what the doctor told her she had. But it's a soap opera. Not realistic in the least. Certainly not enough to put stock in what poor Nora was going through. Yet here I am, living a fact that definitely imitates fiction.
Here's the thing: nobody talks about perimenopause.
Menopause, sure. I know the hot flashes and the weight gain. I've heard stories.
What about the 5-10 years leading up to that? Well, buckle in because I'm going to tell you that it's a whole lot of suckage. Woo hoo!
Let's start with the fact that I've been regular for ... oh my whole post-pubescent life. So basically, since I was 13, I was at about 28 days for my cycle. To the point where I would start on Tuesday evenings. I could predict a day or two of back pain, some breast tenderness, and a little cramping.
About four years ago, things started changing. I'd find myself on a Saturday with my period starting. Stabbing pain in my lower abdomen mid-cycle. Flow that was heavier than anything I'd experienced since my teen years. And cramps. Freakin' cramps. It was enough that I even went to the doctor several times. My primary thought I might have a touch of endometriosis. My GYN put me on the pill and told me that when the symptoms were severe enough that I was missing work each month, they'd consider me for exploratory surgery to look for endometriosis.
In the meantime, my dad had a stroke. Actually, he'd had several, as well as blood clots in his legs. And literally the day the doctor prescribed birth control, he was hospitalized for his biggest stroke. I was 38 at the time. I took the pill for a while and dammit if it didn't help. But with my age and my family history (my hematologic health follows my dad's closely), I didn't feel comfortable staying on the pill.
Not to mention the weight gain. And nothing I did helped. I didn't like the idea of being on something that could increase my stroke risk until I hit menopause. So I went off the pill. And eventually, the pain came back. The cramps came back.
And they brought friends. Irregular periods (45 days one month, 20 the next). Sometimes I get my period without any symptoms. That's always fun when you're out and about. Sometimes, I have the worst PMS symptoms for two weeks before it finally starts. I have to wear a pad every day because it feel like it could start at any moment. My breasts get tender. Worse than pregnancy tender. Bordering on mastitis tender. I don't remember the last time I was able to not wear a bra, even for sleeping. Then, even while wearing a bra, I have to hold the girls walking down the stairs because they hurt.
Stabbing ovarian pain is a frequent companion. Hot knives stabbing in my lower abdomen. I'm prone to follicular ovarian cysts, so when I get one, that's always fun. I've stopped going to the ER for them because they won't do anything other than give me pain meds and tell me to follow up with my doctor.
BTW, the treatment for follicular cysts is the pill. So, it's a grin and bear it for me.
I also have significant digestive irregularities that get worse around my cycle. No matter what I eat, how much water I drink, or what meds I take for my IBS, I'm guaranteed to have about 2-3 days a month of constipation followed by the opposite. You fill in the blanks. Even when that's not going on, about three times per year, I get massive abdominal bloating where I look about 5 months pregnant over the course of the day. It's painful and nothing abates the feeling. The next morning, my abdomen is usually back to normal, but man, those days are tough.
Here's where we get a little graphic. The flow has changed. Like, a lot. Gone are the days of being predictably heavy on days one and two, medium on three and four, and super light on days five and six. Now, who knows? Some months, it can be like that. Other months, I go through a pad (and I mean a heavy flow pad) in an hour or so. There are clots. Tampons are only useful to help a pad last two hours rather than one. I can't do something so foolish as just wear a tampon. And I can go to a light day and then get heavy again. I literally feel drained. Sometimes I wonder how I don't need a transfusion. My husband nods as I get another Amazon Prime delivery full of feminine hygiene products. I look forlornly at my white pants, knowing that even though they look great, I shouldn't tempt fate. It's asking for trouble.
For the first time in my life, I consider calling into work and crawling into bed until it passes. But I don't know that I can miss three days every month. That's 10% of my life.
But wait ... there's more. In addition to back pain, I also get super awesome cravings (all the salt), which totally helps with the mid-life weight gain and bloat. Hot flashes and night sweats are here to stay. And then there's the PMS. I cried the other day for about 2 hours of chips and queso. Yes, there was more to it but chips and queso. Dude. I knew I was being irrational, but I couldn't stop crying.
And since that's not enough, let's add crippling anxiety. Especially at about 3 am. That's the perfect time to lay awake, thinking about all the things you should have done, need to do, and what you should have done differently. Makes for a great morning when the alarm goes off at 5:15 am.
And then let's talk about the hair falling out, the chin hair, the acne, the bloat, the scattered brain, and the inability to remember anything.
But apparently, it's all normal.
There's a whole other blog post here, asking if we can do better for women. I feel like crap all the time. The world doesn't care because we keep pushing through, chugging along while we want to tear our skin off. Doing all the things when we want to crumple into a ball. Taking deep breaths, tightening our grasp on the steering wheel as those red hot pokers skewer our ovaries. Showering twice a day, despite my dried-out skin to wash the sweat and period grossness away.
So I'm open for suggestions to how to control all of this (or at least manage the symptoms). I don't know how I can keep working two jobs (physical therapist and writer), being a wife and mother, and do all the things I need to do without going absolutely totally off the deep end. I feel like crap. I don't feel comfortable in my own skin. My husband looks at me like I'm crazy.
I probably am.
(But we still have to laugh. Enjoy this clip.)