Not My Mother’s Menopause- Chapter Three

Chapter 3
There Will Be Farting
I was in my third year of perimenopause, and I was plagued with migraines, anxiety attacks, vertigo, and emotions I didn’t even realize existed. I’d been without a period for six months and I hoped that I was finally out of the woods.
I could see the clearing. I could almost taste freedom.
I was at Olive Garden with a friend for lunch when I felt a familiar gush after laughing.
No.
Oh, HELL no.
I excused myself and went to the restroom, where I considered grabbing a bottle of their Moscato on the way and guzzling it in the stall if there was even a drop of blood on my underwear.
I enter the stall and slide my underwear over my bulging hips when I see the familiar red stain.
Dammit.


In 2017, I published a blog post titled “Did You Know There Are 34 Menopause Symptoms?” I’d been in perimenopause for over two years at that point and I hadn’t really written about it. I mentioned it here and there, usually writing about my migraines and anxiety, which were the symptoms that were bothering me the most.


Now that I think about it, I’m not sure why I didn’t write more about my perimenopause while I was experiencing it. I had a public platform where I could discuss my problems and develop a support network, but I never truly used it. Today, my blog is a tremendous source of support, but I’m in a different mindset, which I’ll describe later in this book. When I was in perimenopause, I was so consumed by‌ my pain and shame that I felt compelled to be silent about it, although I desperately wanted encouragement while going through it.


The symptom post’s theme was rather straightforward, and it was well-received by many of my female readers. It didn’t surprise me, though, that the overriding tone in the comments and the emails I was receiving was astonishment. Nobody, not even the women’s physicians, had notified them of the many symptoms I was describing.
When I wrote that post, I had no intentions of becoming a health teacher. I was just having fun pairing each symptom with a relevant 80’s song for the generation who was approaching perimenopause at that time. Women were sending me emails and leaving comments on my social media posts to say how much they appreciated my efforts in making them feel less alone.


Many of them stated they were unaware that the symptoms they were experiencing indicated perimenopause. Some were frightened that it was a sign of something more severe, while others believed they were losing their minds. The issue, in my opinion, is that not all women experience these symptoms. That might explain why we haven’t heard of them.


But there is another aspect that I’d like to discuss. For generations, women have been encouraged not to reveal their vulnerability and to keep these feelings on the inside so that they do not make others uncomfortable. We’ve been duped into believing that menopause isn’t that bad because of this brave face mindset.


It’s quite unlikely that you’ll encounter all 34 perimenopause symptoms. That’s about the same as your chances of winning the lottery or getting hit by a meteor. This isn’t something I can speak authoritatively about because I’m neither an actuary nor a scientist.


I won’t go into all 34 of them here, but you can look them up online. I’ll focus on the ones that have ‌tormented me the most, as well as the traditional perimenopause suspects.


Hot flashes


I didn’t have hot flashes until I was in my third year of perimenopause; you could call me a hot flash late bloomer. That all changed during the winter of 2018. I became sick with the flu for three long weeks. As you might expect, I got my period during those three-weeks. Mind you, I was still getting my period regularly even though I had been in perimenopause for three years.
So keeping track here: virus, period, perimenopause. Gangrene anyone?


I spent most of the time I was sick playing a dreadful game of “Is this symptom the flu? PMS? Anxiety? Or Perimenopause?” But it was the persistence of my fever that troubled me the most. By the fourth week, I had stopped taking my temperature since my usual anxiety was unbearable because of the confluence of it along with perimenopause, PMS, and virus coinciding. I felt like I’d never recover, and just being in the room with a thermometer made my vagina sweat, so I stopped taking my temperature entirely.


When it didn’t appear that I was improving, I made an appointment with my doctor. I told the nurse how I’d been feeling while she was taking my blood pressure. My cheeks felt as if they were on fire as I told my story. As I was telling her this, she dropped the blood pressure bulb and took my temperature. The reading was 98.6. Perfectly normal.
She then looked at my face, noticed my flushed cheeks, and smiled.
“Girl, you’re having hot flashes!” she exclaimed.
I’d been having hot flashes while recovering from the flu. Not fevers.
Oops.


Hot flashes felt like someone had lit a campfire inside of me. My cheeks and ears would turn bright red. Sometimes my face would get splotchy looking and feel warm to the touch, almost like a sunburn. I’ve heard some women describe their hot flashes as red heat creeping up their neck, but I never had experienced that. Some women never get a hot flash in their life. Can you imagine that? Rub up against them for luck.


Vertigo


In 2016, I experienced my first bout of vertigo while on vacation with my family in Utah. I woke up in a hotel room and the entire room felt sideways. I had to support myself against the walls in order to get to the bathroom. Later that day at an urgent care, they weren’t sure what was causing my vertigo. However, they determined I hadn’t had a stroke or a heart attack. Well, that’s good news?


My anxiety skyrocketed following that trip because I looked up what illnesses can lead to vertigo. Sometimes it’s good to be oblivious, especially when you have anxiety.
When I went to my neurologist at home, she diagnosed me with an inner ear crystal problem and said it was nothing to be concerned about. I was prescribed physical therapy, as well as blood pressure medication, to deal with both my migraines and my newfound vertigo.


It felt like I was developing one symptom after another. None of those physicians, physical therapists, or urgent care physician assistants ever asked me a critical question: are you in perimenopause?


Did you know that vertigo is a perimenopause symptom? It’s okay if you don’t. I didn’t know until I wrote that post in 2017, a year after my first vertigo attack in Utah. I also learned that vertigo is a symptom of anxiety. It’s possible I was experiencing vertigo because of perimenopause, and it was becoming worse with each new symptom I experienced.


There is one piece of advice that I can give you that has benefited me and might have saved me a lot of time and money, especially if you do not have access to health insurance. Look up the Epley Maneuver; it’s a method that I found to be quite beneficial while I was experiencing bouts of vertigo.


Was my vertigo a symptom of perimenopause? I’m not sure. I’ll tell you that since finishing perimenopause and entering menopause, I haven’t experienced a single vertigo incident.



Sleep


Sleep is, without a doubt, the most important factor in replenishing and rebuilding our physical bodies. It’s also the most underappreciated aspect of ‌mending and healing. It wasn’t until I started getting a decent night’s sleep that I realized how underappreciated it was. In the middle of my perimenopause, I woke up between 3:30 and 4:00 a.m. practically every day. Not for a career, not to be a go-getter, not to keep my house immaculate, and not to be better than everyone else.
I was waking up because I was in pain. It was occasionally because of anxious thoughts, hot flashes, palpitations, or my snoring husband, but mostly, I was waking up at 3:30 am every day for five years because of headaches.


I cannot overstate the importance of sleep, and I’m not sure why we don’t talk about it more. Consider how you feel when you are deprived of adequate sleep. Now add 34 perimenopausal symptoms on top of a bad night’s sleep. How well do you think you would handle it? How would you feel if you tacked on a menstrual period to the mix? Could you be an outstanding employee? Or an excellent mother? It seems almost unfair, doesn’t it?


Now that I’m no longer in perimenopause, I get roughly 9-10 hours of sleep every night because I’m no longer sweating, I’m not experiencing headaches like I used to (more on that later), and I’m not as anxious as I was because I’m on an antidepressant. I wonder how different my perimenopause would’ve been if I had gotten the amount of sleep I’m getting today.


Neuroscientist Matthew Walker sums it up best in his book, Why We Sleep: “Lack of sleep is a slow form of self-euthanasia.” During my five years of perimenopause, I felt like the walking dead. If I were to propose one thing to women going through perimenopause, it would be to prioritize getting enough sleep in any way you can.


Farting


I was using a public restroom at Target a few years ago, hovering over a toilet bowl, holding my winter coat up so it didn’t get wet in the toilet water, and keeping my purse from touching the floor when I felt a fart coming on. But I didn’t want to fart in public, so I tried everything I could to keep the fart in.


So there I was, hovering and riding out a fart in a Target bathroom, listening to Justin Timberlake croon about rocking his body and hearing other women come and go, when I thought to myself, HOW DID I GET HERE? I AM A GROWN WOMAN! JUST FART ALREADY!


Still, I clenched my buttocks to keep the fart from escaping. I eventually started urinating when I felt it was safe. Eat your vegetables, take your vitamins, and go to the doctor regularly so that you can grow old and have to wait 15 minutes in a Target bathroom stall to fart in peace.


I lost track of how many times I farted while writing this book. I even contemplated writing a full chapter about farting. Farting is something I’ve grown pretty adept at since entering perimenopause. This is not something your gynecologist will tell you about. This is also something you may not discuss with your primary care physician since they will presume you have a problem. But you don’t have a problem. Your “problem” is “perimenopause.”


Along with the farting, I also experienced heartburn throughout perimenopause. These were also symptoms I had with both of my pregnancies, as well as my premenstrual symptoms. Rather than advising women to study their moms’ menopause in order to gain a sense of what their perimenopause would be like, perhaps we instead advise them to study their premenstrual symptoms?


Tummy issues are common during perimenopause because of estrogen and enzyme production in the intestines. In a nutshell, there will be farting. And pooping. And bloating. And burping. You may be a lot of fun to be around. Kids will adore you. You’ll be a hit at parties.


*Of course, if you are experiencing stomach issues that are giving you trouble, consult a gastroenterologist.


*However, expect to fart every time you urinate for the rest of your life. Welcome to the club.


Brain function


Many of the books on perimenopause that I had read did not address brain fog. My brain function worsened with each year of perimenopause, and I grew frightened that I was developing dementia. When I was in the thick of perimenopause, several of my doctors weren’t sure if brain fog constituted a symptom.


I felt like screaming at every appointment:
WHY ARE DOCTORS STRUGGLING TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IS GOING ON IN WOMEN’S BODIES? IS THIS THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY THAT WOMEN ARE EXPERIENCING MENOPAUSE?


One internist even proposed that I be tested for Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages. My anxiety level rose until I saw an article by a psychologist that mentioned brain fog as a frequent perimenopausal symptom. The culprit? It begins with the letter E and ends with an asshole. *
*Estrogen


I consume a well-balanced diet, exercise six days a week, and take magnesium daily. Every day, I use my brain by meditating, reading books, talking with friends and family, and writing. My intellect isn’t idle, but it’s trapped in no-man’s-land on most days.
There is still a lot of work to be done in the research on brain fog in perimenopausal women. The message is clear- women’s health is still not taken as seriously as it should be, particularly as women get older.


Rage


My youngest daughter recalls how distraught I used to get when I had periods. She refers to my rage as “beast mode.” It was when my wrath could no longer be kept inside the confines of my body.


When I had periods, the week leading up to them would be filled with a variety of symptoms, but the most distressing was the rage. I could not restrain myself. I recognize now that it was rage compounded by years of undiagnosed and untreated mental health concerns. When I experienced the symptoms of perimenopause, my anger grew much worse.


I was unsatisfied with many aspects of my life, but the shame I felt during perimenopause exacerbated my anger and the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, resulting in a rage that filled me with loathing on the inside. I detested everyone and everything, including my friends and family, and most importantly, myself.


I desperately needed to hear that others were experiencing feelings of rage as well. What was it about me that made me so enraged? Was there anyone else who felt enraged? Because it was such an alienating experience, I attempted to cram everything back down inside of me, which just made things worse.


It’s quite alright to be enraged. Don’t ‌stuff it back into your own body. Consider feeling it, writing about it, screaming into a pillow, screaming in the car while traveling with your partner, or screaming by yourself. Get all the rage out of your system. Just don’t pass it on to an unsuspecting individual, and please don’t ever feel bad for feeling that way in the first place.

*This quote by Marianne Williamson changed how I looked at rage: “Just because someone isn’t expressing their rage, by the way, doesn’t mean they don’t have any. Rage turned outward is called rage. Rage turned inward is called ulcers and cancers and things like that. The unhealthiest thing you can do with anger is to deny you have any.”



A symptom of symptoms


Two years into my perimenopause, I had lost my motivation. I didn’t have the motivation to accomplish much of anything. I didn’t want to go anywhere, and I didn’t want to be around other people. This lack of drive was initially mistaken for depression, although that was not the case. It wasn’t sadness; it was indifference. It felt like a reaction to everything that had been going on inside of me—a manifestation of all my symptoms.
It was a symptom of all of my symptoms.


I was drained from the hourly hot flashes that would trigger migraines, from the headaches that would leave me feeling hungover, and from the lack of sleep caused by a multitude of circumstances such as night sweats and waking up to urinate two or three times a night. I was exhausted by how my mental health problems had taken over my entire body. There were many days when I would do the bare minimum to get to bedtime.


As far as I know, there is no treatment for this condition. The profound loss of motivation I felt during perimenopause, on the other hand, was very real. It was simply placing one foot in front of the other to get to the next day.


One less perimenopausal day. One day closer to menopause.


There is absolutely nothing wrong with you, you magnificent gassy, sweaty, weary, angry, wonderful human being. You are not the only female who has had a urinary tract infection. You’re not the first woman whose cheeks get bright red and blotchy several times a day. And you’re certainly not the first lady to forget her own phone number when booking a doctor’s appointment.


You’re in good company, and if more women spoke up about these difficulties, we’d feel so much less alone, wouldn’t we? Millions of women wet their pants when they laugh, wake up to a sweaty mattress, and fart endlessly, and the greatest tragedy is that we assume we are alone.


Never be reluctant to talk about these topics with a female friend, your daughters, your mother, and, most importantly, your gynecologist. The more we discuss it, the less taboo it will become. There is nothing shameful about your body or your vagina—your wonderful, beautiful, blessed vagina. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her.