“There’s something wrong with me!” I scream, but my voice is gone.
“Is there something wrong with me?” I whisper to my husband, hoping he’ll let me in on this mystery, but he stares at me as if I’ve asked him a question in an unfamiliar language.
Can anyone hear me? Can anyone help me? Why is no one noticing me? Why does no one hear my screams?
I shout louder and stronger until my voice becomes hoarse.
I recognize familiar faces, but they can’t see me. They move by my body, almost moving through me. They talk over me, never looking directly at me.
Maybe I am paranoid. Irrational. Illogical. Maybe it is just me. Maybe it is all in my head.
How did this happen to me? I was just floating, gliding, getting through every day. I fidget for my keys…for my purse…I feel like I can’t remember what it was that I needed to do. Where was I going? Where was I headed? I can’t remember…what was I saying?
Does anyone else feel this way too? Or am I the only one?
Then, one day, I read about her. I touched my hand to my mouth.
“Oh, my God. It isn’t just me.”
When I began experiencing symptoms of perimenopause in my early 40s, I asked my mother what to expect. She casually said, “I just lost my period. Sometimes I would cry.”
“What if my perimenopause looks different?” I told her.
“Different in what way?”
“Most days, I want to hurt myself. On other days, I just want to hurt others.”
She stares at me.
“Did I say something wrong?”
Females who were raised by Baby Boomers are currently or have recently gone through perimenopause. The difference between our generation and our parents’ generation is that we will openly discuss it. In 2015, I began having perimenopausal symptoms. I felt isolated and misunderstood, and I was having difficulty finding support. Most of the books on the shelf were written by men and were loaded with medical jargon. I needed a book that reflected what I was going through, but I wasn’t able to find one.
So I wrote my own book. That’s this book, by the way.
I didn’t feel adequately prepared for perimenopause. Nobody warned me about this stage in my life. Was I the only female who felt like this? Why wasn’t anyone talking about how difficult this was? The farther I progressed into my perimenopause and the more symptoms I had, the more I thought to myself, THIS HAS TO BE A JOKE. Why wasn’t this being talked about? I can’t be the only female feeling this way. Why hadn’t my gynecologist prepared me for this? I felt deceived by everyone older than me who had a vagina.
For a long time, women were told to be discreet and avoid discussing such topics. We were taught that the less of our femininity we displayed, the better. I chose to write a book about the truths surrounding perimenopause and menopause. Because I refuse to lie about anything concerning my ovaries, uterus, or vagina.
This book is a labor of love; it is the book I wished existed when I began perimenopause in 2015. A book about perimenopause written with compassion and filled with anecdotes from my own experience, like the road map I wished for all those years ago to guide me through this uncertain time of my life.
I hope it helps you as you progress through this chapter of your life. I wish I could give my perimenopause self a hug for everything she went through. I’m afraid I can’t, but I can offer you one.
Where It All Started
I felt a jolt of terror as I wiped the blood from my legs. Because I wasn’t expecting my period, I didn’t have a pad. I was in Huber’s class and wearing white jeans. She was the teacher who made every effort to seem cool while making several jokes.
My inner fear told me that my teacher would notice my blood-stained jeans and make a joke about it.
My instincts told me to wrap toilet paper over my underpants to get through the rest of the day, which I did. Fortunately, I only had one more class, symphonic band, remaining. I only had to get through band and a bus ride.
I silently prayed, “Please God, don’t let me bleed any longer.” Don’t let my insides show on my outsides.
If you ask any woman about her first monthly period, she will most likely be able to tell you exactly what she was wearing, who she was with, and where the crime took place. I recall my first menstrual period with such clarity that you’d believe it happened a week ago.
It was a warm and delightful late spring weekday day in May 1984. I was sitting in the back of Mrs. Huber’s 7th period science class. I was dressed in a blue and yellow Esprit sweatshirt and white jeans. I had to ask my teacher for a hall pass since I felt something warm and wet in my underwear. After getting the hall pass, I ran down the hall to the girls’ restroom.
My junior high restrooms reminded me of what I imagined prison restrooms to be like: half-doors that enabled you to easily see the other person when you stood up in the stall. Fortunately, I was alone in the bathrooms because I was in between classes. I noticed blood as I looked down at the toilet bowl.
I got my period!!
I’ve been waiting for this moment to arrive, and it’s finally here! I couldn’t wait to tell my friends, my mother, my pen pal, maybe even my band teacher? No, that would be horribly inappropriate. I was just so excited. I’d been waiting SO MANY YEARS and had watched EVERYONE OF MY FRIENDS get their periods. It was finally my turn. When I realized I had nothing to keep the blood from getting on my clothes, my excitement changed to horror. Nobody warned me there’d be so much blood. Why didn’t my friends tell me?
A day later, I was writhing in agony on my double canopy bed, suffering from my first bout of uterine cramps, headaches, and other symptoms that menstruation has to offer a female. My initial thoughts? God, I hate periods. Why was I so excited? And why does everyone keep saying I’m becoming a woman? I’m fourteen fucking years old? I can’t even legally buy a pack of cigarettes, but I’m a woman because blood pours out of my vagina every 28 days?
I started getting terrible migraines three months before my 45th birthday. It happened in January, immediately after the holidays, and I just believed it was because of the stress, the cold weather, and my typical monthly cycle.
But these weren’t the usual monthly hormonal headaches I’d have with my period. I had 15 headache days in a row out of 31 in a month. My headaches grew so terrible that I had to see my internist. She requested an MRI and blood work. She theorized it may be related to stress, life, and hormones when all of my testing came back normal.
Within a few months, I began to experience mood swings that were not like my premenstrual mood swings. I’d be overwhelmed with rage and felt like my insides were on fire. My emotions and instincts were all over the place. I couldn’t concentrate and was forgetful. I didn’t understand it at the time, but these new symptoms were my body’s reaction to my estrogen levels rapidly decreasing.
I was beginning perimenopause.
A few months after my symptoms began, I went to see my gynecologist for my yearly checkup. I informed her of my headaches, brain fog, and mood swings. “Your blood tests from last autumn revealed your hormone levels were close to being in the perimenopause range, so you are likely there now,” she said matter-of-factly, peering at the numbers on my chart. I looked at her as though she had just told me I was pregnant.
“Where am I likely??”
“In perimenopause! It’s no big deal.”
“NO BIG DEAL??”
Pause the freak out for a moment.
My gynecologist is really laid back. She treats me as though I, too, am carefree. I’m far from it, but it’s endearing that she thinks I am.
Resume the freak out.
All the following thoughts started racing through my mind after she informed me I was in perimenopause:
My children are still living at home! (For some reason, I shouldn’t be going through it with them at home witnessing it)
Why didn’t she say anything to me last fall? (Why wouldn’t she inform me that my numbers were within the perimenopause range, whatever that meant?)
I still get my period every month! (How is it possible to be in perimenopause and still get a period each month?)
I’m too young to be going through perimenopause! (Isn’t that reserved for the elderly?)
I didn’t even know what perimenopause was, let alone what it wasn’t. I had no idea I was approaching perimenopause, and I had a great relationship with my gynecologist. She commented on how young I was to be starting perimenopause at 44, thus she inquired as to how old my mother was when she started her perimenopause.
“I have no idea! Is this information I should know??”
While my gynecologist laughed off my question and began my pelvic exam, I hurriedly texted my mother while my feet were in the metal stirrups.
“Mom! I’m at the gynecologist…. “Do you remember how old you were when you first went through menopause?”
I don’t recall what my mother texted back, other than the fact that she was in her fifties. My mother was unaware of her mother’s age because it wasn’t something they discussed at length. My doctor said menopause wasn’t something women liked to discuss back then. Not much has changed.
It was 70 degrees, sunny, and warm on the day I found out my body was approaching perimenopause. I drove home from my gynecologist’s office with all the windows down and the sunroof open, tears flowing down my face. I recall the song on the car radio being one of my favorites when I was 21. When I was younger, I had long flowing hair, I smoked cigarettes, I had a metabolism, and I had a future ahead of me. But on this particular day, I felt old. It felt like my life had an expiration date.
Do you have to be “diagnosed” with perimenopause or are you just “going through it?” I was drifting along in my life until I discovered I was in perimenopause. It was the equivalent of turning up to an exam for which I had not prepared. I would have wanted to have had the exam notes, or at the very least, the Cliffs Notes. Why didn’t I have the notes with me? What happened to the notes? Is anyone aware of the location of the notes?
When a woman enters perimenopause, it’s a tremendous life adjustment, yet we don’t talk about it nearly enough. There is a sense of hesitancy and secrecy around perimenopause and menopause, which drives many women to remain silent. Why?
There is no shame in losing our periods. It’s a normal aspect of the female experience. Every day, millions of women lose their periods. There goes one now! There goes another one! Despite this, we seldom hear anything about menopause on the news or on television. I can promise you that if men went through perimenopause, every news station in the world would have a nightly feature about it.
Do you recall seeing “the movie” in the sixth grade? If your school was like mine, the males and females were separated into two different classrooms. The females at my school saw a movie about getting our menstrual periods and body changes, while the males watched a movie on their bodily changes in a different room down the hall. After seeing “the movie,” I was well-informed about my period, my body, and what to expect. Why are we so well informed about the coming of our periods, yet so little educated about the departure?
Where is “the movie” on what happens to our bodies when our periods end? Where are the doctor’s appointments to prepare us for perimenopause care? What about post-menopausal care options?
Your gynecologist may provide some statistics or refer to your chart if you seek any of the aforementioned possibilities. They may also tell you that there is a wealth of information online. They aren’t mistaken because there is a wealth of information on the internet, but the reality is that when it comes to perimenopause, we are still woefully undereducated.
Now I recognize that by the time you reach this stage of your life, you have a greater grasp of the female reproductive system than you had in sixth grade. I also recognize that most of us can use a computer to check for facts on the internet. But how can you know which information is reliable? What if you’ve already had a hysterectomy? What if you’re hesitant to see a gynecologist?
These are legitimate concerns. Because there is no perimenopause “movie,” let me offer you my version. Consider me your sixth-grade teacher.
You may listen to my podcast to hear me read this book (you may have to scroll to the episode of your choosing):