****Warning! This post contains graphic “women stuff” AKA bodily functions common to healthy women over the age of 40. If that kind of stuff squicks you out, be thankful you don’t have to go through it yourself. You can also choose not to read this, unless you want to actually learn a thing or two about the reality of peri-menopause and the female body and mind. ****
Some of you may recall The Thing I Didn’t Want To Talk About. Well, it’s high time for an update because I’ve been banging my head against the wall of my uterus since that post but I finally acquired some useful information.
To update you: After I was diagnosed as perimenopausal at the ripe old age of 42, my doctor spelled out my options. Basically, I could go on low-dose birth control pills and take iron supplements or I could tough it out. I chose the former because collapsing into a sobbing mess and then passing out from anemia in the middle of Wal-Mart was oddly unappealing to me.
I did try going off the birth control pills for a short time because they make you break out and gain weight, and that did nothing to help with my general frustration and depression, but even the slight help they offered my tortured body was better than nothing. I have been on them ever since, feeling bloated and heavy and gross, but with 10% less bleeding so…yay?
And let’s stop here to talk about bleeding. (I did warn you this would be graphic.)
I have struggled with my periods for a long time. My first one was at the age of eleven—the horror—and those pubescent periods flowed like the mighty Mississippi. Pre-tampons, I used to be forced to wear the biggest, bulkiest pads made. Try to imagine an eleven-year-old girl trying to hide a pad the size of a guinea pig during PE and dance class. It wasn’t pretty. Or fun. And it didn’t help that no one in my family talked about anything even remotely sexual, which meant I spent my youth in a constant state of shame about this most natural monthly event.
I only learned about tampons by overhearing a conversation between my girlfriend and her fantastically progressive and liberal mother. Thank you Mrs. Craig for changing my life even if you never realized you changed my life.
By the time my cycle had slowed to a somewhat normal rate in my very late teens, I faced another problem: endometriosis. The excessive bleeding had diminished, replaced by pain that would drop a T-Rex to its knees. Hooray!
There were about six or seven awesome years, after the surgery for my endometriosis, where I had no pain and a normal period. The golden age, I like to think of it. Then, perimenopause struck and we’re back to the heavy flow. Oh, but with a twist, because life is hilarious! Now, the heavy flow is no longer the Mississippi, it’s Niagra Falls. WHOOSH! Out it all comes in one massive waterfall. Bloodfall? And it happens randomly. Like, I can be almost done with a cycle, down to teeny tiny spotting, then WHOOSH…ha ha, just kidding! Oh, and periods now last anywhere from 7 to 21 days, and the time between periods is about the same, plus I get wickedly painful cramps. I am basically a non-stop blood factory.
Result: Anemia. I eat at least one steak per week and take iron supplements every day (when I remember, I’m only human).
All the other symptoms are still going strong. The hormonal narcolepsy hits me at all kinds of inappropriate moments. It hit once as I was parking my car and getting ready for an eight hour shift at work. Thankfully I carry caffeine pills with me—life saver! I get depressed and anxious for no reason. I go through crying spells for no reason. Then I get frustrated. Then angry. Then depressed again. Because who doesn’t enjoy changing things up now and then? I’ve gained at least ten pounds and my fitness routine is wildly erratic (more about that later). On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being “teen boy horny”, my sex drive most often hovers between 0 and 3. You can imagine how happy Hubs is about that. Yeah, no stress there. Nuh uh.
My breasts ache and are ridiculously tender and sensitive. I almost slapped myself once for brushing a nipple while dressing. Also, not conducive to marital bliss. And when I do manage to pump myself up (pun recognized but not intended) for sex, ol’ Vaggy just ain’t as limber and moist as she used to be. Yeah, maybe TMI but I want to be bare-bones honest for the folks out there going through this who are, like me, going slowly crazy because they feel so weird and alone. I feel singularly unsexy to a degree I have never known.
My brain is in a fog. Pre-perimenopause, I could hold vast quantities of information in my head all at once. These days I’m happy to remember a single, simple idea, or why I walked into a room, or to turn the hot water pump off.
Along with the iron supplements and birth control pills, my prime source of therapy and coping has been alcohol and cats. Lots of both.
I think that about covers it.
Oh wait, not quite. Let’s talk about that alone-ness. There are a handful of people with whom I feel comfortable discussing my situation. But, even then, I’m not going to call or text or Facebook message them every time I feel like running screaming off a cliff because that would be almost every other day lately. This means that even though I have a small circle of trusted friends and confidants I can vent to, there are more days I spend pushing down all the emotions into a ball of tense unhappiness than days that I don’t. And as much as my husband loves me, he’s living this too and I’m not going to dump my woes on him at the end of a long, exhausting work day.
Long story short, my perimenopausal existence feels isolated and lonely most of the time.
Yep, that’s everything.
Back to my story…
Every now and then, life throws you the proverbial bone. In my case, it was a friend of a friend. This angel in human form is a nurse and after listening to me rant briefly about my troubles, she told me that there is a clinic at the UBC Hospital that specializes in female reproductive health and has all kinds of resources for perimenopausal and menopausal women. She sent me a link to their website so that I might find some help, since I live far from the big city and resources are scarce out here.
I saved the link and promised myself to check it out. Then, as it does, life happened, I got busy, forgot, blah blah blah.
In the past two weeks, I’ve had a really bad run. Life on Quadra Island is fabulous and you couldn’t pay me to leave this paradise but there aren’t the kind of indoor fitness options you get in a larger city, even Campbell River. Yes, there are some classes at the Quadra community center but the times never seem to work with my schedule. And the record rainfall has made walking and running a soggily unappealing choice. Time was when I would just do my own fitness routine, using the body-weight exercises I know, but my motivation level seems to have headed off to Antarctica with my sex drive, soooo… bleh.
But finally, FINALLY, the sun came out, my bleeding was down to a mere trickle, and I found the gumption to go for a long, brisk walk! I geared up, including a fresh tampon (just in case), grabbed my iPod and audiobook and headed out. It was amazing! Fresh air! Blood pumping! Good book! At last, I felt normal!
Thirty minutes into my walk, Niagra Falls x 1000 hit.
There I was, way out in the middle of nowhere, hemorrhaging like a hemophiliac in a knife fight. There was nothing I could do but thank the universe that I had worn black pants and slowly shuffle back home.
In case you’re wondering, yes, I cried my eyes out when I got there.
Is it too much to ask just to be able to go for a damned walk???
The next morning, depressed and frustrated, feeling at the end of my rope, I posted a plea on Facebook for jokes and stuff to cheer me up. Thank the universe, also, for kind friends. Today I woke up and decided I’ve had enough. I found the link for that clinic and started to research.
Here’s the good news: There may be help.
I learned that I have menorrhagia, which is a fancy medical word for “very heavy menstrual flow”. I also learned that it’s really not uncommon, much the same as my other symptoms are not uncommon, including the diminished sex drive and crazy cramps. I learned that there are non-surgical methods that have been shown to reduce menstrual flow by anywhere up to 87%! One of the simplest is a very specific use of ibuprofen, who knew? I learned how to best record my bodily activity so that I can share that with my doctor and receive the best treatment for me. I learned that I need to be consuming at least 1 to 1.5 litres of salty liquid such as vegetable juice or bouillon on days of extra blood loss. I learned that those oral contraceptives I’m taking that make me gain weight and break out? Yeah, not very effective.
I learned that there are health professionals out there working hard to learn all they can about perimenopause and menopause and sharing that information freely with the world.
I feel just a little less lonely today.
I’m going to start keeping a perimenopause diary—I’ll share the link to the template at the end of this post—to see where I’m at, to share with my family doctor, and to try and get back to some kind of normal. Until then, I want to thank all my friends who have patiently listened to my hormonal rants—they may not be over, by the way. I want to apologize to all the pre-menopausal women whom I have terrified with my stories. It may not be that bad for you (fingers crossed). I want to encourage every woman who is peri or menopausal, or who even suspects she may be, not to settle, and to keep seeking out the physical and emotional help you need! (Feel free to contact me at kristeneperron [at] gmail [dot] com if you want to talk privately.)To the husbands and partners living through this, hang in there, but mostly make sure you offer your unconditional support—this shit is tough, yo! To the girls and young women for whom menopause is still a distant possibility, your body is nothing to be ashamed of. Anyone who ever makes you feel bad for talking about “women stuff” is a jerkface meany and you have my permission to tell them so.
Thanks for listening now here are some links. Go get educated.
The Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research – The Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research (CeMCOR) was founded by Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior in May 2002. The Centre studies the physical and psychological causes and effects of ovulation disturbances on women’s overall health. CeMCOR publishes scientific results and disseminates information directly to women.
The Daily Perimenopause Diary – For perimenopausal women, including women with regular cycles who have hot flushes/flashes or night sweats.
The Daily Menopause Diary – For women who have gone at least 12 months without a menstrual period.
Heavy Flow – How to determine if you have a heavy menstrual flow and what to do.