Let’s talk about perimenopause

We’ve all seen the comparison that shows how far we’ve come when looking at the actresses in Golden Girls to the ones on Sex and the City. They were all about the same age but portrayed differently as women in their 50s…from their topics of conversation to their fashion choices. The overall view of middle aged women has changed but we haven’t come as far as I thought.

About five or six years ago, I started to notice a change, not only in my body composition, but also in my metabolism. I blew it off and attributed it to the fact that I was no longer running or hitting the gym like I had done when I was training for races.

I continued to eat as I normally did and avoided heavily processed and fried foods…ya know, all the crap we’re not supposed to eat, but I wasn’t able to maintain my normal weight. I did Whole 30 figuring maybe I had developed an intolerance to some kind of food but that was it either.

I would walk into a room or go down to the basement and completely forget why I did, making multiple trips back and forth until I remembered, and then I would repeat in my head the reason so I wouldn’t forget when I got to the next room. Again, I blew it off and just figured it was age and the fact that, as moms, we are the keepers of all the information so I thought maybe my brain was just overwhelmed by the mental load.

A year or two went by and it only got worse. Now I blamed the weight gain on Covid since we were limited regarding activities and I tend to eat out of boredom. But I was gaining it all in my belly which wasn’t usually where I would carry any weight gain – it was usually pretty evenly distributed.

And can we talk about chin hair? I’ve had my eyebrows and lip waxed for years (hello…I’m Italian) but my chin? There are whiskers for crying out loud. I had to invest in a second tweezer so I could carry it around.

Then the light bulb went off! I’m 47…its perimenopause! Yay…an answer. But I soon found out that all of the questions I had didn’t have answers.

I began paying more attention, did some reading on the subject, and started noticing even more variations – digestive issues, alcohol intolerance, trouble sleeping, completely forgetting whole conversations in days.

I would go to the gym, walk, run or hike. No weight loss. I would cut out bread. Didn’t matter. Eat less meat. Nope…didn’t do the trick. I would take supplements but I would stop after a week because I would forget or was just plain angry that I had to take them so I stopped out of spite.

I used to run marathons. Why am I so out of breath from climbing a flight of stairs? Alan and I hike a lot and I noticed I needed more breaks during the uphill climbs. Ugh.

Looking over the White Mountains

I started taking yoga classes figuring it would help both mentally and physically and it did, mostly mentally.

I even started a course of acupuncture because I was having hip pain that I couldn’t explain. Initially, after some Googling, I thought it was an old running injury or sciatica. The acupuncturist worked on my hip, IT band, and sciatica for months and some of the pain was relieved. I also went to a massage therapist who worked extensively on my iliacus muscle and that helped too. 

I won’t go on about the laundry list of other symptoms and issues I was experiencing. 

I’m easily irritable so that one may get a pass as a symptom of perimenopause, but I definitely no longer have as much of a filter and I have found my voice. My disdain for people in general has increased while my patience has decreased. Zero tolerance. I see that as a silver lining! 

Last year I had a doctor’s appointment and since I had tuned 50, I was asked, “Did you schedule a colonoscopy?” Which I had not. I was having some digestive issues which I tried treating myself through diet but nothing seemed to work. So I scheduled an appointment with a gastroenterologist and on the online intake form I listed bloating as one of my issues. I know it was perimenopause related but I wanted some insight and solutions from a medical professional.

When I checked in at the appointment, the receptionist set the tone. “I know you have ‘bloating’ as one of your concerns but since you’re 50, this is a colonoscopy consultation only.”

WTF does that mean? I can’t talk about anything else? Well, yes, that’s exactly what it means.

When I met with the doctor, he went over the procedure with me and when I brought up the other concerns he said ‘let’s get the results first and we’ll discuss it afterwards.’ Dismissed.

Not long after I had a GP appointment for a physical. Of course I was asked “did you schedule a colonoscopy?” and I said I did and proceeded to talk to HER about my perimenopause symptoms figuring as a woman she would have some insight and words or wisdom.

EHHHH WRONG. When discussing my digestive issue she said “let’s see the results of the colonoscopy first.” And you know what she said to me when I asked her about belly weight gain? “There’s nothing you can do about it, do some ab work.” AB WORK? That’s her advice? Dismissed again.

So now I have the colonoscopy done and while I’m in recovery the gastro doctor comes over and says “Everything looks great. See you in five years.” He waves and walks away. Dismissed a third time.

,In January of this year Alan and I decided to be vegan. I was desperate to find a way to lose belly fat and get my digestive system back in alignment. We lasted about five weeks and it was a great experience but you guessed it – weight loss… three pounds. I did feel better mentally. But that’s another story. 

I recently had brunch with some friends and one of them disclosed that she goes to the gym five times a week and hasn’t lost a pound. Then she said that she experiences a ‘frozen shoulder.’ I was like “What the hell is that?” A new aliment to add to the ever growing list. Where does it end?

This month I had my annual OB/GYN appointment. I figured I would give asking questions another shot. At this point, what do I have to lose? I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did the nurse who took my vitals sympathize, but she said she hears the same things I was saying every day from other patients.

The nurse practitioner who examined me actually spent 15 minutes with me, listening to me and answering my questions. FINALLY! Everything I was telling her and experiencing was normal.

She also told me that, unfortunately, there is not a lot of research out there about perimenopause, menopause, and post menopause. And then went on to make a comment about how there’s plenty of research and drugs regarding a man’s erection (PREACH).

She also suggested certain supplements (black cohosh) and prescription drugs that could help. I explained I wanted to go the holistic way and she said there’s been some success with intermittent fasting and The Galveston Diet (disclaimer: she didn’t like using the word ‘diet’. She said it’s a lifestyle, which I concur). So I left the office feeling better that I was NOT dismissed once again.

I looked into this lifestyle change founded by Dr. Mary Claire Haver and found a Mel Robbins podcast episode featuring this doctor and the subject I was so desperately seeking answers about. They talked in layman’s terms about the medical and scientific changes the female body goes through. In a lighthearted fashion they also discussed their own experiences and the lack of studies regarding perimenopause, menopause, and post menopause. Not only did I learn a lot but I also felt relieved and validated because I finally knew that it wasn’t all in my head. I wasn’t alone. I actually cried at the end of the podcast feeling vindicated.

Why are the normal changes with our menstrual cycles the butt of jokes? During your child bearing years it’s “oh you’re cranky…you must be on your period.” Then during perimenopause, menopause, and post menopause it’s whispered that she must be going through “the changes” if you’re irritable.

Maybe you’re just annoying me and it has nothing to do with either my period or lack thereof. Why is it so taboo? Why are women my age dismissed? Why don’t we talk openly about it?

According to the podcast we’ll spend 1 ⁄ 3 of our lives in this phase. ONE THIRD. The goal is to have more research and education for medical providers and more guidance for us as women so that we can navigate through this. We want quality of life, not just quantity.

Sedona, Arizona

Give yourself some grace ladies. 

Eventually I will find the perfect cocktail combination of acupuncture, yoga, intermittent fasting, anti-inflammatory diet, running, walking, hiking, weight training, white noise machine, pillow spray (thanks Julie), and supplements.

Gotta go! Time to pluck some chin hairs and yell at someone.

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