It feels like menopause is a bit of a secret society (except no one wants to join it!) and often implied or talked about in hushed tones. I certainly never recall my mum talking to me about it, and all I ever remember learning about menopause was that it was when your periods stopped, and you no longer ovulate. If only it was that simple!
Perimenopause is the preceding years before menopause when many symptoms start to appear. This can last for up to 10 years.
It’s natural to expect that every woman has a different experience through perimenopause and menopause, but for many it can be a stressful and challenging life phase – made more so by the fact that it hits many of us by surprise and the cultural stigma around this topic.
So, here’s a few things I’ve noticed during my perimenopause journey and some of the ways I’ve coped during this time.
Things I didn’t know about perimenopause until it hit me:
-How hot you get with a hot flush! Yikes, those things are FULL ON!
-The relationship between anxiety, depression, mental health and perimenopause
-Waking up with stiff muscles and joints
-Loss of libido
-How long it can last (5 years and counting….)
These things are just what I’ve noticed. Many women also experience symptoms such as brain fog, incontinence and skin changes.
There are also broader health conditions associated with menopause which can start to show up during this time. This includes osteoporosis, osteopenia, inflammatory conditions, cardiovascular issues and an increase in muscle, tendon and ligament injuries (eg, plantar fasciitis and hip tendonopathy).
How I’ve managed during perimenopause.
The following is what I’ve done and what found to be helpful – it may not work for you, but then again maybe it will!
See a health professional
When I first started feeling the symptoms of perimenopause, I was so confused. I remember thinking “I’m only 43, how can this be happening already?” The certainty of my monthly cycle was no longer there, and I felt disjointed and adrift. Not to mention irritable, anxious, moody and not sleeping well! Going to see a councillor was really beneficial and we worked together on strategies which helped improve my mental health.
My periods - when I got them - became longer (I’m talking 3 weeks!) and heavy, so I saw my GP who referred me to a Gynaecologist and I’ve now got a Mirena IUD. This has (pretty much) stopped my periods and has made life so much easier!
My iron levels were also low (partly in thanks to those massive periods), so I decided to see a Nutritionist & Naturopath. She looked into my gut health which prompted me to make some major changes to my diet (no gluten). This has resulted in a big improvement on my energy levels and other respiratory symptoms I was experiencing.
I’ve made a conscious effort to set time aside for regular exercise. Pilates helps with my core strength, balance and mobility; walking with friends provides weightbearing exercise (great for my bone strength), socialising plus the benefits of being outside which is great for my mental health; and I’m now adding in extra resistance training to help prevent the bone loss that come with menopause. Riding and skiing make me happy so I get out in the hills when I can!
Other helpful strategies
Learn about how you can manage your symptoms, be proactive, speak to health professionals, get a second opinion if you think you need it, and take an active interest in your health and wellbeing. Chat to your friends, read, and listen to podcasts on the topic. There is so much information available.
Be kind to yourself and have a sense of humour
Menopause is a BIG change, and it can be a real rocky ride through perimenopause to get there. Added to this, there’s often other pressures with family (teenagers, ageing parents & relationship challenges) and work. Go easy on yourself, try and find the good parts (or at least, the funny ones!)
Personally, I’m still riding the peri-rollercoaster, but I'm also enjoying the wisdom that this time of my life is bringing. I’ve got much greater perspective and I am better at prioritising my health needs - and have reaped the benefits of doing so.
The self-reflection I’ve done in recent years, has given me greater confidence and I’m looking forward to what this phase of my life will bring.
I’d love to hear your peri and menopause story. What has helped you? What hasn’t?
By sharing our stories, we share the collective knowledge, reduce the stigma that surrounds perimenopause and menopause, and pave the way for better understanding and awareness of this important phase of a woman’s life.