It was 2016. I was 44 years old and had just left a toxic and stressful job. The heavy weight that had been weighing me down for the past few years had finally been lifted from my shoulders, and what a huge relief it was! I could finally breathe and sleep easier.
I told myself that I would take some time off to detox emotionally, reflect, and think of my next career move, but months turned into a year, and still I had no motivation to “get back out there.” Okay, I thought, I’m probably just exhausted from being with my two boys and all the housework I’ve been doing lately. As many mothers do, I shrugged it off, poured another cup of coffee for a boost of energy, and moved on with my day. The fatigue, however, did not get better; it got worse, along with other symptoms that included low libido, irregular menstrual cycles, heat flashes, weight gain, and anxiety.
What perimenopause looked like (for me)
For a couple of years, I was dealing with occasional heat flashes, low libido, low energy, and then my period became drastically affected. I had been the woman that had regular periods every month like clock work, but at this point my periods started coming every 2 weeks and they were HEAVY. Then sometimes they wouldn’t come at all (which, I loved but which was also confusing). The erratic periods are what finally sent me to my doctor.
First she did a biopsy to rule out cancer or any other issues. Thankfully, the results showed I was cancer-free, but a blood test showed my hormones were severely unbalanced. Chemically, my brain and body didn’t feel like they were my own anymore — I was officially dealing with Perimenopause — a term I had never heard before and knew nothing about. I learned that menopause is defined as the point at which it’s been one year since your last period. Perimenopause encompasses everything your body starts going through BEFORE it hits Menopause. I’ve described my symptoms, but there are actually many symptoms, and every woman may experience a different combination, and it may take time to connect the dots between what you’re experiencing and being in perimenopause. It was overwhelming and a bit intimidating, so I continued to deal with it on my own, hoping it would get better.
Talk to your team
Years went by, and It didn’t get better. Out of desperation to feel normal again, I called my general family doctor and asked for anti-depressants. I wanted to feel like myself again; happy, hopeful, and energetic. My doctor gave me a prescription for an anti-depressant, but before I started taking them he suggested I revisit my symptoms with my OB/GYN to discuss all my options. He said it’s better to get to the root of the problem versus putting a bandaid on the symptoms, and it wasn‘t clear that depression was at the root of my problems.
Thanks to that advice, I saw my OB/GYN, and they put me on a low dose progesterone-only pill, not only to help with the symptoms I was experiencing, but most importantly to regulate my cycle. Once I started the pill, I felt 100% better. My cycle got back on track; I lost some of the perimenopause belly weight; the hot flashes subsided, and I started feeling more energetic and motivated. For the first time in a long time, I felt hopeful and worthy again!
It was a journey to get back to that feeling in the face of perimenopause, and luckily the flexibility of my freelance projects allowed me to deal with my symptoms on my own. Honestly, the severity of my symptoms led me to stop taking on projects and focus on being a full-time-mom for a while, something I only could have done as a freelancer…and with family support. I never had a client relationship that felt close enough to let them in on what I was dealing with. Maybe if there was more awareness and less stigma, there could have been different options for me.
YOU are not your symptoms!
Going on the pill made a huge difference for me, but there are many options that may help with perimenopause symptoms. Yes, birth control pills, but also other hormone replacement options and medical devices and procedures, not to mention natural remedies that may alleviate your symptoms. It is best to discuss with your doctor(s) about what’s best for you and your body.
Perimenopause is real and affects all women at some point in their lives. For me, it affected my entire sense of well-being, which trickled down into my marriage, social life with my friends, co-workers, and professional ambition. We have to be advocates for ourselves and take care of our bodies because they have taken care of us throughout our entire lives. There is no shame in talking about the many changes we face in life. Lean on your friends and family members for support and most importantly, LOVE YOURSELF through it all.