When I started perimenopause, I had no idea what it was, let alone how the assorted aches that were playing out in my mind, body and spirit were actually connected to it. When I mentioned these to my doctor during my annual exams, she made no connection either.
However, in retrospect, I see that I had many perimenopausal symptoms: irregular and heavy periods, hot flashes, night sweats, muscle and joint pain, insomnia, mood swings, weight gain, blackouts, anemia, incontinence, variable libido, lack of concentration, colossal fatigue, arrhythmias, dry skin, hair loss, headaches, rosacea, tingling in the extremities, irritability, urinary tract infections, and surely others that I have forgotten!!
According to my doctor, my muscle and joint pain, and the tingling in my hands and feet were caused by an inadequate mattress; my incontinence, by my jogging; my irregular and heavy periods, as well as my anemia, by my iron deficiency; etc.
For years, during these annual examinations, when I asked her to test my hormone levels, she always replied that it was too soon and therefore useless to test me since I still had my period; that when I would no longer be menstruating she would do tests to confirm that I was in menopause…
And I finally did get tested… after I had started menopause.
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My mother gave birth to me when she was 42 years old. A few years later, at 48, she insisted that her doctor allow her to undergo a total hysterectomy since her periods were overwhelming her. And that’s an understatement. He initially refused because it was against his religion. My mother convinced him by telling him that she had done more than her marital and religious duties, having given birth to twelve children…
Her menopause was sudden and intense. Her hot flashes generated many jokes and little empathy within the family. I was only 6 years old and obviously unconcerned. By the time I started perimenopause, my mother was suffering from dementia.
In my family, conversations of this kind are not particularly encouraged, at best touched upon and, when the subject is too disturbing, we ignore it or feign indifference. So what did I do? I started experimenting, trying out different things, and talking about it as little as possible. For example, I didn't dare admit my memory lapses because my father had suffered from Alzheimer's, nor my many naps to alleviate my chronic fatigue, nor my incontinence, all of which were too embarrassing.
Overnight, I had the impression that my vocabulary had become too restricted to express the full range of emotions that spilled over me. And that's not to mention the resentment, rage, anger, urges and impulses, moods, desires and cravings, exhilarating and demoralizing ideas that could arise and collide at any time. Of course there were a lot of good things happening in my life, but lost as I was in this thick fog of symptoms and emotions, gratitude did not come easily!!
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Since my earliest childhood, I had been taught to think of others first; to please; not to make waves; to fade out of the way; to respect my elders who would always know what was best for me even more than me; not to express my needs and my emotions, especially my desires, my anger or my sorrow, so as not to disturb.
As a teenager, I tried to express my needs and wants, but more often than not I was told it was inappropriate; that I was annoying, being selfish, and/or difficult; that I was wrong; that I had to be a good listener; that I had to learn to compromise; that I was too young to understand; that I would understand as I got older, etc. Being the youngest, I felt that I was already screwed.
And if I did not succeed in communicating and asserting my needs and my desires in adolescence, perimenopause helped me to assume my feminism and to find my way and my voice. Hormonally, perimenopause is the reverse of adolescence, and both challenge us to express who we truly are.
Today, I see perimenopause as the revenge of adolescence in the best possible way. I am convinced that my mind, body and spirit will find ever more powerful ways to shake me up and lead me back to myself if I do not take the time to listen to them.
Perimenopause has led me to seek out a new personal and professional balance, in my relationships, including with myself. I have come to understand that, to heal, you have to feel.
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Over time, I found that certain foods and behaviors no longer suited me; for example, red wine and its tannins, beer, spicy foods, pork with its smell that made me gag, stress, chaotic schedules, inconsistency, etc.
And I even followed my doctor's advice, at least to a certain extent: I used contraception to “control” my periods and my iron deficiency; I changed mattresses (twice!) to alleviate my muscle and joint pain, as well as the tingling in my extremities; I wore sanitary napkins to “hide” my bladder leaks.
Through trial and error, experimentation and research, I managed to alleviate my symptoms, then time passed and my body also moved on. I simplified my life and my diet (e.g. I always eat the same thing for breakfast), as well as my approach to exercise and sleep. I manage my stress differently… or rather I deal with it instead of ignoring it.
And I decluttered my obligations and relationships, my ways of doing and being. I therefore have replaced sighs, innuendos, and passive-aggressive behavior with a new language to clearly express my needs and desires. It's a life's work and not a given…
The idea is to be constantly in learning mode and to avoid judgment towards myself and others. I let myself be guided by questions like “Is this relationship, this thing, this opportunity, this food, etc. helping me be my best self?”
Another point of reference: if I improve by 1% a day, I will become almost 37 times better after one year! It’s sort of like compound interest. :)
Today I am in menopause. There are still some puzzle pieces that I need to figure out where they go. I feel that I will eventually be able to put them all together to bring a greater coherence to my humanity, my feminism, and my connection to all things.
Remember the safety instructions given before a plane take-off, which is to put on our mask before helping others put on theirs. And this, even if the “other” is our friend, our spouse or our child. Does that remind you of something?
I can't help others if I can’t help myself… So, if ever someone tells you that you're being selfish, remind them about the safety instructions. It can change lives!