My Journey with Perimenopause (so far)
Peri menopause- the years leading up to menopause.
This season of our life usually starts in our 40s and transitions to menopause after a year without menstruation. (If you have a uterus this is a normal phase of your life). Peri menopause usually lasts between 2-12 years. Our sex hormones naturally start slowing down at age 35 as we gradually move towards post reproductive age and our wisdom years.
Like so many things around aging, it can bring up fear, shame, denial and more. It’s a taboo subject that many of us don’t think about until we’re in the thick of it. Often we look for quick fixes to address our symptoms rather than finding the root cause (hormonal imbalances).
With our active, stressful lifestyles, our yin depletes more quickly and can create a more uncomfortable transition towards menopause. Perimenopause can be a truly beautiful time, not only where we learn to slow down and tune into our body’s needs, but where we can accept ourselves as we are- without the pressures from society to be someone else.
Close to 3 years ago, in the midst of Covid, I was burnt out, exhausted, stressed, and eating like crap. I went to a naturopath for help with my fatigue.
She told me I wasn't going through perimenopause because I didn't have hot flashes. Um... even I knew that there was more to perimenopause than hot flashes (another fun fact- not all people experience hot flashes).
I've had insomnia for years and all the extra stress wasn't helping. I was even skipping periods (or getting them really late) which I attributed to stress and fatigue. Even with the new migaines I started getting during my period, I didn't think I was in perimenopause.
Perimenopause is pretty difficult to diagnose. I figured I had hormonal imbalances mixed in with my fatigue, so that's what I worked on trying to fix. I started going to acupuncture for my migraines and fatigue. I changed jobs and stepped back from teaching. I changed how I practiced yoga- moving to mostly gentle and yin or restorative. I hoped this would help me start to balance things out.
According to The Red School, there are 5 stages of Menopause, with the first 2 being perimenopause.
The first stage is Betrayal.
For me, I think this stage lasted for close to a year, maybe slightly over.
It was a time of denial that I was transitioning towards menopause. I felt like my body was betraying me. I was constantly at war with myself, so unhappy and depressed about all the seemingly quick changes that were happening. Where did that wrinkle come from? Why does everything feel like it's looser or saggier than it was yesterday? Why do none of my clothes fit and how did I gain so much weight? Why am I always so bloated?
I constantly shamed myself and tried to cover up my body.
I fell prey to all the "anti-aging" rhetoric out there- believing I could buy some serum to hide my wrinkles.
I read books on hormone balancing and perimenopause. Even though I was in the right age range, I was still in denial.
The brain fog has been super hard to navigate- constantly feeling stupid, being unable to remember the simplest things. I spent a lot of time being down on myself for it. I was feeling like my mind was betraying me too.
Reading that high stress levels and trauma could make your symptoms worse made me upset. I still felt that sense of betrayal. Lucky me- when I start to transition towards menopause, it's going to be hell.
I was feeling older and less attractive. I was in a space of wanting to purge everything from my life- nothing fit anymore but I couldn't figure out how to change it. It was a period of shedding.
At one point earlier this year, I went several months without my period. When I finally got it, I had another one around 15 days later. It was during this time that I finally found acceptance- I was going through perimenopause. And I started to move towards the second stage- Repair.
These past 8-9 months have been tough but also deeply healing.
I have started to repair my relationship with my body. I'm human and still have rough days, but it's easier to pull myself out. I make the effort to stand in front of a mirror and tell myself that I'm beautiful and that I love myself, even if I don't feel it at that moment.
Even though I made the decision many years ago to not have children, realizing that in a few years, I won't ever be able to get pregnant was tough. There has been a process of grief around what I can never have.
I've really taken the time to slow down and allow myself to rest, to give myself permission to do less. I'm working on receiving instead of constantly doing.
I've made it a priority to really take care of myself- physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
-I added more strength work into my movement practices- Pilates (as well as Pilates HIIT mix) and weights.
-I really focus on decreasing my stess on a daily basis.
-I walk more, even taking the stairs as often as possible.
-I have started eating healthier- bringing in more awareness of what will help me balance hormonally.
-I work to change my inner narrative. If I start getting down on myself for gaining weight or being more bloated, I remind myself that it's completely normal- our digestion naturally slows down during this time of our life.
It has been a deeply healing year- figuring out who I truly am- not who I thought I was, not who other people expect me to be. There's more acceptance of my body and less shaming. I'm not constantly fighting my body but strive to honor it every day. I don't want to hide my wrinkles or rolls.
I don't want anti-aging, I want to age gracefully. I welcome my monthly bleed, not only because it won't be around much longer, but because it's not something to shame or try to rid myself of.
I step firmly into my feminine and honor her.
I welcome my wisdom and sit comfortably here with all that I have learned thus far.
So many cultures honor their elders as wise and cherish them. I hope someday to be a part of that world.
Thoughts on getting older as a woman...
So much of this world revolves around how a woman looks- we have to "look good" to attract a partner, we have to "look good" to keep them around (or they'll drop us for a younger model). Once we reach a certain age, we're no longer considered attractive. Our value is wrapped up in how attractive someone else thinks we are. Our identity is here. Once we are no longer in our childbearing years, it's like we no longer have a use in this world. Have you ever heard anyone say "He looks good- for his age" about a man? I haven't. And what does that mean anyway? Are we supposed to look a certain way as we age?
We try to cheat time through potions, nips & tucks, and makeup.
There's no shame in aging- it happens to us all.
Part of this past year has really been unpacking my attachment to the patriarchal idea that I lose value as a person simply because I'm older. My value isn't tied up in how I look. I am not my physical form- it is not my identity. I don't consider myself less attractive because I have wrinkles or grey hair or because things sag a little more than they used to.
I've found a sense of settling in, of acceptance of who I am- without the shackles that society has placed on me. I have no desire to be- or look- like they expect me to. I don't feel a need to try to look like I did when I was 20. It has been surprisingly liberating and empowering! Accepting yourself as you are is truly an act of self love.
Though I'm sure my journey will still be a series of ups and downs, I'm grateful to be on this path. It hasn't been easy getting here but I've learned a lot and grown as a person. I look forward to seeing where I get to go from here.