Peri-what? Am I Going Crazy?
The two questions in my title are actual questions I have asked a doctor in the last year and a half. With a serious look on my face. And convinced that the second one was going to be answered with one word, yes. The good news is, the second question was answered with a no, but also with, it is just perimenopause. Which led me to ask the first question, since of course I have heard of menopause but must have looked like I needed a whack with a clue-by-four when the doctor said perimenopause, since she followed it with, “you know, the period of up to ten years before menopause?” Well, no, but do go on doc and explain why I am not crazy. Turns out, explaining it is not that easy, mainly because the medical community is still trying to figure it out. Even the word perimenopause is new – my mother was totally clueless since it was not a word that was widely used even twenty years ago. Apparently it is still not too common, since as I write this, I am noticing that Word has each mention of it underlined in red as a spelling error for menopause. The typical societal viewpoint of the female lifecycle is more along the lines of child, angry teenager, childbearing years, menopause, and then the AARP years. Not so, say fluctuating hormones – think of it more like a roller coaster ride, complete with vertigo and nausea. No, really, two of the surprises I have encountered is experiencing vertigo from hormones shifting one way and then “morning sickness” from them going another way. I like to think of the latter as karma, since one thing I have always said was great about never wanting kids is not having to deal with morning sickness. Peri-wrong! It helps that my doctor is only about ten years older than me, so aside from being a good doctor and doing an excellent job at explaining a lot of different “symptoms” from a medical perspective, she is good at reminding me that they are all normal, not some indication that death is on my doorstep and that I should just remember that there will be days I just feel bad physically and emotionally. On the bright side, there are plenty of good websites and resources out there to help you cope, so here are a few of my favorites:
First, let us start with the basics from a website like the National Institute on Aging or the North American Menopause Society. Both are good sources for solid information on exactly what is going on during perimenopause and menopause. Start here to get the low-down on hot flashes and mood swings as well as general information about the whole biological process. One thing to note is that all of these sites, starting with these two, are no substitute for good healthcare, so make sure you discuss any questions, concerns or treatment options with your doctor. Also be aware that the number one rule with perimenopause is this, and I cannot stress it enough, every woman’s experience is different so symptoms and treatments will vary by person. This is one of the reasons why treatment is difficult, in some cases you need to address the symptom (antacids for heartburn) and for others just develop good coping skills (mindfulness or yoga for anxiety).
Speaking of those symptoms, most of the basic sites that focus on the biggest issues (hot flashes, bleeding, insomnia, etc.) tend to ignore the ones that are almost daily, nagging issues, like an increase in allergies or, one I thankfully have not experienced, burning tongue. Most of these are covered on the website 34 Menopause Symptoms. Now might be a good time to mention the memory lapses that can be caused by hormones gone awry – I suspect that whoever named this website is well aware of this memory issue and kept the address simple for that reason. This particular website is pretty good as a starting point to get an idea of why someone might think they are going crazy, er, I mean to get a list of the possible symptoms that can be attributed to perimenopause. Again, consult with your doctor to make sure they are not from something more serious.
One site that does a good job of bringing a lot of information into one place is the CEMCOR website. CEMCOR (Centre for Menstrual Cycles and Ovulation Research) is a Canadian research institute based in Vancouver that has done or sponsored extensive research on female health issues, not just infertility as indicated in their name. In addition to fully covering the symptoms and presenting academic research, the Centre has some handy Q&A areas. One particularly useful Q&A topic, “Could I Be In Perimenopause?”, includes a chart that describes the phases of perimenopause so you can see how far along you may be, based on the symptoms you are experiencing at the time. All of the articles also include a bibliography so you know exactly where they are getting their information.
Finally, one of the best types of sources for perimenopause on the internet is bloggers and forums. Since there are so many different, unique experiences with perimenopause, it helps to read different perspectives about the transition and a quick search on Google will reveal many such sources. One writer who has done a lot of research and blended it with tales of her own experiences is Magnolia Miller, author of two different blogs, Hold That Pause on Healthline and The Perimenopause Blog. Both tend to link back and forth to one another, with the one on Healthline being an older blog that is not being kept up-to-date, so do make sure to check out both. It is worth noting that the personal experience blogs tend to have more information on alternative treatments and coping strategies that have proven to work for some women, but may not show up in traditional medical literature. Of course, do consult with your doctor before trying anything new, since some supplements may interact with medications or are not suggested for people with certain health issues.