Right after I turned 40, I began to feel different. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something was definitely off. I was bloated, light-headed, cranky and achy all the time. On top of that, it seemed like my body was changing in ways I did not condone. Overnight, I had crow’s feet, my hair was dry and frizzy, and I was more than a couple pounds heavier, yet I hadn’t changed my diet. The obvious conclusion was that I’d contracted a rare, yet lethal, tropical parasite and had six months to live. The truth, however, was far worse. I was in perimenopause.
Perimenopause is the time in a woman’s life leading up to menopause. During perimenopause, which can last several years (lovely), hormones are declining. It’s a transitional phase that many have likened to puberty in reverse, which means that it’s exactly like riding the scariest roller coaster you can imagine, except you’re going backwards. I can’t even face the wrong way on a gentle train ride without barfing, so needless to say, I’m not enjoying this process.
Here’s how perimenopause is destroying my life:
1. My Period Is Trying to Kill Me
For years, I enjoyed a regular and uneventful menstrual cycle. Now, I never know when I’m going to get my period. It could be in the next six weeks causing a panicked pregnancy scare, or it could decide to come every two weeks (and always when I’m not expecting it at all, and wearing white pants). How long it will last is also a mystery. Once, I had my period for two days, and another time it lasted a full 12. Cramps, heavy bleeding—I’ve got all that in perimenopause. Last month, I passed something that resembled a London broil. It was as if my entire uterus was trying to escape through my vagina. I don’t like this. I want the boring periods I experienced in my 20s back.
2. I Can’t Sleep
Every day I tell myself that this will be the night that I will go to bed at a decent hour and get a full night’s sleep, but it never happens. My sleep patterns now resemble a newborn’s. I’m up every two hours. I’m hungry, I have to pee, I’m bored. I’ll toss and turn for hours each night, praying that my mind will shut off and let me go to sleep, but nope. Naturally, because of this, I’m exhausted all day long and have to drink a ton of coffee to stay awake. To further torture me, in the past year, my body has decided it doesn’t want to metabolize caffeine like it once used to. I’ve morphed into a hybrid of Lady Macbeth and Cornholio. If you ever see me furiously Irish step-dancing through the aisles of Walmart, I swear it’s not meth. I just had a cup of coffee, because I was tired, because I can’t sleep at night, because of perimenopause. Save me, please.
3. Unexplained Weight Gain
No, I’m not pregnant. I’m just cruelly bloated. They make mom jeans for women like me. Once a sworn enemy, elastic is now my greatest ally. I swear, I haven’t changed my diet at all. If anything, I eat healthier now than ever, but my metabolism is nonexistent these days. I used to be able to rip through nachos, Twix bars and Slurpees, and remain a size four, but now a single Cheeto will force me into a higher dress size.
4. My Body Is Growing Weird Hairs
I hate my teenage self who used to wonder why older ladies always had wiry hair on their chins. Now I know. It’s because those hairs can randomly sprout three inches in about two seconds. And also because we are so old that we can’t even see black whiskers shooting out of our faces. Yes, I’ve accepted it, I’m either turning into Witch Hazel from Looney Tunes, or a walrus.
5. I Pee When I Sneeze
And when I cough, laugh, or jump up and down. I’m an old house—quaint and charming on the outside, but my plumbing system is a leaky nightmare.
6. Mood Swings
PMS is apparently having its last hurrah with me and is determined to go out with a bang. Irritable doesn’t begin to describe it. Little things set me off: going to IKEA, wanting tortilla chips but being out of them, if my daughter whines because, God forbid, I gave her the wrong plate at lunch, and when my clock ticks too loudly in the middle of the night. It’s awful. Whenever I see a woman on the news who’s had a road rage incident, I sigh knowingly and say that I bet she’s in perimenopause. Sometimes I have fantasies of getting a job at an amusement park haunted house just so I can chase people around with a chainsaw, because most of the time, that’s what I feel like doing anyway. I may as well get paid for it, right?
7. My Skin Is Freaking Me Out
I’m so dry and wrinkly that I think my vagina has cobwebs. I recently read somewhere that during perimenopause “breast tissue may reduce.” Great. That thing sputtering around the room? Not a deflating balloon. That’s my left boob. The skin on my arms and chest is so crepe-y that you could make streamers out of me. Yay! I love looking like a beige party decoration. I found an age spot on my hand the other day, and I also heard that you can get age spots on your nether regions, which is fabulous because I always wanted my crotch to look like a Chinese crested puppy. Said no woman ever.
8. I Can’t Remember Anything
What was I saying? You know that feeling when you’re trying to remember something, and it’s right on the tip of your tongue? That’s me 24/7 these days. They call this brain fog, and I feel like I’ve reached my brain’s natural storage capacity and now it’s malfunctioning from overload. I need an external hard drive for my mind. The number of times in a day when I find myself standing in the middle of a room and have no idea how I got there or what I’m supposed to be doing is staggering. Every time I open an app on my phone, I forget what I meant to look up, log or check. I’ve officially turned into the guy from Memento and am going to have to start writing notes on my skin to piece together my life.
9. Everything Makes Me Cry
Last week, I cried because I saw a high school marching band coming down the street playing Stevie Wonder. I cried at a puppet show, from watching children ride a carousel and over the grand finale of a fireworks display. Forget Idina Menzel. Before she even opens her mouth to sing, I’m weeping uncontrollably.
10. I’m Hot—NO, I’m Freezing
My internal temperature gauge has gone haywire. I wear cardigans in the summer, and bathing suits in the snow. Nothing makes sense anymore.
But that’s the nature of perimenopause—everything is different, it’s confusing, and most women don’t know what to expect. Now that I know I’m not insane, that this stuff is pretty normal, and that I’m not dying from a terrible illness that causes insomnia, vaginal dryness and ugly boobs, I can usually laugh off my symptoms. When I’m not hysterically sobbing, that is. Perimenopause is a sucky part of life, like puberty was, and when it’s over, the very second my last period ends, I’m throwing a huge party. Or, more than likely, just going to bed.
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