“You don’t sound good. You haven’t sounded good for a few months now and I want to make sure you are safe.” My friend’s voice was blasting on speaker phone as I listened to her message. I stood in my kitchen and stared at the pile of mail that overwhelmed me so much I shoved it in a drawer.
I’d always taken care of the mail as soon as I got it. But lately, it felt like a chore I couldn’t tackle, along with everything else in my life.
I’d also never received a message like that from anyone. I’ve always been a happy person, but for the past few months, I’d been feeling my moods dip alarmingly low without a specific reason. It scared me.
I didn’t think anyone could tell though. After all, I hadn’t mentioned a word about how, while on a run one morning, a car came dangerously close to me and I thought, Who cares if something happens to me?
The old me would have had a pounding heart. The old me would have been mad at a car for sliding into the shoulder, and I probably would have thrown up both middle fingers. The old me would have felt more feelings and wanted to protect myself.
But, the old me was nowhere to be found. I was going through a phase where the only feelings I had were anxiety or numbness.
My appetite was gone, and I’d force myself to do something I used to love hoping it would bring me pleasure — but it never did. My kids noticed the difference in me too.
That was a year ago. At the time, I blamed the long winter and the rainy spring. I’d stand in the shower for as long as possible feeling like the act of getting dressed, or taking my kids to school, was too much to bear.
Then, those feelings would fade and I’d feel like me again — someone who loved to be active, laugh, and have cookie-eating contests with my kids. These dips in my moods left me feeling lost and out of control. When I felt good, I’d try to get it all in, fearing the dark shadows would creep up again and strip away all my emotions, leaving me crippled by the damn pile of mail.
I talked about it with a few friends my age who said they were feeling the same way and had no idea what was going on. We were all perimenopausal age. Most were happy– with our relationships, with our careers, with life in general. Yet we had no idea what was happening to our mental health. Probably because there’s very little information on the subject.
According to Payne, this is something women need to pay attention to. “If you’re having serious depression, and your functioning is affected, if you’re having suicidal thoughts, or you feel completely hopeless, that is a major depressive episode that absolutely needs treatment,” Payne says.
If you have ever suffered from anxiety, depression (including postpartum depression), you are especially at risk, as the hormonal shifts we experience during perimenopause alter our moods, according to the NPR.
While I’d never considered myself depressed, I’ve always struggled with anxiety. I’d always been able to manage it though — even feed off of my anxiety to get shit done. But now, well…things are different now.
I feel like I have PMS all the time. The full ride too — I’m hungry, I’m anxious, I cry all the time, I struggle to complete everyday tasks some days. If you are sitting next to me, you are probably eating too loud and I can’t handle it.
NPR reports, “a significant number of women — about 18% among women in early perimenopause and 38% of those in late perimenopause — experience symptoms of depression. And symptoms of anxiety appear to be more common during this time leading up to menopause, including panic attacks.”
Payne explains hormones aren’t the only thing to blame, either. This is the time when women are also going through significant life changes: their kids are moving out, they are contemplating divorce, their careers are changing, or they are feeling like they should have done more with their life at this point.
Payne also adds that doctors aren’t keeping up with it due to the little education they have on the subject. The best thing you can do, according to the doctors and patients interviewed by NPR, is to be completely transparent with your doctor and realize antidepressants can help.
It’s imperative that women of perimenopausal age pay attention to their symptoms (document them if needed), and talk about how you are feeling, as talk therapy has been known to help.
Bottom line: this isn’t easy to navigate, but if you are feeling like the dips in your moods are too much for you to manage, do not hesitate to get the help you need in order to feel like the best version of your perimenopausal self.
Talk to your health care professional and don’t be afraid to be demanding. Maybe there isn’t enough research on the subject right now, but we can change that by speaking up.
As for me, I started therapy. I now take a Vitamin D supplement and I know if I don’t get fresh air and exercise, my moods will take a dip. The biggest change I’ve had to make is to learn to walk away from something when it feels like too much regardless of how simple it is.
When I first started feeling my moods change, I’d beat myself up that I wasn’t like I used to be. Now, I allow myself o take space and not waste energy on a mental beat down. It always leads to me tackling things when I’m in better spirits.
The truth is, I am not like I used to be. Women change and shift over and over — it’s part of life — but no one should be suffering. There is help out there and if you are struggling, don’t put getting the help you need off any longer.
After all, if you fell and broke your arm, you wouldn’t wait for it to heal on its own, would you?
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, visit the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance website to find help and support.