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I’m nearly 49 years old and I’ve been neck-deep in perimenopause for several years and it blows because NO ONE every warns you what this is like. Possibly because women are taught to be ashamed of aging so we keep mum on any topic that that hints to our age, but, fuck that, I’m going to blow this shit wide up.
What is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause, or menopause transition, begins several years before menopause. It's the time when the ovaries gradually begin to make less estrogen. It usually starts in a woman's 40s but can start in her 30s or even earlier. Perimenopause lasts up until menopause, the point when the ovaries stop releasing eggs.~ WebMD.com
My doctor (well, nurse practitioner) told me that everything will shift to menopause when I haven’t had a period in a year. I just had my period, so the clock restarts today. Another 12 months of this bullshit.
WebMD's Symptoms of Perimenopause
- Hot flashes
- Breast tenderness
- Worse premenstrual syndrome
- Lower sex drive
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness; discomfort during sex
- Urine leakage when coughing or sneezing
- Urinary urgency (an urgent need to urinate more frequently)
- Mood swings
- Trouble sleeping
My Symptoms of Perimenopause
The hot flashes started first and they were awful. I have an hourglass figure that I loved to show off in form-fitting clothing, which are not a great choice when having hot flashes. There were days when I would stand outside naked in the wintertime because the cold temperatures felt amazing on my skin. We live on 5 acres, no one saw me, but, to be honest, I wouldn’t have cared if they did. When the hot flashes started, they lasted a few minutes, happened a couple of times an hour, and were accompanied by night sweats that soaked my t-shirt and sheets. I complained to my nurse practitioner and those symptoms, combined with my high blood pressure hinted at too much estrogen. She changed my birth control pills and the hot flashes miraculously went away for a year.
But then they returned.
Today, I get a hot flash a few times a day and I sleep with either a window open or a fan going. My wardrobe now incorporates a few flattering loose pieces and winter, which used to be my most hated season, is a beautiful break each year. There are supplements you can take that claim to reduce hot flashes and I tried several before just going with it. When I compare notes with other women, I’m getting off easy with a few a day that last 30-45 seconds.
Unless your symptoms are absolutely miserable, spend your money on a desk fan, room fan, and a handheld fan. And start enjoying ice-cold water. The one bonus of having hot flashes is that I now drink a ton of water a day – ice water is THE BOMB!
Not an issue with me, thank heavens. But what is an issue is itchy nipples, which I will discuss more below, because WebMD’s list doesn’t talk about skin dryness.
Terrible PMS & Irregular Periods
OMG – so when I was first entering perimenopause, my body betrayed me. One day, I was on my way to work and I started feeling the signs of my period starting. No worries, I had tampons at my desk. My period was always light the first day so I didn’t have to worry about ruining my pants or the seat on the train.
I was wrong.
When I stood up to exit the train, I turned back to grab my bag and saw a mark on the seat. Is that blood? I wasn’t sure and didn’t want to check. I was mortified. But I couldn’t leave the train without testing the stop. Thankfully, it was dry. Whew! I was being paranoid, but the feeling that something was pouring out of me was increasing and by the time I got to the office, I had bled through my underwear and pants. Thankfully, I was wearing a long coat and Target is two blocks from my office and is open at 7 am. I went directly to Target and purchased new underwear, a pair of pants, and a box of SUPER absorbency tampons.
The worst part is that I passed a dog on my way into Target and I usually want to stop and pet dogs, but I couldn’t risk that super sniffer picking up on what was happening in my pants so I sped walked my way to the women’s department.
This wasn’t the only time that I bled through my pants with no notice. Once, we were at the movies and I had to ask my boyfriend to pull the car around to the back of the theater when we left. He kept asking me why and a stranger took pity on me (I must have looked horrified) and told him “dude, I think you better just go get the car.” I filled Johan in on why when I got in the car, laying napkins on the seat. Thank heavens I grab a load whenever I have popcorn. I like extra butter.
This went on for a year. Mind-numbing cramps, explosive periods, and the feeling like I was a walking crime scene. Johan used to joke that he was going to let me wrap myself in his crime scene tape.
Now, about five years later, I have very light periods every couple of months. They last about two weeks, but they come and go during that two week period. I rarely even need a tampon and I rarely have menstrual cramps. And my PMS symptoms comprise of being sensitive. I know a period is coming when a troll can make me cry.
Lower Sex Drive
False (for me). Enough said.
I don’t feel overly tired, but I do need my 7-8 hours of sleep. If I don’t get enough sleep, I feel like I’m coming down with a virus – swollen glands, tired eyes, achy body. I began adding a multi-vitamin, iron, and a natural energy drink with Vitamin B to my diet and it helps tremendously.
Dr. Baker’s Canine System Saver, which I give to Sydney, also has a human supplement that I take and it helps too.
Vaginal dryness, not so much and when my vag feels like it can start a fire, it’s so dry, I just use coconut oil to alleviate the dryness. What I didn’t expect was the excessive skin dryness that makes me itch everywhere. The worst parts are the area around my vulva (right above where I shave) and below my tummy (and my tummy), the area around (not in) my armpits, my nipples, and sometimes my back. There have been times when I’m itching so much that I draw blood. It’s bad sometimes
It's very important to stay hydrated and to keep my skin hydrated. After a long hot shower, I massage my body with a body butter to seal in moisture and during the week, whenever I feel itchy, I massage the area with coconut oil.
The itchiness also inspired me to switch from traditional deodorants to something more natural and this change helped tremendously. As well as drinking more water. I’ve also started a hair/skin/nails supplement with biotin and collagen.
Urine Leakage & Urgency
This can happen when I have a semi-full or full bladder (which is the case due to the excess water I’m drinking), but it’s not something that I experience a lot. Which is great, because I no longer wear panties due to the hot flashes (the few layers of clothing, the better).
I only had to urinate more often when I started drinking more water. Now I’m fully hydrated and don’t need to race to the bathroom that often.
I do have mood swings, but not to the level that is described online. When I’m feeling down, I recognize that it’s hormonal and work hard not to react. I’ve gone so far as to be open and honest with Johan when I’m feeling sensitive to let him know that I’m not in a good place so that we don’t end up in a stupid argument over sweeping (true story). We still have some arguments here and there, but it’s not related to perimenopause – it’s just couple shit.
Yes. This did happen and it drove Johan mad because he’s a light sleeper. I’d toss and turn all night long, keeping us both up. If I allow it, I can stay up all night watching movies and television programs. This is how I discovered Death Note – if you haven’t seen it and if you like anime, check it out; I’ve watched it twice – and other cool shows on Netflix.
Johan and I now sleep separately, which I thought was the end of our relationship, but it made it better. Now we both get tons of sleep, I get to sleep with the dogs, which I love, and I can sleep with the window open (or a fan going).
Traveling During Perimenopause
When you start going through perimenopause, it becomes a factor in all of your plans. I travel to Las Vegas every year and the idea of being in a hot place meeting people while desperately looking for something to fan myself with doesn’t make planning the trip fun. I’ve learned to dress in layers so that I can strip down when I need to without shocking the world with my nakedness. I invested in a hand fan (OMG it’s awesome) and an insulated water bottle that keeps my water ice cold.
Shopping During Perimenopause
Due to the hot flashes, I avoid clothing that is skin tight. I still have figure-hugging pants and skirts, but they have some give to them. Wearing the right size is so important. And so is buying clothing that can breathe, allowing air to pass over my skin and provide comfort during a flash.
I used to love shopping, but after becoming a dog mom, I’d rather shop for my pups. Shopping for myself sucks, especially since I have to try everything on. So I’ve found the brands that I love the most and now shop for them online. When I do venture into the mall, I make sure to do so on a non-emotional, low bloated day. Shopping right when the mall opens is the best because I’m less bloated in the morning.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Excess fat produces more estrogen in the body, which exacerbates the symptoms of perimenopause, so I exercise at least five days a week and I watch my diet.
Happy Hour and Perimenopause
And, finally, perimenopause puts a damper on happy hour. Things have improved, but in the beginning, one drink would throw me into hot flash/night sweat hell. Thanks to the hormonal changes, I've made a lot of changes to my drinking menu. I stick to Vodka drinks now. Every now and then, I treat myself to a Dark and Stormy (made with dark rum).
I don't know if the type of alcohol works or if my ability to drink without side effects was just a luck of timing, but I'll stick to Vodka.
No, You're Not Having a Heart Attack
There's another pesky symptom of perimenopause that can be terrifying. It started with heavy breathing without the corresponding cardio. I'd be sweeping the floor, doing laundry, or walking up the stairs and all of a sudden I'd be out of breath and my heart would be racing. I started checking my FitBit and found that my heart rate would be above 120 beats per minute. It's all to do with the whacky hormonal changes.
Do Essential Oils Help?
I don't often discuss hot flashes and hormone imbalances because whenever you share anything health-related on social media, some supplements crazy, direct marketing person tries to sell you on their untested product that'll either do nothing or grow horns on your head.
Uggg. Direct marketing people suck. Yeah, I said it.
That being said, I did wonder if there's an essential oil that can alleviate the symptoms of perimenopause and this is what I found.
Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint on the back of the neck is great when having a hot flash. It automatically cools the body. Other things that help are always having ice cold water on hand or running my wrists under cold water.
I don't often use the peppermint essential oil because, at my day job, there is a colleague that is sensitive to minty scents. So I leave that one at home out of courtesy.
Clary Sage Essential Oil
Clary sage fast became my favorite essential oil. It smells great. It creates a calming atmosphere when I diffuse it at home. And they say that it can alleviate hot flashes when we apply drops on the back of our neck and on the soles of our feet. I prefer to just take a few inhales.
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender is known for its calming properties and is an ingredient in many blends that alleviate stress and anxiety. I mix up a spray bottle of water and lavender essential oil to mist on my pillows before going to bed. Whenever I do, I have an amazing night of sleep.
Geranium Essential Oil
Geranium is another favorite and I credit this one for calming my hot flashes because not only do I use a lot of blends with geranium, my hair product has geranium as an ingredient and I smell the scent all day long.
Geranium is a strong scent, so I don't like to apply it outside of creating a blend or using it when it's a part of a premade blend.
Tools that Make Perimenopause Bearable
The following are tools that make life with hot flashes and emotional days bearable:
- OPOLAR handheld fan – I love my fan. Never lets me down.
- Reduce Cold-1 Tumbler – keeps drinks cold (or hot) all day long.