This menopausal journey has been anything but graceful. In fact, it has been a hell of a transition. At times, I felt like a complete stranger to myself. No kidding, my identity was changing.
The symptoms crept up without any warning. To boot, since I was initially unaware of the hormonal fluctuations that were causing all of the discomfort, I was unable to equip myself with a survival guide. Ten years into this ride and a few smash-ups along the way, I’ve chanced upon some a-ha moments that have ultimately enriched my perspective on life.
It started in my early forties. Dry, severely itchy skin was the first sign. The itching was most intense during the night and I longed for morning to come so that I could go about the distractions of the day. Permanent scratch marks on my back are evidence of all the paraphernalia, ranging from chopsticks to a BBQ fork, that I used to alleviate the discomfort.
Sudden mood swings were another early symptom. Outbursts of aggression and obscene language became my standard, particularly with loved ones. I was aware that the outbursts were happening, but felt crazy for not being able to restrain myself. This behaviour carried into the public. I once abruptly cut off a cab driver while driving. We got into an unpleasant verbal exchange and he became enraged, pounding on the roof of my car. I had a soft top and feared that his fist would tear through. Verbal altercations in public were completely out of character for me and when this turned physical, I was shaken.
By my mid forties, unpredictable hot flashes and night sweats kicked in. The hot flashes were so extreme that I had recurring visions of combusting into a ball of fire. At night it felt like I was burning a hole through the bed. I often verified the thermostat in case I had accidentally turned it up too high. I experimented a lot with different bedding fabrics, in the hope of accommodating my body temperature, but nothing helped.
Hot flashes and night sweats are popular symptoms, thus making it tough to deny that my body was transitioning to infertility. But as long as it was not medically confirmed, I avoided that reality. These symptoms eventually settled down and I was enjoying the return to calm.
A couple of years later, I started to miss periods and a hormone test confirmed that I was perimenopausal. And so, there it was. The start of the end of my childbearing years. My hormone levels were declining.
The physical symptoms were troubling enough, but proof that my reproductive system was winding down had an epic impact on my emotions for two reasons. First, I no longer had the option to make one of the most important decisions of my life — whether or not to have children. Never mind that I had already made the decision to be childless, it still stung that biologically, the decision was now irreversible and non-negotiable.
Second, if the potential to biologically produce children no longer defined me, what place would I have in society? This concern came on unexpectedly and I debated my purpose in life.
At forty-nine years old, while still trying to find my place in society, I simultaneously fell into brain fog, high anxiety, crashing fatigue and significant forgetfulness. The mental and emotional states were near debilitating. The intensity of my journey peaked.
I felt powerless and overwhelmed. My daily coping mechanisms ceased to exist. All tasks were daunting. I sat frozen in front of my work screen. I forgot my colleagues’ names, as well as business conversations we had had the week prior. Personal bills were left overdue. Unproductive hours passed. I absentmindedly did things that spooked me, such as getting undressed and accidentally tossing my bra in the garbage rather than in the drawer. I panicked. I wept. I was drained. My wine consumption escalated. I made great efforts to cover up this inner turmoil and at times, I isolated myself. It was just easier than having to explain.
Somewhere in all of this, the gradual change in my outward appearance had become too evident for my liking. Coming to terms with this was no easy task.
It was during these particularly trying times that I somehow became determined to outwit the symptoms. I wanted to finally equip myself with the knowledge needed to turn this intolerable transition into an opportunity for personal growth.
Off I went. In order to put a plug in the mounting internal madness, I needed to spend quality, quiet time with myself. So, the unfulfilling relationship with my boyfriend came to an end and I picked up a hormone patch with the prescription I had been holding on to for far too long. Then, I booked a solo vacation in the canyons of southern Utah. This is where I spent my fiftieth birthday.
I felt harmony the instant I arrived at the adventure resort. I suspect it was due to a combination of the spectacular, energetic red canyons and my readiness for some nurturing. I took part in daily scenic hikes, yoga classes, bike rides and massages. My favourite activity was journaling endlessly while relaxing in a hammock in the late afternoon sun. I was amazed at how peaceful it was to reveal raw emotions. My pen glided along effortlessly.
The writing encouraged my heart to open up that week, helping me to acknowledge and accept many things, including the phase of life I was facing. I realized I could not control this midlife force of nature and so I put my weapons down and surrendered to its uncertainties and vulnerabilities. I felt scared, yet liberated, at the same time.
A funny thing happens during this perimenopausal process — midlife introspection. Introspection may come from life experience, but I am convinced that hormonal shifts take some of the credit.
Hormones do not drive me the way that they used to. I am driven, but in a different way than I was in my more youthful years. What motivates me now is attaining harmony. Wanting to live consistently with my values. This requires an ongoing effort to let go of perfection, control and people pleasing.
There is a tremendous priority shift that comes from letting go and what started out as a physical, emotional and mental decline, is turning into an invitation to a more holistic approach to life. For all the setbacks of perimenopause, there have been gains through finding a balance to support health, a peaceful existence and joy. I’ve also come to understand that having children is one option of many to continue exploring.
My life has reached halftime, but I still have a whole new experience ahead of me. While I am still learning to manage the symptoms of perimenopause, the unraveling has taught me to be comfortable just being me. It all seems to be unfolding naturally.
Originally published at medium.com