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You probably fall into one of two categories: male or female.
If you are female you will:
a) think these things can never happen to you
b) relate and have your own random comments
or c) remember what I’m talking about
If you are male, you will:
a) turn away from this page immediately for fear of Too Much Information
b) forge ahead and learn something about the women who may be in your life, now or in the future
It occurred to me the other day that I’ve been experiencing hot flashes – one of the stars of perimenopause and beyond – for over four years now. And sadly, I know that the end is not in sight.
Do you know what a hot flash is like? It’s like being flamed with a sparkly blowtorch all over your body. It comes from the inside out, and it comes on suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s very Chuck Norris-like. There’s nothing you can do to fight it off, to defend yourself. If it’s there, it’s already won. It lasts as long as it’s going to last. And then it’s gone.
And then there’s the bleeding – or not. It’s either a tsunami or a leaky faucet. And like the hot flash, you never know when it’s going to strike. But unlike the hot flash, there are repercussions from this unpredictability. When you’re used to a regular cycle of 28 days or so, you know when you need to be prepared, And so, you travel prepared. With perimenopause, it’s always a surprise. Bleeding episodes can be six months apart. Or 39 days apart. They can last for three days or for three weeks. But the biggest disability is that damn flow. You can stand up from your desk, and suddenly discover that you need a new pair of jeans. My bottom file drawer at work always contains an extra pair. Lesson learned.
That whole unpredictability thing is the hallmark of perimenopause. You just never know when to expect what. And it’s as if your body is completely confused. It doesn’t know what to do. So it just…. does everything. It has mood swings. It gets bloated. It cries uncontrollably about nothing for days at a time. It has nightmares. It has PMS – but without the M. It’s like getting your period, but not getting your period at the same time. It’s a giant fake-out. Poor body.
But there are some good things about perimenopause that, in the spirit of gratitude, I feel compelled to share.
There are some things that ease the symptoms. Black cohosh (an herb). Estroblend, an over-the-counter herbal pill. Evening primrose oil. Soy products (or so I’m told – I haven’t tried them yet, because I’m not really a fan). And of course, ice cold San Pellegrino, hand-held japanese fans, and frozen bodice coolers that you can pick up at any Renaissance Festival.
It definitely keeps me warmer in the winter. This is strange for me, because I’ve always been a cold-bodied person. Now, I can comfortably keep the house at 60 degrees no matter what the outside temperature. (Unfortunately, my niece and MKL cannot live like that.) And sometimes I drive with the truck windows down in the depths of January.
I’m saving money on winter clothing. I mean, really, what’s the point of wearing sweaters to work if I just want to strip down to my skivvies every other minute? As it is, I’m in sleeveless tops and have the little desk fan going for half the day, with an icy beverage close at hand.
It helps me accept change and unpredictability. Let’s face it, it’s not called “the change” for nothing. This experience has helped to reinforce for me that life within this body is anything but predictable, and that just because things are one way one day does not mean they will be the same the next day. You just never know. So you might just as well enjoy the ride.
It is a hallmark of the wisdom gained from life. In some cultures, women who have experienced menopause are allowed into traditionally male bastions from which they were previously banned, as a sign of respect. If one has lived long enough to move into a new cycle of life, then wisdom must be one’s companion on the journey.
I like to think of it that. Between hot flashes.
So, if you’ve read this far, congratulations. If you have yet to experience this transition, and have questions, ask away. If you are in the throes and have positive feedback, comments, perceptions, or suggestions, please share. And if you’re past it and have stories to tell, I’d love to hear them.
Warning for some: TMI ahead.
Perimenopause. The prefix “peri” is from the ancient Greek, and means “near”. Near is a relative term. I am near the Caribbean when compared to someone in Juneau, Alaska at this moment, but that does not make me as near as someone in Miami, Florida. “Near” is a hedge word.
However, if we check in with our friend Wikipedia, the word “Peri” means the following:
In Persian mythology, the Peri are descended from fallen angels who have been denied paradise until they have done penance. In earlier sources, they are described as agents of evil; later, they are benevolent. They are exquisite, winged, fairy-like creatures ranking between angels and evil spirits.
I like that definition of “Peri” much better. And it really describes who, how, and where we perimenopausal women are.
The highs and lows of perimenopause are meni and veri. See what I did there? Yea, get over it.
I say “Get over it” to myself many times each day, as I am perpetually awash in a slippery tangle of hormones.
This thing they call perimenopause – in laywomen’s terms, pre-menopause…do you mean it’s actually WORSE once you hit ACTUAL menopause? I’m still technically not menopausal, yet I have all the symptoms – and I try to view them as positively as possible. Hot flashes are just short private vacations to a tropical island. Mood swings are experiences of the rich depths of my mercurial personality.
Based on my research, I fail to see where the actual differences between perimenopause and menopause lie, except that I guess you never get a period again, instead of having one that lasts three days once or twice a year. Or one that lasts twelve days when you are on a vacation in the islands. Maybe that’s part of perimenopause – your body has gotten smart enough to wait to release the deluge until you are in the exact place and time when you don’t want said deluge to occur. Perhaps your body is giving a giant Bronx Cheer or having a last hurrah before your reproductive system gives up the ghost altogether.
Regardless of it’s motives, it feels like my body is not playing fair.
Don’t tell me to “own it”, to gracefully accept this change in life. I DO own it. I’m not treating my body as separate from me. In fact, I’m totally on board with this change of life. Let’s just go ahead with it, okay? No more of this dinking around. Right now, my body is like, “Oh, okay, I’m done with periods. (Significant pause.) JK! LOL! LOVE YA! “
I’m in a pretty happy place these days. Got a wonderful love, got a cozy house, got a decent job, got an amazing daughter. But the unpredictable tide of hormones can have me going to bed smiling, and waking up in tears, wishing I could just stay in bed all day eating Slim Jims and sugar cookies with a bottle of rum, watching Jerry Springer.
MKL and I will be celebrating our one year anniversary on Friday, and I feel for him. It must be hard for a guy who has been single for a while to find himself involved with a woman who has several different personalities. He never quite knows who is going to show up. In the olden days, couples had been together for a long time before the peri/menopause days hit, and so the man knew who the woman was, and could recognize “the change” as an anomaly in the woman he’d lived with for years. In a new relationship, I imagine it’s more along the lines of the old game show “To Tell The Truth” – will the real Seasweetie please stand up?
I am blessed that MKL has the wisdom to look beyond the mood swings, and see the true me. I am blessed that he just hugs me when I’m having “one of those days” and asks if I want to talk, but doesn’t insist on it. He doesn’t try to talk me up or down or out of wherever I am. He just loves me, steadfast and true and stable. (OK, enough gushing about MKL.)
As (almost) all women do, I just have to wait until this plays out. I have spent my life (as many women do), blaming my hormones for a variety of moods and behaviors. I don’t know why I’ve been blaming my hormones, as my hormones have been fluctuating since I was 13, so really it’s just my normal state of being. I guess I expect that once menopause hits, my hormones will calm down. But I think the only way that could happen is if they went away altogether, and they’re not going to do that – and if they do, I think someone would give me drugs to simulate them. And besides, if they were completely gone, or if they were simulated, that would just be another thing for my body to adjust to. It all just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
It comes down to “I am who I am” and there is no need to make excuses, blame internal or external factors, or expect change to follow some logical, predictable, orderly sequence.
I can just be here, right now, somewhere between angel and evil spirit, waiting for the next deluge that may never come.
Good news! (I think.) The dreaded lump has been pronounced a cyst! Guess I wasted a hell of a good worry, huh? Guess we all did. I still need my doctor to tell me what to do next, as E-Bro and Mr. GF both say that you just shouldn’t listen to the radiologist about anything other than the basic facts. My doctor had a death in the family and won’t be back until Monday, but at this point, I can wait.
The mammogram process was as pleasant as could be expected. There’s not much that’s fun about having your breast squeezed between two metal plates, especially when your orders are “Now, let me know when this is as tight as you can possibly stand it.” To be a wimp? Or to grit your teeth and bare (I mean bear) it? I chose the teeth-gritting stance, so they could get the best image possible.
The ultrasound was painless, and she let me see what she was seeing. She did mark me up with a Sharpie, but at least she didn’t draw a face or a mouse with whiskers or anything goofy. But her advice was not overly helpful. “What should I do now?” I asked. “Go through menopause and don’t take hormones,” she said. Gee. Thanks. I’ll get right on that.
The radiologist didn’t come to talk to me – just told the ultrasound tech what to tell me – and everyone kept saying that they’d looked at this before, which they hadn’t, which rather shook my confidence in them. Exactly who did they think they were looking at? But seeing the dark, vacant space on the ultrasound that represents fluid, not solid, was a certain relief.
So now, it goes away by itself, I suppose. I wait.
I wonder what I would have felt around me energetically if things hadn’t been okay? I was pretty sure things were okay, even though I was tearful and worried on Monday night, mostly because I couldn’t feel any clustering of comforting souls, and I am certain that I would have had I needed them.
Time to turn to, as the Captain would say, and focus on the next things…getting my back put back into place, since it went out on Sunday, finalizing the divorce thingamajiggys, and what to do with my work life for the next few years.
There’s hope in the air again.
Well, the calcolo renale wasn’t. And I had such a good follow-up blog composed in my head, too. The world will be deprived until next time…
No, after spending most of Friday in the hospital being prodded, poked with metal instruments, pushed on, stuck, squeezed, filled, emptied, and imaged, it was determined that my malady was an ovarian cyst. (Again, if you’re thinking “Eeewww…..TMI!” you might as well turn away from me now, and go read about chickens romping through tall fragrant fields or something equally pleasant.)
As with so many things, it seems, this ain’t my first time up to bat. It’s been a while though, so I had forgotten what it was like. If I’d been thinking more clearly, I probably would have figured it out, as in the past, I have had cysts that ranged from baseball-sized to grapefruit-sized. I always wondered why doctors described cysts in terms of fruit or sporting equipment.
At any rate, I am feeling better, still a little tired when I overdo, but the back pain seems to have subsided. That’s the thing about these cysts — they typically go away when they are good and ready (not unlike a kidney stone). Mine is on the downswing of draining, and so everything is starting to feel quasi-normal.
There are a few ways to prevent these little buggers:
- Stay hydrated
- Reduce your caffeine intake
The thing is, I’ve been doing all of those things already. Hmmmmmmm. OK, increase the exercise and accept the fact that the wild and wooly hormone ride has just begun.
Someone please give me a surfboard.
Ovarian mucinous cyst adenoma weighing 35 pounds.