18 February 2019

A fleeting welcome to the Perimenopause party

The Menopause is a mythical Taylor Swift of the hormonal world, misunderstood with a Bad Reputation. I initially flirted with her in my early forties when I was invited to a pre-drinks party hosted by Perimenopause. I always thought that Menopause was one of those party guests who would pass me by with a nod at a hot flush and whip away my periods overnight like a magician skilfully snatching a table cloth, the teacups remaining stoically in place. However, it appears I am still at the pre-drinks party; the Perimenopause warm-up can go on for quite some time.

I had no idea that Perimenopause was even a word. It is medically described as the stage before the actual Menopause which is the cessation of menstruation and can harbour symptoms similar to the Menopause for up to ten years before it actually occurs. And you still have fucking periods! In my teens and twenties, PMT was like experiencing mini psychotic episodes, and my skin was a monthly rehash of the surface of the moon – something most women can relate to. It all settled down after I had children and I thought that was the end of hormonal nuttiness. So bizarrely, an epoch of hormonal calm settled just as I negotiated a crappy divorce blurring the lines between heartbreak and my invite to the pre-drinks from Perimenopause.

As I extracted myself from the emotional mire of separation, met and married someone else, the night sweats and burning limbs became frequent visitors along with lack of libido and a host of other rotating unwelcome guests. Now, these bastard sweats aren’t just a gentle glow of armpit perspiration, they are a full-blown tsunami of salty bodily fluids gushing from fuck knows where. You wake up at three a.m. (always three bastarding a.m.) soaking like someone hosed you down from under the duvet. Your hair is dripping wet, the duvet is rinsed through, the sheet is like a soggy tissue and you are shivering because you’re bloody freezing. Off comes the duvet (poor new husband who maybe should have married someone not nine years older than him), on goes a towel because changing sheets at three a.m. is insane, and then you lie back down with a wringing wet scalp and all you can think about is that you should have blasted your barnet with the hairdryer as you watch the dawn break. Yes, Insomnia is now your best friend too.

The list of party favours from Perimenopause is different for everyone. My mum reported no symptoms, that her periods just stopped, but then she also told me childbirth didn’t hurt… Some people suffer extreme vaginal dryness so having sex is like being jabbed by razor blades giving a different meaning to vajazzle. Others can find insomnia and night sweats are ruining everything, that zero libido is killing their love life, that they can’t remember why they went upstairs (but can remember all the words to Papa Don’t Preach). Other delightful side effects are brain fog; painful ovulation; burning limbs (I have had a burning tongue too!); painful periods; constipation; IBS; hair loss and unwelcome hair growth; such heavy bleeding you can’t leave the house; nausea; itchy skin, headaches; severe mood swings; sadness so black you can’t see past it; exhaustion – a veritable lucky dip of hormonal shite that can hit all at once or come in twos or threes throwing shade on PMT.

Anxiety seems to be an overriding common symptom and one that affects me, though Insomnia has long been my bedfellow. Anxiety and Insomnia can party together like the Rolling Stones so come morning you are mangled like you’ve done ten lines of coke and a bottle of Jack. It’s a treadmill I was desperate to get off. This is where you can hit a brick wall because Perimenopause is hard to diagnose. She is neither here nor there, her hormone levels fluctuating daily so that catching her in the act is mostly luck. If you are presenting more than a few of the party favours, then it is likely a GP will diagnose Perimenopause. Night sweats should always be checked out because they can also be indicators for other underlying health matters.

I decided to research everything and visited the GP, who suggested HRT. I swelled up like a watermelon, felt sick and put on half a stone in ten days, screw that. BUT, that was my experience, not everyone is the same. Women are still prescribed anti-depressants when what they need is tailored hormonal and vitamin replacements, except these, are expensive and aren’t available on the NHS. I talked to a nutritionist who said night sweats may be exacerbated by coffee, kick-starting my adrenal glands at three a.m. after a nightly dip. I gave up coffee and the sweats stopped over-night. Alcohol always makes everything worse so weekday drinks are a rare thing nowadays. I take vitamins, try to eat healthily, do recommended exercise, am mindful when I feel crazed: This Too Will Pass. Other things that help are: iodine tablets to prevent fistfuls of hair falling out in the shower; natural women’s tablets for balancing hormones, ashwagandha for anxiety (this really works for me!), voicing stuff – just say why you are unaccountably cross and explain it’s hormonal to negate its power; cake; eating chocolate because why the fuck not; baking; cooking; drawing; writing; yoga. My insomnia is dreadful when I ovulate and pre-period so I give myself a break and take half a sleeping pill for those few days – you have to do whatever you can. Sometimes all the natural stuff just doesn’t cut it and some months are so much worse than others.

Menopause should be talked about everywhere, and it is getting better. Journalists like Kirsty Wark and Mariella Frostrup are making TV shows about it and Loose Women panellist, Andrea McLean, has written a book about her experiences. There are helpful web sites too (  is one). The message is getting through and it doesn’t have to mean the end of anything though for some women there is no middle ground, the menopause has had a devastating impact on their lives. I’m hoping it’s actually a natural new beginning and for me has landed at a time when I am my most confident professionally and personally. Maybe Perimenopause really is the warm-up act to the main event and by jumping through all the burning hoops beforehand armed with knowledge, we’ll be ready to face the next stage of our lives calmer, focused and ready to achieve even more than we thought possible. Now just pass me the lube and I’ll be on my way…

Written by Janet (click here for Janet's Insta page) 



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