health

"I wasn't me": 10 women share what perimenopause is really like.

Menopause, and perimenopause (the lead up to menopause), is a defining moment in our lives, but one we don’t hear enough about - sometimes until we’re right in the middle of it.

Going into menopause without any information can feel scary and isolating, but every person with ovaries will go through the change eventually. We’re all in this together and, if we’re well prepared, the transition can be a whole lot smoother. 

Around 25 per cent of us will have very difficult symptoms and, at the other end of the spectrum, 25 per cent will slip through menopause symptom-free. Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle. But wherever you end up, it helps to know you’re not alone. 

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Side note: The Very Peri Summit, presented by Mamamia is coming soon. It’s an online event with everything you need to know to navigate the (extremely fun) perimenopausal period. It’s streaming over two evenings and is available to catch up on demand anytime. Discounted early bird tickets are on sale now! Get your tickets to make sure you don’t miss out when help finally arrives!

Mamamia spoke to 10 women about their perimenopause and menopause experiences. Here’s what they said: 

Jo, 56. 

Several years ago my periods started to stutter, with a few six week gaps. The worse thing was that my moods were no longer predictable. The energy expended to keep myself civil was exhausting.

A couple of years on, the hearing in my right ear declined and I developed tinnitus. I started waking up at the dreaded 3am with a racing heart and mind, unable to get back to sleep. I also started to suffer waves of inflammation where my whole body would ache for hours, then days, and sometimes weeks on end. 

I was really cranky and unsettled at work - my 30 year career in environment and sustainability was always challenging and rewarding, but my well of patience and diplomacy had run dry. At the instigation of some caring friends and my partner, I took all my long service leave, bought a welder and taught myself to weld from YouTube.

But then the waves of inflammation and fatigue got worse, and became my permanent existence. I was losing words and concepts, and found making decisions excruciating - I thought I was suffering early onset dementia.

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After holding out for so long, I decided to try MHT/HRT, hopeful that it may help and bracing myself for disappointment. It's been a life changer for me. A year after Menopausal Hormone Therapy, I am back working on a large public sculpture, running a kilometre every morning, and keeping up (kind of) with chores on our small holding.

Life is good. 

Melissa, 52.

I believe I went into perimenopause in my very early 40s. My periods stayed regular, but then slowly, I'd be woken most nights needing to pee. Then it became every night, for years. I’d get migraines every month for years and years. Always felt it was hormonal in my gut instinct, but no professionals ever asked about monthly cycles.  

Moods, anxiety, forgetfulness all crept in. I'd had a doctor asking me if I was depressed, and offering me a script to help with it. 

My libido took a long vacation, brain fog was horrible, sadness was awful, despite being happily married and getting the job I wanted and I was besotted with our new puppy. I discovered (the Menopause and Perimenopause Australia Facebook group), watched an Insight episode on menopause and the penny finally dropped. I found a women's health GP and she gave me MHT based on my symptoms. Two years down the track, I'm happy, calm, able to recall details, although the libido is still absent, I'm at least not moody.

Lily, 45.

My perimenopause started well before I even knew what it was, at around 39. My libido went crazy, I was like a wild animal, and as a newly single woman I was killing it. It was the time of my life, but the honeymoon did not last.

After the high came the low, and then the lower, and then an even lower low until I felt like I had completely lost my sense of self and my place in the world. It is a difficult thing to explain, but an impossible feeling to live with. I wasn't me.

When I looked in the mirror, I was ageing before my eyes, well before my time. I felt so alone.

Then after 4 years of personal investigation, all on my own, I discovered what perimenopause was. It was a revelation and a glint of hope.

I'm a long way from where I want to be; the strong, fit, vibrant and alive woman I know is still in there; but I can see her now, and I know I'll find her again soon. 

Lisa, 52.

I feel so lucky. I managed to fall pregnant at 44 and the following year I started peri, with my periods becoming more and more erratic. I'm now menopausal and to be honest, I’ve not found it too bad. I had lots of hot flushes during peri and I still have body sweats at night, but they are gradually getting better. I do have more digestive issues and things I used to love like curry, no longer love me. 

I suffer from insomnia and usually get by on four hours sleep, waking at 2ish most mornings. At first, I used to get distressed by it, but now I try to look at it more positively… I see it as a bit of me time when I read or Google weird things. I also have zero problems with my sex drive. In fact, there has been little to no change in that respect.

Tammy, 39.

I went into surgical menopause at 36 years old, post-hysterectomy and having my ovaries removed. All of the menopause symptoms hit all at once, hot flushes, body aches, mood swings, loss of libido, insomnia…

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Then I had to navigate the world of HRT. My surgeon had no idea, my GP even less… There is still so much fear around HRT. I was scared to say I needed it. I received ridiculous advice from friends telling me HRT would kill me… 

Also, all of the menopause pamphlets feature women in their late 50s. I felt so alone. No one looked like me. I couldn’t identify with anyone and I felt so out of place.

Now I’m on the right path. I will probably need medication until I’m 50. So another 10+ years but I don’t care because after nearly three years, I’m starting to get my life back.

Listen to No Filter. Mia Freedman chats to Dr Ginni Mansberg about the "M word" and why so many women are angry and weepy. 

Elaine, 52. 

My experience has been pretty tame with perimenopause so far - the odd occasional hot flush which is a very strange sensation. Aside from that, I haven't had any other issues with it. I think I have been very lucky but my mum didn't have much of an issue with it either.

Melinda, 48.

Ugh. Where to start? My symptoms probably started two years ago. The hot flushes that feel like someone has put you in a furnace; these can cause an intense feeling of panic.

The all-over itchiness, that feels like a million bugs running just under the surface of your skin (also known as formication). For me, formication always hits at night just when I’m in that sleepy sweet spot. Many nights I have put the lights on just to check I’m not actually covered in bugs. 

The feeling that my body (and mind) isn’t my own; aches and pains, brain fog, dizziness, bladder issues. The distance between my partner and I because, firstly I’m snappy, irritable and overly sensitive and secondly because I have zero desire to even be touched, let alone have sex.

Amanda, 44.

I experienced sudden onset chronic migraines at 37. I went through every gruelling migraine prophylactic medication out there.  

Just after turning 42, I found a significant and relentless increase in my migraine severity, in combination with forgetting simple things I wouldn’t normally. Then my eyes needed eye drops daily and my mouth felt like it was on fire. I started to experience hot flushes, vaginal atrophy, and what felt like PMS all the time.  

I requested a referral to an endocrinologist. During the wait, I started experiencing entire days in bed unable to stop crying, I’d never experienced depression before. I was suicidal, and it happened so fast. My anxiety was off the charts. I was very fortunate to have a partner to get me to appointments and make sure I was okay. 

My endocrinologist diagnosed me almost straight away based on my obvious symptoms. MHT has helped significantly with my hot flushes, skin and hair health and vaginal symptoms, but it wasn’t until my dose was quite high that I felt a sense of well-being that had been missing the whole time. Unfortunately, that is not always around, and I’ve had to start antidepressants too. I’m still just waiting out this hard time.

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My endocrinologist has been very realistic regarding expectations, and that perimenopause will just be hard for me. I’m in the severe spectrum of symptoms. 

I am definitely doing better than I was, but it’s hard work.

Catherine, 51. 

I’ve just had one year of no periods today. I haven’t had any hot flushes or side effects of any note. I have given up alcohol (previously a lifelong huge drinker) and have just lost nearly 20kg. 

My mental health and clarity has improved and I feel better physically and mentally than I have in my entire life. I’m waiting to see now after 12 months no period if suddenly my side effects are going to come at me hard and fast! I’ve spent a year or more waiting and wondering... is this it?

Kim, 61.

I'd heard women talk about menopause, but mostly it was hot flashes and night sweats. I never experienced them. What I didn't know was that perimenopause was going to be a difficult time.  

I had two periods a month. No one had ever said that was a possibility. I went to my gynecologist and said "Is something wrong?" She said, "No, this is normal for many women." At the time, I felt completely out of sorts. It was the first time I ever experienced depression.

Oh, and the hair loss! Everyone always thought I had very thick hair but instead I had a lot of very thin hair. Anyway, it thinned out to a level that my parents thought I had some dread disease. I happened to see a tiny article in the paper where doctors at a nearby hospital were experimenting with a drug to help women with menopausal hair loss. It worked. 

Post menopause I have few issues. Moods levelled when I quit having periods. And oh, it's so great not having periods! The drugs help me keep my hair! It's still a bit thin, but so much better than it could be. The chin hair is a problem, but I just tweeze them or wax them from time to time.

Cindy, 64.

I’m nearly 10 years past menopause. It takes more exercise to keep the fat off but I've got more time to do that now. Same with libido - you have to deliberately preserve and maintain. 

Menopause was pretty mild for me, really. My sleep got worse - alcohol hurts, exercise helps - but mostly I'm much happier and more comfortable with being my authentic self now that I’m not controlled by hormones. I'm more in control.

If you're willing to take responsibility for your own health, post-menopause can be more fulfilling than you might imagine. Younger women tend to understand the importance of self-care now and that gives them a big advantage.

Have you ever been through perimenopause? We’re here to help! The Very Peri Summit, presented by Mamamia is coming soon! Get your early bird tickets now so you don’t miss out!

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