For centuries, doctors have diagnosed women who displayed behaviours or symptoms that made them uncomfortable with hysteria - a mental illness characterized by extreme emotional fluctuations, rather than attempting to understand the root cause. Read this first-hand account of Miriam, who thought she was losing her mind until she realized that she was going through Perimenopause.
There are many things in life we should keep secret but, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why perimenopause is one of them. I mean, if we can swap childbirth stories that graphically describe the demise of our vaginas, then why, oh why are we so quiet about the bizarre things that begin to happen to us before menopause? It’s because of this:
“WE THINK THAT WE ARE LOSING OUR MINDS”
This is my perimenopause story.
I am an older mother; I welcomed my daughter at 36 and my son at 39. And while some of my high school friends are already grandmothers, I am still busy teaching my youngest how to wipe his own butt. Like many postpartum mothers, I began to experience a lot of new and very strange things. At first, I put it down to having just grown and evacuated a small human being from my body but when they persisted after my son celebrated his second birthday, I started my (confusing and frustrating and insane-making) journey to discovery.
- Aching and throbbing in my forearms and lower legs
- Weakness in my wrists
- Rollercoaster emotions, moodiness, feeling “low”
- Serious daytime fatigue
- Inability to fall asleep and stay asleep
- Extreme fury that would come from nowhere about nothing
- Next-level anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts
- Facial muscle twitches
- Inability to remember things (both short and long term)
- Very dry and thin skin and yet lots of facial acne
- Severe scalp psoriasis
- Thinning hair and hair loss at my hairline
- Heavier and longer and messier and more painful periods
- Shorter cycles
- Lower back pain to the point of disability
- Have I already said, “inability to remember things”?
I was terrified. When I added all these symptoms together, I truly believed there was a good possibility that I had Multiple Sclerosis (considered an Autoimmune Disorder). I vividly remember willing myself to tell my family GP; the words choking in my throat from fear and embarrassment. When this theory was put to rest, I scoured the (literal) planet for medical specialists to help me make sense of all these horrible things my body and mind were doing to me.
Was it carpal tunnel syndrome? No.
Was it arthritis? No.
Was I clinically depressed? No.
Did I have undiagnosed allergies? No.
Did I have celiac disease? No.
Was it my iron levels? No.
Was it my thyroid? No.
Was it PCOS? No.
Did I suffer from PMDD? No.
So what was it then?
I was slowly but surely losing my ability to cope with even the simplest things in life and the stress this caused me was making my body my enemy.
I was at one of the lowest points in my life. Gone was the competent, goal setting and achieving, obstacle-busting Miriam of the past (had she just been a fraud, anyway?). She was now possessed by a fragile and erratic neurotic victimized by her brain and body. Who, in turn, was letting down her kids, her husband, and her future aspirations (because who was going to hire a basket case?).
How did I discover that I was perimenopausal?
Let’s rewind a little.
I had fertility issues, so I tracked my ovulation and periods religiously to overcome this. Even after birthing my two sweethearts, the habit stuck. And somehow, I began to notice a link between some of my symptoms (particularly anxiety and fury) and my cycle.
Let’s rewind a little.
I had fertility issues, and to overcome this I tracked my ovulation and periods religiously. Even after birthing my two sweethearts, the habit stuck. And somehow, I began to notice a link to some of my symptoms (particularly anxiety and fury-balls) and my cycle.
Day 1, period begins, thick, heavy, messy.
My period ends and I have around 5 days of feeling like my “old” self.
Then ovulation- cue the anxiety, fury, aches and pains, acne, fatigue, insomnia and so much more.
These progressively worsen the closer I come to getting my period.
And almost always completely disappear on Day 1.
Once I realized this connection, a quick google search told me either:
a) I was on death’s door b) I was in perimenopause!
Perimenopause? What was that? More googling and – epiphany!
I was in Perimenopause!
I was not suffering from a mystery illness!
I was not losing my mind!
Maybe I still was the “real” Miriam!
Here is the kicker - according to 5 qualified, very friendly OBGYNs, I wasn’t in perimenopause because I was “too young.” At just 41 years of age, I was outside of the norm for the onset of perimenopause, so it obvs couldn’t be that.
Lesson: don’t be surprised if you relate to many of the symptoms above, but you are dismissed at the doctor’s office. Be prepared to advocate for yourself.
What do I mean by prepare? I mean, track your cycles and your symptoms, research perimenopause, present undeniable proof that it is real and probable that you are, in fact, perimenopausal. And, if all else fails, do what I did: Walk into (the sixth) doctor’s office and tell them bluntly that you’re looking for someone to believe you.
So, did you relate to my story? Please know that I no longer suffer so acutely from many of these issues if you did. With a combination of nutrition, exercise, rest, and acceptance of the new things my body was doing hormonally,
I have found relief and you can too.
P.S. I stumbled upon the Facebook group “Perimenopause – Thriving and Surviving!” during my research and it has been a wonderful source of support and information.
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Edited by: Aishwarya Viswamitra
About the author
In a previous life, Miriam Rawson was an educator and a not-for-profit executive director. Currently, she is a stay-at-home parent who uses anatomically correct terms and a Perimenopause evangelist. If she has the chance, she will corner you and ask you if you’ve heard about hormonal imbalance.