I’m 40. Turning 40 wasn’t nearly as monumental as people make it out to be. Nothing magically changed overnight. I’m fitter at 40 than I have ever been in my life, and all in all, I’m in a good place. I train smarter, and as a result I’m stronger and faster than when I was 20 and 30. In my mind, I feel more like She-Ra than what society deems as middle-aged. Sensible, motherly, and sexless are words that paint us but don’t really fit. “Age ain’t nothing but a number,” I’ve mused. Until it was.
Flash forward to last month. If you’re one of those squeamish, delicate types, stop reading here. Hey, you’ve been warned.
My period was really weird. Instead of my typical flow, I had a really light period. Normally, I’d high five nature. But it lasted for AN ENTIRE FREAKING MONTH. I felt exhausted and crampy. My lifting felt harder. I had little energy for “gainz”. My bowels were whackadoo. Despite following a modest fat loss protocol, the scale wasn’t budging. Something felt off.
So of course I did what I can never resist: I went to Dr. Intarwebz. After browsing awhile, I deduced that I was probably fine but that I MIGHT TOTALLY HAVE CANCER and made an appointment with the gynecologist. The conversation went something like this:
ME: So, what’s up with my crazy period and symptoms? I’m worried that I might (TOTALLY HAVE) cancer. Or fibroids. Or something terrible.
GYNE: I doubt you have cancer. But you’re likely beginning perimenopause. You’re probably making less progesterone, so instead of your uterine lining shedding all at once, you rely on estrogen to very slowly help things along.
ME: DIAGNOSIS OLDZ?
GYNE: Probably. But we can check with an ultrasound.
ME: Ok good. (I’ll show them that something is definitely amiss. Not that I want cancer. But I’m only 40! WHAT?)
GYNE: Do you have to urinate frequently?
ME: Yes. And sometimes when I jump rope, I pee a little. (Don’t judge. It happens right?)
GYNE: Ok well if it gets really bad there are options. (I feel like I’m in a bad commercial now for menopause. Or Coldwater Creek, the matronly ambassador of clothing for ladies who have given up on being cool. Sorry mom. I know you love the CC.)
ME: Oh before I forget – *eye rolling* – my husband told me to ask about stuff for my sex drive. To, uh, obtain one.
GYNE: Oh sure. (Blah blah blah, libido cream, mentions something about a small amount of testosterone added. Jokes that maybe it’ll even help me with my strength).
ME: (Suddenly perking up) Whoa! But will I grow hair and stuff?
ME: Will I be able to Hulk smash?
ME: That’s bullshit.
GYNE: *Emotionless stare*
So the point of all this is buckle up, ladies, shit’s about to change. It may begin as early as your mid 30s but late 30s to mid 40s is most common for adventures in perimenopause. Not everyone has the same issues, but they’re part of the changes that come with being a woman. That sounds so mature. Bleh. But knowing that you’re normal and probably not dying is helpful, right?
I ended up following up with a friend, also a gynecolygist, who we lovingly refer to as “Vag Doc”. Vag Doc put me on some progesterone to stop the eternal period and ordered an ultrasound. It turns out I’m fine. I’m just getting older.
Always get weird stuff checked out, because ovarian cancer is often missed at early stages. It’s been named “the silent killer” and it’s no joke. Read about common symptoms here.
Thankfully, usually the symptoms we worry about are not actually cancer. Unless you look on WebMD. Then everything leads to cancer.
Here is a list of symptoms associated with perimenopause, which means “around menopause”, and is a fun-filled transition toward losing your fertility.
- Changes in your period: it may become more irregular in flow, how frequently it visits, and how long it lasts. This is due to the level of estrogen rising and falling unevenly.
- Menopause-like symptoms such as hot flashes, sleep problems, and dry vagina. Good times. There are treatments to help if it gets out of hand.
- Moodiness. I just thought I was getting crankier with time. Maybe not. I’ve been having big mood swings. They’re not fun. Sometimes women experience depression during perimenopause. At other times, moodiness can be attributed to lack of sleep and/or hormonal shifts.
- Vaginal and bladder issues. Hormonal shifts also can leave you with a dry cooch and needing to pee all the time. This is injustice, but it is what it is. Loss of tone can also lead to incontinence. Maybe I wear black workout pants just in case. Who’s with me?
- No interest in sexy time. This isn’t inevitable, but it can happen.
- You might be constipated. I’ll pay $50 to poop like a normal person. Holy hell.
- Your babymaker packs it up: decreased fertility is the one that I already expected due to ovulation becoming less regular. I have a house full of boys, so no problem there.
- Bone loss. Here’s where weight-bearing activity continues to be important as osteoporosis begins to set in. Because your estrogen levels decrease in the perimenopausal years, you begin to lose bone more quickly than it can be replenished.
- LDL can go up. Again, losing estrogen unfavorably affects your cholesterol. Keep it in check by eating well, moving regularly, and getting it tested at your physical.
- Weight gain. Your hormones are doing flip flops and your body is trying to adapt to all the changes. You may need to be patient, but weight gain isn’t insurmountable. Building muscle mass, getting more overall activity, and eating a well-balanced diet will still be effective over the long haul. However, your efforts may require more tenacity than in years past. It blows but it’s not an insurmountable hurdle.
So no, perimenopause isn’t life shattering. You can still be a bad bitch. Just be prepared for changes to come, and we can rock 40 and 50 so hard the young kids won’t even know what to do with us.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Perimenopause.” Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic, 20 Apr. 2013. Web. 7 July 2015.