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Perimenopause

This is perimenopause

Updated June 23, 2024

Last fall, I began to experience a weird collection of symptoms. To even call them symptoms suggests they were definitive, when what they felt like was a confusing jumble. There was intense anxiety, a deep craving to be alone, a lot of crying, heart palpatations, weirdly dry skin, and really embarrassing memory lapses in my work. (“I used to be sharp,” I found myself saying to people I’d met recently, a sentence with such a stench of desperation that it made me want to heap apology onto apology).

It felt, I told a few friends, like I was a seed in a bowl of mushy oatmeal that I was chasing with a spoon. Every time I got close to capturing myself on the steadiness of the spoon, I felt myself wriggling away.

Was it long covid? My busted-ass thyroid acting up? Burnout? All seemed plausible.

Some of my symptoms abated once I realized how much pressure I was putting on myself about turning 50. I’d been lapsing into perfectionist fantasies, I realized, which were not helping in the least.

Now, in the past few weeks, I’ve finally been able to piece it together: it’s been fucking perimenopause all along. 

You know what helped me figure it out? The fact that my periods started doing some seriously erratic shit for the very first time in my life, plus this goddamn Twitter thread.

Reader, I have been hanging out with feminists, midwives, and women’s and trans health advocates for decades, yet I did not know that disabling anxiety was a symptom of menopause. In fact, it turns out that countless symptoms—mental and physical—can be attributed to this massive life change.

Sure, I’m looking forward to becoming a crone. A crone is the stage in a woman’s life when she can dispense wisdom. 

But how does the crone even stay in the village long enough to dispense her wisdom when all she really wants to do is run away?!

I met with a therapist not long ago (one who turned out to be not the right fit at all). She asked what was on my mind. I shared with her my feelings of wanting to run away, my deep aching longings to be alone.

“Sounds like a midlife crisis,” she said.

This felt like a glib, entirely inadequate recap of what I had just shared. “It doesn’t feel like a crisis,” I replied. A crisis is an emergency. It demands an immediate response. There is an urgency to a crisis that I simply didn’t feel. This was a fog, not the laser pointer of a crisis.

But what I wish I had said was, “It’s not a crisis. It’s an awakening.” (All credit to the person on TikTok who dropped that wise summation! If you are out there, let me know so I can credit you!)

It’s not a crisis. It’s an awakening.

I know I should get to reading. For Gen X, this has become canon: Jen Gunter’s Menopause Manifesto, Heather Corinna’s What Fresh Hell is This?, Darcey Steinke’s Flash Count Diary. And I will read them, eventually.

But the only thing I really want to read is Mary Ruefle’s devastating 2015 piece on menopause in Granta magazine.

I mean, get a load of this:

Reading this, or any other thing ever written about menopause, will not help you in any way, for how you respond to menopause is not up to you, it is up to your body, and though you believe now that you can control your body (such is your strength after all that yoga) you cannot.

Mary Ruefle

The awareness that I cannot control my body has been with me for a decade now. It has been central in my healing my relationship with food. Understanding that my sense of self-worth can never be extracted from what I body looks like, I have learned to let my body be what it is genetically programmed to be. I simply don’t fight it anymore.

But.

The fact that perimenopause is now this whole new frontier that I have to breathe through really chaps my ass.

Plus it is mind-blowing to me that my experiences are not in any way unique, yet so many of us are blind-sided by “the change.”

I am heartened by the fact that Gen X women are really starting to push conversations about perimenopause to the forefront. And I know Millenials are going to do some great stuff once a concentration of them hits this point. Gen Z will benefit so much from our efforts to put this on the cultural agenda!

I just wish that the work to make this phase as personally, spiritually and culturally relevant as adolescence (our first one) didn’t have to be done right when we are in the thick of it.