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Everything is a perimenopause symptom
There's a reason for what you're feeling.
All the mysterious symptoms lead to one thing
It was around this time last year that I developed a mysterious insatiable itch all over my body. It wasn’t isolated to one spot like eczema and I couldn’t detect any visible rash. What fresh hell is this, I repeatedly wondered as I scratched furiously at my skin. The itching was rabid and nonstop and everywhere, and I would catch myself unknowingly itching in public, apologizing to whoever I was with as I did one evening sitting across from a friend over drinks.
“Oh my god,” she exclaimed, her eyes widening. “I know what this is. I have the same thing! It’s apparently a perimenopause thing.”
A what now? Is everything a perimenopause symptom?
After a quick google search, I learned that itchiness—or medically known as pruritis—is indeed a fairly common condition in perimenopause and menopausal women, but it’s not generally well known as a symptom. The loss of collagen production and natural oils on our skin can result in dryness, making us more sensitive to soaps and other products. Well, that makes sense, I thought. I was relieved to find the possible cause to my constant state of itchiness, but dismayed to learn from my friend that she had been dealing with it on and off for years.
As it turned out, my itchiness lasted about three weeks and it hasn’t made a return (yet), but through many conversations about perimenopausal wackiness with others, I’ve since learned that some of my friends have also experienced similar itching that they couldn’t find an explanation for. As I shared my newfound knowledge, I recognized the same wide-eyed reactions on their faces that yes, YES! This could be the reason! Which makes me wonder…why is such a common symptom not such common knowledge?
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No wonder we’re tired
Everyone knows about hot flashes, the one affliction that has become the poster child for menopause in the media. You hear about mood swings and weight gain too, but there are countless other conditions not in the menopause conversation. With more than 30 different symptoms, we’re living in this constant flux of physical and emotional shifts that hit us like a revolving door of ailments shooting at us from a roulette wheel of symptoms at any given day.
Those sudden bouts of vertigo that I encounter that only last a day? Yes, that could be explained by perimenopause. Those crippling migraines I get for two to three consecutive days some months, but not others? Yup, perimenopause. At this point whenever I’m feeling off, whether physical or mental, I now write it off as perimenopause with a throw of hands if no other explanations can be found.
If you’re in the age of “peri”—which is a huge range between ages 45 to 60—then you absolutely know how maddening this can be, especially since this can last for years and years. It feels as if we’re going through puberty all over again, but in reverse. I lived through puberty not that long ago with two children and those middle school years were wild times. It was some of my toughest parenting years. A few years later, I find myself transitioning out of the same reproductive phase of life that they’ve transitioned into, except I’m an adult with no one to hold my hand through the process and tell me I’m not crazy. This hormonal shift dovetails right into all the emotional upheaval that empty nesting brings. Such wonderful timing! If puberty is the transformative period between childhood and adulthood, what is menopause?
Have I become a statistic?
When I was recovering from Bells Palsy three years ago, one of the meds prescribed for treatment was a 20 day course of steroids. Prednisone, which affects your hormones, can apparently wreck havoc for some people. I didn’t know this going in, and I wish I had because for a month while on a very meeting-heavy project at work, I was riding an extreme rollercoaster of side effects which I now recognize as identical to my perimenopause symptoms.
At the time in 2020, I hadn’t had any significant menopausal symptoms yet that impacted my daily life, so this was the first time I experienced hot flashes and fragmented, disrupted sleep. I also plunged into depression and would fall into bouts of sudden crying in the middle of meetings. The brain fog and crippling headaches, in particular, were debilitating. Looking back, I have no idea why I didn’t take a medical leave of absence rather than pretend that I was managing just fine. I could have used my dad’s illness as an additional excuse if I didn’t want to admit to myself or others that I was really struggling even though it was brought on by prescription drugs. Interestingly, I recently read that 17% of women in the workforce quit or have considered quitting because of menopausal symptoms. Could this be true? But now that I’m experiencing a full onslaught of peri symptoms, I think back to that brutal month and I can understand why.
It’s known that women in general are leaving the workforce in record numbers. Childcare stress, burnout, and lack of advancement opportunities are often cited as reasons, but studies are showing that menopause symptoms are having an impact on the workforce too. We’re seeing menopause written about in the media and it’s encouraging that some companies are starting to address this in order to retain women employees, but not everyone works in corporate America with plum benefits or even basic health insurance. Menopause isn’t something that women are counseled on. Instead, we’re left to battle these confusing changes on our own that no one prepares us for—not our doctors or the medical community, not even our mothers in many cases.
I don’t currently consider myself in the traditional workforce anymore, though I am still consulting and freelancing occasionally part time. I realize that I may very well be part of the 17% statistic, which isn’t something that I ever imagined. I’d be reticent to deny that perimenopause didn’t factor into my decision to take a work break this past year because I think it did—almost as equally as the state of the tough job market in my industry, especially for someone my age. It’s a relief knowing that how I’m feeling, especially lately, when I seem to find myself in a state of quiet rage, might very well be a temporary phase with an end point when I finally reach menopause—maybe. I’ve heard some symptoms persist beyond.
I sometimes question whether I have failed my ambitions by “dropping out” of the workforce. It’s hard to admit that these hormonal shifts are taking me down this much. I’m used to wearing my resilience like a badge. When I’m at my most critical form of self examination, it feels like admitting weakness. Maybe I’m evolving, though. Years ago, stress would not have been enough of a reason for me to make big changes in my life. You work through it, you overcome. But stress is the root that exasperates so much mental and physical pain, including peri symptoms; they go hand in hand. I see the evidence of that now and the importance of eliminating the triggers in pursuit of a more balanced and healthy life.
At least we can start here, by having conversations with friends, sharing experiences, and acknowledging how it impacts us. It seems that peer support, not surprisingly, is one of the only support systems we have.