"It is 2:30am, yet again I have awoken bolt upright dreaming of the worst for my children. This cycle of interrupted sleep takes its toll. I go over it in my head, perhaps I am trying to fit too much in, or maybe it’s that accident I saw on the road last week…or maybe there really is something terribly wrong?? It’s quiet in the house, I don’t want to bother anyone, so I lie here thinking, thinking, thinking…until by early morning and having consulted Dr Google... I am convinced that my symptoms tell me there is something very wrong with me. With passing weeks and months of poor sleep, I continue to struggle through each day. Coffee helps me get going and wine helps me wind down. I find myself forgetting things and making poor decisions. People comment on my irritability and I worry about my ability to perform in my senior role at work. Sometimes I am wracked with a crawling sensation on my skin, other times it is a pounding in my chest. And then on top of that there is the rarely abating anxiety. Not knowing what is happening to me, I seriously begin to worry about my health. I have a growing family, responsibilities, this can not be my time. Too ashamed of how poorly I am managing and incredibly afraid to face the possibility of serious illness or even my own mortality, I keep my experience to myself. I lose confidence in my capacity to function. My relationships suffer, I am isolated and alone … "
An often hidden story
This is a pretty bleak and so often hidden story. But a story that I often hear from clients, particularly women in their 40-50’s, not realizing that many of the symptoms they are describing, are recognized as many of the changes described by perimenopausal women.
What is pereminopause?
Defining menopause as a time in woman’s life, 12 months after her last menstruation, perimenopause is the transition stage between a woman experiencing regular cycles and no menstruation.
Pereminopause- a stage of menopause
*Stages of menopause:
- premenopause – regular menstrual cycles
- early perimenopause – changes to menstrual cycle frequency (longer and shorter cycles)
- late perimenopause – menstrual cycles 3-12 months apart
- menopause – lack of menstrual cycle for 12 months or longer
*(Monash University – Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences faculty)
Just as the transition childhood into womanhood takes time and comes with many physical, mental and emotional changes, pereminopause equally takes time and comes with many changes to a woman’s experience.
Many women in perimenopause as well as women who have reached menopause report a variety of experiences. These experiences may continue for many years for some women.
As defined by Monash University – Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences faculty, menopausal indicators can include:
- hot flushes
- night sweats
- crawling sensations on skin
- sleep distrubances
- lessened memory
- lessened concentration
- vaginal dryness
- muscle / joint pains
- overall diminished wellbeing
Menopause vs the culture of youth
In a world of youth and on the back of a culture in which now more than two generations of women, have had the capacity to seemingly take control of their reproductive and hormonal health…peremenopause can come as a shock to both the women and the people in their worlds.
Mental health and perimeonpause
Often unrecognized, these perimenopausal experiences may be quite frightening for a woman and as such treated in a way that does not necessarily acknowledge where she is at, in her cycle of life.
What can I do?
Part of the purpose of this article to take time to acknowledge the natural cycles of life experienced by women. In normalizing these sometimes very challenging shifts in experience, it is my hope that at least for some women, their transition into menopause may be less frightening, more held and embraced by both themselves and the community.
If you or someone you know is experiencing menopausal indicators that are encroaching upon their capacity to function in their life, encourage them to seek informed help early.
(Specialising in working with the grief of life's transitions, Sarah Sacks, works from her practice The Grove Counselling, located in the Melbourne bayside suburb of St Kilda East .)
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