Tuesday, February 02, 2010

My Peri-Women-O-Pause

(I wasn’t completely sure whether to blog this, not sure whether readers, especially those of my own somewhat conservative community, are mature enough to deal with an issue like this. But it’s helped me feel so much better putting things down so while I know many of my female readers may still be several years away from my experience, I have a feeling they might thank me for this one day)

Years ago I remember reading a funny article in the Readers Digest written by a man whose 12 year old know-it-all daughter once stumped him by asking, “Daddy, when did you start your menopause?” When he replied something to the effect that men don’t have menopauses, she triumphantly shut him up with, “Oh yes, they do. That’s why it’s called the men-o-pause!” Semantics apart, it’s a word that applies more commonly to the female of the species of which I’m proud to call myself one and whose life process I cannot escape.

Yes, I’m in perimenopause. Which explains the general tone of my first post of the year – dispirited, beaten, defeated, and then the tone of the second post – silly, giddy, frivolous. In those two wildly vacillating moods you get an idea of what I’m going through – see saw, Marjorie Daw, up and down and down and up.

Actual menopause starts on the 12th month anniversary of your last monthly menstrual period – in other words, a full year of no periods at all. It happens gradually since the ovaries don’t abruptly stop but slow down. That transition period is called perimenopause during which you can still get pregnant because your childbearing years are simply winding down, not stopped, and although your periods may become unpredictable, your ovaries are still functioning, and you may still ovulate though not necessarily on a monthly basis. While the average age for menopause is the early to mid 50s, it has been noted that it tends to happen earlier to women who begin menstruating early in life (such as at age 9/10/11) and to women who have never been pregnant. Perimenopause can last anything from a couple of months to ten years. It affects every woman differently so symptoms and their intensity vary, with the more common symptoms being mood swings, hot flashes, insomnia, forgetfulness, osteoporosis, incontinence and depression.

While I have no problem (touch wood) with things like insomnia or hot flashes, suddenly all my common-sense and self-confidence seem to have flown out the window and I find myself secondguessing everything people do or say. Was there a hidden meaning in that? Did they really mean this or that? Was it because of this or that? My self-esteem is shot and so are my nerves.

A good friend and colleague once told me about the problems she’d had during her perimeno. She said she often felt isolated, that she’d come to work and feel like nobody wanted to talk to her. As she mentioned that, I remembered a time when she’d just morosely sit all by herself and never join in all the staff room chatter. Well, I feel exactly like that often now. While before I might have casually joined in any conversation, now I think umm no no, I don’t think they want to talk to me, don’t want to be with me, and just can’t summon up the confidence to approach anyone unless they come and actually sit and talk to me.

My friend tells me it’s all in the mind and it probably is, but when you’re hardgripped by hormonal putdownitis, everyone and everything just seems totally daunting, unfriendly and hostile. You go out and every other female seems so vivacious and alive, bubbling over with confidence and good health while you feel frumpy, dowdy, stupid and slow-witted. Thanks to the estrogen level drop, your skin goes into sand desert mode overdrive and no matter how much you moisturize or take pains to dress, there’s always something wrong with the end product so you can hardly stand to look in the mirror.

Even worse is the reality check mood that got me bad earlier this year. The so this is you and this is where you stand and what have you achieved in life to show for it stink bomb. That really sank me when I thought of everything I have not achieved and probably never will. I got out of it only when someone pointed out what I have already achieved – like my reasonably well-paying job. That kind of negative thinking and brooding over the impossible is dangerous since it could even get you into suicidal mode.

As I was writing all this, it struck me suddenly that all of this is very similar to adolescent angst, puberty blues or teenage stress. The physiological changes accompanied by all the hormonal psychological disturbances, when you feel the ground you’re standing on has suddenly shifted and you’re falling through space, and you’re not sure about anything anymore. So even if men don’t go through menopause, they ought to be able to relate to the emotional rollercoaster that goes with the territory. When something major is happening within your body, it naturally follows that everything goes out of sync because the human body is so intricately complex. As the psalmist put it, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works.”

A final note: talking with people who have gone through similar experiences is always therapeutic, and I am truly grateful for the network of friends, neighbours, relatives, colleagues, you get the idea, who have shared either their personal ordeals and know-how or that of their mothers. It’s always reassuring to know you’re not alone in the dark.


  1. Oh boy. You make it sound so terrible. And if we live long enough it is bound to happen to us too, I nean us women. But good post nevertheless, very informative and will hopefully prepare us for the dark days ahead.

  2. Being a guy I suppose I will not understand 100% what you are going through. Going through a series crises and seeing how positive thoughts and happiness are in short supply I understand. Keep your chin up and your friends and family about you. Like Sakura during Hanami just remember nothing lasts for ever. Both happiness and gloom and sadness are ephemeral. Best of luck!

  3. Dope!! Sounds a little ominous the way you put it, albeit, elegantly. I will be broaching this peri-business with the missus and hope, in the meanwhile, you find much encouragement even in a response that is still grappling with the basics.

  4. Thanks guys, I appreciate the encouraging and sympathetic feedback. And the lack of local info is just the very reason I decided to brave negative reactions and open up - our people know so little about this issue which is partly why we've had and continue to have women who go mentally unhinged under the stress. My best intro to all this was an Oprah menopause special a few years ago where different women talked about their experiences and it was a total eye-opener. I'd never heard of the term perimenopause before the show either! So I've suggested to the wife of a Zonet big boss to come up with a special on local TV too. Time we crunch issues like this openly is what I figure.

    ambs, it's not the same for everyone. Some women sail through without any side effects, some lose it completely! My neighbour was telling me just the other day that when she was going through hers, she'd wait until the family was fast asleep then she'd just cry and cry and cry over the smallest things. A friend also said that when her mother was going through perimeno, she'd often come home to find her mum sitting in a flood of tears. What's important is you're aware of what's happening, and your family gives you plenty of support and TLC.

  5. Okay, first and foremost, please know that I am applauding you - you deserve a standing ovation for addressing something so real, yet so shrouded in mystery as this experience. While I cannot empathize with everything you are going through, I can imagine that it must be similar to, but ten times worse than the PMS symptoms that I go through every month. And no matter how much we crib about it, I guess for a woman that symbolic monthly visit is something familiar and comforting in its own way, and losing it would probably feel wierd.

    I am proud of you because you are able to share your feelings; you are obviously a strong person to rise above it and to want to help others understand what you are going through. Stay positive and do remember that you an extraordinary person - gifted, wise, smart, and very, very attractive. Go, girl, go!

  6. You're a wonderful and gutsy person to come out with this, and in such an open and helpful manner. And like you wrote, many are going to thank you for this. In my case it happened so smoothly and painlessly that i hardly noticed it. Perhaps due to the circumstances i was in. All i realised was that i had been freed from the monthly nuisance that was extra trouble when you have to travel.

    Can i please borrow this for my column 'Her Corner' in the monthly magazine 'Harvest Time for your Family'? With or without your real name, please? It will help a lot of women for sure.

  7. Aww mesjay, thank you. And sure, be my guest, anything to help the cause. And I'm both glad and jealous that your transition was so uneventful.

    Gauri, some women have it by the age of 30 so you can't be too sure it's "decades away"!

    DDB, thank you, girl! Yes, it's sth like very bad PMS I suspect. As for me being strong, extraordinary, wise and smart (wow btw, is that me or wot?!) I think some would probably add foolhardy as well.

  8. It does sound terrible. The good thing is you know exactly what you're going through. When my mom was going through her perimenopause, it was even more terrible because we had no idea why she was acting all crazy. My gynaec friend recommends Menopace, because it doesn't have the side effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Will find out more if you're interested. Take care and be better soon.

  9. dear diary, just googled it down and I'm definitely biting! Do let me know asap at zpoonte@gmail.com. Thanks for caring and sharing :)

  10. though i can't experience what you are going through as a guy, i certainly recognize, and am dealing with, much of what you have written through my wife :) so i've gone ahead and printed the whole thing for my wife to read (hope you don't mind). it has also been very educative for me and, i think, this type of posts/articles are as important for guys as for gals. maybe more so for guys to better understand what our significant others go through as we head for the twilight years and, hopefully, try and adjust our relationship accordingly.
    though its sometimes exasperating! :)

  11. Good to hear you found this educative. Yes, it's got to be crucial for men to know all this stuff too. I've heard some women wig out because their husbands don't understand what's happening to their wives and callously deal with the situation by indulging in extramarital affairs, which only creates greater stress for their troubled spouses.