Is it hot in here? Or is it just me?
I’m not asking that to be cute — I really want to know.
Actually, it’s likely that it is just me, now that I am of that age.
I am not yet menopausal. I am what experts and gynecologists everywhere like to call perimenopausal. Literally, that term means “around the time of menopause,” and it is typically a three-to-five year period preceding the real thing.
I know that only because I’ve just looked it up for this story. Until now, I didn’t have a need to know what the word meant; I just knew I was there — mainly because my older sister keeps looking at me in that knowing way, cocking her head slightly and winking.
“Hormonal,” she says in a sing-song voice every time I do something like misplace my keys or walk into the coffee table. It’s really beginning to tick me off. But then again, I might be just a tad on the irritable side these days.
I think being perimenopausal is like being a JV cheerleader: You know, one of the chosen, just not on the real team yet.
As I mentioned, I do have an older sister, so I have seen the real thing, and I’m not sure I want to go there. This perimenopause seems manageable so far, not too dangerous, so I’d just as soon hang out here, I think.
Age isn’t an exact science where women are concerned, and depending on which book you read — and I have them all — my perimenopause will probably last at least three or four more years. Only then will I embrace “The Wisdom of Menopause,” as my new best girlfriend, author Dr. Christiane Northrup, calls it.
She’s an expert, Christy is, and she’s guided millions of women through this dark tunnel — er, lovely valley. She knows all about wild yam cream and soy protein and fibroids and mood swings and what she calls “emotional anatomy.” I’ve read her book, and I’m becoming well prepared for my transition into what Christy promises can be a time of personal empowerment and positive energy.
But I refuse to call it “The Change.” That’s not even funny.
I’ve listened to older friends and watched them burst into tears. I’ve absorbed numerous menopause-induced emotional blows from my sister, and then accepted her heartfelt, tearful apologies. I took notes when she was a raving insomniac with out-of-control heart palpitations. I’ve made more than one emergency run to the compounding pharmacy (one that blends prescriptions individually for each patient) to pick up her special hormone cocktail on a moment’s notice because it was that important. I have an extra set of sheets at the ready just in case of night sweats (a handy tip from my sister). I’ve seen “Menopause: the Musical.”
Luckily, being perimenopausal, like the JV thing, gives me the opportunity to practice for a while first. Here’s how that is going: I’ve had occasional trouble sleeping. When I do sleep, I experience a night sweat once in a while. I might have started forgetting minor details here and there. Don’t even ask me about my menstrual cycle, because the word “cycle” implies some sort of regularity. Sometimes I cry for no apparent reason, and OK, yes, I’m a bit cranky at times.
And the queen of all symptoms, the hot flash? I’ve had a few of those, too. Let me tell you something about what that’s like. Saying it’s like being set ablaze does not do it justice. And calling it a “power surge,” while cute, does not make it easier to endure. It’s hell. Or at least like living there.
While there are universal symptoms that we women might all endure, this perimenopausal thing is a different experience for each of us. That’s only one of the things that make it so maddening.
My friend Cathy is perimenopausal, too. Her doctor told her this: “Think of it as a football field. There’s a goal post down here and one down there. If you have too many periods and you’re down here under this goal post, I want to know. If you don’t have enough periods and you’re down there under that goal post, I want to know. Otherwise, stay on the field and enjoy the game.”
“Enjoy the game?” Cathy said. “What the hell does that mean?”
My sentiments exactly.
Fortunately, my perimenopause has been — dare I say it and jinx myself? — pretty easy so far. I’ve had enough hot flashes to know I don’t want any more, and my sister’s example has made me search high and low for any and every possible way to not duplicate her difficult menopausal experience. (She’s on hormone replacement therapy now and back to the lovely person I remembered her once to be.)
So for me, so far, so good. According to the experts, I already happen to do several things that appear to be helpful when one is approaching menopause.
Overall, I take pretty good care of myself: I exercise regularly, eat well, and I take an herbal supplement called Maxine’s Menopause Formula (mainly because I happened to run across it in a health food store and it seemed like a good idea at the time; it has yummy stuff like black cohosh in it). Also, I am a Buddhist, so I spend a lot of time meditating, and we all know that this is a great tool for combating stress and cultivating that all-important body-mind-soul connection. (If you are a meditator, good for you; go ahead and incorporate some lovely image of you hugging yourself and embracing your womanhood. If you’re not currently a meditator, start — it’s good for everything.)
I found out the hard way that there is a correlation between hot flashes and consumption of alcohol and caffeine. Trust me, it’s a bad idea. The experts also say keeping a healthy sex life is good for you, and mine is alive and well — not that it’s any of your business.
Also, I’m a vegetarian, and it turns out that all the soy in my diet makes me a nicer person while perimenopausal and gives me a promising outlook for sailing right through menopause, sex life and all. Dr. Northrup is among the legion of experts who say soy protein can decrease some of those nagging symptoms, most notably hot flashes. This is great news for girls like me. I find it incredibly handy that the more soy I eat, the fewer times I’ll have to experience hell in a wool suit.
Of course, I’m only 46, which means my perimenopause has only just begun, and the worst of me could still come out. Maybe all the veggie burgers on the planet will not prevent me from becoming Joan Collins on “Dynasty.” (If you were not a “Dynasty” fan, fill in your own favorite TV bitch.)
But I prefer to hold a positive thought. I’m a believer in the power of tofu, and in my body’s own wisdom and power. I think it will know what to do when it gets to the important parts. Or maybe I’m just immensely stupid. But I believe my menopausal experience, whenever it gets here, will take me someplace every woman goes to fulfill her ultimate understanding of herself. At least I hope so.
In his recommendation of Dr. Northrup’s work, Indian spiritual and health guru Deepak Chopra said this: “Feminine wisdom is the intelligence at the heart of creation. It is holistic, intuitive, contextual, and functions as a field of infinite correlation.”
I’m sure he knows what he means. I’m not sure I do, but I’m also not sure that matters. What does matter is my particular experience of my own “feminine wisdom.”
And I’m pretty sure I have some.
I just can’t remember where I put it.