I use a little paper calendar, the kind you buy at the dollar store with the plastic cover featuring some gorgeous body of water and ducks at sunset on the cover, to track my hormonal changes and symptoms. They are sometimes seemingly disparate and unpredictable and in order to try to understand my body’s changes, it helps for me to process things by writing them down. I know there are a bunch of menstruation apps that people like my teenage daughter love, but I’m also the person who has an old-fashioned calendar on her fridge in which I make all the people in my family grab a pen and write all their activities and appointments on. I could use the family synching Google app or the like but none of us are that organized or savvy and why change something that works so well for us, right? Even if I have to carry it around in my purse to the dentist office.
About four-and-a-half years ago at the age of 39 I wrote what was my most vulnerable blog post up until that point about how I thought I was dying when Arlo was about a year old only to find out I had perimenopause. I went to the doctor with all sorts of wild symptoms I’d never ever had in my life. Here’s a link to the full fun post, but I’m going to re-share that list here because it’s interesting to look back and see what has changed and what is new. In the spring of 2015 this was some of what sent me to the doctor to find out what the hell was happening:
Mittelschmerz like you can't believe, but the cramping and back pain doesn't just last a week, it's constant!
Menstruation for three weeks straight! Heavy and filling the toilet with lots of internal tissue and clots.
Moodiness and tearfulness! And not just during PMS or menstruation, but all the time.
Moments of sudden rage! Like maybe you are making scrambled eggs and talking with your husband and it turns into an argument and you slam the plastic spatula on the stovetop to make a point and it breaks and he's like WTF ARE YOU CRAZY?! and in turn you pick up the entire pan of eggs and throw it on the floor BECAUSE YES.
Bloating! Again, not just during PMS or menstruation, but a permanently puffed out belly.
Gingivitis! Swollen, bleeding gums that make it so painful to eat.
Lack of appetite! Everything tastes off and weird like it did when you were pregnant (hello again, crazy hormones!) which is probably fine anyhow because GINGIVITIS.
Hair loss! My hair is falling out in huge clumps, just like it does a few months after I give birth. At least it's growing back; I've got a head full of baby gray hairs to prove it.
Acne! I keep breaking out. ON MY BACK. Which hasn't happened since I was in high school (the irony of #stillseventeen is not lost on me here).
Weird muscle and joint aches! I threw my back out for the first time in my entire life last week. Ain't got no time for ice when you're crawling after a toddler on the floor. Also, picking up a 25 lb. baby in this condition SUCKS.
Sudden dark spots appear on your face! The technical term is melasma, or hyperpigmentation of the skin due to extreme changes in hormones. Sometimes it happens during pregnancy, or sometimes you just wake up one day when you're 39 AND LEAST EXPECTING IT and your upper lip is strangely dark brown.
Itchy dry skin! I feel like bugs are crawling on me and my EARS ARE PEELING. Thank goodness for bulk jars of coconut oil from Costco.
Breast swelling and tingling! This actually ain't that bad. Except it feels like I'm pregnant but my body is actually doing the exact opposite of making a baby (sob).
Heart palpitations! This happened when I was pregnant as well, it's something due to hormones and thinning of blood, but it is also a version of hot flashes, I guess. Anyhow, my heart will flutter and race for a few seconds several times a day and it's real off-putting.
I still have the same exact melasma on my upper lip (it looks like sun spots but it literally appeared one morning in February and totally freaked me out). They haven’t changed at all, but do get darker in the summer sun and a bit lighter in the winter months. I don’t have as itchy or dry skin, breast tingling or as much hair loss, but still must be losing some as there are constant baby hairs growing in around my forehead, my stylist tells me. I do often have the heart palpitations, bacne (back acne) and foods I used to like that taste totally yucky to me now. And here are a few new things to add to the list:
Morning sickness! At least ten days a month I wake up feeling nauseated and if I can eat it helps. Just like when I was pregnant, sucking on a mint or lemon drop helps ward off puking. Also just like when I was pregnant, if often subsides around noon. (Thanks, hormones!)
Forgetfulness! I can no longer remember what I went into a room to grab or sometimes simple words, like the name for the thing that bakes the food (oven). It usually comes to me but much slower than usual.
Heartburn! Like daily. So much so that I have been on a prescription of Omeprazole off and on for the past three years.
Sciatica! This is likely related to ovulation and this….
Ovarian cysts! I seem to get them often now (I’ve never had them before in my life until two years ago) and they sometimes burst and the pain is super intense like contractions for about 20 minutes leaving me sore and exhausted.
A distending uterus! I flew to Boston last year and my uterus tried to fall out of my body and I freaked the fuck out, as expected. Turns out it moved back up (!!!) and isn’t as wandering now as I feared but I see my OBGYN yearly now just to help me feel saner about the whole thing.
Horny as hell! I’ve always had a really high libido but these last three years have been off the charts (ask Dr. Brown).
Spotty periods (if any)! I haven’t had my period for 69 days. And, yes, I laughed out loud when I counted the little paper boxes on my dollar store calendar because 69 jokes are still funny and suuuuuuuuuuper pertinent when you’re 43 and your hormones and sex drive are both wild (see above).
Wrinkling and sagging! In addition to the occasional acne I get, my skin has of course gotten a bit softer, wrinklier, and saggier on all parts of my body. Some is likely due to hormones, some is likely due to the natural changes aging brings.
The biggest and most important change in my menopause journey over the past four years, though, is probably the one that has happened in my head and my heart. I’ve become so much more comfortable in my body and with aging as a natural, beautiful and lucky thing to have and do. In fact, age positivity and talking about the changes perimenopause has brought and will bring have become important parts of my platform in body image activism. (I talk and write about it often but my favorites can be found here, here and here.) More than anything, this journey with my changing body over the past four years has reminded me that we are more than a number on the scale or our age or our BMI or our pants size – that we are, in fact, more than our bodies at all. But also, everything we are IS our bodies. They are the vessel that houses the most important parts of us – our brains, our hearts, our souls, and our words. They get us through each day to do the things we love and need to do.
For me, my body lets me build school gardens, hug my husband, pick apples from my tree, write stories, cook dinner. It lets me walk on the beach and swim in the lake and grow babies and carry them and nourish them. And despite how horribly I sometimes treat my body or the awful things I may think about it, it keeps showing up for me, waking up every morning, getting the vitamins it needs to move and survive and heal itself over and over until it won’t anymore. And none of us know when that time will come, so I am very grateful for THIS gift every day. I hope you are, too.