Personal stories are one of the most powerful and relevant ways to know you’re not alone in your perimenopausal journey. All too often, women find themselves on the hunt for information about this midlife change because no one around them is talking about it. Even among friends and family members, women are mum and silent about whether they are menopausal or perimenopausal, of it they worried about what the “change of life” will be like for them . . . let alone actually being candid about their symptoms and what they’re doing about it.
As midlife women’s health advocate, educator and former practicing gynecologist Dr. Barbie “Menopause” Taylor says, “Silence is stupid.”
There is nothing golden about the silence that is so pervasive around menopause and perimenopause. That’s why personal testimonies are so critical. Here, I’ve amassed some stories of striving, persevering and overcoming by women who are willing to be vulnerable and share their own experiences. Every little bit helps in navigating this phase of life.
This list of resources is continually updated.
A Case Study for Menopause Awareness – ZRT Blog, Margaret N. Groves, Sept. 14, 2018 – https://www.zrtlab.com/blog/archive/a-neurotransmitter-hormone-case-study-for-menopause-awareness/
Come Celebrate My 14 Years of HRT Use and Turning 64 Years Old! – Create A Menopause Recovery, Kitty Anderson, July 15, 2021 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfRhG-un6EA&list=PLURYQrFSaTf9LvHZMZSm0grPmE6e3Xvgb&index=1&t=10s
Davina McCall Opens Up about Her Nightmare Perimenopause Symptoms – Loose Women, Oct. 12, 2020 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=up0vjSrcljQ&list=PLURYQrFSaTf9LvHZMZSm0grPmE6e3Xvgb&index=47
Gabrielle Union Says Navigating Perimenopause Symptoms Led to Suicidal Thoughts – Kayla Blanton, Prevention, March 9, 2021 – https://www.prevention.com/health/mental-health/a35773464/gabrielle-union-perimenopause-mental-health/
HRT Patches for Menopause – Taylor Made Beauty by Kris, March 12, 2020 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KTKiDwFdjc
I Miss What I Used to be Like: Women’s Stories of the Menopause – The UK Guardian, Hilary Osborne, Caroline Bannock, Aug. 25, 2019 - https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/aug/25/i-miss-what-i-used-to-be-like-womens-stories-of-the-menopause
I’m 43 and I’m Scared to Lose My Best Feature during Perimenopause – Kelly Eden, MamaMia, Jan. 22, 2022 – https://www.mamamia.com.au/perimenopause-story/
I Stopped Taking HRT – Here’s What Happened! – HotandFlashy, June 25, 2019 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XvAlDgHGjE&list=PLURYQrFSaTf9LvHZMZSm0grPmE6e3Xvgb&index=2
I Wasn’t Me: 10 Women Candidly Share Their Experience of Menopause – MamaMia, Feb. 5, 2022 –
Liz Earle’s Personal Menopause Experience – Liz Earle Wellbeing, May 15, 2020 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbcWx_ffrUM&list=PLURYQrFSaTf9LvHZMZSm0grPmE6e3Xvgb&index=11&t=1641s
Menopause: An Honest Chat – – Dawn’s Life, Over 40, April 9, 2021 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVOyYg_7o84
Menopause, MHT and Me – The Spinoff, Anna Sophia, July 27, 2021 - https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/27-07-2021/menopause-mht-and-me/
Menopause Update: Finding the Right Balance! – Hot and Flashy, Jan. 7, 2020 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akQpg6K5Wr0&list=WL&index=1
Mission Menopause: “My Hormones Went Off a Cliff – And I’m Not Going to be Ashamed” – The UK Guardian, Kate Muir, May 9, 2021 - https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/may/09/mission-menopause-my-hormones-went-off-a-cliff-and-im-not-going-to-be-ashamed
My Bosses Were Happy to Destroy Me – The Women Forced Out of Work by Menopause – Sirin Kale,The UK Guardian, Aug. 17, 2021 – https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/aug/17/my-bosses-were-happy-to-destroy-me-the-women-forced-out-of-work-by-menopause
My Hormone Replacement Therapy Journey So Far – Elle is For Living, Jan. 23, 2014 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fauPe6ChxMQ (Also see “An Update on My Hormone Replacement Journey” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sw9Iry6yx1I
My Menopause Journey – Dawn’s Life, Over 40, Jan. 15, 2018 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ki8CMD-qbiI
We Need to Talk about Perimenopause – Alyssa Schwartz, Elle, Nov. 2, 2021 – https://www.elle.com/beauty/health-fitness/a37922110/we-need-to-talk-about-perimenopause-november-2021/
In the online perimenopausal community, there appear to be some battle lines drawn. If you thought these virtual watering holes were full of women supporting one another with no judgement or disagreement, then you would be mistaken. Just as in real life, factions are present, and strong opinions drive polarities that sometimes erupt in typed jabs and laughing, angry and crying emojis.
One of the more obvious and ever-present ones is the pharmaceutical vs. natural camp.
Simply put, one group of women is more open and receptive to prescribed medications that have been battle-tested in clinical trials, and this includes FDA-approved hormone therapy (estradiol and progesterone) that is produced by major pharmaceutical companies and available in generic and name brand formulations (vs. hormones made by compounding pharmacies). This group of women may include those who tried natural remedies that proved inadequate, harmful or ineffective as well as those who trust conventional medicine because it has been trialed, tested, in many cases with proven efficacy, and is produced according to regulations, with known and documented side effects.
The other group of women trends toward the “natural at all costs” philosophy. This is the group that may discourage going to conventional doctors and favors naturopathic and functional medicine practitioners instead. They are also the ones likely to caution against using prescribed medications, such as antidepressants (including but not limited to other drugs prescribed off label to help with perimenopausal hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety and more), as well as pharma-grade HRT. Their rationale may be that Big Pharma drugs have harmed them personally or those they know, that there is an unsavory profit motive involved in the practice of medicine that doesn’t put people first and that natural alternatives can’t harm you.
Naturally (pun not intended), there is a deep affinity among women thrust into perimenopause to try what’s close at hand, readily available and perceived as harmless. So many of us had no warning and little or no education about what would happen to our bodies and minds in midlife. We just knew that when we hit our late 30s to mid 40s, we started feeling different, off-kilter and a bit abnormal. Thus, we are fending for ourselves – at least those of us with the grit and resilience to even try to address the panoply of hormonal change symptoms. And that self-advocacy often starts with over-the-counter supplements and various concoctions, potions and pills recommended by word of mouth and easily obtained.
The problem is that just because something is natural, doesn’t mean it’s good for you, beneficial to your individual biochemistry or without side effects. Here are some commonly suggested natural remedies, bandied about through the grapevine among communities of women, or offered to us by supplement companies and holistic non-MD providers whose biggest competitors are, in fact, the commercial pharmaceutical industry and the very few mainstream physicians skilled in caring for midlife women (oh, those precious few!).
As you can see, there are side effects and risks associated with “natural” agents as well as pharmaceutical prescriptions – the most commonly cited and warned against in perimenopause being antidepressants and HRT. Coincidentally, many of the side effects of these supplements mirror some of the side effects associated with certain medications.
Many supplements have not been thoroughly tested through randomized, double-blind clinical trials, and many reports of potential benefit for the symptoms they are said to address are limited at best. In perimenopause and menopause, women ultimately must decide which options work best for them. For some, it will mean medications of any type are off limits. For others, they will embrace FDA-approved medicines. And many, many more will adopt an integrative approach, blending options from both worlds.
By Cheryl Oreglia
Preparation Is Key
I knew this chrysalis stage was going to be rough, as if tackling pubescence in your fifties, but I have to admit the unrelenting joy was a total surprise.
The caterpillar chooses the food the butterfly will need, chooses the exact space to later spread its wings, without the space, the wings would never fly writes Marion Woodman. She goes on to say the chrysalis is essential. It is the twilight zone, a precarious world between past and future, like living in a gap, it naturally defines all that is to be.
I’ve come to believe aging well is all about preparation. Did I sufficiently feed myself with rich experiences, capacitate deeply rooted relationships, situate myself in a space that not only allowed for failure but a graceful recovery? If so, am I prepared to rid myself of this interim shelter, spread my wings, and live without the encumbrances of youth?
This is my journey through menopause, the untarnished truth, the reality of aging in a modern world, and how this redefined my perception of beauty.
When the tsunami hit, it was powerful and unexpected. I found myself sweating profusely in front of my students, I couldn’t sleep for more than a two-hour stretch, or decide on a particular mood, and never mind the unwarranted belly fat. My hair, skin, muscles, and bones staged a coup and I’m afraid I was not dealing with it well.
I took walks, ate kale, drank lots of water, and like Jesus there was never enough wine.
It’s noteworthy to mention that aging female whales also experience a hormone imbalance during their twilight years. The interesting thing is whales become leaders in their pods, whereas humans go on hormone replacement, and start searching the yellow pages for a good therapist.
We have an odd response to aging in our society—tackle the symptoms, hide the evidence. It’s as if we’re disposable, past our expiration date, left unrefrigerated, fermenting on the counter, our essence soured, spoiled, and yet some would say cultured.
It must be said, I miss my waist. The part of my anatomy designed to clarify the top half of my body from the bottom. It not only defined my shoulders, but scaled beautifully with my derrière, allowed me to bend gracefully, wear fashionable belts, offer a place to rest a baby or my hands when angry. It’s no longer there, as if a soft-serve ice cream cone, I’m suddenly layered. This could be for practical purposes, such as stability because otherwise, my boobs would totally throw me off balance.
People age. It’s not a design flaw or cruel and unusual punishment for surviving our youth. It’s a reward. We are finally unburdened by cycling hormones, the demands of fertility, and our homemade fledglings. I’m what you call a recovering enabler, I used to spend my day running amuck, delivering late papers, forgotten lunches, art projects, and gym clothes to three different schools, acting as a buffer during conflicts, generously (at times begrudgingly) accommodating the demands of family and clan, bending like a pretzel to make life easier for anyone caught in the vortex of my life.
I don’t miss all the noise and confusion, the chaotic pace, picky eaters, or monthly menses.
Today, I’m graced with quiet, unmitigated time, and the leisure to pursue all those dreams I stuck on that vision board in my thirties but somehow ended up in the back of a disorganized closet. I have arrived, it’s time to dust off that old bulletin board, and start pinning new goals.
My husband and I are revving up the romance. He’s taken to courting his bride. We bought a tandem bike, joined a gourmet cooking club, and added wine tasting to our extracurricular activities. He’s improving his golf game; I’m developing my writing and together we are decluttering the garage. Our travel plans have been hampered by the restrictions of an unexpected pandemic but like all things in life, this too shall pass. My schedule is malleable, I wrap it around my needs. Now I consider it a good day when I find my car keys, a parking space, and remember why I landed in the Target parking lot.
Survival of the Fittest
But wait for it … in the middle of all this menopausal unrest, I stumbled on a fabulous theory! The most prevalent premise behind menopause is called the grandmother hypothesis. In short, it suggests females may stop breeding to help their children and grandchildren survive and reproduce.
Do you understand the implications here?
I didn’t either.
In a world where my value was based on the productivity of my womb, no wonder I had a meltdown when my ovaries died. As my temperature rose, and the perky parts fell, I became a mother again.
Yes, it’s true. With the birth of my daughter’s daughter, I’m no longer a detriment to the ecosystem, like reusable containers I’ve been repurposed, restored, and revitalized.
I can’t say it enough, motherhood the second time around is pretty damn sweet, nothing falls out of your honeypot, and no stretch marks.
The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected, says Robert Frost.
My granddaughter asked me the other day, “Do those hurt, Grammie?” She was referring to the wrinkles around my eyes. I said, “No sweetheart, not at all.” I’m relishing the freedom from those confining roles of parent, caregiver, volunteer extraordinaire, to newly winged senior citizen, glorious, light, wrinkled, and free.
I still hate kale.
Naomi Wolf says, a consequence of female self-love is that the woman grows convinced of social worth. Her love for her body will be unqualified, which is the basis of female identification. If a woman loves her own body, she doesn’t grudge what other women do with theirs; if she loves femaleness, she champions its rights.
“Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you should have always been,” says David Bowie. Writing has given me a place to spread my wings. I could not have anticipated the enormous endowment of this work. My concept of beauty has shifted over time. I believe there is nothing more beautiful than a confident, unencumbered woman, who understands not only her immeasurable worth, but her influence on the perpetuation of society. I appreciate the brevity of our existence, the precarious space between past and future in which we exist, and I’m ever so grateful for our latent ability to break through the chrysalis, take to the skies, endowed with wrinkles, and resplendent joy.
Cheryl Oreglia hosts a lifestyle blog called Living in the Gap, she claims the space between past and future, where one's potential is created or destroyed. With arresting humor Oreglia draws you into her cantankerous life, forty-year marriage, empty nest, and evolving faith. By cleaning out the things that clutter her life she illuminates our own in her popular memoir-style blog. Oreglia surrounds herself with a gaggle of intriguing friends who challenge her to live authentically in a rapidly changing world. Oreglia uses her experience to explore what matters most in life...the degree to which we love and are loved.
The Real Peri Meno is devoted to all things perimenopause - the science, treatments, care, understanding, personal experiences, relationships, culture and more. The brain child of Keisha D. Edwards, The Real Peri Meno developed out of her own shock-and-awe experience with perimenopause and navigating the disjointed U.S. medical system in search of answers, support and relief.
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