My Family Wasn’t Prepared For My Perimenopause—Here’s How You Can Prepare Yours
Why We Need To Talk About Perimenopause With Family
Two years ago in November 2019, on a media trip to the Himalayan region in India, with three other people, two of them men. I realized that something was terribly wrong with my periods when in the washroom of a small wayside eatery, I discharged a scary, unusually large clot. For the four days of the road trip, I was extremely uneasy and yet could not talk about my problem with the others in the group. Talking about periods is taboo in India, and more so in the presence of men.
I had carried enough sanitary napkins but was worried that I would run short if the bleeding continued the way it was. At the hotel, I ended up hand-washing my stained clothes in extreme cold and trying to dry them on the room heater. I chose to fly back home and wore dark colors. By the time I came out of the arrival lounge, my clothes were soaking wet, and I was crying.
The episode sent me rushing to my gynecologist. A battery of tests and questions concerning my age, weight, sleep pattern, my mother’s menstrual history, the number of pregnancies, changes in my behavior; later, the doctor concluded that I was officially premenopausal. The doctor also diagnosed uterine fibroids.
Besides the erratic schedule and heavy flow that had become the new norm of my periods, I began noticing increased hair loss, growing chin hair, and a difficult-to-shed weight gain. I started dreading going on long road trips and missed my yoga sessions, too. What followed was a concoction of medicines for hypothyroidism, bone density, iron supplements, multivitamins, and hormones to regulate my periods.
While the medicines brought some control to the heavy bleeding, insomnia quietly crept in, as did the hot flashes. Sleep eluded me. Anxiety, headaches, and aching, tired limbs became perpetual companions. When drinking just half a glass of wine in winter made me feel like I was burning up, I could relate to what Michelle Obama was referring to in her podcast. My sudden need to switch on the fan while everyone else was pulling their woolens closer perplexed those around me.
My overly emotional, irritable, and ever-exhausted state was also affecting the atmosphere within the family. Small disagreements between my daughter and me would turn into heated arguments, often leaving me unusually upset. Other times, I woke up in a bad mood or snapped at my husband. Clueless about what I was going through, he’d snap back, which triggered another round of emotional outbursts. We’d both end up sulking while my daughter started to stay shut in her room.
“Every [menstruating person] reaches this stage eventually,” says Dr. Asha Bhagwat, my gynecologist. “The hormonal imbalance that arrives with perimenopause, hides in plain sight…[and] emotional vulnerability, exhaustion and depressive thoughts lead to more mental stress and trigger other frustrating changes.”
With hardly any conversation around this health issue, those not experiencing menopause are unprepared to empathize with those of us entering this life stage. It is why a dialogue between family members is necessary, to help them understand the emotional and physical changes that we undergo as we age.
How To Talk To Your Family & Ask For Their Support
1. Communicate about what you’re going through
Communication is everything when talking to your loved ones about perimenopause. As my daughter is dealing with teenage period woes, it has been much easier to explain. And with my husband, I’ve found it most helpful to share links to medical articles on perimenopause and its repercussions. This helps him better understand what is happening in my mind and body.
It’s difficult to expect support unless we communicate with our loved ones about the range of moods we may be experiencing. When we communicate our pains, aches, and vulnerable emotions, others can better understand and support us.
2. Ask for the help you need (or don’t)
Small tasks can overwhelm me, especially when I am experiencing mood swings. I’ve asked my daughter to be my ally in facing the stressful cycles by pitching in more with household chores. Alternatively, since my husband is a hands-on person, I’ve asked him to let me be at times when I look flustered rather than trying to fix things.
While our loved ones want to be there for us, they can’t know what we need (or don’t) unless we first ask.
3. Be specific about what you need during a hot flash or mood swing
In addition to communicating about general needs, I’ve also found it helpful to talk with my family about what I need during mood swings or hot flashes. With my daughter, I’ve asked her to wait until I am in a calmer mindset to bring up her frustrations, and I’ve also explained that my sudden tears are not her fault.
With my husband, I’ve asked that he be more patient with my frequent need to rush to the washroom and understand my heightened sensitivity to sounds. He is now conscious of turning the television volume down if I’m experiencing agitation.
Finally, as my insomnia continued to disrupt my nights, I’ve also communicated to my family that I sometimes need naps during the day. My husband will even stop his work to hug me while I fall asleep as the embrace helps calm my frazzled nerves.
Again, communication is key and can make the onset of mood swings a bit more manageable for everyone.
If you are going through perimenopause, I encourage you to also talk with your family. The discussion about the emotional and physical changes must not be shied away from, and sensitizing the family of such an important phase of life is the best way to find empathy and support.
Shoma Abhyankar is based in India. She writes about travel, food, culture, science & technology besides personal essays. Her work has appeared in Shondaland, BBC Future, MIT Technology Review, Whetstone Magazine and more. She tweets at @throbbingmind.