The 'joys' of perimenopause

17:00, Jun 28 2014
seven sisters, pleiades
EARTHLY TRIALS: Can we blame them on celestial bodies?

Hatred fills my heart. Murder my mind. For endless days now.

At first I wonder where she went. That other woman. When did loving kindness desert me? Who is this shedevil who has moved in? I seethe, until, distracted momentarily from the horrors of my inner landscape, I look out and I look up. Into the night sky.

And there it hangs. Impossibly low. Unbearably heavy. As full and as creamy as a litre of silver-top milk.

I get out my diary. I count the days. The truth dawns: I am premenstrual and a celestial body is pulling my strings.

The Guardian recently ran a piece by Jeanette Winterson.

Several years ago, while recovering from a mental breakdown, the British writer and activist's body inopportunely decided to enter menopause.


"A woman talks to her GP like a sinner at confession," she wrote. "'It must be my hormones,' covers everything from not wanting to sleep with your husband, to wanting to kill him. Meanwhile your waistline expands and your hair falls out."

Incensed the medical fraternity would only offer her anti-depressants or HRT, she set out to find a solution to deal with her whole story.

"With the Pill to prevent conception, IVF to encourage it and HRT for the menopause, the womb to tomb ambitions of Big Pharma have been realised," she argues. Winterson's search took her to an expert in bioidentical hormone therapy (hormones derived from plant sources with structures that match our own). In desperation a while back, I turned to the internet, where I too found bioidentical hormone therapy. Specifically, a progesterone cream that promised to right my imbalances.

And at first that's exactly what it seemed to do. Until my doctor, an eminently sensible man whom I trust implicitly and who would undoubtedly make a nonsense of my half-cocked theories about hormones and moons, talked me through the science. And like that, my miracle cure stopped working; fizzling out faster than the faith that had fuelled it.

Winterson concludes that regular blood tests, changes to diet and exercise, and psychotherapeutic interventions have left her feeling "at home in my body again".

Me? Now my body's returned to its unhampered with, intermittently homicidal, perimenopausal state, it feels more like it's been subject to a home invasion. There is no indubitable diagnostic method for perimenopause, but I can tick every box on an online checklist.

I remember in my mid-30s listening to dear friends who had already crossed into the next decade complaining of being increasingly in thrall to theircccles. How they only ever felt randy during a narrow window of one or two days per month. And on those rare occasions they were lusty, they could be sure that concurrently a follicle was rupturing and an egg was being released from their ovary. I remember that they sounded indignant.

And as my 40th looms, and the lows are lower and longer and the highs fewer, I, too, am pissed off. For the first time in my adult life I can enjoy the freedom of caring less, less about what others think and less about that which does not matter much.

And yet this newfound freedom is held hostage by my PMT. I fear a future of foul moods, with neither the release nor the reprieve of a period. There is some comfort to be had in the Grandmother Theory.

Female human beings are almost unique in the animal kingdom with their long post-menopausal lives. In the 50s the evolutionary biologist George Williams posited that menopause had come about to protect older women from childbirth and so that they could care for their children until they, too, can reproduce.

This theory was built on in the 80s by Professor Kristen Hawkes, an anthropologist who found that the Hadza, a tribe in Tanzania, depended on the labour of its older women. She observed that because of their support, young women were able to breed more successfully.

It's only a theory, but I find this suggestion of women playing a critical role long after they are no longer reproductively viable heartening. There is something too in the implication that united women are a formidable force.

It lends new significance to the curious phenomenon where the cycles of women who live in close proximity eventually synchronise.

One morning last month I rang an old friend, who was meant to be coming over that evening. My breasts ache, I said. My skin has broken out. And I would quite like to kill someone. I can't face cleaning my house or cooking you all dinner. Can we come to yours instead?

Of course, she said. Later that afternoon, she rang me. Actually, she said, I'm premenstrual too. I just want to lie on the couch and eat corn chips and guacamole and not talk to anyone. Do you mind?

Not at all, I said.

Sunday Star Times