Anxiety

Until last summer, I did not know what a real anxiety attack was. I had had a few warnings before but there always seemed to be a good reason for it. We had moved 3 times in 4 years and it seemed logical to suffer from a bit of anxiety when preparing for the next move. But then it happened at the least expected moment…

During a few months, I worked with someone I like to call my body and mind coach. I learnt to breathe again and release negative energy, love myself again. After 8 months, I have learnt to cope with my anxiety. But let’s face it, it has not completely disappeared yet. The attacks do not come in so strongly anymore because I am in a better place personally, but they still happen, not every cycle but if they do, it is around ovulation time and a few days before menstruation. I know my anxiety is not grounded on anything concrete, real because I have a good life. But I have always been a bit short on self-confidence and now that my hormones start to be all over the place, it seems like it is reinforcing my weaknesses. None of the doctors I have seen so far has been willing to confirm that my anxiety attacks are linked to perimenopause. The closest to it was my coach who said it had to do with my age, the end of my reproduction time and my mind having difficulties to adapt to it. But she never mentioned the word perimenopause (even though she is slightly older than me and might have gone through the same changes herself). Every time I tried to touch on the subject she referred me to my gynaecologist for advice! Isn’t it odd to have difficulties even with female doctors to discuss this topic?

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Talking to friends and family

Maybe it has to do with culture. I am French and my other half is Dutch. We lived 9 years in the Netherlands before moving to Spain and I definitely see a difference between the conversations I have with my friends and family from these 3 countries. The more Northern the less you talk about your female “problems”. If I use stereotypes, I would say French are prude and Dutch are tough (suffering is part of life, so you just live with it and do not talk about it). For my Spanish friends, it seems fully normal to comment between girls on your menstrual flow and how you cope with it.

So, when I experienced acute anxiety attacks last summer, I first completely collapsed and kept it to myself. But then I realized that I needed to talk about what I was going through, first to kind of justify myself towards my husband and my parents who had witnessed it. But I soon realized it was helping me to understand my symptoms and eventually start accepting I was changing. The real eye opener came when I started sharing with my female friends about it. I then realized that every woman around my age (and sometimes younger) was having some kind of symptoms. Not exactly the same ones but they were also struggling through change. Because I was suddenly sharing what was happening to me, they felt comfortable sharing what they were experiencing. And that felt so reassuring, so comforting. I was belonging to a group again.

Since last summer, I am openly talking about how I feel with them and they do the same. And we share tips and try to learn from each other’s ways of going through it. When you are pregnant, they are preparation classes, when you are a young mother, there are loads of groups you can join with or without your baby to help you recover, get used to your new life. But there is not much available to help you get prepared for and then through perimenopause. Or at least I haven’t found it where I live yet. I personally see a need for support groups.

When your gynaecologist does not seem to understand how you feel

So, what do you do when your doctor does not provide you with much help or support during perimenopause? My gynaecologist (who is rather young) keeps on telling me that I am not menopaused (which I perfectly know since I still have a more or less regular menstrual cycle!). She did prescribe a blood test that confirmed the diagnostic. She mentioned that I could eventually start taking the pill if symptoms would go on or get worse. But given my age (47) and the fact that I had stopped taking it about 20 years ago, she would rather not prescribe it to me. I also prefer to do without it… Finally, she sent me home with a last comment on the changes I have started seeing: “Given your age, it is fully normal.” Thank you! That made me feel much better!

After all, nothing to worry about: anxiety attacks which started last summer out of the blue, huge mood swings, days where I feel like my body has been drained out of all energy without any reason, tears that come out at the least expected moment… Good days alternating with lesser ones. Completely normal, isn’t it? But there must be better ways to go through this. One cannot go from one doctor to the other, looking for appropriate support.

But unfortunately, that’s what is usually happening. Talking to my female friends I see that everyone is struggling to find help (when they look for it, because some of them do not realize that they are going through perimenopause before I start sharing my own experience).

My personal conclusion has been that it is down to me to find solutions, to cope with it, to try and smooth a bit my daily life. After all, it might take 10 years before I am on the other side. And I am not willing to continuously suffer through it.

Let’s talk about it

Gillian Anderson in Lenny (Lenny)  “What happens is, over time our levels of oestrogen start to deplete, and as a result we develop symptoms like anxiety, depression, mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, and find it harder and harder to cope with the normal routines of our lives.”

If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend reading Gillian Anderson’s interview with her best friend in the Lenny newsletter. It felt so encouraging to see that a well-known actress would go public about perimenopause, that it gave me the inspiration and the motivation to start writing about it.

If Agent Scully from X-Files was bold enough to break this taboo, this law of silence and put herself in the spotlight and let the world know that she was also going through these “shameful” times, then I should be able to write about what I’m going through as well and share experiences with other women.

No-one wants to publicly announce she is in perimenopause. However every time I start telling a woman in her 40’s (and sometimes younger) about what I have been going through for the last year, it inevitably brings her to echo in some ways. Not everyone will experience the same symptoms at the same frequency, in the same intensity or even in the exact same age period, but every woman will relate one way or the other to it.

It feels so comforting and reassuring to see I am not alone, that what I am going through is not abnormal, that I am not a weak person, unable to handle normal life suddenly and that the others are no superwomen, as I sometimes wondered. In a world where appearances seem everything, where Facebook and Instagram profiles must reflect a perfect life, it is hard to be open about perimenopause. But if we start to make it visible, to talk about it openly, we will find that it makes us stronger and better able to go through this. Because let’s face it, there are no miraculous solutions. Our bodies are undergoing such a tremendous change, that it is bound to bring some inconveniences. But at least we don’t have to be miserable about it and deal with it on our own. There are plenty of books, studies, help and understanding available for other big hormonal changes such as puberty and pregnancy. Why should it be different for perimenopause?

So let’s contribute to a change of mentality, to a better education of our doctors, to a greater awareness among women and men. Let’s be open about it.