Each year millions of women in their late 40s and early 50s experience the dreaded time in life that we euphemistically refer to as "the change," including peri-menopause (or pre-menopause) and menopause. For many of us, peri-menopause comes out of left field, stealing any and all prior sense of stability and normalcy and leaving a wake of escalating and plummeting hormones that send us spiraling out of control. At 52 years of age, I was astounded when a nurse practitioner diagnosed my depression as being due to peri-menopause. In the last eight months since that diagnosis, I have at times been someone that neither I nor my husband recognize. I offer the following advice for other women based on my experience.
Be open to a new you. While the term "change of life" refers to the process of going from fertile to infertile, be prepared for peri-menopause to result in a whole new you: new characteristics, interests and priorities. For much of my life, I have been relatively shy and introverted. Now at 52, I find myself outgoing. My social calendar has gone from being spotty to being packed with activities with friends and colleagues. I joined not one, but two churches and a Bible study group after years of questioning my earlier faith. After a lifetime of being a committed bookworm, I signed up at a gym and acquired three tattoos and a belly ring. My mother was speechless.
Nurture social support. Escalating and plummeting hormones and the subsequent loss of estrogen may leave you with extreme emotions. You will need the support of your friends and, most importantly, your spouse, whose life will also be significantly affected by your highs and lows. My husband and I had been married for 27 years when peri-menopause started for me. Since then I have invested 100 percent of myself into my marriage and found my husband doing the same in response. As a result, our marriage has vastly improved and been rejuvenated. It is our second chance for a fulfilling and vibrant marriage.
Have faith in the future. Remember during those low times that the change of life is only temporary and you won't always feel so out-of-control. Talk to older friends and family members to gain a wider perspective and reassurance that you are not in this alone.
Seek professional assistance. Professionals are available to help you, whether you are dealing with hot flashes, depression or insomnia. Start with your primary care provider and work from there to alleviate your unique combination of symptoms.
Be good to yourself. Peri-menopause and menopause often accompany other life changes that make them easier to contend with: a new marriage, seniority in the workplace, children leaving home and a greater sense of self-confidence.