I’ve got a reputation for being a bit of a tough nut. But I’m not really. I’m just a pretty good actress, let down occasionally by my face which can sometimes reveal exactly what I’m thinking, much to the delight of those around me.
But the one thing my face never did was betray the emotions I was hiding from family, friends and colleagues. You know the ones I mean. Those emotions that are related to the sad, horrible, hurtful things that happen in life.
Those close to me will agree I’ve never been a particularly emotional person. I rarely get into an argument, will avoid confrontation that I know won’t go well, and I was certainly not a crier.
Looking back, I was never even a hugely emotional, flouncy teenager (only had a couple of ‘moments’ during that period). I’ve never had what you would consider a big bust up with friends or family. Never even had what you might call a fight either, verbally or physically.
I’m convinced this is why I think certain people in my life do not believe I’m struggling with perimenopause or show me any empathy or sympathy. Perhaps they think I’m making it up or putting it on because it’s so unlike me not to be ‘myself’.
That hurts. A lot. Because I do have bad days where I’m very down. I’ll be crippled with anxiety, or so lethargic and miserable I can barely drag myself out of bed. I will hug the door frame crying my eyes out because I can’t find something, let alone remember the words I need to ask someone to help me find it.
I know that on the whole, women tend to suffer more with anxiety than men, but for me, this was a new thing. We’ve all felt anxious about sitting an exam, visiting the dentist or going for a job interview, and that’s completely normal.
So when I started worrying about everyone, everything and then some, it came as a bit of a shock. I’d have panic attacks, feel too scared to drive and convince myself people were talking about me and conspiring against me behind my back. At work I was worried about making mistakes and losing my job.
I would replay conversations in my mind and worry about what people had said to me and what I’d said in return. Life would just become so overwhelming and I couldn’t cope with all the things swirling in my head. Then I’d cry again, like a hungry, over-tired toddler.
And while all this is going on I’m trying my best to be a good person at home, remain professional at work and support the people around me who still expect me to be the ‘old me’. I probably just need a good hug, but I can’t bear people touching me (social distancing was an utter gift, I can tell you!).
The tears are completely unstoppable. I’ve cried at work. I’ve cried in a supermarket (that was embarrassing). I’ve cried in a restaurant (people were glaring at my poor husband thinking he was a wanky bloke that makes women cry). I’ve cried a lot.
I’ve had good chats about how I feel with my pharmacist, hairdresser (free therapy – we tell them everything), nurse and dentist who have all given me great support and advice. But at the end of the day my happiness and mood always comes back down to me, my emotions and my hormones, or lack of them!
Nobody can prepare you for how perimenopause will make you feel, and no two women will feel the same. But we will all experience some or most of the common symptoms.
Some of us will be able to brush them off or barely notice them. Some of us will experience them but not realise what they are. And some will be like me, sobbing at the kitchen sink because I’ve found a small chip in a stupid, heart-shaped plate from Pound Land (sometimes I really need to get a grip!).
At So Just Be, we will always advise that the best people to speak to are the health professionals that you have access to. But there are other ways to get your life back under control. If you are struggling with your emotions, or prone to crying in the biscuit aisle in Sainsbury’s, these are some of the things I can recommend:
Be Gentle with Yourself
Having a good cry, sob or weep does not make you weak. It’s ok to feel your emotions. Take some time out, have a deep breath and let the moment pass.
Work it Out with a Work Out
Yup. You heard me. The feeling you have after a good swim, run or session in the gym will kick those tears and that anxiety into the long grass. I know it’s hard to motivate yourself to do the thing you least feel like doing.
But if I can sit here and write a blog after working my way through a box of Tampax in one day (nothing like a menstrual flood to make you feel great about perimenopause), especially when what I really want to do is climb into bed and eat my body weight in Galaxy chocolate, then I know you can drag that wobbly bottom lip to the gym.
Watch What You Eat
Notice I said that I really want to be in bed with Galaxy chocolate? Well I’m not. And that’s really hard. Especially today.
My mood is very low. I don’t have the energy to cry. But I can’t self medicate through perimenopause with Galaxy like I did with gin through the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020.
The best foods to reach for when we feel low are those rich in magnesium and zinc. So crack some eggs and make a spinach omelette to help tackle those mood swings.
Cut Back on the Booze
For me, a glass of wine when I really need it is non-negotiable. Sometimes only a glass of red will do. But that’s where I stop. One glass.
We should all try and drink less, regardless, but the odd glass of something you like now and then won’t hurt. Learn to limit what you drink and you’ll soon notice an improvement on your mood and feel more in control of your emotions.
Chill Out and Relax
I’ve embraced mindfulness much to the amusement of friends and family. I wasn’t really the type, you see. But you need to learn to ignore other people feeling uncomfortable just because you have found a way to help soothe your mind and improve your wellbeing.
Do what makes you feel good! Use the Calm app and try meditation. Take up a relaxing hobby. Try your hand at crafting. Have a go at yoga. Be kind to your mind and do whatever helps you tackle that anxiety and gets your mood under some control .
Talk About It
Share your thoughts and problems with friends who care about you. Perimenopause and menopause can feel a bit lonely – it’s so easy to feel like you are the only woman going through all this shit.
The truth is, they are/have/will be experiencing their own symptoms. We need to break down the barriers, normalise the conversations. Then we can laugh, cry and commiserate with each other as we share massive bars of Galaxy chocolate.
Perimenopause has taught me how to live with my own ’emotional outlet valve’. If I leave the valve closed tightly, life becomes too much, the pressure eventually hits maximum on the gauge and my valve fails completely. Meltdown imminent.
Through my tears and fears, I’ve grown wiser and developed my own coping mechanisms. The trick for me has been learning how and when to release that valve a little bit. There is no magic bullet and HRT isn’t right for everyone.
Just remember, none of us are weak and it’s OK to ask for help or help ourselves. Perimenopause is just for now, not forever.