I’ve been getting my period for 36 years. It’s a regular inconvenience that I’ve come to expect every time I go on vacation or I’m about to do something I think is important and need all the self confidence I can muster.
I was 10 when my grandmother sat me down to explain the facts of life. For such a big thing as life there weren’t many facts. We sat across from each other at the yellow Formica kitchen table and she waved a big pad around. She stressed how lucky I was to get to wear one of these sticky things. In her day they had to wash out rags and later wear some belted contraption I still can’t visualize.
The talk lasted about three-and-a-half minutes, not unlike my first sexual experiences. I had no idea what she meant by any of it so I asked Steven, one of the kids down the street. We were the same age but he knew everything. When he explained tampons I was skeptical and a bit nauseous but I didn’t question his authority. He was right about all of it.
I had one more year of freedom before the burden of surprise periods at school and cramps that made me want to die became a staple of my teen and early adult years. It still appears on cue but weird stuff is happening to my body again. It’s all very ominous.
I wake up at four a.m. I don’t know why, I just do. And when I do, I’m sweaty like I’ve just run a marathon through Ethiopia during a hot spell.
I feel like I’m premenstrual all the time. There’s a two-day window where I don’t want to kill anyone. Instead of killing people I lick the salt off of potato chips and try to satisfy sweet cravings by roasting marshmallows over the electric burner on my stove.
My hands look like they’ve been switched out. I have old lady hands all of a sudden. My skin is all papery and the blue veins kind of bulge underneath.
Of course I’ve heard of menopause but I was less familiar with perimenopause which is the big lead up to menopause. It’s like the opening monologue to the Oscars— a bit ridiculous and torturously long. The idea of no longer having periods is appealing but you have to get through so much crap to get to it.
I Googled perimenopause and scrolled through a list of symptoms as long as a King’s Buffet takeout menu. The menopause transition phase can last eight to 10 years so there’s plenty of time to sample all the symptoms. I regularly get the bloating, sleeplessness and night sweats with a side of anxiety or depression. But who knows what I have to look forward to in the coming months and years. I know a lot of women who are hot-flashers. I don’t mean naked women in trench coats that give unsuspecting pedestrians an eyeful. I mean they suddenly turn red and wander around pulling their collars away from their necks as they sweat profusely and fan themselves with their hands. I’m hoping to dodge that one. I’ll take my profuse sweat in private at 4 a.m., thank you very much.
By the time I get half way through my perimenopause literature, I’m moody, exhausted, and all I want to do is stand over the kitchen sink with a tube of sour cream and onion Pringles. And that’s the cruelty of it all. I could eat Doritos for breakfast when I was 23 and didn’t need to. Now when I need to my pants get tighter if I so much as walk down the chip aisle at the grocery store. I have to eat healthy now. Now. When I’m prone to anxiety and depression. I see other women my age who seem to handle life like Cirque du Soleil acrobats, smooth and graceful, while I go through life like a cat falling from window blinds.
I don’t feel any more prepared for the changes to my body than I did when I was 10. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.