When my periods first started to change back in 2012 at the age of 44 and I realized I had probably started peri-menopause, I wanted to know about other women’s experiences. There were legions of horror stories online, very little about the positive and hardly any actual hard data. “It’s different for everyone” was a common theme, which is all well and good but I still wanted to know what was physically happening to other women to give me some companionship in my own journey through The Change. However, I found nothing online so started keeping a chart on my cycle length as well as notes on my symptoms and I now have another 12 months worth of data to share with you.
I’ll start off with my first chart. I’d been a regular 27/28 day cycle person my entire life but in 2012 my cycle length started to subtly change and I initially experienced slightly longer cycles than usual. The red line indicates 28 days – click on each chart for a larger view.
In 2013 things went totally haywire. As you can see from the chart below I basically had alternating long and short cycles, with a couple of very short cycles (for me at any rate). I had my first daytime hot flush this year, but only the one, and no other real symptoms. I did have my FSH level tested and it came back as “normal” which isn’t at all unusual in the early stages of peri-menopause. However, it was in this year that my previously unknown mast cell disease exploded and I was very unwell.
In 2014 my cycles were still abnormal, but not quite as erratic as the year before. Again, no other symptoms of peri-menopause that I could put my finger on. By now I’d started on a low histamine diet and thankfully had stopped passing out every time I ate. Many of my other MCAS symptoms remained, however, and continue to this day.
The start of 2015 saw my cycles even out, only to become erratic again in the second half of the year. I also saw a couple of symptoms appear – vaginal dryness around my period, which doesn’t half make your ladygarden itch and is well uncomfortable as your undies rub against your bits, and changes in my mood. I had sudden and inexplicable rages which were absolutely overwhelming. Having never suffered from PMT I found being so out of control of my emotions really difficult, though thankfully the hooha only usually lasted a day or two around my period.
In 2016 I continued to have vaginal dryness and mood changes, but the dreadful rages I felt in 2015 thankfully disappeared. I did still have a short fuse at certain times in the month but it was nothing I couldn’t control. I also had some really weepy episodes, usually in the few days before my period started and by the end of the year was starting to feel quite overwhelmed. As someone who usually has very stable moods this was unusual for me. I didn’t know how much was down to the perimenopause and how much was down to what was going on in my personal life, ie the situations with my parents and my Mum’s drinking, so decided to see a therapist to help me work through it. Three months later and I was feeling much calmer, so you really shouldn’t put everything down to your hormones!
In 2017 my periods became even more erratic. My moods had fairly much evened out, though, and I was back to feeling more like myself despite episodes of anxiety for no apparent reason which is fairly common in peri-menopause. I still hadn’t had any hot flushes, though my sleep was definitely affected and there were times I struggled with insomnia. I did have some wicked skipped heartbeats and palpitations, though, and in the end had this checked out by wearing a 24 hour holter monitor and it show up on the trace but was put down to peri-menopause and not any kind of heart issue. My migraines around ovulation and menstruation definitely became worse and could last for days which was crippling. My energy levels took a nosedive and my brain fog some days was dreadful, however this may have be due to the fact that I was borderline anaemic rather than being solely down to my hormones. Two other symptoms I noticed this year were weight gain and very painful, itchy breasts which were checked out via mammogram and were thankfully fine.
In late 2017 I started taking iron supplements for my low ferritin levels and my insomnia and exhaustion improved. In fact, my sleep during 2018 was the best it’s been in 25 years for which I am grateful beyond words. I continued to struggle with weight gain despite eating the same amount of food, though I did have the rampant munchies and know I ate more sweets and crisps than I should have 😉 I still didn’t have any hot flushes, however I had some very scary episodes of feeling like was having a stroke which I put down to vasomotor issues – about 5 in one year, which doesn’t sound a lot but they frightened the life out of me. My skin was becoming much drier and I developed jowls on my face – I now avoid mirrors first thing in a morning because I look like my Nan!
During 2018 and the early part of 2019 the trend for erratic periods has continued (ignore the months on the chart as I no longer have a period every 28 days so the months now don’t tally!). I had my shortest cycle to date at 12 days and my first missed period and thought “hurrahh, I’m finally going to reach menopause” only for Aunt Flo to continue her visits as usual. Bugger it. I have been profoundly tired and often horribly brain fogged and confused again in the last year and really should get my iron levels re-checked – the more tired I am the less well I can cook and then I don’t eat as much iron-rich food as I should. My migraines have also been the worst in years, which is so disappointing as they had settled down quite well since going on a low histamine diet. My weight seems to have stabilized even though I’m now 10lbs heavier than I’d like to be, but I do have to be careful what I eat and certainly can’t eat the portion sizes I always have. I’ve had a few more of the stroke-like attacks, which I still think are hot flushes in disguise, and am definitely hotter in general than I used to be particularly first thing in a morning. My skin is now very dry and my ladygarden is very itchy (though not dry as yet). In 2019 my joints started to constantly hurt and if I do any kind of activity I tear my ligaments. However, I’m still sleeping really well most of the time which is the biggest blessing from all this hormone malarkey.
So, my peri-menopause seems to be trundling along at a snail’s pace and, despite the fact I will shortly be 52, there is no sign that my periods are imminently going to end. I’m having many of the symptoms of peri-menopause, but so far they’re nowhere near as bad as I was expecting and nothing like the horror stories I’ve read about online. They can be annoying but are manageable and it helps that I know what’s happening and that it will all eventually pass. Everything that’s happening to me is normal and to be expected – very few women just stop their periods with no symptoms at all and I’m happy for nature to just take its course. Howwever this all may change as the actual Menopause arrives and I’ll probably end up reaching for the Prozac and the desk fan, but so far so good!