Perimenopause & Not Burning My Life Down

self-care Jun 07, 2023

 

There have been two times in my life that I've wanted to burn my life down.

The first time was in my mid 20's. I decided to leave my 5 year old child's father (don't worry, it's been almost 20 years since and it was the BEST decision we made, we co-parented well and have a great relationship with each other and with our now 22 year old). I moved in with my parents for 3 years and worked full-time while getting my Masters Degree in Education. I was then able to get a better position in my career and was able to afford a house on my own. This was also when I started to date my now husband who was my high school sweetheart.

Burning my life down was a great decision.

The second time was from December 2022 to March 2023.

At the time there was some family stress going on and I felt like I was supporting everyone else and no one was supporting me. PLUS, I just started to feel "off" with my mental health. Looking back, that "off" feeling had been happening for a few years, but wasn't intense enough to be worried.

 However, one day I woke up and felt unhappy and anxious ALL the time. I couldn't stand myself, my life decisions and everyone around me but my kids. I thought the only solution was to burn my life down because it worked out for me the last time! 

Spoiler alert! I didn't burn my life down, but I'm going to share my journey with you and the word "Perimenopause". I've since learned that so many have never heard of this word before.

Though I highly suspect that I started to experience symptoms of perimenopause years prior (due to my being 43 yrs old at the time), some of my "wonderful" symptoms were:

  • Insomnia
  • Chronic Anxiety (and almost having my first panic attack)
  • Depression (and all that comes with that)
  • Low energy
  • Rage & mood swings for no reason.
  • Migraines

I had never experienced ALL those symptoms at once before. And even though I was personally going through some family stress that could trigger the above symptoms, it didn't quite feel "right". I had experienced a lot of stress in my life, but had never felt this way before.

I could no longer live in that state. So instead of burning my life down, I sought out support. I'm going to share what that looked like for me in hopes that it can inspires you to seek support in whatever feels right for you if you find yourself experiencing something similar.

 

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I have never had anyone share or prep me for what I was going to possibly experience with perimenopause. 

I think the reason is multi-layered.

1. There is not nearly enough funding, research and time spent on women's (or people who menstruate and go through menopause) health.

2. All people experience this phase of their life differently. For some it's a blip and for others it's like neing hit by a brick wall. There may be some shame or embarrassment from those who experience more intense symptoms.

3. There's still a lot of stigma around mental health and a lot of self-blame and shame, so people stay quiet. Also, mental health struggles are not visible like a broken leg. It's "normal" to seek help for a broken leg, but not for an "invisible" struggle with mental health. I don't see a difference, both are equally valid and important to treat. So I will not stay quiet about my own struggle with mental health.

Since sharing about my own experiences, so many have shared that they're going through (or have gone through) very similar symptoms and experiences.

I am thankful that I am resourced and was able to easily get support. However, I know that not everyone has ease of access, so I want to say this to those who are still in the struggle.

You are not alone.

You are not broken.

I hope that you don’t give up in finding a solution that is going to best support you.

You are worth fighting for.

You don’t have to continue to struggle or suffer.

You don’t have to settle. 

 

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So let's dive deeper into how perimenopause was presenting itself in my life.

I’m sharing so that if you're going through something similar, you might be able to name it. Or maybe even prepare you for a day when you might experience something similar. 

I want to note that all experiences are going to vary in symptoms and in intensity. I am only sharing my experience, not to influence anyone in any way. What I felt and what solutions worked for me, is not going to be the choices you want to make and/or may not support you in the same way. We are all very unique and what works for one person, rarely works the same for everyone. 

I’m going to share about the symptoms that impacted me most - Anxiety, Depression, Insomnia & Headaches. 

Oh…Anxiety….

I had never struggled with anxiety before.

Don’t get me wrong, I have experienced anxiety before, but only in typical anxiety induced situations. However, all of a sudden I would wake up everyday feeling like I could never calm my nervous system. All day long. For months.

Even though at the time I was dealing with stressful things in my life and feeling anxious would be a normal reaction to them ... .the severity and intensity of the anxiety I was experiencing didn’t feel linked to it. It felt like it had a life of its own. 

I almost had my first panic attack while I was on a walk one day. Thankfully I was walking in the woods near water (two things that calm and relax me), so I sat on a tree stump and focused on my breath and I was able to avoid it.

Walking outside was a HUGE help with my anxiety, but it only really helped me in that moment. I couldn’t walk at all hours of the day.

The moment I knew that I needed to call the doctor was when:

 One day, I called our phone/tv/internet provider to try to get a better deal and (of course) they said “nope”. So, I went to explain what our choices were to my husband and he kept interrupting me. The old Amanda would have just asked my ADHD hubby to stop interrupting me, let me finish and move on.

Instead, I felt panicky, I couldn't continue talking and then I burst into tears. For those who don't know me. I rarely cry. Like ever.

I was so upset that I couldn't continue. So I walked away and left the house. I went for a walk and cried for an hour. My body could not regulate itself at all. 

I called the doctor as soon as I stopped crying.

How the depression showed up for me.

I'm sure everyone has experienced negative thoughts and self-talk. I absolutely have. But it never lasted long and I'd always been able to use some great tools to combat those voices.

However during those 3 months, my negative thoughts started to feel like Godzilla, Jaws, Pennywise, Mike Myers had a baby and were constantly chasing me. Over and over. The thoughts and feelings would keep circling and never seemed to stop.

It felt relentless. Negative thoughts about myself, my life, my business, the world, society, people, my husband….everyone but my kids (for some reason my brain left them alone). I couldn’t stop the thoughts and they were overwhelming and constant.

So much so that I convinced myself that I needed to burn my life down to stop them. I thought I was so unhappy because I needed to make a change in my environment, job, life or relationship. But when I started to seriously look at burning my life down, that didn’t feel aligned either.

How I decided to best support myself at the time:

  • I decided to take a break from creating content and to get off of social media (not a good place to be when you are struggling with anxiety & depression).
  • I decided to only focus on supporting my family members who needed it and to focus only on working 1:1 with my clients.
  • I stopped most of my socializing at this point. I didn’t have the capacity for it, even though I felt isolated and lonely.
  • I spent a lot of time walking, not getting dressed, watching shows, reading, trying to catch up on sleep (because of insomnia) and just laying in my bed (headaches). Even my daughter noticed and asked me one day when I was laying in bed (which felt like I was always doing) “What’s going on mom? You never seem to be feeling good”. 

Also around this time my hubby and I started to argue. A lot.

Every time we tried to have a conversation that wasn’t just a simple “how was your day”, it would end up with an argument. It felt like we could no longer communicate and my patience for managing (and being patient with) his ADHD was absolutely gone. 

It got to the point that I said to him “if things don’t change, then I can’t see our marriage lasting much longer”.

I was so unhappy and angry. With everything. My life. My business (even though I loved my work), my marriage. With choices I made. Being a woman in a patriarchal society. With a transphobic, racist and misogynistic that is in power and refuses to change.

Now some of that anger is rightfully felt. But I didn’t REALLY regret my choices. I didn’t regret my business or marriage. I wouldn’t really have changed any of my choices. But at the time, I couldn't trust my feelings or thoughts.

I felt so lost because I didn't know if I could truly trust what I was feeling. I couldn't discern if my thoughts and feelings were being influenced by a hormonal imbalance (aka perimenopause)... or if I really did need to make some drastic changes in my life.

So, I started to look for jobs that could support me if I decided to burn my life down and I even applied for two…..

In the past 6 years, the area that I really struggled mentally with the most is having my own business. I recognize that trying something new and starting a business is absolutely challenging. I learned a ton. I challenged this shit out of myself. I grew as a human. But I also had never felt the worst about myself then I have since I started my business.

The first year was great, then when I hit age 38....it started to change. I have since learned that that's a common age when perimenopause can start....interesting...

I blew it off as a “mindset” issue or thought that I just maybe wasn’t cut out for owning a business. 

Don’t get me wrong, I thought I was a great Style Coach, but I had this running narrative in my head that I was a shitty business owner. I loved working with my clients and supporting them (even when I was at my lowest), but at that moment, the idea of promoting or creating content for my business on social media (the main way I get clients) felt so overwhelming. 

I had absolutely no desire to do any of that…so then what?!?!

I decided to go job hunting.

I haven’t looked for a job in decades…it was weird. Especially because I was either overqualified or under-qualified for most. Plus, I really couldn’t picture myself doing anything other than supporting people in their wardrobes and giving the finger to the status quo.

I felt like I couldn’t control my body, thoughts or feelings, so I sought out something I could control. I knew that I could apply for a job…but I didn’t have to actually interview or take a job.

Well…I never heard back from either. Which I’m thankful for.

I realized that maybe I could be a shitty business owner or have a “mindset issue” OR maybe that this was not true at all. Maybe it was something that was going on with my body and something that I had no control over. 

I quickly found out the answer as soon as I started to receive treatment and support for my hormonal imbalance. Yay for doctors and antidepressants!

I fell back in love with my business and I was mentally healthy enough to go back to social media again. -more on that later-

Let’s briefly go back to deciding to not burn my marriage down…

There was one night that everything came to a head. I was DONE managing my husband's ADHD and he was DONE with my not having patience with it anymore. So we both knew that it came to the point that our relationship needed support. 

I was able to recognize that my reactions and feelings were amplified and intensified by whatever was going on with me. But he had work to do too. So we started going to marriage counselling, which quickly led us down our own paths to individual therapy.

SPOILER ALERT - our marriage did not get burned down. Us doing our own therapy and me getting on medication has been the game changer.

Before we started therapy, I made a doctor's appointment. My heart breaks for the tens of thousands in our province who do not have a family doctor and I’m terrified for when ours retires.

After hearing my symptoms, he recommended an antidepressant. He didn’t want to start with hormonal therapy due to my frequent headaches. He started me on a low dose and told me I could double it if I didn’t notice an improvement after a month. I ended up doubling it and it’s been like night and day. 

EMDR Treatment.

I ABSOLUTELY ADORE my therapist. After our first session, she recommended that we use EMDR to treat me. My first EMDR processing session (and those after) was incredible. Like life changing for me. If you’re unfamiliar like I was with EMDR (other than hearing great things). Here’s a run down.

We had a few sessions before we started processing, so that I could create a “calming” place in my mind where I can go and actually FEEL calm. I also had to create a container in my mind where I can put things that I was not ready to feel or process yet to help reduce stress or intense emotions when I needed to. Then I learned some self calming techniques to practice.

My therapist and I identified what experience/belief/feeling I wanted to process and we started the EMDR processing. I had no idea what to expect. 

The experience WAS INCREDIBLE.

How I’ve described it was by comparing it to 2 things.

The first is the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon game. Kevin or bacon had nothing to do with my experience, but it was similar to the fact that I started with one specific memory/experience/feeling (a random movie) and then went on this random journey in my brain that brought up other experiences, feelings, memories and realizations. And then the memory we ended on (Kevin Bacon) didn’t at first seem to have any correlation to my very first one. It was like starting with one random movie, following connections to other movies until you end up at Kevin Bacon. And are fascinated on how you got to him.

I’m not sure if I’m explaining this correctly. But basically, I had no idea what my brain was going to show me next over the hour of processing and the connections (and my responses to them) that came up were fascinating. My background is in Psychology, so I love this stuff. 

If that wasn't clear, the 2nd comparison was like being on a drug induced journey through my brain. 

Let me clarify, I didn’t feel high on drugs…but it was the experience of letting my brain take over and take me on a journey through memories and feelings. Some made me feel fine. Some gave me realizations that I had not previously had and some made me deeply cry. 

I bounced from childhood memories, to recent ones, to ones from recent years and to the one we ended on with me still in my mother’s womb (not a memory, but a story that was told to me about that time).

It was incredible. It took me hours to fully process what I had just gone through. I had to go home and immediately go for a walk. Then a few hours later I was exhausted and had to have a nap. So heads up for anyone who wasn't to give this therapy a try.

 Okay, we covered my symptoms of Anxiety & Depression, so now I want to briefly touch on 2 other symptoms that I was experiencing and then I will share how I’m feeling now and lessons learned.

Sleep torture, aka insomnia.

We all know sleep is important and I had no idea that perimenopause would impact sleep.

So, waking up at 2 or 3 AM every night, wide awake and not being able to go back to sleep was not supporting my life. I have a job and a kid. Maybe if I didn’t have either of those things I could tailor my life to my insomnia, but I can’t really get rid of work or my kid, lol!

Even though I have a flexible work schedule and a very supportive partner (and an 11 year old self-sufficient daughter) sometimes I could go back for a few hours of sleep in the mornings when I needed to. But I knew that I couldn’t keep it up long term. Also, I’m sure my lack of sleep did not help my stress, anxiety or depression. 

It was not sustainable. 

Insane in the membrane: Periods of Chronic Headaches.

I used to struggle with migraines as a very young child. So much so, that I had to get a CAT Scan. As it turned out, I just needed to learn my triggers and manage them. Which sometimes I successfully did and other times, not so much.

As I got older, I also started to get headaches while I was PMSing. A progesterone birth control pill was able to help reduce them.

Well, after the birth of my daughter, my hubby got snipped and I quickly went off the pill. I went back to managing my triggers and always having a Costco supply of ibuprofen. It worked for years.

Then all of a sudden for months, I was dealing with headaches for what felt like half the month and was taking ibuprofen like it was candy.

This was one one symptom that has not really gone away for me post antidepressant, but have since figured out the root cause.  

My chronic headaches were due to having HIGH blood pressure. I’ve had a history of hypertension since I was 26 years old. Not sure why I started to have high blood pressure again (maybe it can happen during permenopause?), but as soon as I was put on hypertension meds (yes, plural), my headaches went away.

 

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Post medication feelings: 

Anxiety. Gone.

Depression. Gone. 

No more negative thoughts spiralling over and over. I didn’t hate everyone, my life or myself anymore. I actually feel HAPPY. I didn’t realize how long it had been since I actually felt a feeling of happiness. 

Wanting to burn my marriage down and quit my business. Gone. 

My patience with my husband's ADHD is back even better than before (plus it helps that he’s doing his own work as well). Actually, our relationship is the strongest it's ever been. He can emotionally support me for the first time and I can finally be fully vulnerable with him. I am more in love with him then ever.

Also…. My husband now has his own separate bedroom. With his allergies, snoring and late night reading with the light on making me want to murder him…our marriage is much safer sleeping separately. I’ve been wanting it for years and he resisted, but he actually prefers it himself now too. I love having my alone time and separate space.

My passion and creative juices for my business has come back (so thankful) and I was able to come back from a 3 month social media hiatus. I even launched my first Seasonal Update Workshop that I loved teaching. Teaching is my passion and creating a space to support groups of people feeds my soul. Always check my website for the date of my next Wardrobe Update Workshop, I will be hosting them twice a year. Once in the Spring and a 2nd in the Fall.

Insomnia. Better, but this took longer to change. 

Headaches. Better with my high blood pressure medication.

 

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Overall, I feel a huge positive change.

Now that I am in a better mental space, I can now look back over the past few years and recognize that I’ve been feeling some of my symptoms (to a lesser degree) for a lot longer than the past few months. It had started to creep up probably for the past 4-5 years. I wish I had recognized it sooner, because I could have saved myself a lot of mental struggles. 

How I knew that what I was feeling was internal and not external (therefore I did not in fact need to burn my life down and start from scratch).

When I was at my worst and was trying to picture my life post pouring gasoline and lighting a match, it didn’t feel right or what I really wanted. What affirmed this more for me, was that I had burned my life down in the past and started over. Back then it FELT RIGHT. I at my core knew it was the best thing for me. And it was.

This time, it seemed like the only solution, but not one that I really wanted.

So, that was a clue that I didn’t actually need to make a change in my environment, job or relationship. Maybe I needed to change something that was going on with me internally (and it definitely wasn’t a “mindset issue”.

I’m sharing this because I see a lot of “mindset” talk and teaching lately. And yes, there is a place for this type of teaching and it can help….but sometimes it’s not about your mindset. You are NOT broken. 

Sometimes our bodies, chemicals, hormones…etc… change and we need medical support as well. There is no shame in that.

That was when I decided to call my doctor and research therapists.

Thank goodness for antidepressants. It literally feels life changing to me.

 Now let’s dive into some of the lessons and takeaways that I want to share from going through this.

 

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Lessons learned and takeaways:

 1. Educate yourself on perimenopause and seek out support.

Talk to your doctor or find a medical professional or facility that specializes in menopause. 

I made an appointment with my doctor as soon as I realized things were not going to get better on their own. I waited 3 months. I felt like YEARS and like things were never going to change. But it CAN with support.

I prefer to seek out medical professionals, but you have free will and you can seek out any type of support that feels aligned to you. Read books, find podcasts, etc… I love following Dr Jen Gunter on social media. She wrote a book called The Menopause Manifesto.

2. If you struggle with anxiety and depression, social media is NOT a healthy place to be. 

It’s okay to walk away for good or until I feel ready to use it again. Even when I was starting to feel better, I didn’t want to go back to social media. I would have been very happy to never come back. But that meant losing my business. So, I came back to social media so that I hopefully can continue doing it for longer and make positive changes in others lives doing something that I love and am passionate about.

3. Don’t make any drastic decisions, like a job change or leaving your partner, when you’re at your lowest. 

Instead seek support (in whatever form that looks like) so that you can focus on feeling better AND NOT BURNING your life completely down. I am thankful that I had the support of my husband while I was at my lowest. I know not everyone has that privilege and I want to acknowledge that I have it and it can be an absolutely uphill struggle to receive help and support

 4. Ask for support and inform others about what is going with you. 

What my support looked like was keeping my husband in the loop with how I was feeling and leaning on him to pick up the slack. Even if I didn’t always know what I needed, I was able to keep him in the loop as best as I could. I’m forever grateful for his patience and understanding.

I reached out to my most trusted friends and let them know how I was feeling and allowed them to support me. Even sometimes just listening to them and supporting them instead. If I didn't want to talk about what I was going through, I didn’t have to force it. I’m thankful for the people in my life who gave me that space.

 5. Seek out therapy and don’t give up until you find the right one for you.

Sometimes it can be challenging to find the right therapy and/or therapist for you. But I do believe that it is possible to find the right fit for you. It also helps that I have a degree in Psychology and have a lot of experience in the field. So do some research first before you even spend money on a therapist. Unless you are in crisis, if you are in crisis, then call a hotline (1-833-456-4566) or go to the hospital.

I’m lucky that I hit the jackpot with mine right away and had health insurance to help out with the initial cost. This needs to change in our healthcare system. We need to ALL have access to affordable and quality mental health care. 

 6. Listen to your body and what it's trying to say to you. Then honour it.

 Every day, I asked my body what it needed and gave myself permission to do it. Whether it was to “check out” and get lost in Netflix, lay in bed for longer periods of time, go for a walk, not get dressed, listen to podcasts and play a game on my phone, talk to a friend, not socializing, working with clients, not creating or consuming any content….

I’m thankful for when my body finally SCREAMED “You can’t fix this on your own, you need support”.

 

_________________________

 

So that’s it.

That’s my story. That’s my experience. It felt good to get it all out and I hope that this has maybe helped you too.

I know things will possibly change in the future and how I treat and feel about my changing body/hormones.

But I know I can change with it, because I’m my best advocate. And so you are you.

xoxo,

Amanda Hanson (she/her)

Feminist Style Coach

www.simplystylish.ca 

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