Buckle your seatbelt because this post is about menopause. And you know what, I think you can handle it. Also, I’m so sorry but you have no choice because if you live long enough, unless you’re on the other side of The Change (or you’re a man in which case, welcome, and thank you for reading), it’s coming.
The good news is you are anything but alone. In fact, more than half the world’s population suffers through the physical and mental changes that come with menopause. That’s stating the obvious, isn’t it? But since so many of us pretend it’s not a thing that happens to every single woman in the whole world, we might need to say it out loud a bit more. And, dare I say, we need to proactively educate women and girls about it.
Menopause can happen in your 40s or 50s, but the average age in the United States is 51, according to the Mayo Clinic. Perimenopause, when fertility decreases and symptoms associated with lower estrogen levels begin, can start as early as your 30s.
Meanwhile, celebrities are making headlines for having babies in their late 40s—Janet Jackson was 50—giving women the illusion that they can postpone pregnancy indefinitely. In fact, many such celebrity pregnancies are achieved with IVF plus donor (or frozen) eggs or embryos, which is a wonderful option for growing your family. The downside is the reports lead women in their 30s to believe that they don’t have to start thinking about whether they want children.
I’m not trying to scare monger, but some real talk is overdue on this topic. The reality is that menopause is a real thing that encompasses a wide variety of changes that include not just the end of fertility and hot flashes, but can also bring alarming weight gain, insomnia, fatigue, chills, breakouts, anxiety, depression, rage, rice paper vagina, little to no sex drive, thinning hair, intermittently hating your family, feeling like you’re pregnant, loss of breast fullness, the inability to give any f*cks about anything (this one can be good and bad), and permanent bitch face, and how could you not when all that just happened.
But women in their 30s and 40s don’t have to be blindsided by all of this, and they can actually decrease symptoms with diet and exercise (I know, always the same boring solution to everything). Older women are finding their voices more than ever in recent years, and they’re sharing their menopause experiences in articles and on social media. Menopause experts are cropping up on social media, and hopefully, that means they’ll also be more accessible in real life.
As a way to spur more information sharing, I reached out to women by email as well as on my Instagram page and that of The Menopause Collective asking what they wish everyone knew about menopause. Below I chose some responses that cover a broad range of symptoms, difficulties, and even some positive side effects of menopause. You can read all of the responses here and here.
“If men experienced a prolonged period of brain fog, insomnia, hot flashes and nausea, which are the most common symptoms of menopause, they’d enact a law that protects their jobs, and they would deem it a disability on the federal level, and they’d provide them with a sports and recreation themed ‘Manly Recovery Holiday,’ on the tax payer’s dime. Women with serious menopause symptoms usually just get fired.” —writer Lara B. Sharp
“Menopause is a time when literally everything is going pear shaped, your brain and your ass, and no one is talking to each other about it. The suffer in silence thing, (or is it a shame thing?) is oppressive and really needs to change.” —Linda Fahey, ceramicist and founder of Yonder Shop in San Francisco
“It’s coming! Mood swings galore, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, hot flashes, weight gain and sleepless nights are REAL. You are not going crazy, it’s menopause! Learn all you can about it. Talk to your partner, kids and friends about what is going on with you. This is a family affair and you’ll need support.” —Samantha of Stung by Samantha
“I wish every woman knew that weight gain doesn’t have to automatically come with menopause. By using the right kind of nutrition, exercise, and working on hormonal balance, you can avoid most if not all of the symptoms that can come along with menopause and aging.” —Laura Heikkila, fitness and nutrition coach, So This Is 50
“That you’re not only angry because of menopause but sometimes you are really just fed up with other people’s bullshit, and it took you all these years to realize it.” —Inge H. Downing
“I’m 52, and absolutely love every stage of my life. I am very fit and look at age as an attitude, not a number. For the first time in my life, I’m not cold. That’s a plus. Done with cramps and monthly migraines and the emotional rollercoaster. Don’t have to plan vacations around my cycle. The few years going through it were not the best from the standpoint of my sleep. That was the worst of it probably, but I don’t let anything slow me down for long. I just decided I would embrace it, approach it with humor, and I am on the other side of it now. Hang in there! It’s like pregnancy. Everyone is different. Just know you aren’t going crazy. Your hormones may be, but you aren’t.” —Michelle Fanning
“That it isn’t talked about enough and we need to prepare our young women and let them know what to expect and what to do about it. Why should this aspect of women’s health matter less than others just because we’re older!” —Jenny Pinson
“I wish that everyone knew the symptoms can vary hugely, it isn’t just a case of hot flushes and night sweats, which in all honesty until I started going through the perimenopause, I thought that’s all it was. Wow, how wrong can a person be. I’ve experienced chest pains, anxiety, hair loss and brain fog. Some days are easy others not so. My mum’s death and the perimenopause hit at the same time, but to listen and know you are not alone is a big help.” —Cheryl McGlone
“I wish employers would be more educated. I work in a mainly female office now but previously lost my job due to brain fog. I had a breakdown as a result and still suffer major anxiety over the smallest oversight. My bosses now are really understanding of mental health so I’m really lucky.” —littlest_hobo76
“It isn’t something to be ashamed of and it’s not contagious!! We should be free to discuss how it effects us without embarrassing others.” —elfiesmum
“It’s not just about the ‘menopause.’ I didn’t have a clue about ‘perimenopause’ symptoms of which can happen 10+ years before menopause. I thought i was slowly going mad. I have been offered every type of antidepressant there is (despite saying that I know I am not depressed) We need to educate and communicate with our daughters. Doctors need better education and women in general need to be given correct medical advise when presenting with symptoms of hormonal changes.” —Luan Walsh
“The PMS symptoms you experience in your 30s will eventually become worse in perimenopause. Getting your health, fitness and diet healthier needs to be in place as early as mid-30s. Otherwise symptoms worsen from mid-40s onwards.” —Shirly of peri_menopause_health