It was illuminating, to say the least.
Let's cut to the chase: I am not sort of in the perimenopausal phase or moving into the perimenopausal phase (as is a minority of my age group). I'm really close to menopause, according to my hormone levels. Like, it could happen in the next year.
I have so many feelings about this:
- Um, I told you so?!?!
- Wow, that is young...
- Well, if my mum has a BRCA gene mutation (still waiting on results peeps), there's 50 per cent chance that I'll have it too - in which case menopause is happening in the next year, one way or another.
- I am the original early-adopter.
But the feeling I feel the most is relief. And that's for so many reasons. For one, I probably won't have to deal with these debilitating headaches for too much longer!!!!! Furthermore, I've been feeling very out of sorts, physically, for about a year - starting with pertussis and then persisting. I've struggled with LOW energy, reduced ability to focus, bad sleeping, hot flashes, night sweats, migraines (ugh - all of the others I can manage) and, um, a mushball in the spot that was my toned (if not flat) lower abdomen.
I first noticed the mushball last year, after I began to eat again following the worst of pertussis. I refer to it as such because, sure, this area has enlarged somewhat but, more to the point, it's noteworthy for its lack of tone. It's as if my lower ab area is the only place on my body to have aged - and aged it has. I spent a lot of time thinking it's because I'd overindulged after months of sickness that prevented eating (and, man, did I ever over indulge), but now I realize that it's likely caused, at least in part, by estrone imbalance (aka the fat you gain around your middle) prior to menopause.
Side bar: The naturopath believes it's quite possible that pertussis kick-started the deep days of perimenopause for me. I suppose there's a chance I could "rally" (and I use that term ironically), but I started feeling hormonally different in my late 30s and since I turned 40 I've been actively managing one or another perimenopause symptom, via one mechanism or another.
But let's talk a bit more about how I look :-)
- I do not appear older, physically. Well, one is slowly aging all the time, but this has not aged me precipitously.
- My arms and legs and face and upper bust/under bust shoulder area seem unchanged. (I don't tend to gain weight in these areas and I do a reasonable amount of walking and yoga, even though by my own standards I am a freakin' sloth these days.)
- My ass is probably a bit bigger. I don't know - I can't see it.
- My upper abdominal area (associated with natural waist) is mushier. It's also gained about 1/2 inch in size over the last year.
- My lower abdominal area (see above) is really not doing it for me right now. I never measured this before the mushball, so I can't say how much it's grown.
- My hips are the same size, but they are not as distinguished from my abs as they once were, so the whole area seems less sleek.
- My boobs have gone up a cup size over the past couple of years, gradually.
I don't weigh myself, but I have observed that I've increased a dress size in the last 3 years. I'm going to put my weight gain at somewhere around 5 pounds - but most of it is in a very specific spot at my front middle.
According to my test results, the one way in which I'm doing pretty well, hormonally-speaking, is in terms of the ratio between estrone (the "fattening" estrogen your abdomen produces as fertility wanes) and estradiol (estrogen produced by your ovaries). I mean, I may have fairly little estradiol in the scheme of things, but my adrenal glands are working adequately which, in this time frame in particular, is key in keeping (a whack of) weight from gathering on the perimenopausal torso.
Given that I've lived through a serious illness in the last 12 months, and I've begun a new and challenging job (on top of "regular life"), I think I'm doing pretty fucking well.
Actually, all I could think when I saw the test results was - OMG, I've managed numerous weekly briefings with senior management having a) not slept well, while b) practically bleeding out and c) feeling like shit. Now at least I can pin it on something!
This also gives me so much info in terms of managing my yoga practice in order to segue into my next stage with maximal energy and minimal physical changes.
Wow, I'm really preoccupied by the way I look.
One more anecdote and we can leave the treatment plan discussion for another post:
When I was in my late teens, I started practicing Iyengar yoga. My teacher, unbeknownst to me when first I met her, was venerable. She went to India to learn from Mr. Iyengar on a yearly basis. She wrote articles and taught workshops and travelled the land. She was the senior teacher at the centre where I practiced and my teacher when I trained to teach others. When first I met her, she was in her early 50s and in the kind of physical shape one rarely sees in anyone, much less a woman who was in her 50s in the 80s. She practiced upwards of 20 hrs a week - and I mean advanced practice, holding inversions for 10 minutes (for example). There was no pose she couldn't assume. Her body was sinewy - but she had a bit of a belly.
I always wondered what was up - how she could be so slim everywhere, but slightly puffy in the middle. I watched her eat (like a yoga vegetarian). I watched her practice (like a 20 year old). I couldn't figure it out.
One day, about 5 years after I started working with this teacher, I noted that she had completely changed shape. I saw her multiple times a week, which disinclines one to notice this sort of change, but it was perceptible. On the one hand it was subtle - the woman had very little fat to lose. On the other hand, it was dramatic. All of a sudden, a soft exterior middle (which I saw all the time covered only by unforgiving yoga clothing and which, btw, was in no way unattractive or large just slightly out of proportion with the rest of her figure) was as flat as a board. In retrospect (and I've had many years to reflect on this), I believe this physical change coincided with the completion of a huge hormonal shift and her body transformed - on the basis of the healthful way she had lived for many years.
My point is that, during perimenopause, even the fittest and most endocrine-balanced (from years of clean-living and hard-core yoga) woman is apt to store a bit of fat on her abdomen. It's not a life sentence. But it is a call to arms (and legs and core stability - ha!). I have a chance to manage the numerous challenges I'm currently experiencing with a targetted yoga regimen. It means I'm going to have to find a way to overthrow the lethargy I feel every evening by the time I get home from work - because I must. During the headache times, I end up doing lots of yoga anyway - albeit the kind one accomplishes in a dark room. I've got to shake up the yoga-as-medicine paradigm, since my body isn't currently motivated, to use it actively (not reactively) to support hormonal change. It might help my headaches (along with other things we're trying out - TBD in future post). It will almost certainly bolster my energy level and mediate the hormonal bickering I've got going on. And, when all is said and done, I'll be a post-menopausal woman in terrific physical shape - balanced and strong and flexible and toned.
No, I will not be the same person I was before I embarked on this involuntary transition, but who cares?! I'm angling for better on the basis of experience, introspection and effort. That seems achievable.