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During the years before menopause, estrogen levels can fluctuate wildly, resulting in mood swings, insomnia, forgetfulness, hot flashes, weight gain, and general freaking out. And even though the changes are perfectly normal, it's no fun feeling like you're going nuts.
You need to know about this phase, my Forty Fabulous friends, because it may affect you much sooner than you think. Thanks to more stressful lifestyles, symptoms are hitting women earlier than they did in our mothers' day.
"It used to be that a reliable guide to when you might expect menopause is when your mother experienced it. But the mothers of today's groundbreaking women knew nothing like the level of workplace stress and environmental toxins we live with today." Gail Sheehy, The Silent Passage.In fact, many women start experiencing these symptoms in their early forties - even while they continue to have regular periods. I'm well down the path. In the last year I've had times of feeling weirdly at odds with my body. It's unpredictably hot, or bitchy, or tired, or horny, or bloated, or pumped up. I feel like I'm in hurricane season; constantly waiting for a storm to hit.
For women who don't know what to expect, it can be not only confusing, it can be depressing. In fact, Sheehy found in her extensive research, that on average, women reported the poorest sense of well-being at age 47 (exactly my age when I started talking about this midlife crisis.) The hormonal stuff is disconcerting enough, but when combined with the big changes that come at this time of life - kids leaving home, parents becoming more dependent, marriages being renegotiated - it's no wonder that women in their late forties feel stressed out.
The good news is that that the downer is only temporary. Sheehy found that women rebound in their fifties, and have the highest sense of well being compared to any other stage of their lives at age fifty-three!
"A profound change in self-concept begins to register with rising exhilaration for many women as they move into their fifties," Sheehy writes. "They often break the seal on repressed angers. They overcome the habits of trying to be perfect and of needing to make everyone love them."Yippie! Look, I have no desire to become the menopause poster child, but I do think this topic is unnecessarily taboo. No one wants to admit to experiencing these changes; just mention the word and watch your girlfriends shudder in revulsion. I think we're afraid that going through menopause means crossing over to irrelevancy and cronedom.
How comforting to know that our happiest, most exhilarating years are still ahead!