I have so much love for my friends who are my age. The other day, a few of us were having lunch and were talking about how one moment we are so emotional and sad, then the next we get a burst of energy, then the next we are so pissed off we have to be away from all the people.
I’ve never felt so understood in my life.
Since I’ve reached my mid-40s I’ve noticed something about myself: my mood swings happen more often, they are more severe, and they’re even starting to surprise me.
In my younger years, if I was upset, I could usually put a finger on it. My moods made more sense and felt more rational. I definitely didn’t feel this out of control. It’s been so refreshing to talk to my 45-year-old girlfriends about this because, damn, this is a time in your life when we need to know someone else is going through the same changes you are.
Hormones are no fucking joke, and there have been so many times these past three years I’ve wondered what was happening to me because I felt so, well, unlike me.
I remember when my own mother started going through perimenopause (I knew because she reminded me and my sisters every damn day). I just knew I’d never act like that because I wasn’t that extreme. Plus, I also thought she was using it as an excuse to be an ass.
Well, here I sit with veins popping out of my forehead feeling so distraught at the slightest thing more times than not. This isn’t acting, folks. This is perimenopausal life.
My friend told me she peeled out of her boyfriend’s driveway because he got her the wrong donut (they’ve been together for five years) because, dammit all, he should know by now what she likes.
I have another friend who wakes up at 3 a.m. each morning soaked in sweat, with her mind racing, unable to go back to sleep. She feels short and snappy with everyone and some of her (younger) friends are telling her she’s acting differently.
When I’m with her I feel like she acts like me, which makes me feel better, so I’ll keep hanging with her so we can normalize our perimenopausal behavior.
Even up until my 30s, I’d hear about hormonal behavior and think, Oh that won’t be me. I’m a happy person! I hardly cry or overreact!
But let me tell you something, sister: you in your 30s doesn’t know what the fuck will be up with the you in your 40s.
So saddle up and hold on tight, because the mood swings that you encounter during this phase will make you understand the movie Thelma and Louise in a way you never have before.
Scary Mommy interviewed board-certified OB/GYN and Chief Wellness Advisor for Love Wellness, Jodie Horton, MD via email, who said we can blame it on the hormone shifts that are happening in our body during this time. She explained that as women approach menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels begin to drop. These lower estrogen levels have been linked to “irritability, stress, fatigue, stress, forgetfulness, and anxiety.”
This is why I ask my kids the same questions a few times over.
This is why I started crying when I saw hair on the floor in my bathroom and the thought of vacuuming again broke me.
This is why the sound of anyone swallowing makes me clench so tight I get pounding headaches.
This is why I have a really difficult time “going with the flow” when any kind of change arises in my day.
And what’s happening (with most women I know anyway) is that we are using up so much energy to beat ourselves up, try to figure out what’s wrong with us, and wonder why we feel so different, it makes everything worse. I mean, there isn’t a slogan that says, “I’m taking menopause gracefully.” Society teaches us to fight it every step of the way because it’s so inconvenient for everyone else.
Dr. Horton adds that the drop in estrogen is also thought to affect how “[t]he body manages serotonin and norepinephrine, two substances linked to depression. Low levels of serotonin can cause depression, anxiety, aggression, insomnia, and low self-esteem. Progesterone levels also drop, which is responsible for calming the brain and sleep.”
A lack of sleep can just intensify every feeling you have. I am not the same person if I don’t get at least seven hours of sleep, and now I’ve reached this time in my life those nights are really rare.
It can also cause people to be short-tempered, and vulnerable to stress, says Dr. Horton. I have three teenagers who will attest to that. And every time I lose it, or find myself sobbing for no reason, I have piles of guilt — just another thing to add the hot mess of starting menopause.
Oh and guess what? Not only do we feel like we want to slap something at every moment, our body starts to fight with us.
Dr. Horton explains, “Hormonal fluctuations that women experience during perimenopause also lead to hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, vaginal dryness, dry skin, decreased libido. Coping with all these physical changes can be overwhelming and impact how you feel and behave.”
So, great news! We feel like hurting people and our vaginas dry up like grapes that have rolled under the kitchen cabinets.
Hold onto your shorts though, because if you are wondering if you are going to feel like this forever, there’s hope. Dr. Horton says these symptoms can last for months or years, but we can do something about it.
A natural alternative to taking estrogen to relieve perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms, including mood swings, is black cohosh. “It has been well studied in its ability to decrease hot flashes, insomnia, and depression. According to several studies, combining black cohosh with Vitex (chaste berry) can also improve menopausal symptoms and moods,” says Dr. Horton.
(I legit just ordered some.)
Another well studied supplement that can help with perimenopausal mood swings is ashwagandha. “Ashwagandha is an adaptogen with numerous benefits by decreasing cortisol levels and fighting anxiety and depression symptoms. A diet rich in vitamin B6 and omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce mood swings by boosting serotonin levels,” adds Dr. Horton.
You can also take a multivitamin, and Dr. Horton reports many women also find that yoga, deep breathing, and meditation can help them feel more relaxed and make it easier to manage stress, irritability, and other symptoms of menopause.
However, if mood swings are extreme, you shouldn’t feel ashamed to reach out for help. Dr. Horton says, “If it affects your daily life, you may need medication like an antidepressant to feel more balanced. Medication is most effective when used in combination with therapy.”