When I began experiencing troubling symptoms at age 32 I was worried and concerned about the possibility of it being some sort of female problem. I was having hot flashes, terrible mood swings, and unexplainable weight gain as well as just overall not feeling like myself. If you’ve never experienced a hot flash you may not understand just how intense they are. There is no mistaking a hot flash for anything else except maybe the beginning of a panic attack. My body would feel like I was burning up from the inside out. It started at the base of my neck and spread quickly until I was covered in sweat and my face was as red as if I’d run up several flights of stairs. I would stand in front of a fan and wait for it to pass while my family looked at me like I’d grown another head.
We all know that physicians think the internet leads to armchair diagnoses and hypochondria but I did some research anyway. I am a fairly level headed person so I didn’t assume that based on the symptoms I had some terrible cancer or growth going on inside me, but some of the information I found did concern me. According to everything I found with my symptoms there seemed to be a good chance that I was experiencing perimenopause- essentially the early stages of menopause that can go on for many years before the changes in hormones and menstrual cycle trigger menopause. What I read was telling me that my female hormones were out of balance and my body was beginning to change in preparation for “the change”. I knew that the age of 32 was fairly early to be experiencing the symptoms and that no one else in my family had experienced it that I knew of, so I figured discussing it with my doctor would be the best thing to do.
When I went for my yearly exam with a female doctor I mentioned the symptoms and what I had read. She brusquely informed me that perimenopause doesn’t exist and that I was way too young to be going into menopause. She wouldn’t listen to my explanations of the symptoms or the fact that there were times I felt like I was going crazy. I was being rude and hateful to my family; had no patience and even the smallest argument or frustration during my day caused me to burst into tears. These were not normal behaviors for me. The hot flashes, insomnia and night sweats were making it very uncomfortable to be me, and impossible to feel rested. She was not interested in trying to help me find a solution or giving in on her stance that perimenopause was a made up condition that women came up with to explain simple normal changes that come with aging. Of course the first and only thing she suggested was telling me to stop smoking. I left her office feeling very silly and insecure, yet also angry- wasn’t she supposed to listen to me and help figure out what was wrong? I knew there was something going on with my body and she had basically just laughed at me and told me that it was all in my imagination.
But I figured that even though I felt shut down and frustrated by her response she must know what she was talking about, after all she was a doctor. So I went home and continued to freeze the family each evening by turning on the air conditioning when I got hot flashes. I was always tired and could feel depression setting in over the months ahead. I even skipped my yearly exam the next year because I just couldn’t make myself face her knowing that I wasn’t going to get any answers from her. Several months later I got a really bad cold/flu virus and went to a regular family practice physician. While I was there, I thought it may be time to mention the symptoms again. I was determined that if this doctor thought I was being silly that I would just drop it and live with the symptoms. Luckily, he didn’t blow off my concerns. He sat down and explained perimenopause to me. Yes, it is real; yes it does affect women my age and even younger. The symptoms will disrupt your life and unless you find a way to treat the symptoms you may well feel like you are losing your mind long before actual menopause sets in.
After several blood tests and physical examinations over the next few weeks I finally left the doctor’s office feeling much better and less like I was going crazy. Through all of these symptoms and bodily changes I did and still do continue to have a monthly period which is considered to be a key indicator that I wasn’t experiencing early onset menopause but perimenopause. He gave me a list of natural things I could do to help alleviate the hot flashes, help me sleep and even balance out the mood swings. Yes, I did need to quit smoking and get some exercise; I also needed to change my diet but simply having a professional acknowledge what I was going through was a huge weight off my shoulders. I felt like a brand new person; I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t making it up and I wasn’t a silly woman finding imaginary conditions on the internet.
I am now 40 and have managed to get the symptoms of my perimenopause under control. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have hot flashes or night sweats anymore, or that my moods don’t occasionally swing from happy to tears in a matter of seconds. But I don’t think I’m going crazy when it happens, I have a reason for the symptoms I experience and I know that as the years pass they will become more erratic and intense as well as involve all the other symptoms of full blown menopause. I am now prepared and it is all because one doctor- a male doctor at that- took the time to listen to me, to try to help me when the female doctor I trusted and counted on to help in this situation basically shamed me out of her office.
No, I never went back to see that female doctor again. I prefer to see a physician who trusts me to know what I feel and what I experience even if it doesn’t fit into what they expect for a woman of my age. If you aren’t getting what you need from your doctor find another one!