How perimenopause cost me my marriage


A bowl of dried herbs surrounded by flowers
Healing with herbal allies

As I walked into my favorite body care boutique, Wild Carrot Herbals, a friend of mine greeted me on the sidewalk.


I hadn't seen her in a couple of years and by the looks of her social media posts, she'd been through a lot of personal changes.


We started catching up with surface-y chatter...how's life, how's her daughter, the drama of COVID-19 we've all been experiencing, etc.


She asked what I brought me to the store and I told her that I needed more oat straw, a dried herb that I mix with dried nettle to make my routine morning beverage. She smiled broadly as a woman who intimately knows the healing properties of plants - both topically and internally.


I told her that I was making an infusion of oat straw and nettle (soaking about a cup of dried herbs overnight, then draining off the liquid to drink in the morning) to support my hormonal shifts of middle age and get a dose of liquid vitamins. Both plants are super nourishing when it comes to vitamins and minerals.


We dished on some of her favorite hormonal supportive plants and she expressed her gratitude to finally be on "the other side" of "the change."


The change. That's what I grew up knowing menopause to be. I had no idea that menopause is actually only 1 day, the day that a woman hasn't had a period for a full 12 months (I'm already planning that celebration!).


I also had no idea that perimenopause is the emotional shitstorm roller coaster that happens 5-10+ years before menopause. Why don't we talk about this more as women!


I'll never forget when my friend said something to the effect, "perimenopause cost me my marriage."


I suspected as much based on her cryptic social media posts.


Her brief description of how the hormonal shifts of perimenopause affected her mental health, leaving her feeling crazy (as many of us do) and her husband affirming the craziness instead of validating her emotions and body changes, broke my heart.


Again, why aren't we talking about this more?!?


It's a common cultural perception that "the change" happens to women in their 50's. While that's a common age for the shift to happen, to think that it doesn't happen earlier, as early as 35, invalidates women's experiences and leaves them feeling crazy if they start noticing emotional upheaval and they're "not old enough."


I'm in the early days of perimenopause. And for me, it's been extra complicated by the amount of trauma I've endured in the past 4 years...family illness, death, cardiac arrest, mental breakdowns, and of course everyone's favorite, the pandemic.


I started noticing shifts in my cycles, changes in my menstrual flow and quality of the blood, changes in mood, and difficulty sleeping when I was around 37 - the same year my Mom died from cancer. I brushed off what I was experiencing as grief.


I don't doubt that grief was a contributing factor to at least some of those symptoms. But it also felt invalidating to have my primary care providers and cultural norms not be open to the idea that my body could be entering perimenopause in my late 30's.


When my mood changes, body changes, and menstrual changes continued to have a mind of their own long after I made peace with my Mom's death, I started learning everything I could about perimenopause.


I started seeking out mentors and resources trying to understand why my body was behaving differently. Sure enough, my symptoms and intuition were confirmed by doctors specializing in perimenopause and other women around my age who also experienced being "too young for the change."


If there's one thing I've learned by healing my relationship with food and my body it's that your intuition gets super sharp about most things in life - whether you want to believe it or not. Being able to get clear on what my intuition is telling me has helped me advocate for better health care and support from personal relationships (or move on for unsupportive relationships).


I'm still trying to understand my perimenopause experience. Here are some of the support tools I've been adding to my coping toolbox. Maybe some can support you as well?


A bowl with baked tofu, eggs, and vegetables
Phytoestrogen-rich foods can reduce symptoms of perimenopause

Food first!


Phytoestrogen-rich foods like whole food forms of soy (tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy nuts, soy milk), flaxseed (not the oil) have compounds that mimic estrogen in your body. They can bind to the same receptors as the estrogen your body is declining to make, which helps reduce symptoms of perimenopause like hot flashes, mood swings, menstrual irregularities, and difficulty sleeping.


One small study by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found that adding 1/2 cup of soybeans daily to a primarily plant-based diet could reduce hot flashes by 84%. Study participants also commented on having better moods, sexual comfort, and overall energy.


Who else is having tofu tonight?


For supplements, I've recently started test driving Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus castus), the dried fruit that is used to make herbal medicines. Its greatest claim to fame is supporting premenstrual syndrome (PMS) by balancing estrogen and progesterone. A controlled clinical trial found that women taking concentrated Vitex extract daily for 3 menstrual cycles had a significant reduction in "meno-rage", mood swings, headaches, and breast tenderness.


A word of caution. Vitex should not be taken during pregnancy and is not recommended for women with PCOS or who are taking hormone therapy.


Vitex is not a quick fix, but a long-term supporter when it comes to balancing hormones. It may take 4-6 months of daily dosing to see any changes in your PMS symptoms.


I'm also a fan of the company Wishgarden Herbs, especially their Emotional Ally tincture. I love its tagline, "a big herbal hug." Who doesn't need more hugs after a year plus of isolation?


Emotional Ally is a beautiful blend of motherwort, scullcap, milky oat tops, passionflower, St. John's wort, and spikenard. While it sounds like a recipe out of Harry Potter's potion book, a few droppers of this tincture in a little water are helpful for calming my nerves and checking my "meno-rage."


Two women sit on the shore of a lake looking into sunset
You're not crazy and your body isn't broken

Keep in mind, just like with medications, you'll want to check with your health care provider and/or pharmacist before taking any supplements or herbal remedies to rule out any potential drug/nutrient/herbal interactions.


Finally, the other tools in my perimenopause coping toolbox include regular movement outside, getting adequate sleep (a huge work in progress!), and surrounding myself with women who are willing to have these supportive conversations - like you!


If you're experiencing any changes in your mood, energy levels, sexual comfort, menstrual cycles or quality of blood, or things just feel off, and you're between the ages of 35-55, know that you're not crazy. Give yourself a ton of compassion and grace. Share your experiences with your spouse/partner. Get professional help when you need it.


You can find additional resources for women in midlife on the Savor Food and Body Podcast. New episodes are published almost weekly with guest experts in women's health, weight inclusive movement, mental health, and more. Listen to the show on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Sticher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Don't forget to leave a rating and review. Doing so will help others find the show too.




Note: This information is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice from a medical doctor or naturopathic doctor who specializes in Women's Health.



Resources:


Schellenberg R. Treatment for the premenstrual syndrome with agnus castus fruit extract: a prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled study. BMJ 2001;20:134-7.


Barnard, Neal D. MD, FACC1,2; Kahleova, Hana MD, PhD1; Holtz, Danielle N. BS1; del Aguila, Fabiola PhD1; Neola, Maggie BS, RD1; Crosby, Lelia M. BA, RD1; Holubkov, Richard PhD3 The Women's Study for the Alleviation of Vasomotor Symptoms (WAVS), Menopause: July 12, 2021 - Volume - Issue -

doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000001812