These are two of the most asked questions here at The Perimenopause Blog. And it never ceases to amaze me how many women ask them. Which tells me that though we are all different, we are also alike in so many ways.
Every now and then a reader will tell me that she didn’t have many perimenopause symptoms and hardly even noticed that it happened. I am always amazed that someone can go through perimenopause and say that. Because from where I sit? Those women are in the tiniest minority. The rest of us, roughly 80% (and frankly, I think it’s more than that) feel like we’ve been on the hormone ride from hell and want to know where to get off!
Generally Speaking How Long Does Perimenopause Last?
According to The Cleveland Clinic, perimenopause lasts about 4 years. For some women, only a few months. (<— what?) According to WebMed, perimenopause can last up to 10 years. A number which I find more reasonable. Especially when taking into consideration that for me, it was closer to 12 years. In fact, I’ve read several sources which state that perimenopause lasts anywhere from 7 to 12 years. Again, numbers which jive more with my personal experience and those of my readers which have shared theirs.
Perimenopause is a personal experience. Just like everything else related to our menstrual cycles. There is a general baseline against which we can measure our experience, but there will always be deviations and exceptions to that baseline. So, while a “general” consensus is 7 to 12 years. YOUR experience may be different. And that’s “normal.”
When I tell readers that the average length of time for perimenopause is 7 to 12 years, they often express horror. Primarily because they assume that the intensity of the symptoms last 7 to 12 years, and that for 7 to 12 years, they will also experience all of the symptoms as well.
This is not true.
The entire process can last from 7 to 12 years. But, I’ve never heard of anyone experiencing all of the symptoms of perimenopause for 7 to 12 years, or that they were at a constant level of intensity. It’s better understood as a continuum or spectrum.
I began going through perimenopause at the age of 41. It began with a period that came mid-cycle. A normal period, mind you. But, it came two weeks early. Subsequently after that period, I became pregnant with my third child. I gave birth to her at 42 and after that, began to exhibit other symptoms. Symptoms which were compounded by postpartum hormone adjustments as well. Whoah. Was it rough!
As I got closer to 44, I began to exhibit more intense symptoms: hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, erratic menstrual cycles, vertigo, heart palpitations, depression, rages, and insomnia. Those symptoms lasted about 6 years and varied with intensity.
By the time I was 50, most of those symptoms were gone. But, some did resurface occasionally. By the time I was in my mid-50s, my cycles were consistently heavy with blood clots. And it was intense. During that time, I began to use bioidentical progesterone and I finally eased into menopause (12 consecutive months without a cycle). Once I became fully menopausal, I definitely began to feel “normal” again.
But, normal was a new and different me.
Will I Ever Feel Normal Again?
Look, here’s the thing about life: It’s constantly changing. So, really, what do we mean exactly when we ask if we will feel “normal” again? “Normal” can mean a lot of things. It was “normal” to throw tantrums as a toddler. It was “normal” to have acne, self-doubt, and social insecurities as a teenager.
But, none of us would call those experiences “normal” as an adult. “Normal” is where we are now. So, yes, you will feel “normal” again. But, it will be a new normal. A normal that does not include menstrual cycles anymore. A normal that does not have PMS, or bloating, or menstrual cramps, etc. Which, by the way, is pretty darn great!
But, it’s a normal that will also include aging. It’s a normal that will include changes in your body that were not there when you were in your 20s, 30s, 40s, and even 50s. So while you won’t be contending with menstrual cycles and all that that suggests. You WILL contend with issues related to low estrogen, for example. Like perhaps continued hot flashes and night sweats, insomnia, and vaginal dryness.
Less of a sex drive is also common for women post-menopause. This may or may not pose a problem for you per se, depending on your life circumstances. But, it is a reality for many women. Myself included. However, as a divorced woman with no intentions of ever marrying again, this is not a problem in my life.
Perimenopause is a Transition Menopause is the Other Side
Just as we transitioned from puberty into young adulthood and young adulthood into mature adult, perimenopause is a transition as well. It is a transition from the first part of our life into the second part of our life. The first part of our life includes menstrual cycles, fertility, and for many of us, giving birth and raising families. The second part includes reaching middle age and beyond, the loss of menstrual cycles, fertility, and our families moving out of our lives and beginning their own.
The new normal of menopause is actually pretty grand. Yes, you will contend with the reality of aging and health challenges you didn’t have before. But like every other stage of life you adjust and adapt. I can no longer run a 7 minute mile. But, I can sure walk at a fast clip.
I am mindful of the fact that I do not have the speed and agility I had when I was a 21 year old. But, I have incredible stamina and the wisdom to understand when I need to pace myself. Because I am 60, I am also mindful of the fact that my years left on this earth are not as long as they were when I was 20. So, I push myself to not fret or fritter over petty trifles of life as I often did as a young person.
I no longer become bogged down in foolish and unfruitful dramas of certain relationships, and I am much more able to push through emotional changes which in the past would have engulfed me for days, weeks, or perhaps even months.
I have a steadiness about me at 60 that I did not have at 20, 30, or even 40. So while I do not necessarily enjoy the physical changes of aging at times. I do appreciate the perspective, self-awareness, and understanding I’ve acquired just by virtue of the fact that I have lived 5 plus decades.
Menopause is a part of that and without it, I wouldn’t be where I am in life now. So, yes, ladies, you will feel normal again. It will just be a different normal. But, you’ll adapt to it and find a new rhythm in life that you didn’t have before! It’s not bad. I promise!