Carolien (55) has been struggling with perimenopause symptoms for 15 years
Carolien (55) has been going through the perimenopause since she was 40. At the time, she had two young kids at home, she worked part time as a caregiver in a home for the elderly, and the menopause was the last thing on her mind.
When did you start to experience perimenopause?
“I think it started in 2007 after I’d just turned 40. I started bleeding a lot during my periods, so I went back on the pill. I didn’t need to take it as birth control, because my partner had gotten a vasectomy. Everything was fine for a couple of years, but in 2010 things suddenly went completely wrong. I started bleeding heavily again and I was just so done with it all. It seemed like there was just no end to it all. I was bleeding so much, even with the thickest pads and the largest tampons at the same time, I was leaking within 15 minutes. So after much deliberation, in 2012 I got a hormonal IUD, because that was supposed to help reduce bleeding."
Do you suffer from perimenopausal symptoms, and if so, which ones?
"In addition to the bleeding, for the past two years I've also suffered from night sweats and hot flashes. I also gained some weight, so I should probably start exercising again. I get stiffer, more rigid, and my hands start acting up. The perimenopause has also made me a little slower. Personally, I think it could have been worse. I hear from colleagues that the hot flashes creep up from their toes, but it's not like that for me. I think the night sweats are the worst part. It’s like my bed is made from sweat and I’m just floating on top of it. I get so warm that I put my blankets in between my legs, because they are cold at the top and it’s the only way I cool down a little.”
‘I tend to forget a lot and my mood is no longer what it used to be’
“And mentally... I think that’s where the biggest difference is. I tend to forget a lot and my mood is no longer what it used to be. It’s like I’m stuck on this emotional rollercoaster. It’s not just difficult for me to deal with, but also for my partner. That makes it all just a little bit more complicated. We’ve been together for the past 37 years and I’ve changed quite a bit thanks to the perimenopause. I can be short-tempered and snarky at times when I really don't mean to be. I’m working on changing that, but it’s difficult.”
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have you sought support from your GP or gynecologist?
“I went to my GP in 2007 because I was bleeding a lot. He was the one who advised me to start taking the pill again. I went back to my GP in 2012 and got an immediate referral to a gynecologist. They advised me to get a hormonal IUD, because that should improve the heavy bleeding. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened for me. I got my period every other week for eight very long months before I thought, ‘I’m done with this’. They removed the IUD and I went back on the pill. But one of the side effects was that I had a lot of headaches, so eventually I decided to quit taking it. So, I’d just bleed heavily and go to the toilet every fifteen minutes or half an hour to change my pads."
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Did these perimenopausal symptoms influence your life?
“Yes, absolutely. I didn’t dare to leave my house during my period. I couldn’t even go to work after a little while, because I had to wear white pants and I had so many leaks. It was far from ideal. My gynecologist told me to just sit it out and that nothing could be done to stop the heavy bleeding. So, I had to wear the biggest tampons there are combined with the thickest pads. Honestly, I was disgusted with myself and lost every bit of faith in my own body. I had to change my period product every half an hour, which limited my freedom of movement a lot, and my self-confidence just dropped to an all time low.
Were you able to talk about it at work?
“I could talk about it with my colleagues. But some of my colleagues have just turned 45 and they say: ‘God, I’m so happy that I don’t have to deal with that anymore.’ I’m ten years older, fifteen years have passed, and I’m still dealing with it. Thankfully, perimenopause is not a taboo. We all have to go through it and because I work in healthcare, we’re all quite open about it. But they can only listen to me and my worries, they can’t do anything about them. I sometimes worry about cervical cancer, because I've been dealing with perimenopause for such a long time. It honestly haunts my mind. I’m going to see my GP soon for a pap smear to at least take away those worries.”
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Was there anything that was able to help?
“If I’m honest, nothing really helped. My GP and gynecologist weren’t able to help me. They said that the heavy bleeding was just a part of my perimenopausal symptoms and I had to learn to live with it. I didn’t know what else to do, so in 2020 I went back to my gynecologist. I wanted a full work up done to see if there secretly wasn’t something they had missed previously. My last gynecologist, the one who’d inserted my IUD, had said everything looked okay. I was hoping that I had a fibroid, because if that’s big enough they remove your uterus, but again, everything looked fine.”
‘The longest mile is the last mile home, but the end’s in sight’
“This gynecologist said after the examination that I have so few egg cells, it should be almost done. ‘the longest mile is the last mile home, but the end’s in sight.’ I had another conversation via the phone with him and I told him that I hadn’t had my period for three months. He was really happy for me. We celebrated too early, because I got my period two days after that phone call. It’s now been two years, and I haven’t had my period since March this year. I don’t dare to say that this is the last time, because I’ve had such a long break between them before and that didn’t turn out to be the last time either. But for now, it seems to be going in the right direction.”
Are there things you wish you’d done differently?
“Honestly, I wish I would have had a hysterectomy, but I didn’t know that was a possibility. I thought that was only possible if you had a clear medical reason. Nobody told me that was a possibility and so I waited, just like my GP and gynecologist told me to. I also shouldn’t have postponed everything. When I finally decided to go see my GP, it took me another six months before I even made the appointment to actually go. I thought that it would pass and that it really wasn’t all too bad. I don’t think like that anymore.”
‘Don't wait for the turning point until you are completely done with it.’
“My tip for other people is to go to the GP and gynecologist sooner. Apparently, there are also menopause consultants, and hormone therapy should also help but I can’t tell you if they do help. If there is one thing I want to say, it is this. Ask for help! If you’re lucky you have a GP who will immediately refer you to a gynecologist. And then, if everything looks good, you’ll know it. And if there are issues, they can immediately help you fix them. So, go see your doctor and ask for help. Don't wait for the turning point until you are completely done with it. Because you don’t have to.”
Editor’s note: Sadly, a lot of perimenopausal symptoms are still not recognized and the topic is still a taboo. Are you suffering with symptoms? Know that something can be done to help. Making adjustments to your lifestyle or hormone supplements can be the solution for you. Discuss this with your doctor or go see a menopause consultant.
*Full name is known to the editor.