Are you yelling at your kids?
My daughter came to me the other night in a rare moment of appreciation. She has a friend who has been fighting intensely with her mom lately. She says it sounds like the mom is going through perimenopause, because the rage is different, and seems to come out of nowhere. “They’ll be cleaning the kitchen, and (her friend) will be like, ‘maybe pre-wash that before you put it in the dishwasher,’ and her mom will fly into a rage, screaming and yelling and it turns into a full-blown fight.” My daughter said it makes her appreciate me, because it’s been a long time since we had a fight like that. I felt grateful for this affirmation, but I mostly felt deep compassion for this mom. Immediately I wanted to console her, and bring her into the Claws in your Pause fold. I wanted to let her know that she is neither alone nor crazy.
After a moment I asked my daughter, “Did we ever scream and fight like that?” and she and my husband exchanged a look. She said not for a long time, mostly when she and her sister were younger. This was horrifying to me, and made perfect sense. Horrifying because that means that I was losing my shit with my young children, 4,5,6 years old, so much worse than screaming at your teenager. It made sense because I began to experience perimenopause in my early 40s. The kids were young, and I was suffering. I can remember staring out the window of my daughters’ bedroom when they were young, thinking that I needed to run away, that everyone in my family would be so much better without me around. I wanted to disappear, for the benefit of everyone around me. Remembering this I feel deep shame, compassion, and relief that it’s not as bad as it was, but I wish that I and my family had more support and information back then.
Perimenopause can last 4-10 years, and begins for some women as early as their 30s. Estrogen levels begin to fluctuate wildly, and since estrogen affects production of serotonin and oxytocin, mood changes, often dramatic and intense, are a prescient symptom of perimenopause. One study found that irritability and anger were the most common symptoms of perimenopause in 70% of women. 8 years ago, without a biological explanation, I blamed myself and felt crazy, and pitied everyone around me. I didn’t have a name for any of it. Recent research shows that there are ways that women can manage perimenopausal mood swings, including accepting the anger. Self-silencing, stuffing it down, puts us at much greater risk of depression. This was key for me. When I finally began to learn about the transition to menopause, I kept track and described my moods. When I felt certain symptoms I reminded myself, “It’s not you, it’s your hormones,” and I would do something healthy to disrupt the agro, like go for a run, take a long shower, get a dog. And, I would also warn my family! I became a little obsessed with scales to measure my mood and my energy, which helped me listen to myself better. Sometimes it helped, but not always. And I still struggle today, but with less intensity, maybe because I feel prepared.
In her 2019 memoir, Deep Creek, Anne Houston offers advice to a younger woman: “I’m just saying, I guess, there’s another version, after this version, to look forward to. Because of wisdom or hormones or just enough years going by. If you live long enough you quit chasing the things that hurt you; you eventually learn to hear the sound of your own voice.” Put Some Claws in Your Pause is an invitation to come alongside other women on their same-but-different journey through perimenopause and menopause. It’s a supportive, non-judgmental place to practice hearing the sound of our own voice. Even if it’s an angry, yelling voice.