I am taking a detour across all my platforms today to talk about aging—specifically, this journey we call perimenopause.
For the unknowing, the Cleveland Clinic describes perimenopause as “…the transitional period before menopause. During perimenopause, levels of estrogen, a key female hormone, start to decrease. You may begin having menopause-like symptoms, such as hot flashes or irregular periods. Perimenopause can last for years. When you go a full 12 months without a period, menopause has begun.”
Nice and tidy and clinical, as befits information from a medical institution.
And oh so insufficient to the task of preparing anyone for it.
That definition fails to explain that actually, perimenopause for many of us (probably most of us women) isn’t a simple transition to a new stage of life. It’s a fucking all-consuming whirlwind that can turn even calm and reasonable folks into raging beasts, filled with swirling emotions that are like puberty in reverse on steroids.
Except unlike puberty, at the end of this process there are no perky bodies or anything like that. Just weird fucking chin hairs, breasts that slump, expanded midsections that increase our risk for an earlier death and just a general sense of “fuck this shit and fuck these people!”
While I have talked occasionally about my perimenopausal journey before, including the blood pressure spikes, hot flashes, and other physical symptoms, it wasn’t until now that it truly dawned on me how much this little transition has started to impact my life and those around me.
I have always been prone to having a bad temper—sometimes an explosively bad temper. Looking back over the years, I should have known my anger wasn’t normal during my first marriage, when I once attempted to punch that husband out because he had annoyed me. The man was 6-foot-4, 280 pounds—a solidly built former high school football player. On what planet was it conceivable that my then 5-foot-4, 115-pound self was actually going to harm him? Didn’t matter to me; I was still trying.
Or early in my second marriage, to the guy formerly known to longtime readers as the Spousal Unit, when he was being forced to work very late for a week straight or so, and I got upset at the lack of his companionship and took a Louisville Slugger to our bedroom. I will never forget the look on his face when he came home and saw the damage I had done, which included the end of our wrought-iron bedframe turned into a twisted mess. To this day, he has told me that was a defining moment of realizing that I just might have anger issues.
Even my 18-year-old daughter recently mentioned the time when she was younger and her father and I were still married, when I came home after an exceptionally bad day at work and just started slamming chairs into walls.
I recount all this to say that I have always known that my anger isn’t a few F-bombs or a raised voice. It is explosive, and the weight of being a Black woman in the nonprofit sector where less than 20% of the organizational leaders are people of color adds to that weight. It’s the weight of knowing failure or mediocrity is never acceptable. A Black woman leading an organization that fails on her watch is almost always an indictment of her leadership and abilities, while a white man will usually be given grace and more opportunities—even if he truly is incompetent.
That potential anger is one of the many reasons that yoga, meditation, and therapy are staples—not luxuries—in my life. My anger, left unchecked, is dangerous for me—even if it does sometimes makes for fun (albeit unsettling) stories. It’s dangerous to those I love.
Getting back to the perimenopause thing, though…that anger has started to rise again to the surface. Unlike in my early years, though, there is an intensity now that is unsettling even to me. It’s a lifetime of striving to be a better person and reaching for Zen only to suddenly feel eerily like Michael Douglas’s character in the movie Falling Down.
It’s a lifetime of knowing that as a Black woman—no matter where I am or what people say—masking is required. And I don’t mean the kind of masks I still wear to ward off COVID or the flu.
Very few people are prepared for the real me on a day after day basis. My temper assumes ill intent of people before I have the proof—and if I feel slighted and you are close to me, depending on how the hormonal winds are blowing, I may react dramatically right now and get information far later. Which is particularly bad at those times when it turns out the hormones had me misreading things a bit—or even a lot.
It’s bursts of pure feeling and reaction coming from a negative place; a time when my instincts are no longer reliable guides, especially in the deepest personal situations.
Life over the past week has brought me to a place of realizing that in recent days and even years, I have made some bad calls under the influence of perimenopause—like when I didn’t just swallow the racist actions of a major donor and instead leveled up, when professionally I probably should have stood down. Sure, speaking up and not backing down feels right, and technically it is right, but when your organization requires the dollars of those donors to get the work done, sometimes you have to dance the jig. No, it isn’t right, but as my Dad would say, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”
Racism doesn’t cease to exist in anti-racism spaces, because as long as the funding requires white benevolence, we are all playing our roles. The uncomfortable truth is that white people—and their power and resources—fund anti-racism work and Black folks and other folks of color like myself, even in leadership positions, must still dance for the master. Even in my writing, my work is primarily funded by the support of white people and if I make too many people mad or too uncomfortable with the words I write—no matter how true those words may be—people cancel their support.
I have always known this intellectually and yet, at 50, it fills me with a rage that is barely contained at times, and the perimenopausal influences aren’t helping. Like I said, that Cleveland Clinic definition doesn’t prepare you. My inability to tamp down my temper at times has led to some hard times for my organization because, as I have learned, not everyone wants the truth. Sadly, the folks that truly understand the truth and can take regular doses of it rarely have the positions, influence, or resources to support and sustain the organization I lead.
That reality of my life is a big part of my stress even without hormonal changes—like, what the hell? The game is rigged. Even when you think you are in a position to make change, it’s often just an illusion. I now understand why my Dad used to question me on the sustainability of my work and whether or not I could really create change. Dear old Pops knew—he knew how the game was rigged but I still believed in the power of white people to change. Silly me! I guess I haven’t really given up on that idea, because I’m still putting in the work, but it can feel pointless.
Take these facts of life, ramp up the stress, make the hormones run amok so I stop sleeping for days, and throw in a case of stress-induced hives on top of that existing anger management problem and…
…well, it was clear that I was heading for a big explosion and, yeah, bad decisions were on the horizon. Or, at least, decisions that even if they were right required more than a half-cocked hunch to go on and deserved a little more nuanced handling than I gave them.
End result: A decision that was poorly made, and a hurt created that no amount of saying “I am sorry” is likely to make right. Especially because I have done this before and, well, love doesn’t mean you have to accept someone’s annual mistreatment. I think I am a marvelous person most of the time, but loving me shouldn’t mean being my metaphorical punching bag.
I told you from the start this was largely about perimenopause, and I wasn’t lying. I did also say this post would be a journey, though, and this is a very winding road. We’ve take some turns, but lately they all come back to this particular change of life and how it’s taken such a grip on many aspects of my life—anger just being one of them.
Funny thing is, most of the time, I manage the emotional waves of this transitional stage of life just fine. I have learned the fine balance required to stay calm: exercise, sleep, hydration, yoga. I learned that pharmaceuticals don’t sit well with me, so just being proactive with the stuff that works is what I need—until I recently hit a stress wall that was so overwhelming that I let my guard down for a few weeks. I didn’t think taking it easy for a short while on my self-care routines as I went hard on work was going to be a big deal. Oh boy, I was mistaken!
Now, after a visit to the doctor, a prescription of prednisone, and finally some sleep, I woke up and surveyed the burning embers of my personal life and let me tell you: It’s a hot damn mess. I am just going to try to extend grace to myself and remind myself that I can’t ever afford to take a break on the practices that ground me and keep me balanced.
That’s life under the influence of perimenopause—a so-called “transitional stage of life” that actually magnifies so many already unpleasant things, including preexisting anger problems. My journey being one of the many stories that aren’t told about this process we women go through, leaving us unprepared for just how much we need to prep for dealing with it. That’s why I tell these tales now, so that others can learn and know they aren’t alone in wondering if they are going crazy and realizing it’s biology cranking everything up several notches.
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