I was chatting with a woman yesterday, and we were talking about hair. Not the hair that grows on your head but random hairs that suddenly show up around your fortieth birthday, staring back at you in the mirror, usually while you’re attending some public event and already feeling insecure. I’ve noticed that my eyebrows don’t fill out like they used to, and I wish I could take a few random hairs from my chin and relocate them to my brows. Needless to say, tweezers are now in my purse at all times.

Nobody warned me about the strange things that would happen to my body when it started the process of transition from youth to middle age. I don’t like surprises and would have appreciated a warning to avoid trampolines after childbirth. It would have saved me the embarrassment of wetting my pants.

So, with that in mind I’m going to share a few things I’ve learned about the changes I have experienced thus far, in order to give a heads-up to those of you just behind me in this process. I never knew much about menopause other than hot flash jokes, but there are some things every girl needs to know.

How old were you when menopause began?

For me, pre-menopause hit at about age forty-one. That’s really early compared to most. Many women don’t start this process until their mid-forties, but everyone is different in how their body reacts. A common clue is to look at the women in your family tree and when and how they were affected. We often follow similar paths. This is true for me.

What were some early signs you experienced?

One of the first signs I had that something was changing was that the time between my monthly cycles began to lengthen. What had been a twenty-eight day cycle became a two-month and then three-month cycle. Finally, when a five-month stretch happened, I knew I needed to visit my gynecologist. At that visit, my estrogen level on blood work showed that I was approximately midway through this transition. Another thing that happened, when my cycle did hit, was that it began to last longer. On two occasions it lasted over three weeks, and I became anemic. Vitamins became very important to my daily routine and still are.

Did you experience hot flashes?

Yes. Many jokes are made about women in menopause and hot flashes, but until you experience it you don’t really get it. I was always a cold person, but I am no longer. I love the weight of blankets at night, but I have gone through nights feeling cold and then waking in a wet sweat and having to use cold washcloths for relief. While this stage was short for me, I have heard of women having to deal with it for years. When a hot flash did hit and I was in a work or social environment, I would be honest with whoever I was with, telling them what I was experiencing. It opened up the conversation to humor and understanding and helped distract me from my discomfort.

Did you ever feel irrational?

Yes. In addition to all the everyday stresses of life, hormonal changes can make building or maintaining one’s self-confidence challenging. During the worst of it, I had several go-to people who helped me unload emotionally and gave advice and understanding. Above all, they were friends who would pray for me.

What advice do you have for those beginning menopause?

I think the best thing I did was also the riskiest thing. I talked. I shared my emotions and my fears. For the most part, I was cautious in choosing who I shared with. I had a friend tell me, “You need some St. John’s Wart.” I gave up on the St. John’s Wart herb helping, but her honesty was helpful in understanding how I was being perceived. Good friends are valuable through this journey.

Another thing I did was I asked women in my family about their experience with menopause. Hearing their experiences and in what time frame helped me to know what might happen next and gave me a clue of how my body might react.

Are you through menopause completely?

I don’t know. I was told once that I was and another time I was told I was near the end. But, there are three stages to a woman’s cycle; Reproductive, Menopause and Post Menopause. I am no expert. I just know my experience and I’m all too happy to have not had to worry about the monthly bother for over a year.

Any last thoughts?

There are many jokes about menopause. Those jokes can cause us to not want to be the butt of the joke and avoid conversation. But, conversation often opens channels of information. If we share our experiences with each other, the journey doesn’t have to be as awkward and scary. Here is a link to more information that might be helpful!