Perimenopause has been a roller-coaster ride for sure. When we left home in 2013 I already knew that I was in the midst of this interesting time of life, but I didn’t expect my symptoms to get progressively worse and to cause us a few problems as we travel. I’m tough, really tough, not a delicate flower at all and not prone to rushing to doctors for anything less than imminent death, but at times I’ve struggled. This post is about experiences of full-time travel during perimenopause and how I coped, particularly with the anxiety. We were on the road travelling full-time for 7 years, right through perimenopause and into full menopause. I’m writing this post because it’s a bewildering time. If I can reach just one woman and help her through it, or let her know what to expect, it will make me happy.
Travel and Perimenopause
Yes, of course you can travel during menopause. I travelled for most of the perimenopause years and out through the other side of menopause. Things got a lot better after menopause. This posts isn’t medical advice, it’s just honest observations on how perimenopause affected me as a woman, and my ability to travel. I worked in hospital medicine for twenty years before becoming a travel blogger, so science is on my side.
What is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause, it can last up to 15 years and every woman is different, symptoms and duration vary wildly. Menopause is when menstruation totally stops (for 12 months officially), bring it on!
Nothing here is medical advice, just my experiences. I have to say that for legal reasons, but I link to some interesting resources if you want to know more about perimenopause symptoms and how to recognise it.
It’s generally agreed that there are AT LEAST 35 SYMPTOMS of Perimenopause. Each one is more joyous than the last. In my case, I started getting symptoms at 40, just after I stopped feeding my second child. I’m almost 50 now and sometimes it’s pretty full-on, sometimes I’m fine. I never know from one day to the next how I’ll feel.
Which Perimenopause Symptoms Have Impacted on our Travel?
Sweats, palpitations, tingling and breathlessness have seriously worried me at times. I’ve been concerned that I was about to have a heart attack. I remember sitting on the bus to Luang Prabang in Laos and thinking “This is it, I’m going to die here.” It passed, with the help (maybe) of aspirin, magnesium spray and water. But that set of symptoms rears it’s ugly head fairly often.
I actually had an ECG and bloods for thyroid etc. done before we left, they were fine. I keep reminding myself that the science proves me healthy. (If you have any of these symptoms you really should pop along to the doc’s.)
Erratic, unpredictable and heavy periods, boy are they fun on a bus or in a hostel with shared bathrooms! Particularly when you can’t find industrial strenth sanitary protection. TMI, I know. We try to plan travel days for the “right” time of the month but with cycles varying from 2 weeks to 8, it’s hard to do. I stock up whenever I find what I need, in parts of Thailand, Laos and Malaysia I had a few issues.
Sleeplessness, isn’t too much of a problem for me usually. I actually consider insomnia my super power. 2am often sees me up, working, while the family sleeps. The only time that insomnia bothers me is when I can’t get to sleep for sweats at bed time, luckily that doesn’t happen too often. When I sweat and freeze alternately it can go on for 4 or 5 hours before I eventually get to sleep.
Mood Swings and feeling like you’re going crazy is a fun one. You never know when it’s going to strike because the cycles are so erratic. I never had PMT in my life until perimenopause struck, I thought I was too tough for all that stuff. Wrong!
Now I know that my brain just stops functioning towards the end of a cycle. I can’t concentrate, I flit from one idea to the next. It reminds me very much of ADHD. I get crabby as all hell and scream and cry rather than speak. If anyone pisses me off, I want their blood!
Anxiety is something that I’ve carried with me since early childhood, but it becomes intensified during perimenopause. I had a bad run-in with it a few years ago but it actually hasn’t been too bad lately, other than when the cardiac-like symptoms strike. I tried drugs for a couple of days back home in Port Douglas and then threw them in the bin in favour of running. A very wise doctor was my saviour with this one. He simply told me that I was quite unwell but I was an intelligent woman and I would find a way to fix it. I did, I loved that man, he advised me to ditch the tablets prescribed elsewhere or I’d never get off them.
But anxiety is a really crappy thing. When you’re lying in bed sweating there is always that little voice,
” It might not be menopause you know, it might be cancer.” Or the other voice,
” You’re brain isn’t working because you have dementia.” The old favourite strikes too,
” WHAT are you doing to your kids!!!”
But I haven”t had a panic attack in years.
B vitamins and Magnesium really seem to help me with this.
What Have I Found That Helps Perimenopause Symptoms on the Road?
Everyone has something to recommend, but the reality is that drugs and natural supplements can be hard to find on the road.
I’ve found Black Cosh here in Guatemala but friends have told me of nasty side effects so it didn’t seem worth giving it a try at $40 a bottle.
In my case, caffeine, alcohol, spicy food and carbohydrates seem to make the symptoms worse. Those are my favourite things, I’d rather have sweats than give up 3 of the 4.
I have to have some joy in my life!
It’s only the carbs that I cut out. I’m not a fan of carbs anyway, they’re mostly empty calories, so give or take the odd pizza or cake craving, they’re gone and have been for years.
Alcohol, I love, but sometimes I drink, sometimes I don’t. I’ve quit for good periods, I’ve done the Dryathlon and I go months without wine when we travel. I see little difference.
Keeping busy helps, so in that way the travelling has been great. I’m much less likely to notice the symptoms when I’m actively involved in something. The times when we’ve been doing nothing, like during our month in Antigua, make me notice all of the symptoms more. Doing something I enjoy is best, a dawn walk at the beach, staring out to sea, kayaking, climbing a mountain, cuddling the kids, anything that lifts my spirits makes me better able to cope.
Exercise really helps. On Ko Phangan I spent a lot of time hiking up and down the hill to keep the breathlessness at bay, it seemed to work. I’m not fit enough to run now, but up until a few years ago I could run a half marathon any time. I’d really like to get back into it if we ever settle somewhere again, I think it’s achievable, even at 47.
I climbed halfway up Everest a couple of months ago so I’m still fit and healthy, if somewhat cranky.
Multivitamins, iron supplements, and magnesium oil spray are my friends (I buy mine back home in Port Douglas and have been carrying the concentrate around the world). As you get older you don’t absorb Mg so well, if I’m low on Mg I get cramps and feel down. I also find the spray really relaxing at bedtime, it helps me sleep. I think I became anaemic recently due to poor diet, the iron (with B vitamins) seemed to help within a few days, but of course, it could just be that my perimenopausal symptoms subsided naturally. Anaemia causes very similar symptoms. (see a doctor to check!)
Breathing, in for 4, hold for 2, out for 4 is a quick fix trick that you can use anywhere to calm anything. I like self-hypnosis too, I used it in natural childbirth (at home) and regularly use it to fall asleep.
Would I Recommend Travelling During Perimenopause?
Yes! You may as well get through this out in the world having fun as sitting at home. Rather like parenting on the road or raising kids, these things are fully portable and more fun in Thailand. Save this to Pinterest ladies – you know you want to. More young women should know what’s coming.
So that’s it, my personal experience with the end of an era. I don’t know how I suddenly got so old, it really does creep up on you. Friends who are through menopause (and now, I’m that side too, they’re right, I’m 54 now) tell me that the other side is great, they feel amazing. I’m hanging onto that thought. I feel that I want to create more posts about travel as a woman, if you have anything you’d like me to discuss, let me know in the comments. Thanks.