My 40th birthday is just around the corner. And I’m excited.

I feel healthier and happier at almost 40 than I did at 35 years old. In those days, I was not feeling well. I knew something was off with my body. Something was not right…I felt like I was riding a roller coaster of health issues few years ago:
“Are you OK, Mommy?” my preschooler asked as I stood in the kitchen on a beautiful spring evening, fanning myself with a paper plate as sweat rolled down my face. His sweet little eyes looking up into mine.
“Oh, I’m fine, buddy. I just got a little warm while loading the dishwasher.”
But I was fairly sure I was not fine. Doing dishes should not make one sweat.
We had recently moved from the West Coast; maybe I was still adjusting to being back in the Midwest. Maybe I was still getting used to a new environment, house, and job. But we had moved many times before.
Perhaps I was having some sort of post-post-really-delayed-postpartum issues. Did that happen when your baby was three?
I wasn’t sleeping well, and I was having strange digestive problems. It could be stress, but let’s be honest, that was a given factor in the military life.

Maybe it was something else.

female medical professional
by JeShoots via Unsplash

I made an appointment at the local medical clinic. The physician’s assistant was the only person accepting new patients at that time.

I said, “I think I’m having hot flashes. Sometimes it happens during the day, but typically at night. I wake up soaked in sweat. And my heart is usually racing.”
He said, “You’re too young for hot flashes. You’re not even 40 years old.”

I requested to see a primary care physician. A few weeks later, one was available.

I said, “I have these crazy mood swings. One day I sobbed and sobbed over buying the ‘wrong’ kind of yogurt. And I’ve been gaining weight over the past year.”
He said, “It’s normal for our metabolisms to shift as we age – but you’re young. You’re still in your 30s so that means you need to exercise more. And watch what you eat.”

I called for an appointment with the OBGYN. She was booked for months, but eventually had an opening to see me.

I said, “My cycle is heavy and irregular for the first time in my life. At times, my cramps are so bad that all I can do is lay on the couch with ice packs and take maximum strength ibuprofen.”
She said, “You can just have a complete hysterectomy, and then these things won’t bother you anymore.”
I stared at her for a full 15 seconds. And then these things won’t bother me anymore. I was appalled.
“It seems to me that I’m having symptoms of menopause,” I suggested.
“Hmmm. I wouldn’t say it’s menopause – you’re not quite old enough yet. You’re 36? Yeah. 40 is when we start classifying women as menopausal or peri-menopausal. So, should I put you on the schedule for surgery?”
I said no thank you. I walked out.
These medical professionals, who had never before met me or seen me for any illness, offered me antidepressants, prescription sleeping aids, and anti-anxiety medications as well as strong birth control pills. I declined them all. “There’s no shame in taking these. They will really help you,” they said.
I absolutely agreed. There is no zero shame. Many people need and take these medications. And they would have helped me if I had filled the prescriptions. But I was confident these meds would only mask what was truly going on inside my body.
No one mentioned labs or ultrasounds or sleep studies or EKGs. Not a single person.
woman holding a red stethoscope in a heart shape
by Patty Brito via Unsplash

I had to think outside the box. Literally, I had to travel beyond our zip code to find a nurse practitioner who listened to my story, took note of my complete medical history, sent me home with a calendar to track my symptoms, and worked with me to develop a plan for better health.

And not once did this medical professional use the benchmark of 40 years old to justify or deny her diagnosis and treatment of peri-menopause.
With her, I learned to highly monitor my sugar, alcohol, and caffeine intake, eat soy and plant-based meals, guard my sleep habits like a life-force, and prioritize self-care. It took awhile, but bit by bit, I felt well again.
In my opinion, 40 years old is not the required admission age to ride the wave of menopause.
You do not have to get on this roller coaster alone. Every woman at every stage of life should have the opportunity to feel healthy and happy. If you feel that something is off or want the second (or third or fourth) opinion, get it. Find the right help as you transition into this phase of life.

Here’s to turning 40, healthy and happy!