03/06/2012 12:09 pm ET Updated May 06, 2012

Personal Spring Cleaning

On my last trip to New York, I attended a friend's lovely dinner party and met a delightful woman who is just entering perimenopause. After introducing her to my mission to educate women about perimenopause and menopause and my book, Shmirshky: The Pursuit of Hormone Happiness, she pulled me aside to talk. Looking at me with raised eyebrows and a lowered chin, she spoke to me in a whisper, ensuring that no one could overhear our conversation. As if telling me a secret, she began telling me her symptoms. "I can't sleep, I'm unusually achy, anxious, and irritable -- and if that is not enough, I am gaining weight and my libido has completely vanished. It's hell!"

My immediate response, and now my mantra, was, "You need to go to a perimenopause and menopause specialist." Like so many other women out there, she was blindsided by these symptoms, yet so secretive about what she is going through that she had difficulty reaching out for the help she needs and deserves. Kudos to her, though, because unlike so many women experiencing these disconcerting and disruptive symptoms, she recognized that she was not "fine" and not functioning at her body's best. She was aware enough to ask advice of someone who is experienced and knowledgeable about perimenopause and menopause (I call it PM&M -- easier and more fun). She was aware that something major was changing in her because she is in-tune with her body and has a desire to lead a fully-functioning and happy life.

If you can believe it, it's already March! With my new friend's story in mind, I want to emphasize the importance of taking a personal inventory -- a "spring cleaning" of yourself, if you will -- to see if you really are functioning at 100 percent. This will be a great way to celebrate March and avoid "March Madness" (no, not basketball March Madness -- the perimenopause and menopause one)! Questions I ask myself daily include the following:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how do I feel today?
  • If I could do one thing to improve the way I feel, what would it be?
  • Am I on the top of my To-Do List?
  • What is my husband's name again?*

Many changes occur in your body when you enter perimenopause. It is the most symptom-laden time since puberty, but remember that over 50 million women around the world are right there with you. 6,000 women enter menopause daily.

Some of the most common perimenopause and menopause symptoms include hot flashes, insomnia, irritability, memory loss and a drop in sex drive (CNN). Just because these are the most common, however, doesn't mean that you will definitely encounter all of them. Experiences vary because each of us is so different. In fact, I developed hypothyroidism around the same time I was going through perimenopause. About 10% of women going through perimenopause face some form of thyroid dysfunction (Columbia Medical Center). This results in a compounding set of symptoms and challenges, and there is a multitude of other health-related issues that can affect your particular set of symptoms - there is no one-size-fits-all approach to PM&M. This is why tracking your symptoms and taking your list to your PM&M specialist is so important. Perimenopause and menopause and the symptoms they cause require more than a few aspirin and rest. Do a personal spring cleaning inventory. Fill out the symptoms chart I provide in my book, take it to your PM&M specialist, and make sure that your specialist does the necessary blood tests. Remember, this may NOT be your regular gynecologist as not all of them are specialists in PM&M. With a review of your symptoms, test results and medical history, the two of you can design your personalized path to hormone happiness together.

Once you have your inventory done, on to the spring cleaning fun!

You will find that once you take control of your well being and deal with your PM&M aggressively, you will be able to eliminate a lot of clutter in your life. You will go from being confused, worried and distraught to free to make quality changes in your life. After all, you will have already taken the biggest first step, which is putting yourself on top of your To-Do List.

First, trash the sense of shame that surrounds talking about your experience in perimenopause and menopause. This is paramount! Studies show that talking about this stage that occurs in each of our lives helps women gain confidence, manage their symptoms, and find a support system that they can rely on in their journeys (Health Canal). Next, there is a huge negative voice inside most of our heads. It's like an enormous SUMO wrestler squashing our every attempt to feel good about ourselves. That guy has got to go! It seems that we all have these fellows sitting atop our self-esteem and self-confidence. True, they come in different weight classes, but nonetheless, make yourself SUMO FREE. Finally, many of us become members of the "Sisterhood of the Shrinking Pants" upon entering PM&M. When it comes to the spring cleaning of your closet, just stop thinking negatively about yourself, take the clothes that don't fit anymore and place them in garbage bags in your storage area. When you find hormone happiness, you may be able to retrieve them, but get them out of sight in the meantime. With the expulsion of the SUMO in your head as well as your tight clothes, you will have time to exercise the self-help you need.

When I began my perimenopause and menopause spring cleaning, I took inventory of my symptoms, my daily functionality (or the lack thereof) and pushed forward to help myself find a path to hormone happiness. This journey led me to write Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness about my experience, take hold of my life and reach out for the help I needed and deserved and I feel great! I found my path to hormone happiness and you can, too.

Remember: Reaching out is IN. Suffering in silence is OUT!

OK, it is now time for you to place yourself on the top of your To-Do List. Start cleaning!

*Just kidding, Honey!

Ellen Dolgen is the author of Shmirshky: The Pursuit of Hormone Happiness -- a cut-to-the-chase guidebook on perimenopause and menopause.