Teenage rebellion, childbirth, shrinks, stress incontinence (which is a thing, apparently?): Actress Gillian Anderson and her best friend, journalist Jennifer Nadel, have experienced it all, and they've talked about it all, too. In their new book, We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere, Gillian and Jennifer encourage readers to be transparent about their struggles. Here, the two have a conversation revealing the deepest truths about menopause — hot flashes, barely suppressed rage, and memory loss included.
Gillian Anderson: When did you first notice that you were showing signs of menopause or perimenopause?
Jennifer Nadel: I didn't know I was, which is why I'm so glad that we're talking about this. Why didn't anyone tell us, why didn't we know, why didn't someone say, "This is going to hit you like a freight train and affect every aspect of your life?"
For me, it started with really bad anxiety at 52 which kept me awake through the night. I'd never experienced anything like it. My doctor diagnosed it as anxiety, pure and simple. No one even thought to ask whether it could be menopause-related. I didn't add two and two together until I was at a Goldsmiths University convention giving a paper when I found myself drenched in sweat. It was so weird. I thought, I must be ill — I had a sudden fever that had come on from nowhere. It was really embarrassing. It was only subsequently that I realized I'd had my first hot flash. Now that I know what they are, I feel quite proud of my hot flashes. I feel amazed that a body, my body, can generate so much heat. I think I could absolutely keep a city warm.
How did you first find out?
GA: I remember, in California, I think, in my late 20s or early 30s, a naturopath I'd just started seeing looked at my blood work and said, "You're showing signs of early menopause." And I completely ignored her! I didn't know what it was. It certainly wasn't something my doctor had picked up on, and I didn't look into it further.
And then two years ago — that's twenty years later! — it was eight in the morning and I remember throwing my coat down on the floor in front of at least two of my children, and saying out loud, "This day sucks!" The day hadn't even started, but there was something about my inability to handle anything that morning that alerted me to the fact that something was up. And as the day went on, I kept having to excuse myself from meetings and go into the bathroom to cry.
It was at the point that I felt like my life was falling apart around me that I started to ask what could be going on internally, and friends suggested it might be hormonal. I went to a menopause specialist who informed me that my levels of estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone were incredibly low. I then went to my gynecologist to get a second opinion. They said that I was perfectly fine based on the blood tests and that I absolutely wasn't in perimenopause. One of the challenges we've found is that different doctors run different tests and look at different aspects of how the hormones present. Look at how many specialists I have seen about this. I'm incredibly privileged to be able to do so. But finding answers shouldn't depend on having the means to consult numerous experts — it's something every woman has a right to have with an informed practitioner.
JN: Can you explain what perimenopause is?