It happened like this three times: a ferocious rage came and crested, receding quickly into oblivion, untraceable. It wasn’t the anger that scared me: I’m Jewish and gay, and let’s just say I know my way around a therapist’s waiting room. I know how to calm myself down, how to put on my scientist hat and observe my emotions. Not to mention that I’m parenting 5-year-old twins, so sometimes things are a lot, and I’m literally always explaining to someone how to manage their feelings. It was the explosive part. I could feel my entire body desperate for the spectacular release of righteously screaming at someone, the unmatched pleasure of taking all the guardrails off. I was worried that the rage would emerge, unchecked and unhinged, to undermine my professionalism or hurt a loved one.
I decided to talk to my doctor about it, explaining how unsettled I was by these mood swings, that I was worried my kids might end up in the line of fire. She nodded, eyes scrolling quickly down my chart and said, “You’re 39, right? Yeah, that’ll happen now. We can try adjusting your SSRI if you want.”
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Wait, what? That’ll happen now? Am I supposed to know what she’s talking about? I’m 39, so screaming my head off alone in my bathroom is just…part of it? Part of what, exactly?
According to my doctor, it turns out that uncontrolled changes in mood can be an early sign of perimenopause, which I guess is something I was supposed to know. I guess I’m also supposed to know that perimenopause can last years, and that my body may be subject to any number of symptoms that can interfere with the way I do my job, parent my children, take care of everything I have to take care of. I guess I’m supposed to just…roll with it?
I had known that menopause was a thing that would happen to me eventually, that I might experience an occasional hot flash, but then I’d finally be free of the sword of Damocles suspended over me every month. But this felt shocking. Somehow, I was supposed to know that momentary flights of uncontrolled rage were just part of life at 39, that a large percentage of folks who have a uterus are walking around the world breathing through the instinct to strangle the nearest unwitting stranger. I am indignant: Why am I learning about this as it is happening to me?
The answers to these questions are tragically predictable, almost boring. By creating and upholding a stigma around menopause, we keep the train of the status quo on the tracks. By not preparing folks with uteruses for the breadth of what is to come in menopause, we reinforce how unimportant and trifling women’s health issues are. If no one ever talks about the very real impacts of the symptoms, it must be because they aren’t that serious, right? And if they’re not that serious, then I must not be as tough as everyone else if I’m complaining, right? My mother didn’t complain, my aunties didn’t complain; they all just kept taking care of everyone else. So what right do I have to need to care for myself? And the cycle repeats.
Adding insult to injury, I am just now transitioning into what I would call the middle of my career—a moment where I feel for the first time in my life that my judgment matters, that what I say, what I decide, is valuable. I’ve spent the better part of my adulthood building a foundation upon which to rest that judgment, and I’m beginning to feel a sense of certainty in my ideas, my perspective. It’s a particular cruelty that at that exact moment, I’m now also faced with a capricious deluge of murderous rage. Do these mood swings undermine the good sense I’m supposed to be exercising? Am I less competent now? Do I tell this to my boss? Does the very existence of my body make my work less valuable? There’s no guidance on this, and the consequences feel breathtaking.
I am struck now by how terrible we are at holding multiple truths. It is both true that I love my children desperately and that the sound of their bickering might just evoke an apoplectic rampage I didn’t know I had in me. It is true that I have accrued enough professional and life experience to know that I make sound decisions. And while it kills me to admit this, it is also true that that same wisdom exists alongside–and could be subject to—any manner of strong, even chaotic feelings.
Because we don’t know how to hold on to disparate ideas at once, we’re forced to pretend away the ones we don’t like, and so we let 39-year-old people encounter the shocking truths of their bodies on their own, unprepared, and without the resources to help make sense of the world. It doesn’t have to look like this. We can commit to building bigger, more accessible cultural conversations around the reality of living in bodies with uteruses. For now, I’m talking to everyone I know about this, so when my friends are struck by a wild and blinding fury, they’ll know it’s part of life, that it won’t last, and that they’re in good company.
Any content published by Oprah Daily is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should not be regarded as a substitute for professional guidance from your healthcare provider.
Kenne Dibner is a writer living in Baltimore, Maryland with her family. She works at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
In a refreshingly candid conversation with Oprah Daily Insiders, Oprah, Maria Shriver, Drew Barrymore, and doctors Sharon Malone, Heather Hirsch, and Judith Joseph, we set the record straight on all things menopause. Become an Oprah Daily Insider now to get access to this conversation and the full “The Life You Want” Class library.