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There are life passages you can navigate by clicking around the internet for advice — I’m thinking of surviving parenting through the middle-school years, and how I mostly needed to know that my peers were all living with crazy people, too — and then there are other big changes that call for diving into a good book. When I was growing a baby, for instance, I needed to read pregnancy books that could help me make sense of the bazillion body changes I was experiencing. I’ve also not been above a modern self-help book or two when life has gotten to be too much. Some trials and tribulations require long passages of wisdom, not just short bites of observation.
Perimenopause and menopause are called “the change of life” because together they are a huge transition. Our energy drains, our tempers shorten, and our sleep gets disrupted — not by the kids this time, but by our own hormones. And it’s a long process. Perimenopause might only last a few years, but it’s also totally possible for it to go on for ten years. This is why I’m telling you that you might need a book or two.
Personal side note: I thought my doctors would be helpful but no. Neither my primary-care doc nor my OB-GYN were ever able to tie my exhaustion episodes (granted, I called them “migraines without the headache,” which I’m sure was confusing) to what they obviously were: The swan song of my reproductive years. Even now that I am (presumably) menopausal, things are a little unclear since my period sometimes makes a surprise, short appearance after a year of nothing. My OB-GYN looks at me like I am lying when I tell her that, which just scratches the surface of frustrations.
No two women have the same sequence of events that comprise perimenopause and menopause. But if you want to understand more about the shift, or arm yourself with some solutions to the symptoms, page through any of these helpful books.
Hot and Bothered
New York Times bestselling author Jancee Dunn wrote a book called How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids — so you know her take on menopause is going to be smart, funny, and relatable as hell. Hot and Bothered is Dunn’s honest and well-researched guide to navigating the change of life, covering everything from ways to improve sleep and sex to the newest hot flash treatments.
‘The Menopause Manifesto’ by Dr. Jen Gunter
This modern bestseller is a great place to start. Gunter is a gynecologist and a feminist, well aware of how little about menopause is taught in med school and of how recently menopause-the-concept was even recognized. She’ll also admit that measuring hormone levels can not accurately predict the timing of menopause. She covers heavy bleeding, fibroids, bone health, and much more, through a lens of proper outrage but practical help.
‘What Fresh Hell Is This?’ By Heather Corinna
Heather Corinna teaches sexuality for a living. Their personal journey into the menopause years started with symptoms like dizziness and what felt like a panic attack. Zero health professionals connected those feelings to perimenopause. They’ve written this book to help other people with ovaries feel less clueless and more empowered. This book also tackles a lot of misogynistic history and current gender issues, and Corinna’s viewpoint as a nonbinary sufferer of many middle-age indignities can help a wide net of people relate and even laugh.
The Perry Menopause Journal
More than a book, this interactive guide from perimenopause community Perry will help you navigate the transition into menopause better than any work of nonfiction. Its pages include advice and wisdom from physicians, mental health experts and menopause advocates (including Flow Advisory Council member Stacy London). There’s also 100 days of guided journaling developed with a positive psychology practitioner that includes space to track your symptoms, mood and period.
‘The XX Brain’ by Lisa Mosconi
My mother-in-law spent her last 8 years with Alzheimer’s, and it’s made me and others in the family a little obsessed with brain health. This book focuses on how estrogen protects the brain and how female hormonal health ties into dementia, depression, and more (two-thirds of Alzheimer’s patients are women). I’m not totally sold on the notion of a “diet” that protects us from Alzheimer’s — my MIL ate healthy foods, exercised, and did crossword puzzles, but that did not stop the disease. That said, a healthy diet, better sleep, and avoiding environmental toxins when possible would definitely help every single one of us feel better on the daily, and Mosconi has advice for all of it.
‘Perimenopause Power’ by Maisie Hill
The author of the bestseller Period Power now has advice for the next phase, when your period starts to peter out. She has not been through it yet herself, but as a practitioner in alternative medicines such as acupuncture and reflexology and a long-time sufferer and studier of tough menstrual symptoms, she’s been helping other women through the change of life for years. She’s learned what can work for hot flashes, vaginal dryness, joint pain, and fatigue and has advice for every one of those problems, plus more than a dozen more.
‘The Galveston Diet: The Doctor-Developed, Patient-Proven Plan to Burn Fat and Tame Your Hormonal Symptoms’ by Mary Claire Haver
Okay, we are back at talking about diet again. I am not a huge fan of telling women they can get more energy and less brain fog just by what they eat, but the truth is that eating a little less sugar and a little more leafy greens does have those kinds of benefits. Dr. Haver, an OB-GYN who has been through menopause herself, is also a fan of intermittent fasting — eating all within an 8-hour window during the day — which I am finding to be a pretty reliable way to slow the weight creep that comes with this life transition.
‘The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness’ by Robert Waldinger MD and Marc Schulz PhD
On the heels of the TED Talk watched by more than 20 million people, this brand-new book explains what we all really need in the second half of our life: good friends and strong, strife-free connections. In this epic study, people who were most satisfied with their relationships at age 50 were the most healthy at age 80. Real food for thought!
‘Come As You Are’ by Emily Nagoski
The more than three thousand five-star Amazon reviews should sell you on this sex book; women of all ages are calling it “required reading.” I am such a prude I would not want the cover on my coffee table, but I did note the number of people who, like me, have it on their Kindle. The author, a PhD in health behavior who gave a hugely popular TED Talk about unwanted arousal, normalizes sexual issues — wanting, not wanting, not knowing what you want — and makes you feel good, even proud, about why your body does what it does.
‘Stop Overthinking: 23 Techniques to Relieve Stress, Stop Negative Spirals, Declutter Your Mind, and Focus on the Present’ by Nick Trenton
This may help you keep your mind moving forward. Side note: If you have not yet watched the Jonah Hill documentary, Stutz, on Netflix, I highly recommend it. You’ll get a million messages out of it but one big one is that we’re never too far along life’s path to change. It’s especially smart to rewire old thinking patterns once your body is starting on a new journey anyway, and this book can help.
‘Navigating the Messy Middle: A Fiercely Honest and Wildly Encouraging Guide for Midlife Women’ by Ann Douglas
As I write, this book is available for preorder, coming out March 28, 2023. It’s a brilliant overview for the tens of millions of women who qualify as being in their “midlife” and are not only faced with menopause but also other kinds of hell (retirement planning, feeling invisible at work) as well as unexpected gifts (a clear-eyed view of your own values). Canadian author Ann Douglas wrote many of the parenting books I turned to years ago, and I remember quoting her often for the now-defunct Parenting magazine, so I’m thrilled that she’ll now help me through this next phase of life.
Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor
Yoga classes aside, it’s hard for the young to concentrate on their breath. By the time our bodies are moving into their post-reproductive years, however, we’re really ready: for yoga, for meditation, for all of it. This bestseller from 2022 can get you hooked on how to respect your body and take each breath fully and deeply.
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