From the book "The Wisdom of Menopause: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing During the Change," by Christiane Northrup, M.D. Copyright 2001 by Christiane Northrup, M.D. Published by arrangement with Bantam Books, an imprint of the Bantam Dell Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.

A woman recently told me that when her mother was approaching the age of menopause, her father sat the whole family down and said, "Kids, your mother may be going through some changes now, and I want you to be prepared. Your uncle Ralph told me that when your aunt Carol went through the change, she threw a leg of lamb right out the window!"

Although this story fits beautifully into the stereotype of the "crazy" menopausal woman, it should not be overlooked that throwing the leg of lamb out the window may have been Aunt Carol's outward expression of the process going on within her soul: the reclaiming of self. Perhaps it was her way of saying how tired she was of waiting on her family, of signaling to them that she was past the cook/chauffeur/dishwasher stage of life.

For two or three days each month, just before or during our periods, there is a hormonal interlude when the veil between our conscious and unconscious selves is thinner and the voice of our souls beckons to us.

For many women, if not most, part of this reclamation process includes getting in touch with anger, and perhaps, blowing up at loved ones for the first time. The events that evoked anger are never new. What is new, however, is our willingness and energy to let that anger be acknowledged and expressed, both to ourselves and to others. This can be the first step toward much-needed change in our lives, change that is often long overdue.

Our Cultural Inheritance
Regardless of where you currently stand in your menstrual or perimenopausal transition, chances are you've inherited a few beliefs about your cycle that boil down to a variation of the following: "The issues that arise premenstrually have nothing to do with my actual life. They are strictly hormonal. My hormones exist in a universe that is completely separate from the rest of my life."

In fact, PMS and the escalation of symptoms that is so common during perimenopause are really our inner guidance system trying to get us to pay attention to the adjustments we need to make in our lives, adjustments that become particularly urgent during perimenopause.

If we don't pay attention to the issues that come up for us every month during the years when our periods are regular, our symptoms will escalate as we get older.

Our Brains Catch Fire at Menopause

Our brains actually begin to change at perimenopause. Like the rising heat in our bodies, our brains also become fired up! Sparked by the hormonal changes that are typical during the menopausal transition, a switch goes on that signals changes in our temporal lobes, the brain region associated with enhanced intuition. How this ultimately affects us depends to a large degree on how willing we are to make the changes in our lives that our hormones are urging us to make over the ten years or so of perimenopause.

There is ample scientific evidence of the brain changes that begin to take place at perimenopause. Differences in relative levels of estrogen and progesterone affect the temporal lobe and limbic areas of our brains, and we may find ourselves becoming irritable, anxious, emotionally volatile.

Though our culture leads us to believe that our mood swings are simply the result of raging hormones and do not have anything to do with our lives, there is solid evidence that repeated episodes of stress (due to relationship, children, and job situations you feel angry about or powerless over, for example) are behind many of the hormonal changes in the brain and body.