It’s the World Health Organisation’s menopause month and today is Menopause Awareness Day, and I thought it was time to share more about my story. I find hearing other people’s stories really help me, so I hope mine might help you.
Like most women of my age, I hadn’t given menopause a second thought until quite recently. I’ve just turned 47 and I suppose I thought menopause was something that you worried about in your fifties. A few hot flushes and mood swings, and boom I’d be done.
What I didn’t know is that I’ve likely been perimenopausal for quite a few years. I have the mirena coil (information I don’t think I ever thought I’d be sharing with the internet), which means I haven’t really had periods for years. I got it after particularly horrible periods post-children. So I never had a signal like periods getting irregular, and let’s face it, many women don’t…yet we think that’s the sign.
No, my first obvious signs (to me) of what I now know to be perimenopause, were massive mood swings and abject rage. I’m not talking feeling weepy the odd time. I’m talking depths of darkness, couldn’t pull myself together misery. Balling crying, and even suicidal thoughts (thankfully fleeting but definitely there). And the rage, I’m not talking a wee bit snippy. I mean I could bludgeon you over the head angry. And being able to snap at the slightest thing.
People that know me would hopefully recognise that neither of these things are remotely normal for me. I’m pretty easy going, and generally have a happy disposition. I’m not a worrier or anxious. I look for and easily see the positives.
But for a few months I had totally lost myself.
I’m almost grateful for the extremity in feeling as it made me jump to attention, and as someone that always looks for an answer, I wanted to find out what had gone so damn wrong.
I live in a house filled with beautiful neurodiversity. And with it comes heightened emotions, and at times volatility. I’m the steadying presence. I bring the calm and the reason. If I’ve lost my ability to maintain equilibrium, I feared we’d all be lost.
I recognised I was probably menopausal, and thanks to the increase in information out there, I’d become aware of this phenomenon that feels like it was invented in the last few years…more accurately perimenopausal.
What I didn’t realise is that the signs had been there for years. I had my second daughter when I was 39 and many of the ‘symptoms’ of post-partum and baby parenting were similar, so I didn’t recognise them. Painful joints, aching feet, brain fog, low energy, shocking memory (I think I have dementia had practically become a daily mantra). I remember my mum pointing out that I’d got a bit snappy, that my patience wasn’t what it used to be. With 2 small children and a business, who wouldn’t be a bit frayed round the edges I thought!
I remember clearly when I started to doubt this was normal.
Myself and my good friend Lisa went to Boston to do a coaching programme at Harvard, and I remember coming back and feeling like I never got over my jet lag. My energy was a disaster. I found it so hard to manage as my hyper achiever sets me high standards, and I just wasn’t up to keeping them like I normally could. Again, parenthood seemed a reasonable explanation. And maybe the warm glow of a new business was fading. Maybe I wasn’t up to it?
So I explained it away and carried on. In the meantime the weight was piling on, my energy flatlining, and my capacity to be creative and inspired only sparked once in a blue moon (when that was nearly my daily norm previously). And have I mentioned my memory? I could have a conversation with you where you told me you had a terminal diagnosis, and I honestly wouldn’t be able to recall the conversation, let alone have the good grace to enquire on how you’re doing (my utmost apologies to all my friends for being particularly shitty and useless at this point).
Trying everything to kickstart my mojo.
I meditated, sea swam, I saw a nutritionist and changed my diet and took soooo many supplements. I even went back to the gym. Everything helped a little bit, but nothing got me feeling like me.
Finally, when the rage and low moods hit, I decided to go to the doctor. She agreed it sounded like perimenopause and started to suggest things I could do. I politely stopped her and told her what I was already doing, and she said OK. She prescribed me a book to read (Dr Louise Newson’s Preparing for the Perimenopause and Menopause) and said read it to understand whether I want HRT. I know HRT isn’t right for everyone, but after I read the literature and weighed up my challenges, I decided it was right for me.
I went back, she did a series of blood tests to rule out other issues and to make sure this was the right course for me, and thankfully everything came back clear. So, we started the path of HRT. As I get progesterone from my coil, I only need oestrogen patches. Within a few weeks I felt dramatically different. I couldn’t believe the improvement. I was still taking a supplement too, but I felt I’d found the answer.
Roll forward a few months and it was like someone had switched it off and I was back to square one. Only it felt even worse this time! Thankfully my doctor didn’t hesitate to increase the dose. Another increase later and I’m feeling like I’m almost on an even keel.
Do I feel like the full me?
No. But do I feel more me, definitely. The biggest difference is my mood swings are much smaller and more manageable. The paranoia has gone, I’m not hitting despair level bottom of the pit, I cry more easily but only slightly. And the rage is a thing of the past (I hope)! I’m not angry, nor hate-filled, nor tapping into victim-like tendencies. I’m doing pretty well.
Yes, the energy is still a bit lower, and the brain fog and memory loss are low. As is my libido! But all in all things are much better. Plus, the extra things I’m doing to help are really making a difference.
Overall, it’s important to recognise that for some women, perimenopause and menopause can have a huge impact. It’s yet another life-stage we as women face where we can lose our sense of selves if we don’t get the help we need.
So, what’s my advice?
Get familiar with the symptoms! Some of my physical symptoms that I haven’t mentioned included; itchy skin, peeling nails and skin breakouts which turned out to be rosacea. Others can be more mental or emotional…such as anxiety, depression, and low confidence. There are so many. Check out the resources at the bottom to learn more.
Get informed. Read books, watch Davina McCall’s documentary, and speak to other women! We’re all going to go through it at some stage.
Ask for help. Go to your GP. If they aren’t helpful, ask for a second opinion. Keep asking, change doctors, do whatever you have to do to get help!
Don’t suffer alone. There are lots of groups online and now more and more are meeting in person. It makes life a lot easier when you know it’s not just you. Talk to your family and friends, they may be dealing with it too.
And recognise that if your confidence has suddenly dropped, you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, you’re struggling at work when you used to take it in your stride…it could be perimenopause and there’s help out there.
I’m going to be speaking to international menopause expert Emma Persand on Friday (21st October), our interview will be streamed live on LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube at 12:15. I highly recommend you join us, and if you have a question for Emma email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Check out these resources for more information…
- NICE Guidelines
- The British Menopause Society – Find a specialist
- Women’s Health Concern – Ask a question. Fact sheets
- Pelvic Roar – Women’s Health Physiotherapist
- Daisy Network – Information for under 40 diagnoses
- The Eve Appeal – Support for gynaecological cancers
- Menopause Matters – Ask a question. Information and products
- Menopause Doctor
- Black Girls Guide to Surviving the Menopause
- Queer/LGBTQIA+ Menopause
- Rock My Menopause
- Sexual Health for Trans and Non-binary people
- National Institute of Medical Herbalists
- www.workingwiththemenopause.co.uk : Cognitive Behavioral Group Therapy Sessions:
- Menopause Café – Meet ups across the country
- CBT for menopause hot flushes – Self help guide
- Complete Guide to Menopause – Book
- Menopause Rating Scale
- Menopause: The Ultimate Taboo – Podcast
- Wellbeing For Schools