In days gone by our mothers and grandmothers may have mentioned it in hushed tones while men rolled their eyes. It’s been a long time coming but finally we are seeing more and more women openly talk about it. Yip the menopause actually, and more appropriately, the peri-menopause, because ladies that is where it starts. Menopause is when a woman has stopped having her period for 12 months continuously. So, all the months and years before that is called the peri-menopause. And the symptoms dear friends are many and varied. Some of them will hit you with vengeance and some may not even pop in to say hello.
I started thinking about menopause in my early 40’s, oddly enough prompted by my husband who suggested I get my hormones checked out. It turned, according to the blood tests I was not in menopause as my hormone levels didn’t indicate it. But I wasn’t feeling myself, my depression has worsened, I kept having skin breakouts, the belly fat just wouldn’t go away no matter what I did (although I still blame a twin pregnancy for that :)) My friends seemed ok and occasionally one would hear whispers of hot flushes and the menopause but nothing that made me think about it for long as the medical science had clearly stated it was not anything I should be.
As I suffered from depression discussions with friends and doctors or counsellors was always about my mental health. It wasn’t until I separated from my husband and moved into a house with my boys that I started seeing signs that made me read up on menopause. Night sweats that had me changing pyjamas and bedding numerous times a night and needing a shower; insomnia so bad some nights I wanted to cry from exhaustion; a brain that no longer seemed to function properly … words would linger somewhere in a void and never quite make it to my lips and an all-consuming tiredness that I couldn’t explain.
And that is when I discovered the horror of peri-menopause. And by horror I refer to the numerous and variable symptoms which you may or may not get, how long you could be in this hormonal sea for – months or years who knows, and the revelation that menopause is one day and peri-menopause the journey to reach it. My googling took me to many articles and blogs where I read various accounts, lists of possible symptoms and the sense of hopelessness and helplessness around it all. The majority of GP’s don’t really know enough about menopause and rely on the hormonal blood tests which is seems aren’t that accurate. To be honest I did the blood tests twice and both times the results came back saying I was not in per-menopause, but my body was shouting something very different – hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, erratic periods, brain fog.
So I started talking to other women and it is incredible how many of my friends, colleagues, school mums and more have similar symptoms, experiences and very little information on what to do about it. Since arriving in the UK I have looked at natural remedies to help with some of my symptoms and have found a few that have helped. Thankfully the night sweats ended, and my hot flushes aren’t too bad – for now.
It was empowering to see a UK celebrity, Davina MaCall do a one hour show on menopause a few months ago and seems to have started a conversation and raised awareness a little. Workplaces, partners and spouses need to be educated about peri-menopause as much as we need to educate people about mental ill-health because unless you experience it yourself it is very hard to understand it.
But the MOST frustrating part of this, certainly in the UK, is the lack of knowledge, the lack of support and the blatant disregard for women going though peri-menopause and menopause. Daily I read posts on various groups of women who have been fobbed off by their GP’s, who can’t get anyone to take them seriously, who aren’t able to get the prescribed hormones to assist in alleviating some of the symptoms, how anti-depressants are plied onto women as a solution.
As a woman suffering a MAJOR change in hormones, mental alertness, sleep patterns, libido, weight management, muscle aches & pains and MUCH MORE you have to claw and fight and cry to even get a GP to take note, let alone actually assist you. Many of the private medical aid schemes do not pay for menopause treatments unless you have specifically included or named it, waiting lists are weeks if not months long for appointments at a Menopause clinic. All the while most women between the ages of 45 – 60 suffer daily, often with unmanageable symptoms, trying to cope, seeking advice from friends and colleagues, online and forums created by other women.
Entering peri-menopause in the work place is tricky. My memory is just not what it used to be – if I don’t write it down, chances are I may not remember. And it is not because I wasn’t listening or can’t be bothered, I honestly struggle to pull the information to the fore. This means I often ask my boss or colleagues to email me if something is mentioned in passing or in a chat over coffee. I always take notes in meetings which gives me something to refer back to if I need to. I create to do lists of things I want/need to do and tick them off. I then remember what I need to get done in a day/week or month and ticking them off feels great too! I carry notes with me to meetings and events as I just don’t seem to be able to rely on my memory like I used to.
No matter what the weather I suffer from hot flushes and being hot. In the warmer it was dreadful as I was always hot and needed a fan on beside my desk permanently. As the weather has cooled, I am layering my clothes and have the fan on hand. Feeling hot and sweaty makes me feel unattractive and frumpy – both things I am struggling with anyhow so no more fuel is required for that particular fire. Menopause weigh gain is a real thing, and it seems to happen unexpectedly and rather quickly for some of us no matter what we eat or how much exercise we do. The fact that your body now starts to ache and sometimes creak does not help either. I find myself needing to hang on to banisters and railing to walk up and down stairs which reminds me of my grandmother, and this despite having taken a plethora of vitamin and mineral supplements for years.
I am starting to feel very old. For some women this second journey of womanhood can start in their 20’s or 30’s. Thankfully for many of us it only makes an appearance in our 40’s or early 50’s. Unfortunately, you won’t know exactly when it will start or how it will affect you. Welcome to the sisterhood, again.
Nicola is the Outreach and Career Service Officer and the Wellbeing lead at Gray’s Inn.