World Menopause Day - Our Stories This World Menopause Day we asked members of our 'Female Focus' group to share their honest experiences of the menopause. A Single Parent to Two Children I don’t even know when I started feeling ‘rubbish’. Many women know roughly when they became menopausal. I didn’t have a clue. I was busy running a charity in my first CEO role, raising my children on my own and keeping things ticking along at home. I simply didn’t join the dots with regards to the symptoms I was experiencing, and that my early symptoms were possibly hormone related. Maybe because in my head I was far too young to be fast tracking my way towards menopause! I do remember my periods getting less and less, but again that refusal to admit that I was a ‘woman of a certain age’ kicked in. I didn’t know at the time that the perimenopause can begin for most women in their early to mid-forties. I remember feeling so bone achingly tired that the thought of putting one foot in front of the other, particularly at weekends after a long week at work, would sometimes make me want to cry. I do remember the tiredness and sleep disruption that knocked me for six. I remember feeling so bone achingly tired that the thought of putting one foot in front of the other, particularly at weekends after a long week at work, would sometimes make me want to cry. However, when I went to bed, I would spend all night tossing and turning (due to the hormonal spikes) and watching the clock tick round. Feeling exhausted was no way to start a busy working day, but that became my norm. It was only when I began to get tremendous joint pain and low mood that I went to the GP. I’d done my own internet research, which had alarmed me to say the least, but I went armed with the self-diagnosis of peri-menopause. Seeing my Doctor wasn’t a game changer sadly, but it was a step in the right direction. The Doctor, a much younger woman, wanted to treat my low mood with a combination of counselling – for which there was a several month waiting list – and anti-depressants. Admitting to the Doctor that I was struggling was a big deal for me. I have always been fiercely independent and hated succumbing to any form of ‘illness’. My Mum has lived in a care home for over 10 years with advanced dementia, so I had no point of reference in regards to the menopause, to help me make sense of how I was feeling both physically and mentally. Instead of leaving with a prescription for anti-depressants, I went home, washed my face, changed into my sport kits and joined a ‘return to hockey’ team. To this day I firmly believe that the combination of physical exercise and a new social group of friends to train and spend time with was my lifeline. Particularly as I now had a genuine reason for those aching joints! I still had bad days. I still had days where new symptoms suddenly cropped up. Chest and leg tremors, dizziness, heart palpitations and tinnitus to name but a few, some scary, some frustrating. I also had to budget for a new wardrobe as my menopausal weight gain took hold, and having prided myself on keeping fit and well, it was difficult when I was unable to control my weight gain. I think the hardest thing I had to deal with was fear. An irrational fear that would well up inside of me for no apparent reason until I felt physically sick. For me though when perimenopause was at its peak, I think the hardest thing I had to deal with was fear. An irrational fear that would well up inside of me for no apparent reason until I felt physically sick. Fear that something bad was going to happen to my children was a recurrent theme for me. I remember my son travelling to San Francisco. I checked his flight tracker obsessively until he landed. Panicking in case the flight tracker suddenly disappeared off the screen. I had to stop watching the news as it caused me to worry about the world my children were growing up in. I know as a parent that we worry about our children, but the peri-menopause took this to a whole other level. Uncontrollable, irrational and all-consuming for what felt like the longest time. I am significantly better now than I was, but do wonder how much longer this will go on for? Who knows, it is different for every woman. What I do know is that the menopause is not an underground movement. It is not a taboo, off limits subject. Nor is it something to make fun of. Particularly when so many women give up work as they can’t control their symptoms. Some women give up on life all together. So that’s where we come in, this is my call to action. We are an army of women that can take ownership of this, in whatever small way we are able to. The same as we prepare our children for puberty and our bodies for pregnancy, we need to get our daughters, sisters, nieces and friends ready for this part of a woman’s life. Continuing as we are, ignoring symptoms and muddling through is no longer an option. So with that I ask you to talk about, shout about and raise hell fire about this and leave a strong (normalised) legacy for future generations. So here’s to strong women. May be know them, may we be them, may we raise them. An Honest Account of Intimate Changes A Menopause Journey (from “the other side”) Where to begin … 9 years ago (or thereabouts) I would say my journey began.. where did it take me? Dryness valley, this was not a particular nice place to go to, especially when I could not even bear my underwear touching me, but I learnt where to go for advice on these things, the internet, older friends etc. After trialling many creams, lotions, and potion, eventually my GP and HRT was my salvation. I had a little wobble when the doctor told me 1 year in that it was too risky to carry on taking HRT due to the heightened risk of breast cancer. Thankfully, a different type was recommended a while later and I have had 3 or 4 years now virtually trouble free. I would say that I have been lucky with the mood swings, and don’t recall any feelings of being up and down in mood due to the menopause in particular, but my other half might disagree there. One last thing, although I am an advocate, and don’t generally advise, here’s my advice anyway, the menopause is a very personal thing to discuss but, let’s face it, most of us women are past being embarrassed with everything we have been through, so don’t suffer in silence, ask for help. Menopause after a Hysterectomy Due to me having had a hysterectomy aged 40, it wasn’t obvious when I approached menopause. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if it would affect me. I was 49 years old, going through a difficult time and attributed my anxiety, irritability, rollercoaster of emotions, decreased libido, low mood and poor sleep to that. Not only was I menopausal, but my hormones had swung so quickly and significantly, that my thyroid gland had become underactive and I was started on thyroid meds, which I am now likely to be on for life. I went to see my GP, who explained that I would still go through the menopause, because despite my hysterectomy, my ovaries were intact. Following some blood tests, my doctor said that I wasn’t even pre-menopausal and prescribed me some meds for anxiety. 10 months later, after no significant improvement, I returned to my GP and had further blood tests. Not only was I menopausal, but my hormones had swung so quickly and significantly, that my thyroid gland had become underactive and I was started on thyroid meds, which I am now likely to be on for life. These helped me a lot, my sleep improved and therefore my mood and energy, but unfortunately, the sweats didn’t go away. I continued like this for a few years, until it became so awful that I went back to my GP. My GP said his wife (who was also the senior nurse practitioner at the surgery), was also going through the same and suggested I make an appointment with her, which I did. The nurse was so very understanding and suggested I try HRT. I had read and heard a lot of negativity about HRT and that it increased your chances of cancer. She explained to me that it can increase the risk of breast cancer for women with a family history hereditary the disease. As this did not apply to me, I felt a bit more reassured. She also told me that she was on HRT and if it hadn’t been for that, she doesn’t think her marriage would have survived! As you can imagine, I thought ‘well if it is good enough for her, then it’s good enough for me’. Since starting HRT, I have never looked back! I am now 54 years old, have been on HRT almost 3 years and am beginning to wonder if it is time to come off them. I am scared of ‘rocking the boat’ and going back to how I was. I know that the sensible thing for me to do, would be to discuss it with my GP or the nurse. That will be the next chapter in my life. Wish me luck! The Male Perspective When my partner was going through the menopause I knew I needed information on how to be as supportive as possible and try to help, letting her know that she had my full support. I read information on the internet and bought a really helpful book called “No, It’s not hot in here!” by Dick Roth. All of this is mentally exhausting and there are times when you understandably feel like walking out and not coming back. However I constantly reminded myself that these emotional symptoms are (usually) caused by physiological changes. All of this research didn’t change my own feelings of being abandoned, intimacy robbed, constantly in the way and a general annoyance. When I returned home I never knew what mood I was going to encounter and had to be ready to immediately adapt my behaviour as soon as I believed I had (often incorrectly) identified her mood at that time. All of this is mentally exhausting and there are times when you understandably feel like walking out and not coming back. However I constantly reminded myself that these emotional symptoms are (usually) caused by physiological changes. There are two areas that stick in my mind as being particularly supportive: 1. Validate that your partner’s symptoms are real. In the same way that my partner said that her symptoms shouldn’t be mocked or the subject of jokes, she did want me to validate her feelings. She didn’t want to be dismissed as hysterical or have me believe it was “all in her mind”. 2. Talk about it, ask questions, really listen, and respond. My partner wanted me to ask how she felt! Husbands might encounter differing responses to that question such as emotional reactions, withdrawal, confusion, appreciative answers but, whatever the response, my partner (she informed me at a later date) really appreciated my interest in how she felt. Download our PDF now on the Early Menopause and our tips on how to manage your symptoms.