Monday 24 February 2020. Day 408: Just over a year ago, I decided to stop whinging and start putting my moans and grips onto virtual paper so that my loved ones didn’t have to listen to my constant verbal diarrhoea. Did it work? Possibly not, due to the fact that I am and always will be, a talker.
Back in November 2018, I began experiencing night sweats. Thinking that maybe I had a virus or that we were having a mild winter, I somehow convinced myself that this was just a short term thing. A month later, I woke up one Saturday morning after a particularly hot and sleepless night and had an epiphany moment, followed by tears which flowed for the sad realisation that my ovaries were nearly defunct and the stark fact that I had become middle-aged at 49.
Monday morning and I booked an appointment to see my GP to be given the magic cure for menopause. A couple of weeks later, my GP confirmed that yes, I was menopausal due to my age and the hot flushes and night sweats I was experiencing. Bizarrely this was the same doctor who only a couple of years earlier had informed me at my well woman check, that the menopause was a long way off yet as my oestrogen levels were fine. She wrote down a website for me to visit and told me to come back in a few months if the heat was getting too much and then we could talk about HRT. And that was it.
I don’t actually remember the website my GP recommended other than it bascially telling me that menopause was natural, I should wear loose natural fibre clothing and avoid alcohol. It went on to say that your partner may find you tricky to handle for a while and you might need to reduce your hours at work or give up work entirely and take up yoga. HRT was a swear word and the assumption was at 51 (the average age of the menopause), women could easily give up work.
I felt I had arrived in no-man’s land. None of my friends had fessed up to being menopausal and my mother’s experience was something that was never openly spoken about. My partner sighed and moved further away from me, along with my libido. I felt lost and alone. I was menopausal and had no idea how to deal with it.
New Year came and I was drowning in my despair of anxiety, heat dysfunction, almost constant migraines and general low mood. Fuelled by social media ‘friends’ posting their inspirational resolutions, I realised that this was an opportune time for me to climb out of my deep dark well and do something positive. For reasons still unknown to me, I thought I would write a blog. Having never written more than my O’ level English Literature paper (which I failed), this now seems a bonkers idea. Within 48 hours, I’d chosen my blog name, bought the URL in all it’s forms and created an account with WordPress. Within a week, my first blog post was published and ping, I was a writer! Ha!
So I’d put myself out there in the scary virtual world and despite convincing myself that this writing was for me and my sanity, I secretly hoped that hundreds of equally desperate women would find my blog and reach out in a shared unity of misery and anguish. Unsurpisingly, my only readers were family and a few close friends I’d mentioned it to. My partner was very unimpressed that I had divulged such personal confessions, feeling that it was a personal attack on his emotional shortcomings and was therefore somewhat angry and embarassed on my behalf. Maybe he was right. I was angry; angry for him for not loving me enough to want to try and understand and help me navigate my way through this fog with him by my side.
Spurred by my partner’s lack of support in my actual and virtual healing journey, I knew I had to connect with women who were going through this madness via another medium. Writing the blog wasn’t going to do that unless I found a way to find people who would read it. So in a world where social media is both the new religion and the root of all evil, I headed there and set up an Instragram profile to support the blog. Bingo! I had arrived at meno-support central! Within a few weeks, I was chatting to women all experiencing varying degrees of this madness and I even learned that I was actually in the perimenopause phase. I learned that this stage can start in your early 40’s (or earlier if you go though an early or medical menopause) and can last more than ten years BEFORE the actual menopause. The menopause is the stage where you have no menstrual period for 12 consecutive months, where you then become post-menopausal. Unbelievable; as an intelligent woman, I was and am still ashamed that I never knew this vital knowledge and shocked that my GP didn’t impart this imformation at my first ‘help, I’m menopausal’ appointment.
Some weeks later, I went back to my GP, armed with my meno arsenal (menopause sympton checker) and asked to be prescribed HRT patches. As I have the mirena coil, my Insta family had already told me that I needed oestrogen only patches due to the coil providing much needed progesterone to my vagina (yes, I said the V word) and that I could also benefit from some testosterone (that was a revelation). What did I get? I came away with oestrogen patches (the lowest strength) and a flea in my ear as testosterone is not something that I can ask for as it’s not licensed in the UK (not by the NHS anyway).
One week and two patches on my bum later, the night sweats and hot flushes were gone. The anxiety however was almost crippling and the insomnia was just exhausting. I persevered and even managed a work trip to Chicago where the time difference did little to help my sleep deprivation. I came home to find via the devil side of Instagram, that my partner had finally given up on us (me) and had moved on to a younger version of me (the similarity in our looks is uncanny!).
I returned to my GP and asked if she could increase the strength of my patches to be told that it wasn’t the menopause that was making me miserable, it was my life, and was promptly offered anti-depressants. I flatly refused as I had been on several types of anti-depressants since my early 40’s which had had little effect. With higher strength patches eventually prescribed, I carried on the twice weekly fresh patch ritual.
It took me a little while but I started noticing subtle changes; I wasn’t waking up with a migraine; my knees didn’t hurt when I climbed the stairs; my feet didn’t hurt when I got out of bed; my skin stopped itching; the vaginal dryness was gone; dare I say it, but I felt calmer, happier even. Had the many varied symptoms I’d be suffering from since my early 40’s all been associated to the menopause?
So, a year on, what do I now know? I know that the majority of the 3.4 million women between 50 and 64 in the UK will be experiencing symptoms of the menopause. I know that women in their 40’s and beyond are being misdiagnosed and are routinely offered anti-depressants instead of HRT. I know the biggest risk of suicide for women is between the ages of 50 and 54. I know that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in postmenopausal women in the UK. I know that the menopause is still going undiagnosed and women are being sent to specialists for a myriad of symptoms all related to the menopause costing the NHS millions of pounds. I know that the ongoing HRT shortage in the UK this last year is causing some women to seek out unlicensed alternatives in order to alleviate their debilitating symptons, in the depserate hope that they will be able to function somewhere near normal. I know that women are suffering terribly and are not being listened to or taken seriously by some in the medical profession. Menopause is not just a few hot flushes and mood swings. It can be life-changing and in extreme cases, life-ending.
February 2020 and I am on 75 micrograms of oestrogen. I have never been referred to a menopause specialist despite several requests to my GP, as although my migraines are less frequent, they still plague me several times a month; my anxiety can still be high for no apparent reason and sleep is still a lottery. The pressures of balancing a full time job, home life and family commitments continue to be difficult, but I’m learning to let go of the stress I feel just because I haven’t cleaned the kitchen floor in weeks.
I now openly discuss the menopause to any who will listen, including an over the counter chat with my local butcher, who when I mentioned I had a migraine that day, announced that his wife had also begun to suffer from them as it was probably due to ‘the change’. Within 24 hours, I had connected with his wife via Instgram and she now has a copy of Dr Louise Newson’s menopause bible, ‘Menopause; All you need to know in one manual‘ and is due to see her GP this week to discuss HRT.
To anyone who is reading this and is either in that deep dark hole or just curious about what is to come, there is hope. There are some amazing women out there (sorry guys, you haven’t jumped out at me yet!) who are passionate about helping women, particularly through the menopause years. There are three particulary wonderful women who have unwittingly got me through this last year and I am enternally grateful: Dr Louise Newson; Liz Earle and Diane Danzebrink. Click on the links and every question you ever had on the menopause will be answered.
Last week, I hit 1000 readers of my blog with nearly 3,500 actual reads. I am beyond chuffed and I want to say a massive THANK YOU to each and every one of you for taking the time to read my ramblings.
Until next time my lovelies, click on the links and Make Menopause Matter!!!
Lifestyle Menopause perimenopause #lizearle depression dianedanzebrink empoweringwomen family mum hormones hotflashes hrt knowledgeispower louisenewson makemenopausematter Menopause menopausedoctor mum over50 perimenopause Sleep womenshealth
50 year old mum and grandma juggling children, grandchildren, love, work, and the menopause!