So I think I’ll start with what the Hell am I doing standing in a pharmacy with Dani looking at menopause vitamins at the age of 42. I kid you not it was like an out-of-body experience. I’d just received a phone call from my doctor saying unfortunately the results of my blood tests confirmed I was on the menopause and I was at least a third of the way through. That was just over two years ago and boy has it been a journey since, for me and unfortunately my family.
There’s a couple of reasons I wanted to get personal and do this diary. I started the menopause at such a young age (the average age is 51, so I was 9 years under), I hadn’t even thought about it, why would I. So now I figure there must be more ladies going through the same experience. You wouldn’t know as there’s so little out there apart from the medical stuff which is a minefield to go through. I can honestly say up to now the best information and advice I’ve received is from other women who are going through it or who have been through it.
The other reason is I’ve realised how little the menopause is discussed, unlike periods, pregnancy or even sex for that matter. How is that?! I came from a very open family who discuss everything. I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful mum that I can talk to about most things, yet this has never really come up. Well apart from when we had to suffer some unreasonable behaviour from her in her late 40’s, sorry mum! But WOW do I now understand why you were like that. Those details will come later with the joy of my symptoms.
It’s taken me a while to write this because I guess I wanted to live it and digest it and it’s only after a fair amount of experience I feel you can put pen to paper. So here I am, ready to tell you the mental, physical and emotional rollercoaster of my menopause. I say ‘my’ because some women sail through it, without a single symptom, unfortunately for me that wasn’t what my body had in mind.
It’s quite hard to to know where to start. I guess it should be with those first signs that something wasn’t right with my body and definitely my mind. I’d always suffered with strong hormones. I would often get PMT and my breasts would go up a size when I was pre-menstrual. It was all ok as I was very in-tune with my body and knew the things that would exacerbate them (alcohol, caffeine), and the vitamins that would help minimise them (Evening Primrose oil). So my first signs of my menopause were one missed period followed by PMT x 10, waking up 10 times a night and never really falling in to a deep sleep, with a finale of anxiety that I had never had in my life before. This was all in a few weeks.
We were on holiday and these symptoms were just being thrown at me. I tried to hold it together as I didn’t want to ruin our holiday. I did most of the time but unfortunately that amount of lack of sleep and anxiety leaves you with a short fuse and a very unreasonable mind. I couldn’t rationalise my thoughts and I was just left feeling fragile, tired, sad and angry. By the end of the holiday the hot flushes started. Now this isn’t like over-heating on the tube. Within seconds your body is hot and perspiring from head to toe and can last up to 20 minutes, attractive, right!! On the last night it all clicked and I said to my friend and husband I think I’m totally out-of-control in my head and I think I’m on the menopause.
I called the doctors when I came home and with a quick chat about my symptoms they booked me in for a blood test. A week later they called saying I was definitely on the menopause and asked me to come in to the surgery as they would like to discuss my results and to take some vitamins meanwhile. Take-two Dani and I in the pharmacy.
There were a few reasons why my doctor wanted to see me. The main reason being the levels of my FSH (Follicle stimulating hormone is one of the hormones essential to pubertal development and the function of women's ovaries and men's testes. In women, this hormone stimulates the growth of ovarian follicles in the ovary before the release of an egg from one follicle at ovulation) were dramatically low and indicated I was a third to half way through my menopause. With all these symptoms in only 6 weeks and one missed period it left my doctor very bewildered. Combining this with my family history, the age my mother was when she started the menopause (48 and you usually you follow suit) and my doctor thought best to send me to a specialist.
Turns out after all that I was totally normal (well in the physical sense) and I was diagnosed with being on the peri-menopause and that my symptoms would continue for 2-10 years! If you could have seen my face when he said ten years. I’m guessing it was like something out of a horror movie. So that’s it you have to pick yourself up, lick your wounds, absorb any information you can and get as much advice as you can, mostly on your own. It’s a complete head ****!
Now when I need to find out anything like this I’m like a dog with a bone, especially where my health is concerned. I was desperate to find out how it would effect me physically with things like osteoporosis etc. But what made me more determined to do all my research was how it was effecting my mental state. Over the next year my symptoms went from bad to worse to horrific. I’d been to the doctors for sleeping tablets as I could’t remember the last time I’d slept properly. They didn’t help. I still didn’t sleep and they just made me feel groggy all morning. My body felt hot, chemical and wired and all the time. On a good night I would wake up 4 times but could be awake for up to an hour and a half, and on a bad night I would wake up over 20 times and never really felt like I’d even been asleep. This effects everything and everyone around you - you’re exhausted and irrational and your family feel rejected because you have nothing to give emotionally or physically. Oh and I can add that this gives you a total sense of humour transplant too, so you’re not that fun to be around either. Throw a bit of anxiety on top and voila, you have a crazy lady.
There was one weekend when I was really struggling and my lack of sleep was completely overwhelming me and feeding my anxiety. Trying to help my husband said on the Saturday morning, “Let's get out of here and go somewhere for the night. Let’s do something really nice together.” He said all the right things, right? Wrong!! I nearly tore his head off. I think it went along the lines of “Why do you think that’s going to help? Staying in a strange bed! I can’t sleep here so why would I sleep there? And why would we spend money on something that will be ruined when I feel like this.” Rational right?! It was then swiftly followed by hysterical crying for an hour (I don’t do hysterical crying) shouting you’re not helping and you’re not being supportive.” I’d never known myself to be so irrational and blind!
After calming down I realised this was the final straw and I actually wasn’t coping with this on my own and maybe it was time to try HRT. I just wanted to sleep and I wanted my personality back. I hated this tired, edgy serious person. I was used to being full of energy, excitable and fun.
You can read my HRT journey in another blog coming soon along with how I found acupuncture the most useful of all. But next will be all about coming to terms with being on the menopause.