It’s a year since I wrote this post so I thought I would update it for today, which is of course World Menopause Day.
I wanted to write about it, mainly to signpost people to the info I have personally found useful so far.
But to also try and look at some of the more positive aspects of hitting the menopause. I know it’s a really challenging – and sometimes utterly shit – time for a lot of women. I have experienced debilitating symptoms myself, but even if you are having a really rough time, this tumultuous change won’t last forever and may lead to happier, calmer times ahead.
The fact that everyone is talking and sharing menopause awareness is a such good thing… I’m not prettying up this life stage, but I am determined to not let the good bits get swallowed up by the negative ones.
Navigating the menopause is different for everyone with a multitude of possible symptoms, some more well known such as hot sweats and aching joints, to things like hair loss and even tinnitus. We don’t all get the same symptoms either!
The average age for women to reach the menopause in the UK is 51, but it is really common for signs and symptoms to start a lot earlier and this lead up is called the peri-menopause. This is commonly during 30s/40s.
Like many, I was perimenopausal before I even realised. The signs were mild and I put it down to other stuff. Not sleeping great, itchy skin and a low level anxiety would sometimes creep in for no apparent reason. I started to put weight on. I felt low in mood sometimes so would just eat chocolate and feel more miserable. My mind was telling me I was past my peak and everything would be downhill from then… I don’t recognise that woman now I’m glad to say! But that’s what I was feeling at the time.
My periods were still normal so I didn’t even think about perimenopause back then. But it probably was the start of my hormonal changes. I feel like I am probably fully in my ‘menopause era’ now, not peri not post-menopause.
The symptoms I was getting about a year ago were what drove me to seek out HRT. Mainly a lack of memory and just a general fuzzy feeling in my head. It was getting hard to retain stuff or remember, do my work or learn new things. I felt a bit chaotic and unconfident. Now I am on HRT things are much better! People who know me may say I’m still not 100% but I’ve probably always been a bit dizzy and absent-minded! Compared to how I was, I feel pretty much my old self which is a big relief.
Although I’ve worked to become fitter over the past 5 or 6 years, I’m finding I can’t run as much now as I used to without aching or risking injury. It’s import that I still work out though and I truly believe that if you can’t or don’t want to take HRT, exercise is THE next best thing.
I also take a menopause supplement to help balance hormones naturally. This has helped me particularly recently with a bout of extreme tiredness. If you’re interested to know more you can read about the menopause supplement, Neuaura here.
Now let’s look at some positives we can find in this time of change!
It’s a new chapter
That monthly cycle which has governed so much of our lives is coming to a close. Whilst that could seem sad in one way, just think about the end of periods and all that goes with them – cramps, PMT, migraines, breast tenderness, sanitary products, leakage, spotting, flooding, wondering what day your period will start, choosing what to wear carefully to avoid embarrassment etc. When you have been menstruating for 30 odd years and traversed all that goes with it, well I for one won’t miss my monthly cycle when it finally ends.
Knowledge is empowering
There’s a lot more info around the menopause compared to previous times. When I was growing up I knew about my mum’s experience of it, but nobody else’s. Being educated and sharing experiences is positive, not just for us but for our partners, colleagues and family too. For our children it’s good for daughters to be aware of what to expect – and sons (even though mine weren’t overly excited to learn about menopause stuff) will better understand our experience.
Going through it at the same time as friends and other people we see in the media is reassuring and even bonding. If we support one another – and have a laugh about some of the more ridiculous aspects of menopause – it can just lightens the load a little.
Making time for yourself
If you find you are always giving a lot of yourself to others, now is a chance to take stock and maybe be a bit more focused on your needs. It’s not being selfish, you simply can’t pour from an empty cup. This stage of life is often one of the trickiest – you may have a responsible job, children or elderly parents that need you, a household to manage etc. so finding time for yourself is often low on the list of priorities. But if your kids are growing up like mine, you will find slivers of time opening up where you might be able to prioritise yourself for once! A bit of self care, exercise, fresh air, coffee with a friend, a beauty treatment, an evening class – something just for you.
Gaining new confidence and self-esteem
A lot of women talk about having a confidence crisis, losing their identity or feeling invisible around the menopause and beyond, which makes me sad. Because there can be a flip side to reaching midlife – and that’s joining the ‘no fucks’ club. I’m talking about speaking up more, advocating for yourself, worrying less about what other people think, making decisions that suit you, saying yes or no without feeling guilty and taking a few more risks because tomorrow isn’t promised.
We have earned the right to feel more confident as life has thrown a lot at us by now. We know ourselves. We are experienced. We are wise. People value our advice because we have been there and done that.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
The majority of women can safely take HRT to replace depleted female hormones and relieve symptoms, improve quality of life and protect future health.
We are living so much longer, so to me I question why would we not want to replace the diminishing hormones that keep us young and vital? HRT protects the heart, the bones and keeps the brain sharp. It may take a bit of tweaking to get the right dosage – and I am aware that there are shortages of HRT in certain regions – but if these problems can get sorted, HRT can really offer a lifeline to many.
Because of long waiting times, I decided to not have a Mirena coil fitted for the progesterone part of my prescription and I take Utrogestan instead – 2 tablets every evening for 2 weeks of the month. I have swapped from a patch for my oestrogen supply to a gel that I apply to my skin (usually my upper arms) every single evening and I am getting along great with both products.
Learning to love exercise
Staying fit and strong is so important if we want to continue to live independently in old age. Not letting muscles, bone density and balance go AWOL. The mental health aspect is equally important – exercise definitely gives a boost to our mental wellbeing and working out in a group is therapeutic.
I am not sporty and hardly exercised most of my life, and yet now it’s an integral part of my week. Pilates, strength training and cardio. I love it all! It is empowering. I am miserable without it now. Don’t wait for motivation to come every time – it won’t. Instead build good habits, put it in your diary like an appointment, be consistent and I promise you it will pay off. Say to yourself, ‘I am lucky I get to do this’. A year from now you will truly thank yourself for starting your fitness journey!
Where to go for help
The range of symptoms people experience before and during the menopause is quite staggering. This symptom checker is a really good place to start if you are unsure whether you are perimenopausal.
Here are some fantastic resources that I have found useful over recent months:
I also wanted to say, reaching this stage of life is a privilege and it should be liberating. Only when symptoms can be properly recognised and steps taken to get them under control, with a plentiful supply of treatment options, then we might be able to view the menopause differently.
Most importantly, please don’t feel lonely, if anyone wants to talk or needs support you can send me a message!
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