The Menopause Diaries- The Beginning

I’m 47-years old (soon to be 48) and while the “medical professionals” have yet to confirm it, I believe I have entered that phase of life that every woman will experience…THE MENOPAUSE. Now, technically it is peri-menopause as the term Menopause literally is the ending of your menstruation and child-bearing years. Peri-menopause can begin at a variety of times but generally between the ages of 45-50 you will start experiencing different symptoms that are associated with The Menopause. I’m going to share my personal journey with you in this mini-series, The Menopause Diaries and hopefully you will find some resonance!

According to the NHS, these are some of the symptoms of The Menopause:

Most women will experience some symptoms around the menopause. The duration and severity of these symptoms varies from woman to woman.

Symptoms usually start a few months or years before your periods stop, known as the perimenopause, and can persist for some time afterwards.

On average, most symptoms last around 4 years from your last period. However, around 1 in every 10 women experience them for up to 12 years.

Common symptoms include:

 

I know. Where can you sign up, right?? What fun! I can confirm that from this list of 11 symptoms, I currently experience 6-7 of these on a regular basis. I have been to the GP three times now to discuss this stage of my life with very little support at the end. The first GP I spoke with (a man) told me that I am technically within the average ages of peri-menopausal women and it is possible that I have the symptoms (gee, thank you). He ordered a few blood tests and gave me a sound-byte speech about Hormone Replacement Therapy and then added “But ultimately HRT only prolongs the inevitable anyway.” Essentially I was told by a male GP to suck it up and get on with life. Helpful.

The 2nd GP I saw, about 3 months later, was a female which I requested. I thought there might be solidarity in a “sister” but I was sorely mistaken. She acknowledged that I could be peri-menopausal, that the first GP had not ordered the correct tests and that I could try an over-the-counter herbal supplement called Menopace which is helpful for some women. She told me she would ring me if the test results returned anything untoward. I never heard back from her.

The 3rd GP I saw, about a month ago, was technically my assigned GP. I have seen him a handful of times over the last few years but he wouldn’t know me from the next person so it didn’t really matter that he was my assigned GP. And he’s a man. I listed off my variety of symptoms including extra mention about my low mood and emotional distress over the previous couple of months. He looked at my blood tests and told me that nothing indicates that I am entering the menopause. But none of those blood tests were ordered specifically to measure my hormone levels and none were repeated month after month to establish a base line hormone level to determine if and when the hormone levels begin to drop. The GP said that according to the official guidelines I am not peri-menopausal however he did acknowledge that I was experiencing symptoms that were not pleasant. The one glimmer of hope that he offered me was the option of going on Fluoxetine (aka Prozac) which is an anti-anxiety (anti-depressant essentially) that has been known to help with night sweats and hot flushes as well as low mood and emotional ups and downs. I took that as a lifeline and scuttled out of the surgery, prescription in hand.

I can report, after a month of taking Fluoxetine, that I feel infinitely better! My days of rage have been dialled down, my mood swings are far less dramatic and I feel brighter and lighter. In some ways, I feel ever so slightly hyper at times, since starting the Fluoxetine. I do find that my normally very busy brain is often in overdrive but not in a negative way. While there is a general societal shaming of antidepressants, I have found that when I have needed to take them, they have helped me immensely and I see nothing shameful about taking help when we need it. If you were struggling in open water would you push away a buoy thrown by a lifeguard because you wouldn’t want to appear weak? No, of course not! Drowning in your own thoughts and emotions is exactly like drowning in water. Help is necessary. No one should be ashamed of asking for help and taking that help in whatever form is required. It does not mean you are a failure or weak. It simply is a chemical imbalance in your body that needs levelling. We take medication to help us with high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, birth control and more…what’s so wrong about taking a tablet to help you to clear the fog and look at the world with open eyes?

In addition to taking Fluoxetine for the last month, I have begun to prioritise myself, my self-care and Me Time. I am specifically putting myself on the calendar and appreciating that my needs and desires are just as important as the other members of my family. I am taking daily, guilt-free me time for a mental escape. I am using affirmations and brain breaks to keep myself from listening too much to my inner critic. I am journalling daily about the 3 good things that made my day special and worth celebrating and am also writing about my feelings, frustrations and worries. I am continually working to declutter and organise my house and life to keep myself free of “stuff” that blocks my progress. And I am giving myself a break. It’s okay to be human, to be imperfectly happy. And all of that is helping me to truly embrace happy.

I will continue to share my peri-menopausal journey with you in this mini series and hope that my issues, experiences, struggles and solutions might help someone else as they begin their next “stage of life”. So much is changing for me at the moment. My hormones, my body, my mind but also my identity. My children, at age 10 and 6, don’t need me in the same way any longer. I have become more of a taxi service at the moment. My husband reminds me often that he loves me and finds me desirable which I continue to struggle to accept, partly because I am only slowly beginning to accept myself. We need to find our own path as a couple and rediscover ourselves as man and woman, not just Mum and Dad. And I have such a desire to make a difference in the world and help others as much as I can but I am not sure how I will accomplish that! I will be 48 on 14 November…I might have a better idea of what the next year will hold for me by then?

So, what about you? Where are you in your journey as a woman??

 

It’s all about me

At the age of 47 and 3/4 I am taking time to focus on myself. Right now, it’s all about me and that feels kind of good. I am learning that happiness takes work and I have decided to take time to work on me. This past Summer was supposed to be one to savour but instead, it was one that left me feeling decidedly flat. My children are at a wonderful age where they don’t need me to direct every second of their day. They make their own choices and I chose to loosen the apron strings a bit to give them more independence and freedom. Thankfully they thrived with this newfound responsibility! And their relationship as siblings was boosted as well. They worked together to have fun and Ella took on the challenge of directing some of what they did as well in preparation for babysitting in the not-too-distant future. This helped to give me time to be more introspective and evaluate where I was, where I had been and where I was going.

Thanks to coaching from Gabrielle Treanor and support from Sophie Le Brozec and her Life Reboot Camp, I have finally fully appreciated that I need to do the work to know myself and love myself. As airy-fairy as it may sound, it’s true…happiness has to come from inside, not from external sources. I have taken time this Summer to get to know myself better, to recognise when I am over-thinking or ruminating and what triggers this as well as learning to make choices that are best for me. I have worked on setting goals and action steps to achieve those goals and have learned so much about myself in the process. I have also embraced journalling which has been both a creative outlet for me but also has given me a chance to evaluate my responses to situations and how I feel on a daily basis.

What have I done to help myself? I’ve looked at my past, forgiven some mistakes and people, forgiven myself and started to be far more patient and kind to myself. I have turned down the volume on my inner critic and am putting myself on equal pegging with the rest of my family as to things I want to do and pursue. Through the coaching and self-discovery I have also elevated my physical health to a higher priority. Today I had a consultation with a Pilates teacher who is also a Physio who specialises in post-natal abdominal issues. Although I am quite far away from being post-natal (Ella is 10 and Sam is 6!) I have a lot of physical repair of my midsection to accomplish. I was so encouraged by the Pilates teacher and am really looking forward to taking classes that will help me to help myself. It’s all a part of taking control of myself.

I have started using positive affirmations when I notice that I am over-thinking. My thoughts tend to swirl at about 200mph most of the time but when I find myself in a negative spiral or that inner critic starts speaking too loudly, I stop, breathe and repeat the affirmations above. Affirmations are positive statements that help to anchor and guide you forward. I have used positive affirmations with the children I have taught and now see the value of using them personally. I make a conscious effort to put the brakes on and remind myself of what is important and what accomplishments I have made. This serves as a bit of a happy flush for me as opposed to the hot flushes that I am starting to experience. Isn’t it funny how something as simple as a sentence can help you to feel better? Is it time to start making thing all about YOU?

 

imperfectly me

As I have been doing a lot of work this Summer in finding myself thanks to some amazing coaching from Gabrielle Treanor, I thought I would take some time to introduce myself and share the beginning of my self-discovery journey. I’m imperfectly me and am learning to love that!

I’m 47-years old. I didn’t find the love of my life until I was 34 years old and I had to cross an ocean to do it. It was definitely worth it as I have an imperfectly happy life, a supportive husband, two amazing children and two energetic rescue dogs. I have spent the last 10 years working as a blogger and social media manager which fits perfectly around the lives of our family members. My children are now 10 and 6 and in some ways need me more now that when they were little. It’s a different need though and one that generally involves me driving them to their activities and waiting for them to finish.

I’ve had a plethora of health challenges since becoming a mother: 2 Caesarian sections, Post Natal Depression, abdominal surgery, two knee replacement surgeries and asthma and Coeliac disease to name a few. I’m also at that amazing stage in every woman’s life that we try not to speak of…THE MENOPAUSE. According to various blood tests, the medical experts say that I am not pre-menopausal but I know I am. And what a wealth of new challenges that presents! Following a recent appointment with the rather disinterested (and male) GP, I am now the recipient of a Fluoxetine prescription (aka Prozac) which he prescribed partially to help my pre-menopausal symptoms.

Through my coaching sessions with Gabrielle, I have been taking a really good look at me and who I have become. I have realised that a lot of my happiness often comes from outside sources. I love acknowledgement from others yet I find it difficult to champion myself from the inside out. I spend a lot of time trying to please everyone else in the world and often forget about myself. I am learning that my needs are equally as important as the other members of my family and that making and more importantly TAKING time for myself is crucial to my wellbeing.

I feel quite sparkly inside and generally gravitate to glittery and colourful things (stationary, magazines, decorative items) yet I find myself forever dressed in dark colours. I have said before that if I could cut out my torso I would feel much more confident about my physical self. Since having children my body has changed dramatically and although I should be proud of what my body has accomplished I still tend to hide myself as much as possible. Yet, I love speaking to people, presenting in front of crowds, teaching and talking in general so I am not afraid to put myself out there. I have had a pretty prolific social media presence for the last 6 years and regularly share the snapshots of our life but I don’t always feature in those snaps. If I am in them, it’s usually from the neck up!

What I mainly want to communicate through this post is that in spite of physical and mental challenges, I am happy. Imperfectly happy but happy nonetheless. What I want to share is that perfection should never be the goal. Talking about our issues, sharing our concerns, not being okay and telling someone that you aren’t is the key. Struggling with the changes of the female body and fighting to have your voice heard by medical professionals is important. Allowing yourself to have a down day, to retreat to a safe place, to reach out for help and love is crucial to imperfect happiness. I find it refreshing when people tell the truth. In this age of “influencers” and Insta-everything I would rather see an imperfect photo and an honest recount of a difficult day than perfectly crafted and staged nonsense that’s bought and paid for. And that’s what I am trying to get back to. Reality isn’t always pretty. While I am most definitely embracing happy, I can’t be happy all of the time. No one can. Even Oprah has bad days occasionally!

My goal now is to continue to work on me, to share my journey honestly and do my best to help others to find their own versions of imperfect happiness. I hope you will stay with me on the journey!

Gratitude Practice changed my life

It may sound a bit dramatic but starting a Gratitude Practice changed my life. What began as a 21-day challenge resulted in a totally new me and is something that I continue to this day. I don’t know about you but even though I am a classic “obliger” (see Gretchen Rubin for more information) I have a hard time sticking to things. I am a bit of an all or nothing girl and if I fall “off the wagon” I tend to give up entirely. Experts say that to form a habit, doing something (or not doing something) for 21 days will dramatically increase the probability that what you’re doing or not doing will simply become a way of life. I have tried challenges before and have fallen at the 7-day mark and the 14-day mark so the idea of keeping anything going for 21 days was worth pursuing.

The 3 good things challenge was pretty simple, really. For 21-days, at some point during the day (for me it was at the end of the day) find 3 good things about your day that made your day brighter. They could be little things or big things but they just needed to be things that helped you to get through your day. Maybe it was the perfect cup of tea, a chat with a friend, a surprise letter in the post, a hug from your child, a lie-in? Whatever stood out in your day as GOOD! It’s suggested that tracking your good thing is even more valuable if you physically record them. At the time, 4 1/2 years ago, the easiest way for me to track my 3 good things was to do so on social media. I would choose a photo from the day to post, caption the photo with my 3 good things and ping…post it on Instagram and Facebook. I used the hashtag #embracehappy which related to my infant programme at the time. While I am not the only person to use the hashtag #embracehappy, currently the number of posts for #embracehappy is just over 14,000! I love being able to search back through the hashtag to find my images and 3 good things from the early days.

Oddly, back in 2014, when I hit 21-days for the 3 good things challenge, I just kept going. I loved what it had done for me in that short period of time. It allowed me to slow down, to appreciate the little things, to breathe, to pause, to calm myself down and to be more patient in general. Finding 3 good things in every day made me want to celebrate those good things too. Finding 3 good things in every day helped me to see how important it is to stop and smell the roses. Finding 3 good things was something I ended up doing, every single day, for 1000 days. Next to being married for the last 12 years and being a Mum for the last 10 years, it’s the longest time I have done anything!

As I was nearing that 1000 day marker, I began to get a bit tired of the 3 good things format. I watched a video by Marie Forleo where she talked about her own Gratitude Practice. She talked about finding ONE good thing to celebrate about someone or her day and really expand on it. I decided that I liked the idea of taking more time and thought with my gratitude practice so I chose to wrap up 3 good things after 1000 days and began a daily Gratitude moment, again for me, shared online. What I loved was the opportunity to reflect on my day and find time to give thanks. Taking that time truly changed my outlook on life and helped me to appreciate all of the good in my life. I also chose to focus more of my attention on that good and to stop moaning about the little things online. No one needed to hear me whinging about my day, I decided.

Here we are 4 years and 7 months later and I am still keeping track of my good things. I have reverted back to more of a 3 good things approach and have switched to writing things down, old school style. I’ve decided that not everything needs to be shouted about online (irony??) and I would like to have a written record of good things to look back on. I’ve started journalling more and thoroughly enjoy getting out colourful markers and documenting happy moments in my day. What could you pick out of your day that made you smile? Maybe a Gratitude Practice could be something to include in your life? Try it for 21 days and see what you think!

Imperfectly Happy

In 2014, after a lifetime of looking at the world through dark sunglasses and generally adopting a “glass half-empty” approach to life, I decided enough was enough. It was time to Embrace Happy! I actually came up with that name in a discussion with my husband when I asked him to “Calm down and embrace happy!” My happiness journey began with a challenge to find three good things in every day for 21 days. I relished the opportunity to look at my day differently, to find the good in each and every day and to document that. I continued beyond the 21 days in fact! I actually got to 1000 days and then carried beyond that with a slightly different Gratitude Practice which I have kept up to this day…4 1/2 years later. A Gratitude Practice allowed me to appreciate that even though not every day was good there was good in every day. I slowed down, began to appreciate the little things more and I found that I was calmer, happier and more patient. It was a welcome change for me, for my husband, for my children.

I knew that I could do more with Embrace Happy. I wanted to help others. I wanted to make a difference. I created a website, a Facebook page, a closed Facebook group, a Snail Mail Group. I started volunteering my time with my children’s school to help children to Embrace Happy. I started doing Yoga, walking, breathing. I opened my eyes and heart to the ideas of “woo woo” with mindfulness, meditation, the law of attraction and believing that the Universe did indeed have my back. I trained with Relax Kids to learn more about working with children to help them deal with stress, anxiety and difficult emotions and became a Relax Kids coach/teacher. I focussed on the good, celebrated that good and did my best to share my good with the world around me. My goal was to make my corner of the world a happy, kind and nurturing place.

But none of it was perfect. I was spreading the Embrace Happy message but I struggled myself. And I felt that I couldn’t be 100% honest about those struggles. I was Embrace Happy for goodness sake! I couldn’t be sad or depressed! I couldn’t be raging about pointless things! I had to shine and radiate sparkle as much as possible. And for a while, that worked. And then it didn’t. I have so much baggage that I am working through…deep rooted challenges that I am working to pick apart. But I believe in happiness. It’s just that I’m imperfectly happy. I have days that are sad. I have times where I have lost all motivation. I have anger and resentment that I never let out. I worry and ruminate about all the “What if’s?” I am approaching THAT STAGE in my reproductive life…THE MENOPAUSE. My hormones are all over the place. And I am currently on anti-depressants. Imperfect. Happy. Imperfectly happy.

It’s time to let Embrace Happy fade away a bit…I still do embrace happy regularly but what I need to be now is HONEST. Imperfect. Happy. Sad. Angry. Depressed. Accepting. Loving. I want to share my imperfectly happy journey and I hope you will enjoy the ride. I plan to take imperfectly happy farther, when I figure out just what that is! In the meantime, I am going to write. Be honest. And hopefully you may be able to relate? Let me know your thoughts, leave a comment, subscribe to my mailing list (in the sidebar) and let’s see what happens. Imperfectly happy…I like the sound of it.