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:
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:
- hot flushes – short, sudden feelings of heat, usually in the face, neck and chest, which can make your skin red and sweaty
- night sweats – hot flushes that occur at night
- difficulty sleeping – this may make you feel tired and irritable during the day
- a reduced sex drive (libido)
- problems with memory and concentration
- vaginal dryness and pain, itching or discomfort during sex
- mood changes, such as low mood or anxiety
- palpitations – heartbeats that suddenly become more noticeable
- joint stiffness, aches and pains
- reduced muscle mass
- recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
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??