A personal journey through the menopause
Posted by Justine Clarabut on 18 October, 2021
I sat on the sofa crying, sobbing… my doctor had just called to say that my test results confirmed that I was ‘going through’ the menopause. I was 43 years old – how could this be happening to me? I felt as though my femininity and youth had been swiped from me in one phone call! There were so many questions rushing through my head! Was I going to start ageing prematurely? Would my body change shape? Would I disappear into the background, unnoticed and unattractive?
I felt as though my whole world had changed in one moment, just like that!
Of course, it hadn’t ‘just changed’, the changes had been happening for quite some time! Knowing that I was menopausal answered so many unexplained questions and symptoms that had been occurring over the last few years! The irrational thoughts, irritability, sleepless nights waking up soaked in sweat, loss of self-esteem, brain fog and a weird skin crawling feeling! These symptoms, known as the perimenopause, were just the build up to the big event!
My partner was incredibly supportive which helped. However, his response to this gibbering wreck on the sofa was “well at least we will get it out of the way now!” I guess that’s how men see it! Something that is not very pleasant and rather inconvenient that needs to be ‘got out of the way’. I would think that many partners dread the menopause. With such a lack of knowledge and understanding of what really happens, how could any of us really prepare for it? The stigma attached to menopause is incredibly unhelpful – let’s face it, women have been shamed and branded with the menopause for years, with little understanding of what impact it really has, in both the present and the future! The patriarchal and ill-educated part of society that proffers menopause is when a women’s purpose stops, her ovaries no longer of value and her body now aged. Why should men get to define the value of women at a certain age? (…a subject for another blog another day…)
As I took on board this newfound knowledge that I was menopausal, I feared how long it would go on for! My doctor had told me that it would be over when I hadn’t had a period for 12 months! Annoyingly, I would go for months without a period and get excited that I was well on my way to ending this phase of my life, but my body would defy me with an irregular bleed and I would go back to square one, counting the months! I trawled the internet to try and make sense of what was happening to my body, to try and get some glimmer of hope that this wasn’t game over and that I would feel some sort of normality again!
Being a working Mum with teenage kids was challenging. With their hormones raging and new life experiences to deal with, there were times that we would all reach fever pitch! However, I talked to my children and explained what I was going through. It really helped us as a family, and at times we just had to laugh at my irrational moments (as they really were so aberrant), or I’d just blurt out loud that I was feeling rubbish and to take no notice of an overreactive rant!
As my menopause continued its journey to wreak havoc with my hormones, I began to experience debilitating moments of tiredness and regular hot flushes. This was particularly difficult at work as I would find myself struggling in long meetings! The typical ‘it’s very hot in here’ and flinging open windows or turning up the aircon, didn’t always go down too well with other members of staff. And the tiredness used to concern me, I would try to organise morning meetings, as the afternoons were always the worst. I would go into meetings with a coffee (although that was a guaranteed trigger for a hot flush!), plenty of ice-cold water and mints! And never wore a jumper to work! I would do anything to help keep me focussed and alert!
I didn’t discuss my menopause with my colleagues. I felt too young. I didn’t want to be labelled. How would they ever understand?
However, I did discuss it with my girlfriends outside of work who were a great support. One of my friends who was a few years older than me, was also going through the menopause. It was reassuring to compare notes and know that we weren’t going completely mad or harbouring some horrid lurgy! And other friends were keen to find out what we were experiencing and what they might expect with their menopauses!
Unfortunately, my mother was very ill when my menopause was confirmed and passed away when I was 45, so I didn’t really get the chance to talk to her about it. All I knew was that she was 40 when she went through the menopause, and I don’t remember her sharing much about it with me. I do remember though, that she only ever called it ‘the change’ and never used the word menopause! Funny thing really, that Mums and schools prepare us for our first period but no-one prepares us for this chapter in our lives!
Feelings of impending doom also lurked – thoughts about my death and those around me! I remember driving along the lanes where we live with the ‘what if’ scenario going through my head – what if a large lorry hurtled round the corner and crushed me, what if I careered off the road down that steep hill or worse still, what if that happened to any of my loved ones? I would plan my funeral in my head and think about what I would say at my partner’s funeral… all very morbid really!
The only support my doctor offered me was HRT and anti-depressants!
I tried many different forms of HRT but unfortunately, they weren’t for me. I experienced quite a few side affects and at times HRT, for me, made matters worse. (I didn’t try anti-depressants as I was sure this wasn’t the right way to go!) In the end, I opted for a healthier diet, more exercise and just ‘putting up’ with it! Hasten to say that red wine helped in the evenings too, to unwind and relax (although this too, would spark a hot flush!) Osteoporosis was another consideration due to my younger age. Lack of oestrogen can cause the bones to weaken and become fragile. Thankfully though, following a bone density test at 43, my bones were strong and I make sure I have a test every few years to check for any decline.
It was 7 years on from the age of 43 that my symptoms gradually subsided!
I very occasionally get a hot flush or sleep badly (but that’s usually due to me worrying about something) and my libido and zest for life have come back! And no periods… for years, now that is a bonus! I do still get tired but I manage that by saying no to taking on too many social things and trying to get to bed at a reasonable time – I am someone who is incredibly active though, and I am sure that I overdo it which doesn’t help with being fatigued! And as for purpose, well we should all kick the idea that women are no longer useful after menopause! I still work and intend to do so for a long time, I am a mother, a sister and a wife… oh and I have a cat and 3 horses and run a livery yard!
I talk to my daughter about what I have gone through and hope that she will heed my advice and experiences! It would be so much better for women and people going through hormonal changes to get the help, knowledge and the support they deserve. It is normal. It is natural. It is part of life. There should be no shame surrounding it. Let’s help to prepare, support and guide those who will inevitably go through this change in their lives.
“As I tell my patients, menopause is not a disease. It’s the beginning of the next stage of your life. And new beginnings can be exciting, with opportunities for growth and change”
Dr Jill Rabin
Further reading and information