Part of the ‘midlife’ journey is the menopause. I know everyone’s experience is different and most women going through ‘the change’ don’t talk about it much. Our mother’s generation didn’t talk about it at all – thankfully, now, we are beginning to share our knowledge with each other.
Some are lucky enough to have a few hot flushes then it’s over. For others, it can be a much more complex affair. I can’t ever remember having many conversations with my mum regarding the menopause. We were super close and now I do wonder why we didn’t. Maybe my generation just didn’t talk about it freely. There was certainly a lack of education, awareness and conversation surrounding menopausal symptoms, and how they affect us. Hopefully, that’s all changed!!
I began to feel “not myself” around the fifty-year-old mark, which is the average age to start the menopause. But, it can begin earlier with some women. Around this time, I was working full time as well as managing teenagers, at home. There was a lot of family stuff going on, too. Plus, I had taken on more responsibility in my job which, with hindsight, I really was not suited to, and wasn’t enjoying.
As the time passed, my feeling of “not wellness” was evident. In a nutshell, I was emotionally and physically battered. I eventually went to the doctor as I had a flu bug which wouldn’t shift. I was also experiencing a lot of fatigue. The resulting blood tests showed that, not only was I “peri menopausal”, but I also had an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism). I was given some Levothyroxine medication to regulate my thyroid and told to go away and rest, and handed the obligatory information leaflets. At that point, I had no knowledge of hypothyroidism.
Once I had the correct dose of medication for my thyroid, I started to improve. Before taking the medication, the fatigue was getting to me and my hair was falling out more than normal. This, of course, wasn’t making me feel great. However, this did begin to improve once the medication started to take effect. During this time, my sleep was constantly interrupted and, once awake, I just couldn’t go back to sleep. This had a knock-on effect to me being very tired at work, as well experiencing the usual hot flushes.
There are, of course, the emotional and physical changes. Click here to check symptoms.
Friends and family were noticing the change in me and the closest ones told me so. I knew I needed to do something to try and feel normal/myself, again, if it was possible.
Up until this point, I hadn’t done a lot of fact-finding regarding remedies for the menopause. I’d heard about HRT but didn’t really know a lot about it. I read there are many different types of HRT and different doses. Some women prefer non-hormonal methods or natural supplements such as black cohosh, or even acupuncture. I read about the benefits of HRT, which included the reduction of the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.
Following a lot of research, I went to see my GP who asked me questions about my symptoms and how I was. I remember getting the feeling she wasn’t keen on giving me HRT. I said that I just wanted to feel normal, again, and like my old calm self.
I started to take HRT (“Elleste Duet”), in September 2013. I remember this well as it was just before my first visit to New York in the December – I was so excited.
Almost immediately, the hot flush factor reduced and I began to sleep calmly through the night. Emotionally, I felt calmer. It helped me and I felt like I’d taken a wonder drug! Normality seemed to be restored. I was asked to go to the GP surgery, every six months, for a blood pressure check-up and a chat to see how I was getting on. But, apart from that, I was left to take these magic pills which restored my sanity. Whenever I had my check with the nurse or the doctor, I was told to think about coming off HRT. This did did worry me as I was afraid of reverting to the way I was before.
After taking HRT for a little over five years, my doctor decided to change my prescription to “Kliovance”. Over the following months, I gained quite a few pounds in weight which I didn’t feel comfortable with. I was nearly fifty-nine by this stage – so I decided to try and stop taking HRT – mainly because of the weight gain. From the knowledge I’d built up, I knew I must be through the menopause, at this age.
The first time I tried to stop, I did it too abruptly which resulted in me getting the symptoms back. So, I began taking them again, for two months. I then decided to wean myself off, gently. My process was to take one pill then miss a day, until the monthly pack was finished. Then, with the next pack, I would take one pill and miss two days. Then, with the next pack take one and miss three days, and so on, until they were out of my system. This did take me around a year but my method worked.
Since I’ve stopped taking HRT, I don’t get a lot of hot flushes anymore. Though, I do wake up during the night, now and again. But, I do manage to get back to sleep. I’ve also noticed my skin is dryer and my hair has started to shed a little more than usual, unfortunately. Oh, the joys!!!
Following my experiences over the last ten years, and in a perfect world, I would like to see an increase in GP surgeries offering a menopausal clinic. I know there are online forums. But, I believe inviting women to come and discuss their problems and share their personal experiences would help them. Because, the menopause can be such an isolating time. I do realise there would have to be funding to make this happen. But, it is so important.
I recently had a telephone appointment with a female GP. I explained that I had weaned myself off HRT. She said that she wouldn’t have pressurised me to stop taking it, as there are benefits. I found her views on the whole subject refreshing and wish I’d encountered someone like her at the very beginning of my journey. I think awareness and knowledge surrounding the menopause is improving. It is a fact of life.
I’ll leave you with this humorous quote:
“One of the simple facts of life is that more or less half the world’s population will go through the menopause and yet, apparently, in some circles the subject is still considered taboo. Now I don’t mix in these circles, because I live in the 21st century and not in 1957. I belong in a world of stroppy, hard-working women who don’t really have the time or the inclination to play the shy, retiring violet.
Us ladies have changed. We no longer wear hats and girdles – we’re letting it all hang out – and we’re no longer whispering behind closed doors about our ‘down theres’.
Quote from “Older and Wider: A Survivor’s Guide to The Menopause “. by Jenny Éclair Author and comedian