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Menopause and Me

Menopause and Me

This is me. A 48 year old Mum of two, business owner, dog lover, community leader and recent marathon runner. 

The past few years have been the busiest, at times challenging and most sleep deprived of my life. 

For the past five years I have also been peri menopausal - yet it was only really in recent months that the penny finally dropped.

Hitting what I now know to be the peri menopause has been like diving into a Pandora’s box of wildly disparate often challenging symptoms I didn’t know were connected. 

I am one of the many women who only understand the perimenopause with the glorious benefit of hindsight. Which is y’know annoying.

The stats are alarming for something that will affect us all in the end - over 80% of women are not prepared for the menopause; and while 25% of us will have debilitating symptoms, two thirds of us know nothing of what those symptoms might be. 

Eeeek! It’s no wonder it hits us so hard, that we feel like we’re going crazy at times; that we don’t really talk about it means we can feel it must only be us. Note to self: it’s not.

I spend my days working hard to empower women around their health and happiness, and yet I am only just learning about this new stage in my own life. If I’m feeling this way, how many of you are feeling the same way? 

Imagine if we could approach this incredible stage of our lives armed with knowledge, surrounded by support and with the confidence that it could be the making of us?

My small hope by sharing my own experiences, it will make your journey a less lonely one, and one you feel more empowered to change how you experience it. 

Piecing it all together

So. Back to where it all began. My first missed clue that something was afoot with my hormones came 5 years ago when my anxiety levels suddenly sky rocketed. It was an extremely hectic time in my life, with two young children and a very busy job - in many ways a perfect storm of pressure and not so unusual for women my age. 

In a constant state of panic that something terrible would happen to the kids, I was struggling to get out of bed in the morning and scrolling endlessly on social media to stop the racing thoughts. It was exhausting, affected my sleep and left me struggling to concentrate (hint: another three clues…)

Feeling a bit of a fraud, I booked an appointment with my GP.  I was given a basic blood test - “all normal” -  and packed off to talking counselling with some sleeping tablets if “you’re desperate”. Ten sessions of therapy helped, but still I worried. A lot.

And honestly… menopause really wasn’t on my mind at all. I had a 2 year old and in my head I’m still 25 - so it must still be years (and a few more grey hairs away), right? My periods were still pretty regular so it just didn’t occur to me that it could be a hormonal something. It would be a few more years and a lot more than just anxiety before I’d work it out. 

What is the menopause?

So what even is “menopause”? and what the hell is the seesawing-of-emotions perimenopause stage in the middle that no-one told us about, all about?

Triggered as your body decreases the amount of oestrogen it produces, the menopause itself describes a single day when your periods have stopped for 12 months. I’m embarrassed to admit that learning that fact alone blew my mind - I’d vaguely thought it was the “rest of your life after your periods stopped”.

The lead up to this moment, is far from a short process and in some women can last 10 years or more. During this transitional phase our levels of oestrogen and progesterone decline with each cycle as our bodies head unwittingly down the menopause highway. 

Unfortunately this is not a nice smooth transition - more like a crazy-assed roller coaster ride of peaks and troughs as our ovaries cling on for dear life to that last chance of fertility. 

So it’s perhaps unsurprising that fluctuations in hormone levels are going to cause fluctuations in us - cue feeling like we’re going nuts.

Note; we’re not, it’s just those damn hormones getting ready to put their feet up.

I’ve had real sympathy in recent times for my family having to live through life with teenage me - when my moods swung from euphoric to depressed and back again with alarming irregularity. I didn’t understand it at the time, much like now to be honest,  but all of this was the result of hormonal mayhem when my reproductive hormones were swinging into action.

Now they’re backing up like crazy and trying to do the same, but in reverse - and my kids and husband are left wondering what Mummy they’re going to get today? I’m never quite sure either, which at least means it’s a surprise for us all.

From that first diagnosis of anxiety, I’ve experienced a veritable smorgasbord of symptoms. From prolonged headaches that I just can’t get rid of, to uncomfortable IBS, sore breasts, feeling moody, feeling angry and shouty, feeling tearful, sweltering at night, chronic insomnia and exhaustion, constantly needing to pee to name just a few.

The fuzzy head and lack of concentration has been the hardest for me to come to terms with as someone with a relentless work ethic. I actually thought I might have early onset dementia!

With each new symptom, the health anxiety kicked me back down the rabbit hole of worry, with a raft of tests to confirm what I was certain of - that something more sinister must be going on. More recently I finally got the answer which had been staring me in the face all along (if only I'd know what signs to looks out for).

It's been quite some time since I had regular periods - with the challenges of CoVid I haven't kept track but it's around 12 months. I suspected my hormones *might* be going a bit nuts as I had developed really awful facial acne, something I have found really difficult to come to terms with.

On holiday this summer I had what i thought was a period. Spotting a post on Facebook about this by total chance, I realised this could be a red flag for gynae cancers - so I contacted my GP and was whizzed into a series of pretty uncomfortable tests. With the aforementioned anxiety you can image how my brain was responding to all this!

8 weeks later - no malignancy. Thank God, I have never felt so relieved after being so convinced this was it! But confirmation of what had been lingering at the outskirts of my mind; yep, I was perimenopausal. Of course I bloody was!  And this was final hoorah for my now limping to the finish line ovaries.

So, armed with this knowledge - and now recognising the myriad of ailments as one big connected super highway of the big M - what next?

My tool-kit for managing symptoms

At a time in our lives when self-care goes out the window, it won’t surprise you to know that I have turned to running to help, convinced to my very core that a run will always make everything ok. 

Aside from knowing the science around how vital it is in your 40s and 50s to stay active to ward off a myriad of health nasties (osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, dementia, diabetes), running for me has become quite literally my anchor to life the past few years - even on the days when I felt like I was walking through deep deep sludge.

Poor night’s sleep? 60 minutes on the trails and I feel energised, even when a run is the last thing I feel like doing.

Crap concentration? Call on a friend for a run round the block and suddenly I’ll have a burst of productivity. 

Feeling low? Yep, a pounding run in the woods and I feel a zillion times happier. 

All too often, I see women trapped in inactive lifestyles, just when we most need the joy and community of exercise. 

And yet despite the wealth of research that shows staying active is one of the most effective ways of maintaining good physical and mental health through our midlife, studies still show 1 in 3 of us do so little exercise that it is actually damaging our long term health.

From my own experience and from supporting thousands of women to be more active, taking the pressure off at a time when we feel so under pressure is the magic key to it all.

Especially at a life stage where women can often be ignored or patronised by the traditional fitness industry (chair aerobics, I'm looking at you). 

So what can we all do to liberate ourselves during this most misunderstood of life stages? 

1. Learn. I really suffered with a lack of knowledge. Now though, there is real momentum around creating resources, websites and documentaries that aim to empower women with the knowledge to take back control of their menopausal journey. And to educate partners, families and employers on the roles they can play.

2. Connect. Find a safe space, join one of the brilliant digital communities established to support, connect and champion women going through the same things. As well as This Mum Runs (obvs), I'm really inspired by FluxState, a community run by Consultant Nurse in Women’s Health, Katharine Gale.

3. Advocate. For yourself when you need to, and for other women as much as you can; we’re all in this together and no-one needs to feel alone.

4. Advice. Go to your GP. If you don't find they are able to give you the support you need, ask to see another one. Until you find one who understands this stuff and can provide you with guidance around HRT and a range of other options. 

5. Last but by no means least - Run! Or at least find something you enjoy that enables you to move more, to invest in your own wellbeing and happiness. After all, what could be more empowering that that?

Useful resources:

https://www.themenopausecharity.org/

www.fluxstate.co.uk

www.daisynetwork.org

www.womens-health-concern.org

https://www.channel4.com/programmes/davina-mccall-sex-myths-and-the-menopause

https://thebms.org.uk/

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