It’s been a while since I wrote and shared a blog of this magnitude; I prefer to post pictures of my dog, sunsets and sunrises. But when I keep sighing, “More people should know about this …”, then I feel an obligation to contribute to the awareness.
That’s what this is about – so you can choose whether to read on or not …
Interestingly, my ‘sighing about the subject’ has got more intense lately, due to a few media caps being ‘doffed’ to the subject. And whilst it’s great that they are even finding room on TV for such a ‘taboo’ subject – there are more programmes about drugs, domestic violence and even murders than the menopause – I find myself even more frustrated as they just scratch the surface of a subject that can gouge huge , gaping ravines in your life.
The more I have talked to people – men as well as women – I am sure that the menopause contributes to as many divorces, suicides and mental health issues, as alcohol and drugs do. And yet most people still don’t talk about it, or even worse, realise it.
A recent BBC programme, ‘The Truth about the Menopause’ will have been helpful for some I’m sure, but it still didn’t even attempt to discuss the depths of destruction and havoc that can be wreaked by an inevitable shift in hormones. The Welsh news ran a story in the same week about the first Menopause Cafe in Wales – great, a place where people can meet and share experiences and solutions but … in the middle of the table was a humungous pile of heavily iced chocolate cakes (sugar will not be your friend if hormones are your enemy, trust me) and endless inane references made to ‘having your cake and eating it’, and ‘the icing on the cake’. C’mon Wales, we can do better than that.
If the only thing that this blog achieves is to raise awareness that exhaustion, frustration, hopelessness, anger, brain fog, memory loss and mood swings are all symptoms of the menopause, and to prompt you to consider this as a reason for any upheaval in your life, then that’s great. But hopefully, it will encourage you to take action too. Sadly all of the aforementioned symptoms are all synonymous with being tired and overstretched too, whether you are menopausal or not; and are also symptoms associated with anxiety, which is also another classic symptom of the menopause. It is a bloody nightmare to figure out. It can feel impossible to determine which is as a result of what. You may well feel like you are losing your mind.
And the menopause is insidious – it’s not like Christmas, with endless adverts and promotional insanity to forewarn you of its inevitable arrival. The chances are you will be well into the menopause before you read something, or have a relevant conversation with a friend, which enables you to consider it.
So what can you do?
First of all, accept that it is happening and endeavour to read and research as much as you can. And that can be challenging enough when your brain feels like porridge and your eyes itch and burn (also a lack of oestrogen).
Then ask for help. You won’t feel like doing that either. But it will help enormously if you are able to explain what’s going on. At the talks I have given, the men are equally as relieved to learn that the woman they love isn’t going mad. And yes, men do go through a hormonal change too, with varying degrees of symptoms.
Some women apparently have no symptoms as all. I’m still not convinced about that and frankly I don’t care. I care about the women who are having debilitating life altering symptoms and wonder what the hell is happening.
Several women I know have lost partners, are leaving jobs (or have lost jobs and are leaving partners) and are struggling to keep their heads above water. They are all around 50.
The menopause is not just about hot flushes. Dear God, if only. I’m not belittling any of the symptoms, but as someone who works outdoors all year, for 8 months of each year hot flushes would be most welcome as an internal heat source. And I have given talks and had felt that familiar feeling of the thermostat being turned up and have just ‘owned’ it, calling it a ‘power surge’. The audience has always understood and been sympathetic. You will not be the only one going through it, no matter how much you feel you are.
It is the emotional side of the menopause that I have found the most cruel. Feeling invisible, having suicidal thoughts, the brain fog, the self doubt, the inability to trust a decision. Oh, and stupid things like boiling the kettle without the lid on.
Most people laugh kindly when I tell them about the ‘stupid things’ and add, “I do that sort of thing all the time.” It is kind of them to be sympathetic but frankly, I have never done those things and loathe the fact that I do now, even if it is as a result of hormonal chaos. When people speak to me, it can take me a couple of seconds too long to process what they are saying and that can make me seem disinterested, aloof or just stupid. It’s all just too painful to acknowledge, sometimes.
I have retreated from public commitments, gatherings and most things that involve people. I had a nightmare of an experience with a professional relationship in the midst of the menopause. Turns out that the guy was a twat, but it took me 12 painful months to realise it. He has always been a twat but I haven’t always been so poor at making a judgement. It jeopardised a very promising and personal project.
It has also made me reluctant to trust my ability to make an appropriate decision about people and their motives. It is another example of my knife-throwing hormones cutting up my confidence, and an example I haven’t read about in the numerous chapters written about hot flushes and mood swings.
My saviour has been a woman in Harley Street.
I foolishly delayed seeking professional help due to my concern about the ‘perceived cost’ – another flawed decision. I went to my GP and was prescribed antidepressants. “You are depressed.” Insisted my female GP. “Yes I am,” I agreed, “It is f*cking depressing not to be able to get any help or understanding other than be prescribed antidepressants.”
Several female friends, who were further along the menopausal road than me, recommended professionals at Harley Street a while ago but I was afraid of bankrupting myself and adding to my already substantial anxieties, having already spent more than I could afford on every single herbal potion and lotion available. Ironically I was spending small fortunes for ‘medicines’ that would enable me to keep going to work (as self employed) to earn money to be able to pay for more (often bizarre) ‘cures’. Another example of menopausal madness.
Bearing in mind I can only share my own experience, I believe it to be essential to get professional help. You cannot govern your hormones with positive thinking, or another glass of wine, or just by hoping it will all go away. Every menopausal path will be different for every woman, but the one thing that is pertinent to all, is having awareness, accepting it and taking action. You may feel like you are losing your mind, but for me it was a real risk of losing far more than that that made me take action.
And it’s not as expensive as you think. Some things are available on the national health and even though I pay privately for my ‘natural hormone balancing’, it costs just £30 a month.
So to summarise – or I will still be writing this tomorrow – the things that categorically helped me are:
Monica Lascar www.monicalascar.london
I chose Monica from several recommendations, including John Studd (Carol Vordeman’s recommendation), the Gluck Clinic and Nick Pannay, as she uses Bio-identical hormones and is just someone that I got on with whilst talking to. And that is essential. I like Monica a lot and trust her. I have friends who are with their chosen consultants for the same reasons. She also speaks my language, talking about ‘hormone rebalancing’ and ‘being solution focussed’
Exercise – I can’t stress the importance of this enough, especially when you feel tired, miserable and unmotivated. Ironically, despite being incredibly tired (I have a physical job) I have found exercise classes actually helped. I never thought they would. I have always been a solo exerciser – preferring running or the gym to classes of any sort. But the group I work out with now are just the nicest bunch of people and I always, always leave feeling better than when I arrived. I know I have made an effort and not excuses.
Good diet and lifestyle choices (which Monica advices on as part of the ‘treatment’).
Your ‘fuel’ is so important when going through the menopause and there is no excuse for ignorance. Read, research, ask and eat more greens.
Talking about it all – Talking is so important in order to help others understand, but as Monica says – ‘solution focussed’ talking is also essential. Sympathy is OK, but a solution is better.
All of these things will require you to be pro active and to take action – something you will probably feel the least like being and doing. It’s cruel.
Please don’t fall into the, “It’s just not me …” trap, every time your hormones hit the fan. It is you. You are still a very capable and rational person but your hormones are running riot, and that will change your behaviour. It’s what hormones do. Hormones are the most powerful things – underestimate their power at your peril. Your hormones may be going mad, but you are not. Accepting and owning this was important to me as I decided to be the best me I could be each day, and that is what inspired me to research, read, ask, and take the actions necessary. Yes, I would probably rather a glass of cold Sauvignon Blanc than a smoothie of blueberries, almond milk and kale, but knowing the latter was far better for me (and my hormones) helped. You have to befriend yourself. Stop beating yourself up, play nice.
As I come out the other side (hopefully) I do have some weird theory that the menopause is a rather cruel ‘crash course’ in sorting out any shite you haven’t sorted out by the time you are 50. A little like ‘last chance saloon’. Stop messing about, be yourself, it’s all you have.
And even though I thought it was just to make me feel better, when my post menopausal friends told me I would emerge stronger, happier and more content with myself, I can confirm that it is true.
I have chosen to accept the ‘change’ and the changes it has brought. I say how I feel – truthfully, without guilt and without fear of upsetting anyone. That is their problem. You can’t give offence, only take it. And I have enjoyed my own space and learning about myself and what I am really like when I am not waiting to be rescued or fixed, or busy rescuing or fixing others. And I’m OK. And it’s also OK to want to be invited to events but not want to go. And those people that matter will understand, and those who don’t understand don’t matter.
There is a famous saying, “When you are going through Hell, keep going,” which I think must have been written by a menopausal woman. So, you strong woman you, keep going!