Menopause for the Misinformed
As a 22-year-old woman, menopause isn’t exactly at the top of my list in terms of worries. I worry about when my period is going to come, if it’s going to get in the way of events I have planned, what sort of birth control I should be taking and what sort of things I do and don’t want to put in my body to prevent menstruation and pregnancies.
But what I do know is that one day, I won’t have to worry about those things. My body is going to shift and mould like my skin. And a time will come when that monthly clock stops.
What comes in its place? What should I be expecting?
These are answers that I do not have. But true to the journey of a woman’s life, menopause will be experienced by us all.
Over the last few months, I asked seven different women to share their experiences of menopause with me. In the hope of creating some sort of basis of knowledge for younger women out there I wanted to open up the floor for women with both more years of knowledge and more beauty to show for it.
Jenny (61), much like the rest of us, never really knew anything about menopause. “I worked with a couple of ladies that were going through it probably 10 years before I was gifted it. They would come to work and be fanning themselves, going bright red in the face and at times a little moody but other than that I was unaware”.
“I do however remember my mother having to wash all her bedding each day and she would say that she was wet through each night and I guess “menopause” would have been the culprit”.
Hot flushes and night sweats seem to be both frequent and common throughout the journey of menopause. Sally (53) experienced heavy bleeding for years until she was forced to have a hysterectomy, an operation that removes a woman’s uterus and may, at times, also require the removal of the cervix, ovaries and fallopian tubes. “The specialist told me after the operation that I would go through early menopause within days of having my hysterectomy. True to her word, within a week I started to get night sweats. I was waking every half an hour feeling so hot and sweaty”.
Jenny decided to have a hysterectomy at the age of 45 after having trouble with endometriosis and painful periods for most of her life. Jenny’s hysterectomy also induced an immediate menopause. “Crash bang, a week later I thought I had been hit by a bus, one moment I was sweet, the next minute you can feel this warm sensation (actually like a warm fluid moving up your body) that finally hits your face and head and you think you are on fire. Sleeping at night you need the whole bed to yourself as one minute you are hot and sweating and next minute cool. A fan beside my bed goes off and on about 100 times a night”.
Due to the hot sweats, Jenny expressed trouble enjoying socializing as out of the blue, she would feel the sensations arise and know that her face had just gone bright red. “Embarrassing”. Jenny’s symptoms went on for eight years.
Louise (53) told me that the only thing she knew about menopause were the hot flushes as well. “My husband used to joke that it will be good because we will save on the power bill! Such a man thing to say. When I started to have terrible erratic periods at 52 I thought that it could be happening. I would have really heavy periods for two to three weeks nonstop and then none for six weeks. I started having hot flushes at night and could not sleep at all. I very rarely had any during the day. I tried natural remedies but these were costly. As I work in a medical centre I discussed what my options were. One of the nurses had gone on HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) but we had all heard bad things about this. I went to see my GP, she put my mind at ease so I went on it. The hot flushes went almost instantly. After six months on HRT I feel fine and haven’t had a period in three months, but that isn’t because of the medication, just menopause. I do feel nervous putting that sort of medicine into my body as HRT once had a bad rap due to its links with breast cancer, however there is new research to say that it is safe, I feel I have to trust the professionals”.
Janie (59) started her journey with menopause in her early 50s with the odd hot flush “but it just got worse and worse. It affected my work, my sleep and really my well-being. In the end I went to see a specialist and have been on HRT for 5 years. That changed my life. I tried recently to go off it but have been so miserable that I’m back on it”.
“I know menopause affects us all differently but felt mine especially severe when I compared my symptoms with my friends. I get grumpy because I’m tired all the time, and start to not think clearly. It affects my work and my relationships. I can be at work wearing my hat, mask, gown and gloves [in the operating room] with sweat trickling down my back and breaking out on my face which I can’t touch, with this awful flush feeling going through my body. A truly horrible experience. And it can come and go many times totally without warning”.
For Janie, taking HRT takes all those symptoms away. “A lot of people are anti HRT and think you should just toughen up, that it’s not right to be messing around with hormones and the natural aging process. I will try again to come off it maybe in Winter”.
Sally’s relationship with HRT wasn’t so smooth sailing. “I took HRT for a couple of weeks, I felt fabulous, no night sweats. Yay, back to normal. But then I got terrible migraines, the worst I had ever had, my specialist told me to go to a health shop and get something natural. I did try a couple of things but nothing helped so back to sleepless nights”.
“I later tried HRT again on a very low dose and it worked, no symptoms at all. But after 18 months I yet again started getting very minor migraines. So I’m not on any medication now. I use some sleep drops that are for menopause, they are ok, I get a better night’s sleep using these, I probably wake twice in the night with night sweats. I think that I’m lucky that I only get the hot flushes, no mood swings or any other symptoms. One of the other doctors I work with gave me some sleeping tablets, which I use every now and then, I feel so good the next day after taking half a tablet. Getting that sleep makes a huge difference. He did tell me not to drink wine, as that gives you hot flushes. So I stopped drinking and cut back on sugary foods, oh my gosh what a difference it made. Yes, I have a few hot flushes, but certainly not what I was getting before. Unfortunately, I do love a glass of wine, so I just have one every now and then, and I know that that night I will get a few extra hot flushes. The next thing I’m going to try is acupuncture. Through all this, with my trials and errors the best thing to help is diet, so back to a vegan diet I’m thinking!”
Overall, menopause is a journey with oneself. Hayley (52) told me, before her menopause journey began she had read about it as bringing a powerful rite of passage through nature. “That it was part of nature enabled me not to over think it”.
“My periods stopped never to return which was great. No bleeding was something I was happy about. Hot flushes intermittently but no drama as I knew they were part of it. I learned to adapt by layering my clothing thus on, off, on, off!”
“In terms of psychological state, I continued to experience myself as a work in progress. My sleep was not so reliable but I understand after talking with other women that it is also part of ageing”.
Amala’s (54) hot flushes began in her late thirties. These hot flushes were part of her perimenopause, also known as menopause transition which begins several years before menopause. Amala’s perimenopause lasted around 10 years.
“Some days and weeks I was utterly devastated by it all. Other times I as in total awe of myself and my body in this incredible and ancient process. I learned to trust my body – by really being confronted by not being able to trust it! Sometimes I would suddenly have a flooding bleed halfway to work or in the middle of a classroom filled with children! I would suddenly be soaked in sweat and my glasses would be so fogged up I could not see”.
“Our bodies as women are incredibly powerful – having just witnessed this again at the birth of my newest grandchild. It took me decades of battle to come to a place where I could truly honour myself in my own power. I am now also managing prolapses and weight gain and muscle strength loss – but my daily yoga practice stands me in great stead to hold myself in love; physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally”.
“I feel lucky that the internet and social media was available throughout my perimenopause journey – and I was able to connect in with women from all over the world to share this time and to tap into great wisdom from women ahead of me on the journey”.
Much like Amala, I also feel incredibly lucky to have the internet. It has helped me in so many ways, coming to understand my body and connecting with other women. I am very grateful to all who contributed to this article and hope that their knowledge can shed some light for younger generations of women and be relatable for other women in their journeys.
These interviews have been condensed and edited.
Image by Frances Canon.