At 46, I didn’t think I was old enough to be menopausal. Wouldn’t that be waiting for me once I hit my fifties (which is still far enough away, as far as I’m concerned!)?
Then I went for a blood test. It confirmed that I am, in fact, well and truly into my menopause.
It was my Mum who had urged me to find out for certain. She already knew the signs after all, and the most apparent one was that I just felt completely wiped out. Exhausted beyond belief.
People would ask me simple questions, but I couldn’t respond without a serious amount of effort. It was becoming so hard for me to make business decisions, that it was all I could do to keep my basic income flowing in.
I couldn’t even find the right nutritional or lifestyle changes to help myself (which had always been my saviour in the past). I just felt blank.
Luckily for my husband, John Bishop had outlined his own experiences with his wife, and that shed light where I couldn’t. All I was able to explain was that “my head doesn’t work”.
But looking back, all suddenly became very clear.
(Don’t get me started on the fact that if the menopause were a man’s problem then it would have been researched and fixed by now! Now we are seeing first-hand the effects of the menopause on business women, and with their valuable positions in the workplace – whilst still supporting ‘sandwich-generation’ families – I hope the medical profession will start seeing the value in further research and treatment).
First signs of the perimenopause
I experienced the first signs around six years ago. They just didn’t feel like signs at the time.
There was just a gradual, yet noticeable, increase in feeling mildly anxious, low, and exhausted every now and again.
This feeling manifested fully in me this year, and I am now on HRT patches. While I can’t say there haven’t been a few ups and downs with those, they are the right thing for me, and generally I feel so much better!
For me, the key to managing the perimenopause is to properly inform yourself.
Brigid Moss had the following wise words to say, in a recent article for Red Magazine:
“Let’s not pretend, perimenopause needs attention. It currently affects 13 million women in the UK – women maybe like you, or you will become. Symptoms can be way worse than (Gwyneth) Paltrow’s experience; Meg Mathews tells how she was plunged into anxiety, other women feel flat, depressed, hopeless According to research from Nuffield Health, up to one in ten women consider quitting their jobs because the symptoms are so debilitating.”
As Moss says: “We need good information: before you get to the perimenopause, the details of this life stage are a mystery. Everyone is taught about puberty but there’s no schooling about the other bookend of our fertile lives.”
Bear in mind that your symptoms may not be those ones we all read about: the headaches and the hot flushes. Instead, you might have problems dropping off to sleep, you might gain weight even though your diet hasn’t changed, or have trouble remembering things that used to come easy.
Feelings of depression are also very common around this time…when everything can start to feel just too much.
Unfortunately, because the symptoms are so wildly different for every woman (not to mention so non-specific), it can be hard for your GP to form a clear diagnosis.
But making an appointment is still the first thing you should do. In the right circumstances, HRT and medication really can make a huge difference (those old breast cancer scares have been so discredited, that some of the doctors involved at the time have actually apologised!)
You could try a herbal remedy if you prefer; just make sure it doesn’t clash with any prescribed medication. Nutritional supplements, such as B vitamins or magnesium, can also help to support your diet.
Taking good care of yourself during the perimenopause
Try to remember that if you’re stressed, you may well experience a harsher dose of the symptoms, so do try to take care of yourself (I know: this really is easier said than done on some days!
Your diet and exercise regime will be important here; try not to overeat, or scoff junk food late at night, and reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol. Increasing weight-bearing exercise and strength training is a good idea, too, as it will keep your bones and muscles strong – as well as reducing those symptoms.
Diet plays such an important part, in fact, that an eating plan rich in oily fish and legumes (such as beans and pulses) has actually been shown to delay the menopause.
For me personally, I found help and support in continuing to do all the things I love – as well as supporting the other women around me.
Though it felt scary at the time, that blood test I took gave me a fortunate insight into my future, and a chance to get my head together. More than that, it gave me an opportunity to make the most of the here and now.
The result is that I feel more like my old self every day – though these days I’m even more gutsy, far happier, and even funnier (though don’t take my word for that one!)
Reflecting on that time though, I can’t stress enough just how lost I felt for a while. So if you’re feeling the same way, please seek help. From friends, family, your Strider friends…and me! Just stay well, and try to look after those around you, too.
Our friendly Stride sessions are the ideal exercise to help deal with the menopause, including weight-bearing exercise (walking!), mindfulness practice, and stress management.
(See our blog post on mindfulness for even more insight into the subject).
So if you or a friend are struggling with these symptoms, why not come along to your first, free, Stride session, where you’ll get a very warm welcome? If you’re already Striding then I’m always happy to chat in confidence and provide some help or advice where it might be needed.
Email me on [email protected] or contact me on 07967 705547