We need to talk about Menopause
Yes we do. Buckle up, I’m going in, and you’re coming with me.
I’ve avoided talking about this for too long. I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but if you’re in your 40s, change is coming. It might be two, or five or ten years away, but it’s coming. You might already be tackling some of the symptoms without even realising it. That was me.
And that’s why I want to talk about menopause now. In the hope that it might give someone else one of those ‘a-ha’ moments.
What is the menopause?
The menopause is a natural part of ageing that occurs to women, usually between the ages of 45 and 55, as our oestrogen levels decline. The menopause is defined as the time when you have gone through 12 consecutive months without a period.
What is perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the period of time before your menopause when you experience a whole load of (mostly) unpleasant symptoms. The majority of people really mean perimenopause when they talk about having menopausal symptoms. Most, but not all, women will experience at least one of many symptoms during perimenopause – some sources say there are as many as 35 – which can last up to ten years. These range from hot flushes and night sweats, to reduced sex drive and anxiety.
Menopause and me
We all know about hot flushes and sleeping difficulties in perimenopause, but when the brain fog and mood swings crept up on me, I wasn’t experiencing either of those more common symptoms. So I didn’t recognise what was happening. I used to think I was pretty sharp: not intellectual, but quick-witted and able to hold my own in an argument. The brain fog descended on me by stealth. It happened slowly at first, manifesting itself mainly in my inability to recall the simplest of nouns.
Then what I call ‘the clumsies’ started. I’d have days when I couldn’t hold onto anything or stay upright. Plates smashed, milk was spilt and pavements were tripped over. And it made me FURIOUS!
This all came to a head after a very stressful day in IKEA. The day had started positively. I was happy, the sun was shining and I was in the company of friends. Not much later, I had a full-on panic attack next to an IKEA trolley groaning with homewares (not mine). I burst into tears when Mr Maven came home that day, unable to explain why Sweden’s most famous export had reduced me to a snotty, dribbling wreck.
I thought I had early-onset dementia. Honestly. It didn’t occur to me that my memory loss, clumsiness, or my ‘crazy’ episodes – where I swung between anxiety, elation, tears and anger in just a few hours – could have anything to do with menopause.
That night, we discussed how one goes about getting a brain scan. Would the doctor believe me? Would she just think me a hypochondriac? After all, it wasn’t long since I’d gone to see her complaining of migraines and depression (more on that shortly).
Two days later, I happened to stumble upon a BBC documentary about menopause. EUREKA! There was Mariella Frostrup, on national TV, talking about me and my dementia.*
*She wasn’t – she was talking about her own emotional rollercoaster, but she might as well have been talking about me.
So perhaps this wasn’t madness. Perhaps this was just one of the many, seldom-discussed symptoms of perimenopause and my time had come.
The great taboo
Let’s just go back a bit – to me talking to the GP about migraines and depression. Did she ask me about my periods, or even mention menopause? Nope, not once. Instead, she prescribed anti-depressants. I didn’t take them for long and managed to find a natural alternative which balanced my serotonin – but that’s another story.
Did the GP think I was too young? Or that I’d be equipped to self-diagnose if I was experiencing peri-menopausal symptoms?
And if so, where would I get that information from? Menopause isn’t discussed widely in the media or society in general. Yes, there are blogs and Facebook groups, but in order to seek that information, I would have to be aware that menopause was affecting me.
Menopause seems to be one of the last taboos. Which is bonkers. Why are we embarrassed to talk about this? We talk frankly about pregnancy and have started to talk more honestly about menstruation. For many of us, menopause will have a considerable impact, not only on our lives but on the lives of those around us. Without the information and public discussion, how can we find the support we need?
I want to normalise the menopause conversation and embrace what it means to be a woman experiencing ‘the change’.
Let’s talk about menopause
I want to encourage everyone to talk about menopause. If you’re suffering, tell your colleagues, your kids and most definitely your partner. Let them know why mum’s a bit cranky, or why you look a bit shiny during team meetings.
I talk to all my friends about menopause, it’s my favourite topic of conversation over dinner for two. And you know what? Many of my friends also thought they were going mad. They didn’t know who to turn to, or who would believe them.
Menopause doesn’t define me. It’s there in the background while I get on with my life. This doesn’t have to be a scary or embarrassing time, if we’re equipped with knowledge and surrounded by support.
Are you with me?
Much love, Vx[Disclosure: Nothing to disclose]