One Woman’s Journey into the menopausal tunnel. Just an ordinary woman experiencing an ordinary event but with extraordinary side effects!
FROM DAWN TILL DUSK – the beginning of the end of my menstrual life
I remember the first day my periods began with a vivid intensity. I know I’m a bit of an aberration in the fact that I welcomed and, in fact, embraced my first period with joy. I know, bonkers, right? I found the whole idea of womanhood and growing up extremely exciting. I have memories of scrolling through magazines with school friends looking at adverts for sanitary products and finding the whole secrecy around menstruation extremely seductive – this was the early 80s, long before the advent of regular social media use.
In fact, I yearned for my periods to start from about the age of 11 onwards… I absolutely recognise that a lot of girls don’t feel like this but hey… we’ve all got our quirks. Unfortunately for me, my friends started their periods one by one whilst it eluded me. And then, it happened… I had a Home Economics class at school – (cookery to you and me) and I can clearly envisage feeling more hot and flustered than usual… to be honest, it was a bit weird! I was 13 and a half exactly. At break time I went to the loo and lo and behold, there in plain sight was my first period! Excited doesn’t cut it. I finally felt like a woman and I remember going home that night and with a bubble of enthusiasm telling my mum. (And, I have to thank my mum here for not making periods something to be ashamed or disgusted at), which is where I feel we women do each other a massive disservice. I have honestly never felt disgusted or ashamed by my periods and yet pretty much every other woman I know (including close friends and family) has. I feel as though I am an anomaly but am heartened to see books finally appearing like Code Red by Lisa Lister, which encourages us to embrace our femininity and not shun it.
Ironically, the thing that has encouraged me to write this blog is the dusk of the menstrual cycle… the menopause, which is a whole new chapter and one that I am currently struggling with.
So, I’m writing this blog in the hope that I may be able to offer some form of connection to other women who are either experiencing what I am or who have been through it or to those who are simply interested. On the cusp of my 50th birthday, my body seems wholly unrecognisable to me. In the last four to five years I seem to have gone from a joyful youthful exuberance to a shell of my former self and an inner wreck. It’s hard to admit that out loud as I have always considered myself to be a pretty sane and rational person (my family would beg to differ!). However, as I write this I feel like I have an electric drill vibrating in my insides (and sadly that isn’t a joke)!
I first noticed changes in my body around the age of 44 to 45 when my periods started being a little erratic. I really didn’t want to accept this and was in denial about what was happening to me, but deep down I knew. Slowly, but surely over the next five years, it became clear that things were afoot with my hormonal system. It’s hard to put into words exactly what happened but I just felt ‘different’ – not like my usual self. I also experienced an array of peculiar symptoms that no doctor could get to the bottom of – believe me I’ve had almost every test going – numerous blood tests, vaginal examinations and eventually a CT scan and chest x-ray and absolutely nothing was found. Yet my symptoms continued apace – deeply unpleasant and disturbing – I have woken in the night feeling disembodied- as though my limbs aren’t connected to my body, aches and pains, fatigue, forgetfulness, anxiety… until finally my periods stopped aged 49 and I Tipped. Over. The. Edge.
I had my last full period in August 2017 (and of course at the time I didn’t know it was my last) but from September through until October I developed severe nightly palpitations – terrifying and a real stealer of sleep. Of course, I looked at my lifestyle and thought processes to try and understand what was happening. There was no doubt that this had indeed coincided with an important life event for me – my son had left home to go to university and emotionally I found this really tough as I am very close to my two children and have put my heart and soul into their upbringing. However, I didn’t feel that this fully explained my symptoms. I eat very healthily – low-carbohydrate, plenty of fresh veg, berries and often organic. I walk nearly every day and am a non-smoker. I am a moderate drinker (although I’ll admit I do love a good glass of vino or three to be perfectly honest) and until now have never taken regular medication.
Since all the awful symptoms started I have upped my vitamin and mineral intake and meditated regularly. I am married to a health guru, who is not only a chiropractor but a health and fitness advisor who has managed to master his own crazy emotions and has given me a wealth of support and useful advice. He has been an absolute rock. I have also sought help from an acupuncturist.
The minutiae of my symptoms is probably boring but things went from bad to worse with me experiencing my first ever full-blown panic attack whilst I was away with my family at Center Parcs, which was quite frankly terrifying. I visited the doctor on my return and she checked my heart and blood pressure – everything was fine. She prescribed me some medication for anxiety, but I confess that although I took it for a few days I didn’t feel it was what I needed and so I stopped. To cut a long story short I was sent for more blood tests, an ECG and a chest x-ray. I was on a medical merry go round. To add insult to injury I have always prided myself on not going to the doctor at the first sign of trouble but am someone who chooses complementary and self-help therapies. That is why I tried acupuncture. I absolutely think acupuncture works, but unfortunately, I don’t feel that the acupuncturist I saw recognised what was going on with me and with the comments they made about what I was feeling and treatments I was seeking they unwittingly added to my anxiety. Often it is not the treatment but your connection with your therapist that counts.
What I am saying here, is that a lot of the things that you would think would help me through this normal life stage were in place and yet… I have still managed to lose the plot to some extent. I’ve also had to re-evaluate my stance on medical intervention – sometimes if you are struggling you need something to get you through and you have to be open to everything and judge for yourself what works for you and what your body needs at any one time. No two women are the same and for me, chatting with friends who are going through the same thing, we all have quite significantly varying experiences. I put this down to a combination of genetics, lifestyle, health status and general approach to life.
I could go on about the last year of my life in infinitesimal detail but really the long and short of it is that my experience of the menopause so far has been goddamned awful and there hasn’t been a hot flush or night sweat in sight – so no typical symptoms… I am crazily atypical. One thing that has saved me in the wee small hours as I have paced the floor is other people’s experiences generously shared on the world wide web. A forum called Power Surge, which lists my symptoms as one of the less common symptoms of menopause – THANK YOU! Why don’t doctors and health practitioners recognise this?
I cannot help but feel that if both sexes experienced the menopause there would be a far greater understanding now of some of the extreme symptoms that are involved in the cessation of our female hormones. Hey, I am TOTALLY NOT into man bashing, I LOVE men but I am frustrated by the lack of comprehension from both male and female doctors and alternative health practitioners about the impact that the menopause has on us. It is a natural event but we don’t live in natural times and therefore the way we deal with it and respond to it is perhaps not in alignment with the way our bodies would ideally have us respond.
By Julie Connery