Due to being a woman of a certain age, the 'change of life' or menopause was something I always knew would hit me eventually but was hoping I would get away with. I was managing with the odd hot flush and occasional night sweats but in truth, I really was unaware of the enormous list of other symptoms that also existed.
My exhaustion I had put down to an ongoing issue with iron/folic acid and I thought the mood swings, lack of motivation, more frequent sensory overloads, brain fog and struggles with executive function were down to autistic burnout.
I had a range of blood tests done to see what was going on and for the first time in a long time, my iron and folic acid were in normal range. Other results from these blood tests sent me on a learning journey about peri-menopause and menopause and to say I was surprised, dismayed and relieved at the amount of symptoms that I was in fact experiencing would be an understatement. I quickly decided that I had to be my own advocate and find ways of dealing with this as I knew it wouldn't be a quick fix. My mum had started the menopause at 37 and took HRT for many years.
Discovering there were so many symptoms was a revelation to me. There are 36 other symptoms listed below (yes you did read that right... 36 and there could be more):
Bloating Stomach issues
Decreased sex drive
Joint aches and pains
Muscular aches and pains
Altered sense of smell
Altered sense of taste,
Tingling sensations in extremities
Burning mouth syndrome
Change in body odour
As you can imagine the side effects of these symptoms can affect our ability to function, be it in relationships, home life, work... it affects them all. And yes as it says at the very top, I really do wish they would leave me alone!
I knew that when I spoke to my GP, they would also have a protocol to follow so I read the guidelines, watched Davina McCall's initial programme (that I had recorded and completely forgot to watch), found some amazing websites and support groups, and completed some training courses, including the one for GP's.
I found out that all the things I thought I knew about HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) were outdated. Thanks to medical advancement in the manufacturing of the hormones, it has become an option for those who may have thought they had none due to medical histories or ongoing issues.
If anything, taking HRT reduces the risk of certain diseases and improves the quality of life by replacing hormones that are declining because of the menopause. Hormones that can affect every cell in your body. Simply put, if your thyroid wasn't producing what was required you would replace it with medication and stay on it for the rest of your life. HRT is the same thing and you can stay on it for as long as you choose.
There are also professionals trying to raise awareness and understanding, who advocate for women who, like me, are unaware that some of the issues that we are dealing with are down to the menopause. These professionals aren't just professionals in the medical profession but women like me whose passion in life is to support and empower others (And yes I did just use the E word!).
As I've already said, I sourced some training courses and could easily relate to what I was being taught because I am currently going through it, but I've been troubled by the thought that there isn't enough awareness out there, despite menopause being a buzz word at the moment.
Whether menopause is surgically induced or a part of the body's natural ageing process, how much do people really know about what can happen to them? Are they made aware beforehand? Are they given enough information? Is it something they learn for themselves or is it months or even years later after the fact and a chance visit to the GP, during which they mention how they are feeling?
What about those who were assigned female at birth and have now changed to their preferred identity? The awareness campaigns and training focus on cisgender women but there are many in the trans community who are going though or will go through the menopause be it through the natural ageing process or medical transitioning. Isn't it time they were included in these conversations, training and campaigns?
The hardest part for many is talking about it. For me personally, I didn't even realise I was menopausal. I thought I was showing signs of dementia, just like my mum and I couldn't bring myself to tell anyone. I honestly had no idea idea that menopause could cause memory poor working memory. I was honestly better informed on dementia than menopause.
Unfortunately, there are barriers to getting support. Sometimes these barriers are a person's own in that they struggle with speaking out or visiting their medical professionals for a variety of reasons. Other times it's down to the level of knowledge and understanding of the professional they are gong to see. Some have reported having negative experiences with medical professionals when discussing their symptoms. The negative experiences have a knock-on effect as there are some who who no longer feel able to ask for support. Believe it or not in Davina McCalls first programme it was shared that menopause isn't a part of a doctors training so the help and assistance you get is down to what they actually know and if they have decided to do further training. Whether that fact has changed since the programme was recorded, I do not know.
The other issues that some individuals put their symptoms down to is getting older and don't think there is anything that can be done to help them so don't mention it.
My findings show that the support that is available varies. Some have been fortunate and received support, for others there is a lack of understanding and even discrimination. I know I am one of the fortunate ones. Not only am I more informed and unafraid to speak out, I have a GP who is willing to work with me, as well as being under a consultant in gynaecology for reasons I now know could be associated with menopause.
In all honesty, my learning around the menopause has really helped me. Knowing what the symptoms are and the different types of treatment that are available has been a godsend.
While HRT is beneficial, I can also do things to help myself. Things like trying to get more sleep where possible, eating a better diet and moving more. Seems simply but it can really help.
The training around menopause has opened my eyes to something that can affect many. I'm lucky enough to be in a profession where I can help others. Not only by sharing this knowledge but also by using it in my coaching practice for those who are struggling to navigate this 'change of life'.