I went hiking at the weekend with a good friend and whilst we chatted, she remarked that I seem so much softer than when she first met me; less spiky.
I know I am because I feel it.
I underwent a massive life change in 2018/19 when I went through therapy, yoga training, giving up alcohol and opting out of a stressful corporate life. All of those things had combined to make me somewhat ‘scary’ to those who encountered me, as I tended to bark at people, online and in person.
What I didn’t realise until this year, though, was how much I was governed by my hormones at that time. I was 51 and going through peri-menopause – the stage before full menopause where your hormones are adjusting after a lifetime of monthly cycles. But like many women, I didn’t realise. I look back now and can see that I had a suite of symptoms that are completely in line with perimenopause and menopause.
I had trouble sleeping for years, which did improve when I gave up drinking, but remained intermittently, manifesting at 3am most nights where I’d find a TV show to binge on to quiet my brain. I felt anxious about things that in retrospect, shouldn’t have caused anxiety, but they felt very real. I recognised that feeling from years of PMS.
Much of my anxiety stemmed from an inability to control my emotional responses to things, be they work scenarios or relationships. I’d lie awake at 3am thinking about whether I’d burned my bridges by having a red-hot response to something. I knew I was doing it but couldn’t seem to help it. A red mist would descend and I’d say the thing I’d hoped not to say, and then spend days and nights worrying about its impact. It scared me a lot, and now I think I remember my mother going through a period like this, and it made me wonder if it was the reason behind her retreat into an almost hermit-like existence.
I also had horrific joint pain in my shoulders and hips. It was, as I explore in my memoir, a manifestation of the stress I was experiencing at work, but it was also result of falling oestrogen levels. No one tells you that oestrogen is a painkiller, and when you lose the levels, you gain the pain. I went for countless clinical tests and x-rays to determine the problem, when the obvious answer was hormonal change.
It was only in the last year or so, when my symptoms heightened during the second lockdown, that menopause was suggested to me by a friend as the possible cause of my issues. A year ago I’d made a list on my phone of everything that was causing me anxiety and I’ve kept it because now it seems so ridiculous. I cried over things that now generate barely a raised eyebrow and got angry over nothing. I was a stroppy cow.
In the new year I sought help and I was lucky enough to be assigned to an HRT nurse in my local practice who helped me determine what I needed. I started off on a patch (Evorel Sequi) that mimicked a ‘normal’ cycle with a period, but I found I was still feeling anxious in the weeks where I was deprived of progesterone. I moved on to a continuous supply of oestrogen and progesterone (Evorel Conti) and immediately felt better. Literally on day one.
It was only then, when I started to feel better, that I realised what a slave I’d been to my hormones. I noticed physical changes as well as emotional ones too: I hadn’t noticed that my hair had begun to thin quite alarmingly until it started to thicken again. My shoulders stopped hurting and I stopped having to lie in a weird position to reduce the pain. I started sleeping better – just feeling more normal. I still can’t believe I spent so long living with all the symptoms, living with my inner stroppy cow.
Now that everyone is out there talking about menopause, I’m adding my story to the mix. Now, when I meet any woman describing any of the above symptoms, I tell her about my HRT experience straight away and tell her to take the name of my patches to her doctor. I tell her not to trust them if they palm her off with anti-depressants, which has happened to friends in the past.
Menopause has been described as a kind of reverse-puberty. I think about the heady mix of me and my mother living together when I was 14 and she was 52. I couldn’t understand why she was irritable and downright miserable and now I wish I could have got her to use HRT, although then it wasn’t trusted as much.
So, I hope my story helps one woman out there who has read this and realised that her symptoms align with mine; joining the dots and realising that they all stem from one source – hormonal imbalance. I hope she gets the help she needs and stops putting up with pain, sleeplessness and anxiety that are completely unnecessary.
Because she can.