Before you dive in, here’s a warning – I’m going off-piste today, way way out into back-country territory and I’m not coming back. Not anytime soon. You see, I’m peri-menopausal/menopausal (I can’t tell anymore – read on and you’ll see why) and I’ve got some things to share ’cause I think some of you may like to know more. If you don’t, that’s cool, just jog on and come back when it’s relevant.
Also full disclosure – I’m not actually going to mention style, so the title was a little cheeky of me. I’ve got something to say there, but that’s for Menopause, a love story, part 2.
Lastly, I’m not writing this for sympathy. There are worse things to happen in life, but it could be that this is one of the biggest changes in your life and it’s worth educating yourself before it arrives. As my old boss used to say, ‘stay curious’ cause you never know what you might learn.
I’m sharing my story because when I hit menopause, it was a total mystery to me. I knew some basics – I was supposed to get really grumpy and expect to be quite hot. I knew my mum went through it sometime between 49 – 55. But when I stumbled blindly into it post-emergency surgery, I was completely out of my depth and went into a slow decline – kind of like a slo-mo car crash. So now, I am a tiny bit more informed (staying curious here team) and I want to help share information, the good, bad and ugly side of it. All so you don’t get as blind-sided as I did.
Ok, let’s get this out of the way – every woman at a certain age will go through it (unless, sadly, they pass away prior to this stage), but everyone will have a different experience. That’s why it’s a confusing mofo. Your bestie may breeze through with nothing more than a whisper of frustration. You or someone you know will then have the complete opposite experience. Then there are those in between. There are some that go through it far earlier than me – often due to cancer treatment or other life-changing chronic illnesses.
Because ladies, even though I was warned, I didn’t truly know what was going on with me for nearly two years. Or maybe I didn’t want to know. I was too ‘young’, had a 7-year-old still, wasn’t Menopause for older women? For our mothers, aunts, grandmas?
I’ve been sitting on this blog for over a year, writing it for over three weeks and it’s been nearly 3 years since my symptoms started a game of tag you’re it with me. But I’m ready now, mostly because I feel less overwhelmed with how my crazy symptoms were making me feel, I am more informed and am managing my symptoms now, with a lot of help on board. And I’m curious, I’ve become a menopause information sponge.
From where I sit, I feel like we’re taught that Menopause means the beginning of the end of a women’s life and it’s a taboo subject. Apparently, in some ancient cultures, when women went through Menopause, they were put out on the ice-drifts to die. Depressing. It’s a time where society tells us we pass from girl to old woman in a single word, where our worth is seen in a different way and god forbid, we’re expected to become matronly and take a back seat to our younger sisters. Now that is a big hell no from me! It’s nothing like that and every single woman will go through it differently. I don’t want to fade to black or walk off into the sunset of my life. I’ve only just begun.
The best news for our generation and the ones to come is that we live in an incredible time where women are talking about their experiences more, where J-Lo is rocking her infamous Versace gown at 50 on the runway and where MENOPAUSE can be talked about freely, without shame or embarrassment. Check out this fabulous podcast from UNLADYLIKE, sharing two very different examples of how women go through it.
So how do you know you’re going through perimenopause or menopause? Side note – perimenopause is when your period’s become irregular and you start experiencing menopausal symptoms. Menopause is when your periods have stopped.
I leap-frogged into it, following emergency surgery to remove a rogue ovarian cyst (you can read all about that here). On it’s way out, it took my left fallopian tube and ovary with it. The morning following surgery, still high as a kite, my female surgeon sat beside my bed and looked at me pityingly saying, “Mrs John, the surgery went really well, no wonder you were in so much pain, that thing was huge, but sadly you won’t likely have more children”. Even through the morphine haze, I laughed. “That ship sailed a while ago” I replied.
She rounded out this sober conversation with an ominous tone “Well then, you should also know that you will likely go into early menopause”.
For nearly two years following surgery I used her ‘no more babies’ line as an anecdote at parties, not really understanding I should have paid more attention to the other things she said. Because that sucker Menopause was playing me for a fool for those two years and my friends and family were starting to look at me like I had two heads. Meanwhile, back in me-ville, I had no clue, I thought everything was fine, self-awareness 0 – pissing people off – 34500. But things were compounding at a rate of knots.
It wasn’t until I took myself to my GP, who quickly recommended a gynecologist to me, that I realised my symptoms were not in my head. I couldn’t sleep, was waking many times in the night – usually awake for good by 4 am, was generally angry ALL THE TIME, quite miserable and thinking I was bordering on being depressed. I had an impending sense of doom and that floored me the most – because I was a typically optimistic person. I was sweating buckets and would have hot flushes (oh those hot flushes) from just waking up in the morning. Ps – if you want to know what a hot flush is like – just imagine burning, from the inside out. (Further symptoms have since presented themselves to me too – dizziness, nausea, itchy skin & brain fog have recently been added to my list. An alarming side-note that I learnt from Dr Louise Newson @Menopause_doctor is that many menopausal women are prescribed anti-depressants first, rather than being diagnosed with menopause and one of the most common symptoms of menopause – is anxiety and low mood. So if this sounds like you, it’s worth asking for more information first!
I had ignored lots of those symptoms and put them down to a tough season in life. We lost our beloved 13-year-old dog, two lovely school friends had passed away, a family member was dealing with some emotional issues and I left a really well-paying job to take my own business into its next phase. I just assumed I was busy, stressed and inching faster than a bullet train toward middle age. I wasn’t naive, I knew about peri-menopause/menopause but never suspected my Exorcist style rants were a result of my symptoms. What I didn’t know was the train had already arrived. Well before my peers.
One bright spark in a sea of grey at this time was a friend and I realised we were both going through similar things. At least we could chat about our symptoms – both different and feel less crazy.
We’re the first generation to really start bringing this conversation to life, to let the light in on it. Many of us don’t even know how our own mothers went through it, probably happening during our more than selfish teens. Even then, mum in your life or not, it may not be a guarantee that you will share the same experiences as her anyway.
I’ve been battling writing this blog because I know that everyone will experience menopause differently. I can’t say that my way is the best way – it’s not, but it works for me right now. I can’t really say that I am all that knowledgeable yet – but I remain curious as fuck about it and will preach that this should be an open subject and not shrouded in mystery, misinformation or misery.
I know there’s more to come from me on this subject, so I won’t try and condense everything into this first blog. Instead, to be practical and helpful, here are some things that continue to help me navigate Menopause.
- Find others like you. Talk to them, exchange wisdom. It’s a pretty isolating time when you’re first going through it or find out that it’s official. It can feel really random, so finding others that share some commonalities with you can be a breath of fresh air. It also helps to make you feel less mad, sad, bad.
- Get a great gyno. Mine is amazing. She explained what was going on, she made me feel heard and empathised while I cried buckets at her desk. She gave me a very well thought out plan for me to navigate my symptoms and gave me explanations as to why. This was a godsend at a time where I just need someone to take me under their wing and make some fast decisions. I was on a fast track to crazy-town and feeling so out of control I thought my head would spin-off. She explained that because I was going through it early, my hormones were right up the wazzoo and needed regulating. She helped put me on a plan of hormone treatments and now, nearly a year later, I feel grounded, more even and less quick to spark to anger. I have had a Mirena inserted – hence my periods have fully stopped, so I may still be in peri-menopause (I nearly fainted in the process, but apart from that, it was uncomfortable but not painful) and I’m on HRT. All I will say about that is – do your research, listen to medical doctors’ advice, do what feels right for you. You may think you know about HRT, but likely it’s because of what the media has told you – not what the current medical fraternity is now recommending. I will also say that regular blood tests, blood pressure checks, and my annual smear and mammogram are vital. But they were part of my life already, anyway. I am on a 5-year plan and once that ends, we will revisit my next steps, as who knows when this magical mystery menopause tour will end.
- Drinking less – it’s a slow process but that nightly glass of wine is no longer a thing – I can’t handle it, my hangovers are worse and I need all my reserve energy. I’m working on finding a fitness path that works for me – I feel the need to sweat (which is funny considering the hot flushes) and exert my body, but I also have the need for it to be nourishing and soulful. So right now, long walks, that require some steep arse hills, works for me. With some stretching where I can. I know I will benefit from doing more Yoga and strength training too.
- Finding reasons to laugh. I’m enjoying comedy more, I seek it out. I don’t want to be blasted with heavy or emotional or scary media. Comedy is where I at, laughing really is the best medicine. So is listening to thoughtful podcasts while I walk or am in the car – curiosity really is my jam. Some I recommend are Armchair Expert, Alone, a Love Story, Guilty Feminist.
- I have found great solace and comfort in following people on Instagram, listening to podcasts or reading blogs of women going through menopause or work with women who are. Here are some of my faves. Co-incidentally most of them are Brits, but then I have always loved that they’re such straight shooters. @menopause_doctor – Dr Louise Newson comes out with sound advice and few slaps to those that need it. @megsmenopause – Meg Mathews lays it all out on the floor about her relationship with Menopause. @inpolife – Vickie – Artist, Journo and funny asF! @gemma_and_emma – a community for women to share all that we are. @rachelgrunwell – a good source of inspiration and a Kiwi. @DrJenGunter – and OB/GYN (the US speak for a Gyno) who calls herself a “Lassoo of truth and the author of the Vagina Bible. Please share below if you have any others you recommend!
So there you go babes, when you know, you know and now you can’t unknow. Thanks for allowing me this space to roll out my thoughts on Menopause and not talk style. I appreciate it. Most of all, I hope it’s sparked some curiosity in you to learn more about Menopause or help guide you a little to take the next step in your journey. Or simply helped by making sure you don’t feel alone. Thank-you. x
In style confidence and menopausal hot flashes, Love EJ, the Mother of the Sisterhood of Style x
Find out more about Sisterhood of Style by visiting my website www.sisterhoodofstyle.com
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