Updated: Nov 2, 2022
Young, Wild and…wait… Menopausal?!
Historically, Menopause has been something we don’t discuss - All women experience it, yet we’re expected to quietly put up with it. It’s not something we can visibly observe in others and, similarly to mental health, if we can’t see anything it can’t be an issue. Thankfully we’re starting to chip away at the stigma by talking more about it, and as a result support is improving - however it’s still deemed something that older women go through. I was young when I went through Menopause, none of my friends were going though it so I couldn’t talk about it and there was nothing locally for me to access. but I’ve since learned that women can experience Perimenopause for ten years before actually reaching Menopause (which is just one day!)
Menopause at 35!?
My journey started after I received treatment for breast cancer in 2017, the cancer I had was “oestrogen receptive” meaning it fed off the oestrogen I was producing. I’d had two children in quick succession, hormones were erratic at best and I’d struggled with them since puberty; starting my periods aged 10 and always suffering both physically and emotionally with PMS. So when my consultant told me hormones were partially to blame for my diagnosis, I was unsurprised, as they’d always given me grief!
As a result, I now take medication to suppress production of oestrogen, chemically leading me down the turbulent road to Menopause. To say I wasn’t prepared for this was an understatement! Being 35 it wasn’t something I’d read up on, I’m busy trying to keep 6 and 8 year olds fed, watered and out of trouble, whilst trying to maintain a vaguely acceptable house and carve out a career - all with a husband who works away for months at a time - it never entered my mind that Perimenopause could pose a challenge and I was never told!
I just found my Keys in the Fridge – I’ve got Dementia!
I could cope with some of the physical changes - hot flushes were quite a welcome relief on cold days (although not so much at 3am!) and the aches and pains which prompted the old lady “oofs” in the morning were manageable yes I felt I had gone from 35 to 50 within a few months but for me the emotional impact was far worse.
Initially it was little things – Brain fog - PE kit on the wrong kid, or short-term memory loss - not remembering to return calls, missing appointments, walking into a room and forgetting why, and I do recall the old “finding your keys in the fridge” classic! Family members would roll their eyes and mock me for it, and I laughed it off too initially but as it continued it wasn’t funny anymore. I got so frustrated with myself, I had no clue as to why this was happening and it started to feel like it was becoming part of who I was and almost expected of me “oh what a surprise Kate’s forgotten something again” I started to lose confidence; I was beginning to feel like a crap mum, wife, friend and daughter and I found myself withdrawing from life for fear that I’d balls something up. I wasn’t myself and I worried there was something wrong with me. Sometimes I’d dismiss it and put it down to stress and the mental load of parenting and life but at my worst I honestly thought I was developing early onset Dementia. And that terrified me.
Where’s my wife!?
The more I felt I was losing my sense of identity the more Anxiety began to creep in. I worried I would forget something important and let people down - my work, friends, husband - I’d even worry about my kid’s safety, I just felt like I was no longer “good enough”. All this was combined with bouts of low mood and anger (mainly at myself) that were incredibly difficult to pull myself out of. My GP just offered me antidepressants, but I didn’t want to be taking any more medication than I was already on. These waves would come and go and occasionally the real me came back. I think that’s what my husband struggled to deal with, he saw chinks of his wife now and again but in a moment, he could lose me again. I was paranoid that he hated me, I hated me so why wouldn’t he?! I was highly aware of the fact I couldn’t think logically, I struggled to make basic decisions, I’d even forget names and get that “tip-of-the-tongue” syndrome. I knew there were problems, but I didn’t know how to change or who to ask for support, I thought I’d just turned into a miserable sod. I was tired and lethargic and I just couldn’t muster up the energy to do anything, I had forgotten what I used to enjoy, and I worried other people would think I was being lazy. I could sense my husband’s frustration…he must have felt so helpless because nothing he did seemed to bring me out of this haze. He began to internalise my moods and has since shared with me that he too felt he wasn’t good enough – what was frustrating was that my life was fine so I just couldn’t understand why I felt so unhappy! There’s an assumption that we are under control of our emotions and therefore we have a choice over our reactions, but for me it felt like I had no control over what was coming out of my mouth. I knew I should bite my tongue on occasion aware I was being irrational, but this emotional outpouring would just explode covering everyone with my crap and leaving me holding on to immense guilt.
I could see the impact of this on my family, my husband, my kids who had no clue what was going on; one minute mummy is playful and fun the next she’s yelling! I began to feel like I was losing my purpose, I resented my husband for not being more supportive but how could he support me when I didn’t know what I needed because I didn’t understand what was happening myself?! Partners can get stick for trivialising menopause, but I think that’s because there’s nothing out there to support and educate so our only source of “education” is the media where it tends to be portrayed as comical - “The hysterical hormonal woman hurling abuse at a bewildered husband”. In retrospect I wish my husband and I had talked more, understood it, and researched it together because I think if we’d had a better understanding of the emotional roller-coaster that was to come, we may have had more compassion both for ourselves and each other - our communication about Menopause was limited to me subtly sending him links to articles in a vain attempt at trying to excuse my erratic behaviour.
Speak up, get support early, talk about it!
We need to continue to raise awareness of Perimenopause and Menopause much earlier on so when the time comes we are aware of our symptoms and importantly we can feel confident in knowing what do to help manage the transition effectively both physically and mentally. So many of my friends are now starting conversations with “I don’t know what’s wrong with me at the moment, but I just feel really tired and snappy and not like me.” If any of this feels like you right now visit your GP or a specialist in Menopause, there are many options – HRT being one, (I can’t have this due to my cancer diagnosis) but women who have been placed on this have had amazing results so speak to a professional and don’t be fobbed off if you feel this isn’t normal for you, a GP can take blood tests and measure your hormone levels so please do ask. Join groups where you can share experiences and normalise what’s going on (saves you googling Dementia assessments!)
Women can begin to experience symptoms of perimenopause from 40 – a time when our kids are in tween or teen years, (and that in itself can bring about significant challenges!) Add to that the emotional and physical challenges that Perimenopause can bring it makes parenting all the more difficult which can impact on our relationships with our kids. Its not just the impact has on us; it’s the people around us so partners too need to be clued up on this. We can’t stop this natural phase of our lives but we can TALK about it, build small support groups, raise awareness in the workplace, and take the time we need to focus on ourselves -and not feel guilty about it!
If I knew then what I know now…
What has helped me since:
Exercise – I gave myself little time for exercise but recently I have carved out an hour in my day and made it a priority and it’s really helped. I go for a walk or short jog and the fresh air and time out helps balance out the stresses of being with the kids constantly! Yoga is also a winner for me, it’s a good opportunity to breathe and release any built-up tension.
Diet – I wish I had consulted a specialist nutritionist (I didn’t even know there was such a thing) who could help advise me about hormone balance and my diet. This is only something I’ve recently discovered and instead of eating crap and grazing the leftovers from the kids tea I feel like I’m taking care of my body more now by being more mindful of what I’m putting into my body. Don’t get me wrong I will not give up my wine for anyone but reducing my alcohol and sugar intake have helped me feel less groggy and my brain-fog is far less, I feel more focused and importantly less knackered!
Connection – being tired and feeling low makes you feel like you’re no longer a fun person to be around and this causes a vicious circle to develop because the more you isolate yourself the worse you feel. I was secretly a bit relieved when plans with friends were cancelled, I’m usually a very sociable person and I’d never say no to a girl’s night out however quite often I’d choose to stay in and binge watch Netflix instead of connecting with my friends. Humans need social connection and I now recognise when I might be pulling myself away slightly so I make a point of picking up the phone and arranging a get together with my girlfriends. I recently met up with some women from the Knackered Mums Club to go on a 6 hr walk and I just felt so much better for talking and spending time with them.
If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, don’t dismiss it as normal life stress - yes, most mothers feel like this at various point in our parenting careers - but if things feel somehow different for you then talk to your GP or a specialist and get some advice.
Other Common symptoms:
loss of self-esteem
loss of confidence
poor concentration – often described as 'brain fog' and/or lost words
You can find more information and support on the International Menopause Society website here.
I will be introducing coffee mornings in the New Year for mums who think they may be perimenopausal and will have some specialists ready to answer any questions so sign up to our Newsletter to be kept up to date with all the goings on here at Roots.