This is a guest blog by Lisa Holmes: Chances are, if you are reading this you could be in your 30’s and thinking, “No, I’ve never thought about the menopause.” I hadn’t either. Before all of this I had never even heard of the term peri-menopause. Until I was in my late 30’s and various symptoms and ailments (some very odd) were beginning to appear. And now I’ve just celebrated my 43rd birthday and have been on HRT since I was 40.
Wind back to 2017 when I was 38, yes 38 and I’d booked a doctor’s appointment as my migraine attacks had been getting more frequent and more severe. I have always struggled with hormones and periods. From the age of around fifteen I was on the pill to try and calm my period pains and then after a few years they changed the type of pill to try and also calm migraine condition. Migraines which 99% of the time came along with my periods. Periods, menopause, things that weren’t ever really spoken about with family and friends until recently.
A passing comment asking if it could be hormonal and linked with ‘The Change’
So a trip to the doctors and some tests done, they prescribed some meds specifically for my migraines. Thinking nothing of it I carried on. But the intensity of the migraines continued. One night when I was out with my Mum and Mother In Law they made a passing comment asking if it could be hormonal and linked with ‘The Change’. Then one day at work, my migraine attack was so bad it mimicked having a stroke. It was very frightening when I couldn’t see, knew what I wanted to say but couldn’t speak properly and had pins and needles all over my face, my hands, my tongue and more.
I felt like I had some kind of brain fog
I would sit at work and look at my computer not really knowing what I was doing there. What did I need to do? I didn’t know. What was I trying to say? No clue. For someone who was ordinarily ultra organised and focused it was really scary. My team were great looking out for me if a migraine attack was really bad and my immediate line Manager fantastic, but working in a pressured sales environment with brain fog and lack of concentration really took its toll.
The doctor checked my age and dismissed me as too young for menopausal symptoms
Off to the doctors I went again who increased my meds. But this time I wanted to talk about hormones, my age and could menopause be causing these changes? I’d read a little and had thought more about those passing comments from my Mum and Mother In Law. The doctor was very flippant about it and suggested a higher dose of meds for my migraine attacks. He checked my age and dismissed me as too young for menopausal symptoms. I didn’t feel listened to at all or that I could really discuss it with him.
I spoke with my closest friends who are ten years older than me
Not knowing what to do, so I spoke to some of my closest friends who are ten years older than me. We talked about my migraines, the meds and the comment my Mum and Mother In Law mentioned. One of them then said she had been reading lots of information by Meg Matthew’s and that it might help to take a look as she too thought it could all be related. This was the first time someone had listened to me intently and said, “Hey, you might find this helpful.” Before then, other than the doctor, I had never thought of where I could go to get advice and do research.
You hear horror stories from years ago regarding menopause and if your Doctor doesn’t listen to you where do you go? I certainly wasn’t going to go down the Doctor Google rabbit hole. But this is where things changed for me. I did some reading on Megs Website, followed Megs Menopause on Insta and then found Dr Louise Newson, an incredible lady who is doing all she can to ensure women are empowered around all things peri-menopause and menopause.
I started keeping a diary of random things that were happening and could see patterns
And then I think it was about nine months later I bit the bullet and called my Doctor’s surgery asking to speak to the their menopause specialist. Turns out they didn’t have one but there was a Locum who they could book me in with.
When I started my menopause journey there were around 40 menopause specialists in the UK. Yes, just 40. Considering half the population will experience this, it’s shocking isn’t it? Did you also know that there is only a very tiny amount of time dedicated to menopause training for health professionals? The inequality surrounding women’s health is off the charts. Thankfully there is more being done but still you need to go armed with information and try to seek out the best person to speak to. There are private clinics, but there are also so many resources that could help you prepare for a chat with the best person at your Doctor’s surgery.
I went armed with information
Here is the key thing; I went armed with information. I’d spent a long time reading how most women are put on antidepressants as some of the symptoms can be anxiety and depression – Rather than look at the overall picture, Doctor’s are all too quick to diagnose depression and issue pills. I told the Doctor about my research, the diary of symptoms and how my Mum had gone through menopause at a relatively early age. I knew that there was a blood test but that it could be very unreliable. However the Locum said she wanted to run it anyway to rule out anything else and to refer back to in years to come to see where my hormone levels were.
Menopause at 39
The Locum was so understanding and very easy to talk to. She explained that whilst I was young (39) no matter what my hormone levels show, she had no doubt I was going through peri-menopause. We booked another appointment for once my blood tests had been done. She gave me some literature on peri-menopause and menopause; websites and details on HRT to read over in the meantime.
I went home feeling confident that I was being taken seriously. But now what?
I had decisions to make! So once again the research started. HRT was a scary word. I’d heard about the risks and reports from decades ago which completely put off women from earlier generations like my Mums from taking it. Turns out, I’m not surprised they were put off by HRT that was from horse urine?! Er, what??? But it has come to light since, that there was a lot of false information in these reports.
I felt confident that there was a form of HRT out there for me and that due to my migraine condition, transdermal would be best. No pills for me; either patches or gel. They were less likely to interfere with migraine attacks. Only thing now was to await the blood results.
The benefits of HRT for me
Back at the doctors and hormones showed normal levels (but remember I said earlier they could be). Vitamin D however was so low it was off the scale! That was sorted with Vitamins, so onto HRT: We talked about patches as she advised these would be best for me too. I didn’t want a coil fitted to disperse progesterone so opted for combination patches – These release Oestrogen and Progesterone through the skin at different times of the month. We discussed risks but she completely put me at ease. The benefits of HRT for me (bone, heart and mental health for example) far outweighed the risks. I’d just need to be more conscious of self-checking my boobs, having my smear tests on time etc.
And so off I went with my HRT prescription not really knowing what to expect but hoping to be relieved of some of my symptoms and to feel like a new woman.
HRT is not an instant relief
And takes a while to really kick in but overall it made a difference. I was sleeping better – no more waking every night at 3am and not able to get back to sleep. My migraines eased. The weird crawling sensation in my legs all but left. Hot flushes eased. But the biggest thing was the brain fog subsiding. I could concentrate again and whilst it never completely disappeared it was so much better.
I’ve had many things to contend with since
A shortage of HRT – which meant I had to try a different patch – I had to go without HRT for about six months as I just couldn’t get any. And then more recently I realised that my symptoms were changing; Some were reappearing and other new symptoms crept in. I know there were other factors that led to this; such as grief, job uncertainty and change in my life. But overall I knew from a big change in my periods, migraines getting worse and the brain fog, plus electric shocks (who knew) that it was time to speak with the Doctor again.
I started monitoring my symptoms and when I talked them through with the Doctor, my thoughts were confirmed and my dose was increased. A new symptom has continued and the Doctor wanted to see if the increased dose sorted it, but it hasn’t. So once again I’ll be heading back to the Doctor’s. There are such lengthy wait times for appointments and a shortage of HRT again though, that I may be without anything for a while.
Working with menopause symptoms
Some of my symptoms really affected my work and have started to again. There were a handful of people who knew what was going on but other than those directly working with me no-one understood just how bad some days were for me. Add sales targets and people management to the mix and it got very stressful. Peri-menopause wasn’t the reason I gave up working in the industry I had worked in all my life. But it definitely added to the decision. Because I decided that I wanted less stress, less responsibility and to have more time with friends and family in a job that was more rewarding.
In my new role there are women who have openly discussed going through it and I have been more comfortable in opening up. There is a menopause in the workplace policy, wellbeing activities for staff and the culture is much more open. Working with people who are also experiencing peri-menopause has been an eye-opener. Some staff have even asked for resources and information they can look at as they have been experiencing symptoms.
Before all of this I had never even heard of the term peri-menopause
Menopause had always been referred to as the change and as far as I knew, you got hot flushes and then your periods gradually disappeared. I didn’t know that you could experience a multitude of symptoms – or none at all – for most commonly 5-6 years before your periods stop. Some people have these peri-menopausal symptoms for up to ten years.
Menopause is a term to declare once you have had no periods for twelve months. I didn’t know this. So Menopausal and Peri-Menopause symptoms are basically the same. Some people will breeze right through this time in their lives, others may have just a few symptoms, some a lot of symptoms that affect daily life and at worst if not listened to and given the right help, advice and treatment can be life altering and ending.
I know that traditionally people don’t talk about peri-menopause or menopause but I do see this starting to change. Some of you may have seen more conversations around menopause and peri-menopause on the TV, in magazines and on social media. This isn’t a coincidence. Until recently there has been little conversation and information out there around this topic. Thankfully that has started to change with some amazing people making their voices heard.
I think many women of all different ages going through menopause and peri-menopause, are now speaking up
And wanting to help each other and future generations. You don’t have to just accept what is happening. We have decades of life left and we need to protect ourselves from what our bodies will put us through. Girls and women need to be educated as to what the effects of not having Oestrogen will do to our bodies if it’s not replaced. Peri-menopause and menopause is in effect a oestrogen deficiency. If you are deficient in something else, you do what you need to, so why not with hormones?
I think that it’s super important for everyone to have these conversations
And not just with other women, but as it affects partners in so many ways. For example some of the symptoms which could affect you and then in turn your relationship could include lack of libido, anxiety, vaginal atrophy, night sweats, insomnia, mood swings just to name a few!
My Husband has been super supportive which has made experiencing some of the menopause symptoms a lot easier. I asked him for his thoughts and comments. It’s interesting that he said he has a much better understanding of what peri-menopause and menopause is now. His empathy has increased as he sees what I go through. The way he described it was that there is a monthly cycle we contend with, but now there are so many more factors, that on a daily basis it could be anything from one degree or another. He empathizes so much more with what we have to deal with once we began to speak more openly about it.
Not all conversations have been plain sailing though
Some people have been very lucky and had no symptoms that they are aware of. Which is amazing for them; but it has made it hard for them to understand what I have been going through. I have never and will never say that everyone goes through what I have or worse. But what this has meant for me though, is that I feel I can’t discuss this part of me with some of my closest friends, which is sad.
There are some of my friends who I can talk about menopause with and we’ve had very open conversations. It’s been a real eye opener not just for me but also them. Some have asked how I came to know about the menopause, what the benefits of HRT have been to me and it’s just enabled more open and trusting conversations.
Younger women have seen and heard what I’ve gone through and am still going through which can only be a good thing. And this is why I wanted to share my menopause journey, because I’d never even considered it something to think about until I went through it.
Menopause Symptoms & Resources
I’ve spoken about some of the symptoms I have experienced and I want to stress that I am not a Health Professional and these are purely my experiences. If you suspect that you may be experiencing peri-menopause symptoms or just want to read up more there are a number of places you can look. Including Meg’s menopause journey and there is also a symptom checker on the Balance website. A good documentary to watch is Davina McCall Sex, Myths and the Menopause made for Channel 4.