TKR loss self-inflicted
October 19, 2019
Home again at St Mary’s
October 22, 2019

World Menopause Day—Normalising a ‘taboo’

Did you know that there is a World Menopause Day? It was actually last Friday, October 18, the purpose of which is to raise awareness on the impact of menopause in the everyday lives of women.

Menopause is not an often-discussed subject, and short of associating it with hot flashes as a result of depleting estrogen levels, it is something to be thought about only when you’ve crossed forty. And certainly, there can be little empathy. Menopause is flippantly joked about when an older woman is irritable, a later-life PMS of sorts, but in actuality many women experience more severe symptoms which prove disruptive to their lives and may affect their mental well-being.

Menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45–55, although a few may experience it earlier. Some common symptoms are:

  • Hot flushes/flashes
  • Insomnia
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Low mood
  • Anxiety
  • Night sweats
  • Discomfort during sex
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Problems with memory

One media house in the UK, in recognising that women are impacted by menopause, has instituted a menopausal policy. Channel 4’s policy “will support employees experiencing menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, anxiety and fatigue, giving women access to flexible working arrangements and paid leave if they feel unwell because of the side-effects”. It is launching the policy to “normalise the ‘taboo’ subject”.

A Journey with Menopause

Mary, now 55, experienced her first menopausal symptoms at 49 years old. Taking the advice of her nephew, she exercised hard throughout her forties, and took multivitamins to stave off the typical symptoms her friends were having and stressing over. And she did think her approach successful when she began to skip periods:

“At 49, I was feeling good, and then I started to have problems with my period. I was always irregular, but sometimes it skipped a few months, and I thought, if this is how it [menopause] is affecting me, I can deal with this….I am glad to get rid of the period.” Then after the five-month break, her period came again.

In December, as she was celebrating her 50th birthday, she had a new, sudden and startling sensation. Heat began at the top of her head and coursed its way slowly down her body. “I started sweating, my throat was dry…it was confusing. I thought I was going mad too because you feel as though something clicks in your head.” Mary recalled the experience of one friend who believed she was having a nervous breakdown. Her own menopausal symptom was of intense itchiness as though things were crawling over her skin.

Mary’s doctor confirmed that she was going through menopause. He recommended tablets for her to assist in rebuilding her estrogen levels, and the flashes eased.

A year later, three fibroids were discovered, possibly because of the estrogen that she had been taking to alleviate the symptoms. She had to have a hysterectomy at 52. The doctor was concerned that the growths could have been cancerous, so the best course of action was to “take everything out”. He warned her however, that once her ovaries were removed, she would experience full-blown menopause. Her previous experience with the hot flashes did not prepare her for what happened after surgery.

She was encouraged a few days after to begin walking around the bed to improve her circulation. As she stood up, she felt an even greater heat than she had ever felt, “like an oven turned to 400 degrees…I began cold sweating at the same time and my heart started to race. I had problems breathing.” Those were the full-blown symptoms the doctor had warned her about.

Day-to-day with menopause

With full-blown menopause, she said, the heat got worse. There was fatigue and she would have lightheadedness—all these every day, every few hours. At night, she would awaken five times or more, and be “like a zombie” next day at work. The typical medication taken to assist she could not risk taking due to ill-effects on her body.

Three years down the road and Mary is still going through menopause but has learned to take self-soothing steps to ameliorate both the heat and the panicked reactions. Always with a bottle of water, she breathes deeply to calm herself, because she refused to “allow this thing to control me”. At night, she sleeps with both her air condition unit and fan on, so when the flashes come and the quilt is thrown off, the cold feels good against her heated skin. Sometimes she falls asleep at midnight and wakes up at five. For these occasions when she has had five hours straight of sleep, she is grateful.

For the fatigue, her multivitamins for women over fifty and EmergenCc give her a quick boost, and certainly she has not allowed menopause to affect her enjoyment of life. A live wire, Mary did not stop her gym training, and has continued liming as well. “I will continue to enjoy myself, but I look forward to when the symptoms stop.” More conversations, are needed, she believes, even though not everyone experiences the same things: “You never know who you could be helping, and it’s good for you to talk about it as well.”