My menopause journey began about five years ago when I was around forty-six and started getting perimenopausal symptoms. I had no idea what they were, because back then there was very little information available and much less in the media than there is today.
I was working in a busy architecture’s practice with my husband when I started getting invisible symptoms like anxiety and loss of confidence. I became a bit agoraphobic and didn’t want to go out anywhere. I even started getting panicky about crossing a colleague on the stairs or going into meetings. I was still having regular periods and had no idea what was going on. I felt very different, as though I’d lost myself somewhere. I remember thinking what an earth was going on with me, I even thought I might have early onset dementia. I was feeling really hideous and not like myself.
Going into meetings and doing presentations became increasingly challenging because I was in a front-facing job, networking and presenting to clients. I also had crippling, debilitating fatigue and around mid-afternoon I would literally have to go upstairs and lie on the sofa. I was having a few hot sweats at night, but because I was still having my periods and I didn’t feel old enough, I didn’t link things together. Then one day, I remember getting dressed to go to a big meeting and I looked into the wardrobe and broke down because I couldn’t decide what to wear and I just wanted to get back into bed.
I thought there was something definitely wrong with me so I started researching frantically and joined the dots and realised I was going through the perimenopause, which I’d never heard of before. Eventually I started trying things like supplements but nothing worked and the symptoms continued to get worse. I was having bouts of anger and very bad PMT and PMDD. My social skills had left the building. I didn’t want to go out and sometimes I wanted to stay in bed and not entertain anyone. I became quite reclusive.
At work I was very open about the menopause and talked about it a lot to my colleagues. It did impact on my career because I felt so dreadful some days. I was very lucky and fortunate to be working in an environment where I could have time off if I needed it. A lot of women don’t have that luxury and I think if I’d been in a nine to five job, I would have struggled a lot more, especially with the tiredness and lack of confidence. Luckily things are changing slowly and I think at some point all companies will need to have a policy in place.
I was with my husband for eight years and for probably half of that I was perimenopausal. I felt so dreadful that for a few months I ended up moving out and renting a house on my own with my son because I couldn’t deal with being around him or my stepchildren. I had to retreat in order to get myself back, to become resourceful again and get better. We stayed together but I remember blowing up once in front of my stepchildren and getting very angry about something and then having to apologise. Having a really low tolerance for people and noise can really affect you, and it did me. Eventually my husband and I split up and I think that the perimenopause definitely had an impact on my marriage ending.
I looked at HRT and then spoke to three different doctors at my GP practice and was very lucky that they were extremely supportive of HRT. They said that they thought if I felt so bad, I should try it. I decided to start on the patches and can’t remember how long it was before I began to feel better, but I think it took around three months until I started seeing a bit of a light. At the same time, I decided to take up coaching and it was very helpful to have someone to talk to as part of the training. I could open up and say how I was feeling because I was quite lonely as no one was really talking about the menopause.
Eventually I didn’t get on with the sticky patches and went back to my GP where I was fitted with a Mirena coil with localised progesterone and an oestrogen gel. It made a huge difference to my symptoms.
I would say that people should do lots of research and if your GP fobs you off, go and get a second opinion. Log your symptoms over a couple of months and take it to your GP or specialist. There is so much information now, be your own advocate. You have the agency to make the changes you need. You are in charge, find what works for you.