What is your age and stage?
I’m 50 and menopausal.
When did your symptoms start and what were they?
In my early to mid 40s I started to feel what I knew, or at least suspected, to be suffering hormonally-induced depression. I suffered from baby blues after both my pregnancies, which with my second child merged into depression, and these symptoms felt chemically quite similar.
I got more and more depressed and isolated, with hot flushes so extreme I would have to change my bedclothes at least once a night. I was prescribed HRT when I was 44, which was, quite literally, a life-saver for me.
What has been the most challenging thing to deal with?
Depression was a new thing for me. Apart from after my second child, I had never been aware of feeling depressed before. Suddenly I felt alone, debilitated and anxious. It affected my self-confidence and my ability to live my life and to do my job (at the time I had a senior management role within one of the world’s biggest media organisations and was the single parent of two teenagers).
Have there been any positive symptoms?
I’ve had the mirena coil for the past decade and hadn’t had a period since it was first fitted, so I couldn’t track the changes via my monthly cycle or be relieved at not having periods any more. That said, I am pleased not to be having periods any more, but at the same time I do mourn the loss of my youth/fertility.
Depression was a new thing for me. Suddenly I felt alone, debilitated and anxious. It affected my self-confidence and my ability to live my life and to do my job.
I guess you could explain it as, in my case, not wanting to have another baby, but it’s like not being invited to a party you don’t want to go to – you’d like it to be your decision not to show up rather than not be on the list.
What are the things that are getting you through?
As well as HRT, I took up running in my early 40s and that has helped my body/brain chemicals hugely. I did the MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) Programme a couple of years ago and since then, practicing mindfulness (daily if I can manage it) makes a big difference to my emotional resilience.
I also did the Hoffman Process last year, which while not connected to life phase/menopause has given me a bloody great big toolkit of brilliant stuff to help live life! And I took some steps to radically change my work/life balance – reinventing from high-flying TV executive to performer/writer/comedian.
What has made the biggest difference?
Having other friends going through it and it becoming part of socially acceptable conversation. Knowing you are not alone, nor should you be ashamed, is crucial.
Did you seek any advice from experts, friends or family?
Yes, I went to see my GP and a specialist back in the beginning when I was first prescribed HRT and have been open with my (now adult) kids about it since it started. My friends have been brilliant – ditto my (new but brilliant) partner.
What was the advice you received?
That there’s no one size fits all – your symptoms are your symptoms and there are no prizes for trying to breeze through menopause without asking for/accepting help, in whatever form it comes.
Is there anything you wish you’d known?
That it can hit you so young! I see many friends in their early to mid 40s going through some pretty severe symptoms, yet in our heads I think we think it’s something that only affects older women (50+). And there are of course many women much younger than 40 also going through it. None of us should need to feel isolated and unable to access help.
There are no prizes for trying to breeze through menopause without asking for/accepting help, in whatever form it comes.
What has been the impact on your daily life?
I left my day job in no small part because of the emotional and psychological challenges of the menopause. My employer was aware of the mental health issues that had arisen because of it but at the end of the day the demands of the job and the way I was feeling/functioning were mutually exclusive. I left pretty quickly, after nearly three decades of hard graft getting to the top of my industry.
Has there been an impact on your relationships?
I think it’s been rocky for the kids at times when I’ve been experiencing low mood and/or anxiety. And for my partner it’s like sharing a bed with an inferno, apparently! (Unless that’s a testament to my all round sexiness. Who knows?)
Is there anything you’d do differently?
I’d have been more honest about the link between my mental health and the menopause in my conversations at work.
What do you say to other women about the menopause?
Talk about it, without shame or apology, and ask for whatever help/support/listening you need; there is support out there, even if it’s not always easy to access.
What are your thoughts on this time of a woman’s life?
It’s tough – very tough. That said, I turned 50 nearly a year ago and am starting to feel more positive; my 40s were certainly the hardest decade I’ve lived through, with the triple whammy of menopause, empty nest and leaving/losing a hard-won career. Now, however, I’ve reinvented myself and my life and am so much happier than I’ve ever been before. Perhaps if my hand hadn’t been turned by the menopause, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
I feel like a warrior to have got through all the things we, as women, each have to get through by the time we reach menopause.
Your menopause was…. life-changing and overwhelming, but ultimately the reason for some of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
You feel MPowered when… I see menopause being part of society’s dialogue, and companies starting to take meaningful steps to support menopausal women (not that there isn’t so very much more still to be done – but it’s a start). Now we just need the pharmaceutical supply problems with HRT to be sorted out and we might be getting somewhere…!