Diagnosis: Murder....I mean Menopause
Not sure that Dick van Dyke is needed for this case*. Yeah, I talk about this to everyone and anyone. I’m an open book on my experience of getting older and being diagnosed with the menopause…
It’s been a while since I was last ID’d for alcohol. It’s usually those video scanners at supermarket self-service checkouts that give me a little glimmer that I might be defying the ageing process. In truth, it’s probably my plump face smoothing out the wrinkles that confuses the AI - as the weary checkout supervisor hardly takes a second look at me before punching the button marked “clearly this haggard woman is over 25”.
I’m only 43, which according to various websites means that I’m middle aged (but then, depending on which source you use, I could be gen X, xennial or millennial, so I’m not sure that anyone is confidently labelling anything accurately). What I do know is that I’ve started to notice the odd thing either not working or changing. My trips to the hairdressers are far more frequent now given I have increasing greying problem (thanks Dad for that) - and I have a regular appointment with a physio who’s desperately trying to get me to do my exercises to fix a stubborn knee problem.
In the spirit of making sure I wasn’t prematurely falling apart, I booked myself in for one of those over 40’s Wellwoman checks. First, I had to get over the uncomfortable squishing of the mammogram (much like a smear, no one tells you quite how uncomfortable your first one of these will be, but a little discomfort is a small price to pay - though in advance of my next one, I may consider allowing my OH to partake in some vigorous boob squeezing beforehand, just to get me prepped. I think that will be a win-win situation). And then, without a huge amount of prompting, I burst into tears in front of the GP, spilling out everything that was wrong.
An unstoppable weight gain, low mood, knee pain, low libido, a period that was AWOL (and no, it wasn’t a potential “bun in the oven” situation - keep up people, see the previous symptom). And more recently a raging heat, randomly burning me up for minutes at a time during the day and night - leading to broken nights of sleep every day for the preceding two months. Some might even say “hot flushes” or “night sweats”…. Hmmmm, that shopping list of peri-menopause symptoms I spoke about a year ago or so, seems to have finally been delivered by Tesco’s.
But I’m 43… I know people in their fifties who haven’t started the menopause yet. As my friend (who is in the same situation as me) pointed out though, if the average age to start is late forties, then the mathematical definition of “average” must mean I’m doing my bit to prop up the lower end of the spectrum and ensure the average age comes down to under fifty. And if I’m being honest, I hadn’t done a whole heap of reading about this topic – as surely, I didn’t need to just yet – so I didn’t really have a clue.
A series of blood tests and a womb ultrasound followed (a lovely afternoon spent in my local Spire hospital where I completed my obligatory fainting act whilst a lovely nurse attempted to extract my blood and a very nice doctor lubed up a device that wasn’t unlike a massive dildo before rooting around my barren baby chamber). But finally, a confirmation- yes - my oestrogen had gone AWOL, and the progesterone and testosterone were taking a far too laid-back approach to actually working as well.
No wonder I felt like utter shit - but I wasn’t going to hang around and just try the recommend lifestyle changes to sort me out. No, I wanted the hard drugs now! I NEEDED to sleep through the night again - seriously I was so much like a zombie for the first few hours in the morning, my very understanding boss agreed that I could start a couple of hours later each day - but there was no way that was a sustainable way of functioning.
So, I’m now 4 months into HRT - and apart from a panic at realising the UK has a serious problem with manufacturing or obtaining the necessary drugs (and I thought I might need to revisit the lifestyle changes as my only option), it’s been going well. No sign yet of the testosterone drug yet (which is super vital for that old libido issue I’m facing - but is also the thing that GPs are super reluctant to prescribe. I mean - what the actual fuck? It’s hard enough being a woman and dragging around all this emotional and physical baggage - and now you won’t help a lady out to feel, well, like a lady again? Oooooo - now I’m raging and may need to go and break something…. And ok, I do need to wait 6 months before they issue it to me, so I might need to reserve judgement for just a tad longer).
I’m taking so many different supplements now, I rattle when I walk - but the sweet relief of an uninterrupted night’s sleep and the ability to hold a meeting without having to stop to fan myself like a mad woman at various points means it’s absolutely worth it.
But I’m one of the fortunate ones - I’ve had a supportive boss, understanding OH, knowledgeable and empathetic friends, accessible doctors - and a lack of personal filter which means I talk about this to and with everyone. Seriously - my whole team and half the company are aware, friends, family and probably even the postman know. Because I think it’s so important, we talk about this - it’s going to affect 50% of the population at some point and the more we all know, the more we can all support.
I’m sure this won’t be the last time that I write about this (hell, the reason that I am writing so much more is because the DRUGS ARE WORKING and I’m actually engaging with life again). But if anyone out there wants to chat about this with me – drop me a note – I’ll be more than happy to talk!
(Oh - and the butterfly picture that sits at the top of this blog? Well, I was trying to represent "change" - as it's blooming difficult to think up a photo that works with this topic, unless you actually want to see all my medication or what I look like after a hot flush....)
* I don't expect anyone under the age of 30 to know what this references