For me the onset of menopause at 52 was a complete shock because:
- I was busy living my life – I had never really found the time in life for reflection. I was busy raising my family and I took on other people’s problems.
- My mother lost her life to breast cancer at the age of 47 and I questioned whether she had actually experienced the menopause. Now reflecting on this question my original assumption could have been wrong because in my experience black women of that generation just did not talk about such things. My mother like me was always busy with the business of life.
- I assumed wrongly that the menopause was all about the visitation of old age and hot flushes which I have now discovered may only be part of the journey. There was information but to be honest this was at the back of my mind.
I must have had the perimenopause(1) a few years beforehand because my periods had been super heavy, I was gaining weight so I introduced regular walking usually smashing the daily 10,000 steps recommended by most fitness experts. I remembered saying to a friend that I am more active now but there does not seem to be any reduction in my waist line.
My first real introduction to the menopause came in the form of mood swings one minute I would be fine and having one of those belly laughs and the next minute I was “vex” or just angry for no apparent reason. I also suffered from memory loss – I sometimes had no idea what I had planned to do on a daily basis and would forget information within seconds of it being relayed to me. I also had what has been affectionately called “low mood” and experienced pain in my joints as well as poor coordination. I did not like the new me and I was falling apart at the seams and guess what “no hot flushes”. I had developed strategies to cover memory loss and I was completely unaware of my mood swings until my family told me about their concerns. I thought “what the fuck is this? “what is happening to me?” I questioned whether I would be ok? It was a frightening and lonely place. I was also very angry.
I started to withdraw into myself, I started to love my own company because it meant that I was not being judged. In my relationship we both felt lonely for what was. I liked living in my own head and I could hear myself saying “ leave me alone”. I no longer wanted to help or hear other people’s problems, I was studying for yet another qualification and struggling to write, to retain information, I wanted to cocoon myself from the world. I have always been a glass over full sort of woman, I liked to laugh out loud, go out, join in discussions and generally always got excited about life or a new project. It was a shock because my symptoms were completely different from what I had expected.
Sometimes we are blessed, my friends started talking about their symptoms and although there are differences there was an “aha” moment, a relief that I was not on my own. A couple of my friends who were at the end of it said that I will be different but ok and that they had experienced a new sense of freedom in their outlook on life, others spoke about a more liberating sexual relationships with their partners so I have something to look forward to.
A friend told me about an interview with Lorraine Kelly where Carol Vordermnan spoke about her struggles with the menopause. I read the information and then decided at that point that I wanted the same medication that Carol was taking:
- Because I wanted my life back.
- I no longer wanted to suffer in silence.
- I wanted my glass over full again and
- I did not want to turn into a grumpy old lady.
I was blessed – I had an hour appointment with a doctor who specialised in women’s health which resulted in:
- A 6th month programme of CBT counselling.
- Introduction to a 6 month exercise programme at my local gym.
- The usage of a fairly low dose of HRT because of my high blood pressure and family history of breast cancer.
How am I now? Menopause has helped me to pause my life every now and reflect more. I have more clarity “I see life now”. I spend quality time with myself and I am happy in my own mind and company. I have renegotiated how I live and enjoy the quality of the experience with my family and friends. I continue to help/ support people because that is who I am but I am more aware of how much I take on and manage my energy better. My old self is transforming and I am slowly welcoming in a new person who I am getting to know. I am aware that the HRT is holding back the full effect of the menopause and I know it is a temporary measure.
I continue to find the menopause very challenging as it impacts every aspect of my life. It is still unpredictable and I am unsure of what is around the corner, e.g to produce good quality work I now have to sleep well which is a new facet of my life.
It is particularly challenging for black women because we do not have any champions or role models within society. All of the women who are currently speaking out about the memophase are not representative of our community. We are re- educating our partners, our families and some of us are still juggling the needs of small children, grandchildren, older parents and young people whilst experiencing the impact of the menopause. It is a unique time, a long time, it is a challenge because we are the trail blazers, for many the matriarchs of our families and how we address this issue will influence the next generation of menopausal women.
My initial fear was provoked by me simply not understanding how the menopause would impact my life and how it would show up for me. If I were advising my younger self I would say read up about all aspects of the female life cycle. My life has grown organically and I had no idea how my life could change because the reduction in hormone levels. There are a number of potential side effects associated with HRT and the decision to use this method of treatment was not taken lightly. It is very much an individual choice and if I was to be honest if my memory had not been a big feature for me I might have reconsidered.
(1) – Perimenopause, or menopause transition, begins several years before menopause. It’s the time when the ovaries gradually begin to make less estrogen. It usually starts in a woman’s 40s, but can start in her 30s or even earlier. Perimenopause lasts up until menopause, when the ovaries stop releasing eggs.