THE BIG M…
This is me.
However, that is not what the M in the title stands for. The M stands for menopause. Yes, that’s right!
“But you are too young!”
“You are only in your early 40s!”
“No, it can’t be!”
I have heard those comments many times (and keep hearing them as I am talking to people about this more and more).
It all started when I was in my early 40s. Life was as calm as it can be when you have two young children, lead a busy life and have very little time for yourself. I had weird things going on: memory loss, brain fog, hair falling out, strange skin (like teenage skin), no libido, raging mood swings (much more than normal) and various other things.
Everyone told me I was stressed and needed to make changes in my life. The thing is though, I wasn’t at all stressed. Not more than usual.
However, what really made me think something was up and there was no way it was stress related was waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. Some nights I would even wake up literally dripping from sweat. And here is a fact about me: I don’t sweat and I never really ever have. Even when exercising I don’t really sweat. Or, I should change that: I didn’t use to sweat when exercising, but that has also started changing now.
I Googled my various symptoms (as you do) and the results were the same: menopause. To say that I was in shock was an understatement.
So, I went to the GP and got blood tests done. I had some minor abnormal hormone levels and when I mentioned the menopause, my GP said there might well be something to that and she referred me to the UCLH menopause clinic. I then had another set of blood tests done about a month later and those tests came back within the range of normal. I have since learned that diagnosing menopause with blood tests is not accurate and you should go by symptoms instead. Luckily my GP is excellent and thought it would be helpful to have bloods done to check for a variety of things. However, sadly numerous women are told to have blood tests done, they come back within the range of normal and get told they are either depressed, stressed or that all they are experiencing is in their head.
A few months later, I saw a consultant, Mr Vikram Talaulikar, who asked about me, my lifestyle, my symptoms and much more. “Yes, what you are experiencing is normal and it is called the perimenopause”. Together with a sense of relief that I wasn’t going mad I also remember thinking: the peri-what?!
He explained to me that the stage before you reach the actual menopause is a phase called the perimenopause. He also told me that it could last 6 months, 2 years or as much as 10 years (yes, you read that correctly!) until I would hit menopause itself which is when you haven’t had your period for a year, and you can’t get pregnant (naturally). Since my initial conversation with Mr Talaulikar and all the subsequent reading I have done, I have come to think of the menopause itself as a traffic light which, when green, you drive through, and what I used to think of as menopause is actually the peri-phase.
Given my young age (young in terms of menopause), and that I most likely still would have a long way to go before reaching menopause, initially I wanted to try a different approach rather than hormone replacement therapy (HRT). As I have acupuncture regularly and have never been able to tolerate any hormonal treatments in the past, Mr Talaulikar suggested I continue with my acupuncture and he also referred me to another part of their menopause clinic which uses alternative therapies where I had regular check-ups with a different consultant.
He sent me off for more blood tests and also a bone density scan. Your bone density is an indicator as to where you are in the peri-menopause/menopuase phase and it is very important to be checked for osteoporosis as women are particularly affected by that (and in particular if they reach their menopause early) due to the hormonal changes.
For years I have used an app called Natural Cycles which tracks my menstrual cycles and the more I learnt about perimenopause the more I started noticing (what to me seemed like) a link between daily temperature shifts, night sweats and weird physical things like strange skin, raging moods and unusual (for me at least) periods to name but a few things.
Initially, it felt strange to be in this new and uncharted personal territory. It also brought up many thoughts about womanhood, fertility, pregnancy and babies.
After our son was born in 2014, I knew I didn’t want to have another child, but since becoming aware of my body changing and that it may not be possible to get pregnant in a few years, I found that I started asking myself: “Are you sure you don’t want another one?! You know it may soon be too late.”
What I became very aware of when my symptoms started and as I started talking to women about this phase of life is that nobody talked about menopause and that so many women are in this phase too, but often have no idea and are anxious they are developing dementia for instance. Instead, so many get fobbed off by doctors, they get put on antidepressants, yet they continue not feeling well, not feeling like themselves and they worry what on earth is going on.
However, since I started my own journey and awareness of this next stage of life in 2016, I have noticed there is definitely a shift and the menopause is becoming much more talked about. This is great, but there is still a long way to go.
The Menopause Charity has a huge amount of information available on their website.
So, let’s talk about menopause because it is very real and it will happen to all women!
As always, please be in touch on NW8mums@gmail.com if I can be of help.
HRT, Doctors & Clinics
Unfortunately, not all GPs are happy to prescribe Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) or will only do so after blood tests. However, blood tests are not a good way to diagnose perimenopause – menopause specialists say that going by symptoms is the way to go – so you may need to really insist on being offered HRT or to be referred to a menopause clinic. Some women bypass their GPs altogether and go straight to a private clinic, but you need to know where to go and it can also be very expensive.
Mr Talaulikar has really helped me and since April 2020 I am on HRT – thankfully I seem to tolerate them – after my symptoms became unbearable. I am on the third combination of HRT now; the first was great, but I had horrible side effects. The second combination wasn’t strong enough, but this last different combination seems to work better. Fingers crossed it continues.
If you start HRT and it doesn’t work (although bear in mind you often need to stay on them for 2-3 months until you notice any differences and even so, some women react differently to others) or you don’t respond well to them, please go back to your doctor and try another type (there are pills, patches – my current HRT is a patch and pill combo – and gels).
NHS Menopause Clinics Near St John’s Wood – Your GP needs to refer you
Queen Charlotte & Chelsea
Royal Free Hospital
I see Mr Vikram Talaulikar on the NHS and he is excellent. He also has a private clinic, The Menopause Clinic, located in Marylebone and many women in the group have been to see him there upon my recommendation. His private clinic website has a lot of interesting information on it.
Dr Louise Newson runs several menopause clinics, has a website and an app called Balance which has so much information. She posts a lot on her Instagram page and it is incredibly informative. She is also the founder of The Menopause Charity.
The London PMS & Menopause Clinic
The British Menopause Society (BMS)
Andrea McLean’s book Confessions of a Menopausal Woman helped me a lot as I first got diagnosed as peri-menopausal.
This novel by Allison Pearson How Hard Can It Be? is both hilarious and sad. There were so many things I could relate to and I can highly recommend it. Despite being fiction, when I read it, it made me feel less lonely in my own brain fog.
More Book Recommendations
There are so many books and this list is by no means exhaustive, but will hopefully be a good start.
The Menopause Manifesto
Everything You Need to Know About the Menopause (but were too afraid to ask)
Preparing for the Perimenopause and Menopause