My journey ….

I remember at around the age of 10 at junior school being herded into a room with all the other girls to hear about the changes to come to my body, my hormones, the start of periods and also sex education. The boys were in the other room having a similar talk and probably smirking throughout as us girls were listening and looking absolutely terrified. I was shocked to learn even at that early age that several girls had already started their periods, nobody knew and they were managing this alone.

But that was it… roll forward 30 years and there’s nothing for women in their early 40s about what’s to come (which for the lucky ones may be absolutely nothing) and the bombardment of the effects on our bodies of hot flushes, night sweats and far, far worse. I remember sitting in offices over the years watching women of a ‘certain age’ insisting they sit by an open window in all weathers, have fans on full blast cooling them as they struggled with the heat that none of us could feel. Ashamedly I thought that might be quite nice in the depths of winter but how wrong was I… and how unsupportive was I and others around me to these poor women going through such an awful time of things…

Years later in my mid 40s as I entered what I now know was perimenopause, I thought I was going slowly mad! You expect all the hormonal challenges of puberty but this was something else! I didn’t recognise myself and my ever changing moods. I knew about hot flushes but that was all I knew about and if I was honest with myself I was looking forward to menopause as it would mark an end to what had been for me years of gynaecological problems. My hot flushes during the day were torture - I felt them in meetings and thought others could see - but they couldn’t, which made it worse and anxiety reigned supreme!

My nights were interrupted by lack of sleep and horrendous night sweats soaking the sheets and fatigue and exhaustion followed during the day. Worse still, I now realise I lived in a continuous state of brain fog, I forgot things all the time. I cried quietly on trains going to meetings for overnight stays for no reason. I sat in rooms at work in phone conferences (by myself) sometimes crying for no reason and having to hide it all from everyone as I had no idea what was happening to me.

As a consistent high performer who has always worked in very busy, stressful and demanding roles I hid it all and have no idea how I managed to do that most of the time and still deliver. But it wasn’t sustainable and came to a head whilst working for Cabinet Office at reporting time. Despite delivering and exceeding all my objectives I was marked down (by my female line manager) on my performance,  as in here words I had ‘lost my sparkle’... I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, nobody had said anything! I thought I was managing it but I was only just holding it together and I had no idea who this person was that I had become. Clearly things had to change and this was the push I needed to sort things out.

So I did a lot of reading - not the scare stories on Facebook and other socials, but credible books and journals written by gynaecologists and leading medical professionals. I found an excellent book for my husband Where Is My Wife and What Have You Done with Her?: A Spouse's Guide to Her Menopause … and after I read it and he read it, it all started to make sense. He completely got it and has been great. I would encourage others to read this alongside another book by the same author I Just Want to Be ME Again: A Guide to Thriving Through Menopause.

Most importantly reading this material helped me to understand what I was feeling was normal and I could get help. I challenged my line manager and my performance marking on the basis of discrimination. They understood the shift and my challenges and so supported me and changed the marking… a good result but hard to do as my confidence was so low… but it felt so good doing it.

I’m now on HRT (something I also read so much about too to make that informed choice) and have never felt better - no more hot flushes, no more disturbed nights, no more brain fog and anxiety and uncontrolled moods and most importantly I feel more like me again - it’s amazing! My husband, someone who says he has no people skills, has been incredibly supportive - he even goes to pick up my prescription without any nagging straight away, but that just shows how effective the HRT has been for me and he doesn’t want me going back there either…