As I rapidly approach my mid-forties, I am noticing changes in my body, my mood and my mind. I think I have been lucky in that for most of my adult life, I never really experienced pre-menstrual symptoms. I’ve always had regular periods, nothing really to complain about.
Over the last few years, this has changed and continues to change. I’ve noticed an increase in my breast discomfort, tenderness, and itching (oh the itching, it’s the worst!). I’ve had a few episodes of ‘hot flushes’, mainly at night, waking up sweating and unable to get back to sleep. Although these haven’t been that frequent, I feel they serve as a warning about what is coming! For a while I thought I was losing my mind too; forgetting words mid-sentence and having blank moments makes me feel insecure about my competence, and sometimes even my sanity. Those around have noticed changes too – my family suffering the worst of my mood swings and increased irritability. I’ve always been emotional, and for the most part I see this as a positive characteristic as it allows me to connect and emphasise with others easily but the change in irritability means sometimes, I don’t recognise myself.
PACEY surveyed our members last year and lots of you flagged dealing with perimenopause and menopause symptoms as a contributor to negative mental health and in our Spring 2023 issue of the Childcare Professional magazine we ran an article ‘Menopause: a hot topic’ in which two PACEY members shared their experiences.
It's only through this increased conversation, attention in the media and other people’s kindness in sharing their experiences that supported my knowledge and understanding of the menopause and ultimately helped me recognise that I’m likely to be in perimenopause. The Menopause Charity say, “it’s easy to ignore these symptoms and put them down to the everyday stresses of your busy life.” Which is what I have been doing, brushing them off, hiding them and putting them down to other factors. The Menopause Charity also say that this transition period, known as the perimenopause “can last for a few months or several years – the average is around four years.” This shocked me when I first read this, several years!!! And made me realise that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and has given me that encouragement to acknowledge what is happening in my body and mind to begin to think about how I can manage and cope as my own personal experiences continues to change.
I’d like to say a massive thank you to Amanda and Lyndsey for their contributions to the magazine article. You both have helped me recognise, understand and start to engage with what is going on for me. Hear more from them both below.
Amanda Calloway, Childminder
For me one huge positive is just how much information and awareness raising around the menopause is going on at the moment. I honestly wish I’d made the link earlier on in my journey instead of just ploughing on feeling rubbish.
Apart from the standard fatigue, aching joints, night sweats, brain fog and disturbed sleep, one aspect I was really worried about was talking to people and knowing exactly what I wanted to say but my brain not giving me the correct words to use. In the people facing role that we do that was really scary and honestly quite embarrassing. I felt myself withdrawing a little from others and keeping myself to myself. One positive of working with the children was that they really didn’t care and just thought it was funny when I mixed up my words or couldn’t think of a word I wanted to say. At the back of your mind is always the worry that something is so wrong that I wouldn’t be able to do the job I love.
It took me watching one of Davina McCall’s documentaries for that lightbulb moment and for me to realise what I was going through was totally normal and that I could possibly do something about it. Research and understanding were key for me. I am the type of person who likes to know the ins and outs of everything, so I did lots of online research and joined social media support groups before I spoke to my GP. I had concerns about medication as my Mum is a breast cancer survivor but after a good chat with my GP and digesting the facts and figures I decided that HRT was the route for me.
It took a while of trial and error to get correct dosage, but I can hand on heart say for me it has been the best thing I could have done. I am now 99% back to my old self, back to climbing mountains and paddleboarding which is essential for my own mental health and just taking time away from work. Childminding can be an all-consuming job so taking that time for myself and filling my own wellbeing cup is absolutely what gets me through. Since contributing to the piece in Childcare Professional I am now much more open and honest with everyone around me and often share my own experience with fellow childminders. Sharing experiences with others who are going through the same thing is really helpful.
Lyndsey Stanton, Childminder
I’m only 44! (I say only) – this probably won’t sound too young to some people, but it is relatively young to be in the menopause – most women’s menopause doesn’t really start until around the age of 50 and any age below 45 is known as ‘Early Menopause’ – so that’s me!
Having had fertility issues (I was told I was born with fewer eggs than most women) I’d always had a feeling my menopause would start early, and it did.
I had been experiencing symptoms (Perimenopause) for approximately six years and these symptoms began as fairly minor – so probably not particularly noticeable but over the years the symptoms have become more obvious. Itchy, drier skin, struggling to remember simple words in a sentence aka brain fog, irregular periods (last three years), night sweats, hot flushes – up to eight times a day at one point! broken sleep and being awake in the night for hours at a time. Exhausting!
These last few symptoms were what made me feel I needed to get a blood test and find out for sure. I had a blood test last July, and everything came back as ‘normal’, but symptoms worsened, and I had another blood test in February, the results showed I’d actually reached menopause in the last four months! So that just shows how quickly your body can change. It also demonstrates how as women we do know and understand our own bodies and we MUST listen to them.
Prior to this diagnosis I had been taking Star Flower oil and Kelp daily and I believe these absolutely helped with my symptoms – I have now moved on to taking HRT but have only been doing so for just over a month so it’s still in its infancy but there is most definitely a difference to my sleep and hot flushes – it’s wonderful not feeling shattered in the morning before you begin a ten-hour day!
If you think you may be in the perimenopause or already in your menopause, I suggest visiting your GP and explain your symptoms to arrange a blood test.
It’s reassuring to know there is a reason for the changes in your body and mind and that you are absolutely in control of doing something to help yourself. As someone who is self-employed it’s so important to look after ourselves as our livelihood can be dependent on our health, so we really do need to put ourselves first just for a few minutes and search for the right answers.
Sending love and warmest hugs to all those of you who resonate with anything I have mentioned. Menopause is a part of all women’s lives and whilst we must accept it will happen and our bodies will change regardless it is certainly good to know we aren’t alone in it!
This blog was written by Angela Gamble, PACEY'S Information, Advice and Guidance Manager with contributions from PACEY Members Amanda Calloway and Lyndsey Stanton
The Menopause Charity - Menopause Facts, Advice and Support
Spotlight on: Mental health and wellbeing | PACEY