It is 4:49 am and I am awake. Not one of those groggy early morning awakenesses, but I am fully wide awake, and have been since I opened a bleary eye and looked at the clock at 3:27 am.
I am not normally an insomniac, but over the last few years, my “normal” has changed. Yes, I am a menopausal woman! Gone are the days when I could eat whatever I want and not put on weight; the word chocolate just has to float through my brain and I gain 7lbs!
For the last few years, I have been perimenopausal; that time in a woman’s life where her body changes, her periods become erratic and a whole host of other symptoms shake her up. But now I have moved forward into post-menopause. Confused? Let me explain:
Three Stages of the Menopause
I am not going to go deeply scientific about this, though I might get a bit personal, but just give you an overview of the stages a menopausal woman goes through:
The menopause comes about when the ovaries stop producing the hormones oestrogen and progesterone.
For most women’s the decline in periods and monthly bleeding starts in their mid-40s to 50s. It can start earlier and conditions like cancer, hysterectomy or other medical reasons can advance the early onset of menopause.
The perimenopause state can last for years and you may notice that your periods become more erratic and you start getting mild menopause symptoms (the lovely seven dwarves that I mention below). Mine lasted for 10 years, but with very mild symptoms.
The moment of menopause is when a woman’s periods stop. Though you are not considered to go through menopause until you have had 12 months free of them.
I had a couple of false starts when I had 2 to 3 months without periods and then they started again. Then in March 2018, I realised that I had not had a period for 3 months. June came and I was chuffed that it was now 6 months and I was halfway through, yay! But July 2018 and my mother’s birthday and I was wearing white jeans… and yes, you guessed it, my period started. So back to counting again.
August 2018 I had two brief periods and that was it. Nothing, nada, zip since.
Ah, that bittersweet moment that you realise that it is all over. No more tampons, towels or other period-related paraphernalia on a monthly basis. Freedom to wear light coloured clothes any day of the month without fear of ruining it.
You have moved on to a new chapter. It can be a new lease of life and many women make significant changes in their worlds. But with that comes the realisation that you are getting older as you see middle and old age stretch ahead of you.
For me, it was also coming to terms that there was no chance of me naturally having children again. Having suffered from endometriosis from 15, I was told I may never have children. I am blessed to have my son, Jay, but I always hoped to have a daughter as well, and that, now will never be.
The Seven Dwarves of the Menopause
The symptoms associated with the menopause are varied. They say there are seven dwarves of the menopause: Itchy, Bitchy, Sweaty, Sleepy, Bloated, Forgetful and Psycho, and I think I know them all intimately! Each woman’s journey through the menopause is different and I want to tell you a bit about how the menopause dwarves are affecting me.
As you go through the menopause and your skin gets dry and thinner so things can start to itch everywhere…. including down there… you know what I mean?
To help lessen this, try the following:
- avoid hot showers and baths
- wear looser clothing, preferably with natural fibres
- try to pat yourself dry in those areas instead of rubbing
- try natural unscented creams
I have started body brushing with a natural bristle body brush every morning to clear off the dead cells on my legs and arms, and to stimulate the blood flow. I then smooth on some homemade natural rose and geranium body lotion to keep them smooth and less lizard-like.
With broken sleep, coping with the changes our bodies and lives are going through and all the other the symptoms of the menopause combined, it is no wonder that our normal halos slip and we get a bit snappy and irritable at times. Okay, I admit, sometimes it lasts all day.
The little things that we normally take in our stride are magnified and can irritate us beyond belief. Sarcasm, heavy sighs and rolling of my eyes become my go-to exercises when I am in my Bitchy mode.
Hot flushes can be the bane of a menopausal woman’s life. They creep up on you and suddenly this tsunami of heat overtakes you. Your body temperature is out of whack and you start removing items of clothing to cool yourself down, no matter what the temperature is around you. Faces and chests go scarlet and beads of perspiration bubble on foreheads. Hot flushes can be hideous.
A hot flush can happen at any time and carrying hand fans, cloths or maybe something like Promensil Cooling Spray can help if you are caught out.
I am quite lucky, my hot flushes are manageable. They tend to be in the evening, and it feels like I have taken a mouthful of hot tea and after a whoosh of heat, they are over in about 30 seconds.
The other kind of sweaty is night sweats. I find these are different from my hot flushes. This for me is a whole-body heat where I turn into a human hot water bottle. I toss and turn, flinging my duvet off and then pull it back around my cooling body. The heating is off in the bedroom and both windows are open, but still, I overheat. It happens maybe two or three times a night, but it can be six, seven or more times.
Interestingly, when I sleep on a proper mattress and not a memory foam one, I do not suffer as much.
Insomnia seems to be my worst friend. I cannot remember the last time I had a full night sleep, it has been years. The main culprits are the night sweats I describe above, but at least once a week after tossing and turning for a while, I am wide-awake, staring out of the window – I sleep with the curtains open – for hours.
My mum has a daily afternoon sleep – or ‘slump’ as she calls it. As I go further through my menopausal journey, I am so tempted to have a quick 40 winks in the afternoon, or actually at any time of day. I am going along fine and then out of nowhere this wave of tiredness takes over and I have to curl up for 5 minutes and I am out for the count. This deep sleep tends to restore me, well at least until the next wave hits!
As we get older, the pounds or grams can creep on without us noticing. Our clothes get a bit tighter, we go up a dress size or three. We may not be exercising as much and changes to our lifestyle can all affect us.
Along with the sleeplessness, this for me has been the worst part of the menopause. My weight has rocketed. My clothes don’t fit and I resist looking in the mirror. I don’t know how to dress my body anymore and it really gets me down.
I may not look overweight, but I am overweight for me. I have gone from feeling tall and slim to feeling short and dumpy. My confidence has gone I don’t feel attractive or sexy in any way. I feel like overnight someone has put a fat suit on me and I can’t take it off.
Ermmmmm, where was I….. oh, yes Forgetful. I know it is part of getting older, but my normally sharp brain gets dulled down and there is a lot of thingamybobs, whatchamacallits and general brain fog. There is no proven link to the menopause, but when you are coping with the other symptoms it is easy to get a wee bit absent-minded.
I call it the ‘red mist’; that time when my blood boils and I become potty-mouthed. This angry, foul-mouthed harridan bursts out of me like the Incredible Hulk and I shrink in her presence.
Luckily no-one else is ever around to witness my metamorphosis. I feel my blood boil over the slightest little thing and I the urge to smash things – normally my laptop – is immense. And oh, the language! I don’t normally swear much, but the words that come out of my mouth shock me to the core. It is normally over in a minute or two but it is so intense while I am going through it.
I have noticed that it is getting less and less frequent and instead of once a week or so, I get it maybe every few months. But beware, my inner Incredible Hulk is still there!!
and another few dwarves I could mention:
Minute hairs seem to be sprouting from my chin, invisible to anyone else, I know they are there. These are tough little blighters who are millimetres long but feel to me as if I have a full beard in the making.
My fingers glide over my skin searching them out. If I find one, out come the tweezers. I know all you beauticians out there will be screaming “Noooooo” at me, but yes, dear reader, I do pluck them out. It gives me so much satisfaction to try to catch ahold on these tiny irritants and the elation at removing it is swiftly followed by the hunt for more.
And while we are on the subject of hairiness, the opposite effect is happening to the rest of my body. My blonde hair is beginning to thin and is slowly getting streaked with silver hairs which corkscrew out randomly.
As for the rest of my body, well I have never been that hirsute but I have noticed that the hair on my legs and underarms is getting sparser, though I can’t give up waxing quite yet!
This, I feel, is different to being sleepy. It is the bone-tired feeling you get when everything feels too much. It is almost as if it all gets overwhelming and my body just wants to rest, not sleep, just rest and revitalise.
Whether it is just veggie out in front of the TV, scrolling through social media or just sitting reading, I just need the time-out.
Every so often, a cloud of sadness descends on me. I am normally upbeat and positive, but this swirling negativity makes me want to hide away and cry.
I know that it is the hormones up to their tricks again, but it does make me wonder about my own mental health, since starting the menopause. Could it be that the different symptoms just overwhelm my senses and I disappear into melancholy? It is difficult to know as there seems to be no one trigger.
The most positive thing that has come out of my “change of life” is the way my brain has opened up and my creativity has blossomed. My mind is alive with different business opportunities, things to do, places to go, things to see and just life itself.
Since I turned 50 I have set up this blog; become an Airbnb Host; started selling on Amazon; trained as a PfCO drone pilot while still designing websites. I am also partnering in a new business and setting up a new blog.
My capacity for learning has increased and I have started learning new languages – Japanese and Indonesian. My body fizzes with energy and I am eager to explore new things and I feel that the world is my oyster.
What I do to ease my Menopause Symptoms
We are all different; our symptoms, severity and coping methods are different, so what works for me might not work for you, but it might give you tips to try.
I don’t like gyms. I don’t like running. Yoga makes me fall over due to my dodgy arm. So I do Les Mills Body Balance once a week and Pilates twice. Not only does it help with keeping me fit and shifting the pounds, but the endorphins released helps keep me upbeat.
Since we have been in lockdown, I am now walking more either to the shops or just for exercise. I am also still doing Pilates online with my Pilates teacher, Sam, via Zoom. These 3 Pilates sessions a week are keeping me sane.
Positive Mental Attitude
Going through the menopause is a temporary state, albeit a long one, but it will come to an end, at some point. It could be easy to let everything get on top of you, and there will be days that it will, but keeping a positive mental attitude does help. Try meditation, visualisation, mindfulness or talking with other women who are going through it too.
Natural Progesterone Cream
For over 15 years I have been using a Restore Balance Natural Progesterone Cream which I get shipped from America. I started using it to calm my endometriosis symptoms, but I realised that it would also help when I moved into menopause. My mum, in her 80s, still uses it as an anti-osteoporotic. I apply it twice daily to my stomach, chest, throat and inner arms. When I forget to apply it, I find my symptoms are worse.
HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy)
I suppose I cannot talk about the menopause without mentioning HRT. I suffered from endometriosis for most of my adult life, in fact, it is 40 years since my first symptoms. I was given lots of different hormone treatments and often felt a guinea pig as the medical profession tried a variety of ways to treat it. I was offered a hysterectomy at the ages of 21 and at 43. I declined both. My main reason was that the consultants also told me that I would be straight into menopause and on HRT.
Having had years of hormones as a young woman, I do not want to subject my body to them now. It is my choice and I respect and support women who take HRT, it is just not for me. I have friends who swear by it and others who swear at it.
My Menopause Future
Now I am through the menopause, I know there are still changes ahead. The hot flushes and night sweats will hopefully fade, my nights will be spent blissfully asleep and I will be comfortable in my body again.
I hope you have enjoyed my rather irreverent look at my menopause journey. If you have any questions or wish to share accounts of your own menopausal dwarves, please comment below!
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Larch has had wanderlust all her life, travelling as much as she can whenever she can. Now in her 50’s, she writes about her adventures on her travel blog The Silver Nomad to encourage travellers of all ages to look at different destinations. In early 2019, she qualified as a CAA PfCO Drone Pilot and now travels with her DJI Mavic Pro to capture aerial videos and photos to enhance her work.