Everything I wish I had been told about menopause
This is a the typical story of many women who suddenly become aware of a huge range of symptoms associated with the menopause years.
My guest writer says: When I look back at my thirties, I smile at how blissfully unaware I was on the topic of menopause. It wasn’t a subject I had been taught about, nor one I had been driven to learn about myself. This blank space in my education was to become problematic for numerous reasons and, as many women will know, when our bodies undergo an unusual physiological change, our confidence levels drop and our mental wellbeing can suffer.
In my late forties, I entered perimenopause, occasionally referred to as the menopausal transition, which is the stage beginning before menopause. It indicated the end of my reproductive potential, occurring for me a little earlier than some women might have expected. Within the UK, menopause begins, on average, at the age of 51, although perimenopause has sometimes been seen to appear in women during their mid-thirties.
During perimenopause, my menstrual cycle became significantly irregular. By this, I do not solely mean that my periods become both closer and further apart, which they did, but also that their duration was longer and shorter, too. Occasionally, I would even experience certain aspects of my cycle, such as harsh cramps, entirely on their own. For someone who wrongly assumed their menstruation would one day simply altogether stop, this was quite a shock.
The intricacies of our hormones during a menstrual cycle are well-researched and understood. Our bodies produce FSH, follicle-stimulating hormone, which then stimulates the ovaries to produce estrogen. As our oestrogen levels rise, LH, luteinizing hormone, is produced quickly, triggering the follicles and ovulation. A by-product of this process is progesterone and, if no fertilisation takes place, menstruation occurs again.
While technical, this information offers an insight into how well-versed science is when it comes to most hormones. It also demonstrates how strange it is that, when it comes to menopause, our oestrogen’s influence becomes more mysterious. Hot flushes, for example, are directly influenced by oestrogen, yet studies haven’t clarified exactly how.
This is particularly interesting, especially for me, because hot flushes are the one symptom I was expecting to occur and, at first, I experienced them often. I was able to balance my hormones with hormone replacement therapy, helping me to manage more difficult periods of perimenopausal flushes, also confirming that it is oestrogen that dictates their occurrence.
The other symptoms I was not aware of include difficulty sleeping, mood swings and vaginal issues, which can include dryness, discomfort and even bleeding. These symptoms started gradually for me and, because of my lack of preparation, began disrupting my schedule and making me doubt my quality of life.
As I became more easily stressed, finding myself hastily flustered, I even began to question my work environment. As someone who exercised regularly, ate well (besides the odd indulgence!) and was in a happy marriage, I could reconcile the symptoms.
It was only during moments of extreme imbalance that I began to connect the dots, realising that my body was changing. When I sought the consultation of friends, I received an excellent piece of advice, which became my mantra: Know your triggers.
This is especially important because menopausal symptoms appear differently to individuals and they may be brought on by a variety of causes. Once I began to recognise the environmental factors that triggered my hot flushes, I was able to mitigate them reliably.
Since making an effort to learn more about menopause, I have learned that many women, while familiar with perhaps one or two aspects of menopause, remain entirely unaware of others. This can be particularly troubling for younger women with mental health disorders, who may not realise that extra consideration should be given to better manage their wellbeing during perimenopause as their hormones begin to more drastically change, causing tentative periods of irritability and anxiety.
It would have been helpful to know this in my thirties, or at an even younger age. Even now, it remains surprising to me that many women make it to the age of 50 without having an intimate knowledge of how their bodies will begin to change.
More often we are being told to love our bodies and celebrate ourselves, surrounding femininity with positivity, which is truly wonderful to see, however, if we do not ensure that these teachings share a space with knowledge about ourselves and our physiology, it will only take loving our bodies longer to achieve.
Also read: 16 things I have learned a bout menopause.