Tag Archives: Menopause

Menopause Myths

It’s brilliant that the Menopause has finally been hauled out of the closet and is being talked about, although the peri-menopause is still lurking in the shadows.  The fact these fundamental female issues have been ignored since the dawn of time is scandalous and you can guarantee if they happened to every man on the planet we’d know a shit load more about them than we do.

I read a truly excellent article on Menopause recently and if you’re interested in the subject it’s well worth a look.  The more I learn about this monumental change in women’s lives the more livid I become.  In the article, trainee GP Hannah Short states “The menopause wasn’t in any of my textbooks”.   Say what?!   A biological process which causes problems for over 70% of women often for the rest of their lives doesn’t even rate one sentence in the training of our health care providers?  It’s insanity.

The myths surrounding Menopause are legendary, so I thought I’d highlight a few:

  • It’s a natural process, not a disease, and doesn’t require treatment.
    Pregnancy and childbirth are natural processes, but that doesn’t mean expectant mothers don’t need monitoring, advice, sometimes medical intervention or any kind of health care.  Men’s prostate function declines as they age, and ageing is a natural process, yet they are still placed on prostate drugs when they have to get up 5 times a night to pee.  In other words, all sorts of issues can be put down to ‘natural processes’ but that doesn’t mean we ignore them and offer no help, guidance or treatment.
  • The Menopause lasts approximately 2 years.
    This is a blatant lie.  For a start, most women experience peri-menopause (winding down of hormones) before the actual menopause (periods ending) and the peri-menopause can last anywhere from 2-10 years.  I’m in year 7 and my periods are still regular, if totally haywire.  Virtually nothing is known about peri-menopause as nearly all the limited research has been conducted on menopausal women, not on peri-menopausal women.
  • The Menopause begins in your late forties.
    Having read many menopause forums now, I can categorically state that for many women this is absolutely not true.  It seems to be quite common to experience the first symptoms of peri-menopause in your late thirties, a fact not recognized by most health care professionals.  My periods started to behave differently when I was 44, and my best friend started noticing changes aged 41.  When it comes to actual menopause, see the next point.
  • The average age of Menopause in the UK is 51.
    I appreciate the word ‘average’ is being used, but it kind’ve gives the impression that your periods will end between the ages of 50 and 52 and that isn’t born out by the experience of my female relatives.  My mum was 54 when her periods stopped.  Three of my cousins all had their last period by the age of 49.  My sister-in-law went through menopause at 46, my other sister-in-law was 53 and my next door neighbour was 54.   I’ll shortly be 52 and my periods are showing no signs of ending.  And that’s just a small sample of the differences experienced.
  • The earlier you start your periods the earlier you will reach Menopause.
    Virtually no research has been conducted on this, but from the little information available this appears not to be the case.  I started my periods aged 11 and at the age of 51 am still menstruating.  The three cousins I mentioned above all started their periods in their mid teens yet all reached menopause before the age of 50.   So I can certainly say in our case this is a myth.
  • There is a blood test to tell you if you are in Menopause.
    If you live in the UK and think you might be in peri-menopause there is no test which will confirm this for you.  FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) can be used to check your status but if you’re over the age of 45 and having peri-menopausal symptoms your GP won’t offer it to you as it’s considered unnecessary.  If you are under the age of 45 and showing peri- menopause symptoms you may be offered the test, but unless you are on the brink of actual menopause the results will be about as much use as a chocolate fireguard as your FSH can swing wildly during peri-menopause.  So realistically there is no blood test to indicate you are in peri-menopause and if you’re in actual menopause you don’t need a blood test to tell you your periods have stopped.  It’s a crap situation which desperately needs addressing.
  • There are no treatments for Menopause.
    When you Google peri-menopause and menopause you get all the usual shite about drinking more water, eating better and taking more exercise.  Why is there an assumption that middle-aged women are alcoholic couch potatoes who live on chicken nuggets and curly fries?!  It’s so insulting, as most of us lead incredibly healthy lifestyles and are very careful about diet and exercise as we are putting on weight without trying (a consequence of our declining hormones).  There are hormonal options for treating the symptoms of peri-menopause and menopause (HRT and testosterone replacement) although they are currently crude.  Finding a doctor with any decent knowledge of them, however, is rare.  There are only 2 hormone clinics in the whole of the North of England serving 2.5 million peri-menopausal and menopausal women.  Of course, not all will need treatment but as 70% of women experience problematic symptoms it’s obviously a vastly under-resourced area.  Your GP may prescribe HRT (but not testosterone) and then again they may not – confusing research on the risks of cancer due to HRT has caused reticence.  You absolutely won’t be offered bioidentical hormones on the NHS and realistically are more likely to be offered antidepressants than anything.
  • Symptoms go when you are through the other side of Menopause.
    This is the biggest myth of all.  My Mum asked me the other week if I could get anything at Tesco to help with vaginal dryness and itching.  “Why, are you having problems?” I asked her.  “I’ve been having problems since my periods stopped” came the reply – she’s now 79.  She also still has hot flushes and so too did my 76 year old paternal grandmother, who used to sweat so much every day of her life that it dripped off her chin end.  The information on what happens post-menopause is virtually non-existent and more women than we realize have menopause symptoms until the day they die.

That so little is known about peri-menopause, menopause and post-menopause is shocking but unsurprising.  Issues which solely affect women have historically been ignored and those women experiencing problems have been told it’s their fault for lacking the constitution to cope with this ‘natural’ change.  We are clearly mentally fragile and overly emotional.   Bollocks is what I say to that.  If men went through a fifth of what women deal with the country would come to a grinding halt.

I hope in the current climate of female freedom of expression that health issues which affect women will finally start to be researched.  However, truly effective treatments are decades away.  There are really easy things that could be done now, however, to improve the situation such as regularly checking women’s ferritin levels as many of us are iron deficient during both puberty and peri-menopause.  Even that simple measure doesn’t happen though and women are basically just left to get on with it and to cope the best we can.

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Mentioning Menopause

When I first noticed my periods were going a bit haywire I went along to see my GP just to check everything was OK.  She said it looked like I was starting the menopause and not to worry, it would be over with in two years.  That was seven years ago and I’m still waiting for my periods to end.

I can’t really blame my Doctor.  She most likely had one lecture about the menopause in medical school and it was probably taught by a man.  The lack of information about menopause and peri-menopause amongst medical professionals is scandalous and I now know from experience the only useful appointment you ever have is if you actually see a nurse or doctor who has been through it themselves!

I’ve talked to my Mum about her menopause and she put the fear of God up me.  Both her and my Nanna had horrendous flooding and in the end my Mum had to have her womb cauterized.  She was probably anaemic for years so consequently had insomnia and very little energy, and in her mind this is what menopause is like for all women.  Only of course it’s not and thankfully hasn’t been for me.  I’ve had some not very nice symptoms, including on a few occasions thinking I was having a stroke which was really scary, but I’ve coped well I think so far though that may change when my periods actually stop.

I talk quite openly about my peri-menopause.  Not in great detail, but if I have trouble remembering stuff or lose my thread mid-conversation I will just say “sorry, menopause moment there!” at which point the person I’m speaking to will look horrified, even if they’re female.  Historically it’s just not something women have ever talked about and has been some kind of shameful secret, despite the fact every single woman on the planet will go through it.

Until twelve months ago, it was never mentioned on TV either and then something changed……….maybe a BBC exec is female and is going through it?……………..and suddenly it was all over the telly.  A documentary was recently made about it and all last week BBC Breakfast covered the topic, which I think is great if a little overboard.  However many people, mostly men but including some women, think we need to shut the hell back up about the menopause.  It’s an “uninteresting” event that women have been dealing with quietly for millennia, says Julie Birchill in the Telegraph and hundreds of commentators to her article agree.  It’s not the first time women have sabbotaged other women.  It still blows my mind that any woman voted for sex offending, mysogenistic Trump, for example, while others have criticized the #MeToo campaign.  I can only think that the brain washing of girls from the day they’re born into thinking their experiences are insignificant and we just need to put up and shut up runs deeper than any of us realize.

Despite the fact the BBC have covered the menopause all week, actual information about the condition has been sadly lacking.  It’s great to hear about other women’s experiences, but some advice about what to expect or help with symptoms would be useful.   The reason this hasn’t happened is that there is very little real information ‘out there’ on the menopause.  It’s the last big female event that has yet to be studied.  Can you imagine having a baby and your midwife saying “sorry, we don’t know much about childbirth but it’s a natural event so I’m sure you’ll be fine”?! or “maybe you’d like to spend hundreds of pounds visiting a private hormone specialist because NHS childbirth treatment is wildly out of date?” because that’s how we’ve always viewed The Change.  The best advice the BBC could come up with on coping with hot flushes at work was to wear layers and have a desk fan.  FFS!  No mention of treatments to stop hot flushes because to be fair we don’t know what causes them and existing hormone treatments work for some women but definitely not for others.

There’s even been hoo ha this week about using testosterone replacement therapy in menopausal women.  All women have some testosterone, it’s not just a male hormone, and of course it can disappear during menopause just like your other hormones, only it’s never talked about.  Can you imagine if men’s testosterone disappeared in middle age and they suddenly had no interest in sex?!   It would be headline news, yet women’s sex drive and stamina can vamoose and we’re just expected to live with it.

I am delighted there is finally recognition of the menopause and that we are able to openly talk about it for the first time in history.  It’s not just women who need to know what’s in store, but our men folk and children too because it’s also going to affect them.  I’ll never forget Keira Knightly writing a short essay for the book Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies) about the realities of childbirth and the fact her vagina tore, and her husband admitting he had no idea that had happened!   It’s the same with menopause.  Some women sail through but many don’t and for all of us it’s a transition and, just like childbirth, I don’t think we’re the same people once we’ve come through the other side.

I personally seem to have developed a “fuck off” button, alongside slovenly housework habits, pleasure seeking tendencies and an addiction to peanut M&Ms.  I’m also both more chilled and more grumpy than I’ve ever been before.   My waistline is disappearing at an alarming rate despite the fact I eat less than I ever have and I will never again wear shorts due to my thighs resembling an entire crate of Jaffa oranges.  I feel like an entirely different person to the me of my twenties and thirties and that’s taking some adjusting to, while at the same time being hugely liberating.

I’m loving being a menopausal woman in today’s society, which is finally recognizing us and our experiences.   Middle aged women have always been invisible and I will not apologize for the spotlight currently being on girls because it’s been on boys for a few thousand years and we have a lot of catching up to do.

 

 

You’re Fired!

I am as grumpy as a bear with a thorn in its arse.  I started my periods at the age of 11 and am now in my fifties, yet does The Curse show any signs of gasping its last breath?  That would be a big, fat, no.  I’ve read all the blurb online about Menopause and every article states that it happens at the average age of 51, but my body clearly hasn’t got the fucking memo.  I’ve had 40 years of cramps, backache, migraines, sore boobs, insomnia, nausea and painful bowel movements and I have had about as much as I can take.  Both my oestrogen and my progesterone need to jog the fuck on and leave me to my old age.

I can’t believe that not only are my periods not stopping, they’re getting ever more frequent.  In fact, Aunt Flo has just been back for a visit only 9 days after she last left the building and she didn’t come alone.  Oh no.  She brought with her Migraine-The-Torturer and his hanger-on Nausea, The Munchies who moaned there were no Star Burst in the house and made me drive 14 miles to buy some, and my old friend Back Pain who still thinks it’s hilarious to keep me awake half the night in agony.  My exhausted ovaries have served them all with an Eviction notice but they’re not playing ball (although it feels like someone’s playing ball with my bladder, the amount of peeing I’m doing!).

There is one person who has vacated the premises, however.  Energy.  Yup, he deserted me months ago and only flits back now and again to have his washing done before packing his bags and sodding off back to Siberia.  Traitor!  I hope he gets frostbite or eaten by Cossacks.

I’ve worked out that in the last 40 years I’ve spent at least £2,400 on sanitary products and what has my Uterus given me in return?  Agonizing, fiery pain that’s what.  I could have gone on a cruise with that cash.

Hormones you’re fired, and if you don’t vacate the building soon I’ll have security escort you off the premises!

 

 

 

Treatment of peri-menopause

When you’re going through any change in your life, particularly if it’s health related, it’s often comforting and reassuring to read about other people’s experiences and/or to read up on the facts.  I’ve sometimes felt a bit isolated and bewildered during my peri-menopause because when I’ve asked older women I know about it they’ve either looked embarrassed and changed the subject or told me they didn’t even notice their transition and simply stopped having periods (!), so I’ve had to resort to Google and forums to find out if my experience is normal.  It’s such a relief to read that other women are having the same issues as me though of course no two experiences are ever the same, but some of the advice I’ve heard from so-called experts, including female gynaecologists who should sodding well know better, has driven me insane.

I’ve read from several websites that “lifestyle” choices can “treat” the brown discharge I’ve experienced this month.  Apparently I have to drink more water, exercise more and improve my diet.  Oh do fuck off.  Having a bleed replaced by brown discharge when you’re nearly 51 simply signals the end of peri-menopause and the start of actual menopause – no amount of Perrier or walking up a mountain is going to ‘cure’ it.  It’s natural and no treatment is needed.

The only cure for the pain I’m experiencing is a hysterectomy, due to the fact I have severe endometriosis and adenomyosis.  Unfortunately, due to my MCAS and almost total drug allergies, this isn’t feasible otherwise I would have had it done a decade ago and saved myself years of torture.

Peri and actual Menopause are natural, if oftentimes not particularly pleasant, times in a woman’s life and not diseases which need to be treated.  Obviously for some women the symptoms become unbearable and they absolutely need hormone and other help, but for anyone to suggest that drinking more water or eating more leafy greens is going to provide relief is ludicrous.  Neither food, drink nor exercise is going to replace our dwindling hormones.

Instead of giving out bollocks information I wish there was a website that just told it like it is.  Which explained that many peri and menopause symptoms aren’t very nice but to just grit our teeth and get on with them cos they won’t last forever.  Or, if the symptoms are really bad, pointed us in the direction of effective treatment, eg which is the best hormone cream, the differences between cream and pessaries, how long to use them for and what side effects to expect.  Now that would be useful.  The thing that would be most useful, however, would be large scale research on what actually happens to women during peri and menopause so there was some proper understanding of the symptoms, the phases, how long it lasts and what’s normal and not normal.  Yes we’re all different but there are common themes as anyone who reads the message boards can see.  The current inaccurate advice seems to be to ask your Mother, because your menopause will mimic hers.  We’re not clones for heaven’s sake!   My Mum’s menstrual history is worlds apart from my own and her Menopause and mine have been polar opposites.  We aren’t just made up of our Mum’s genes we’re also made up of our Dad’s, so maybe I take after my paternal Aunt or Grandmother or maybe I’m just unique!  Some up-to-date research on the effectiveness of HRT for symptoms like hot flushes and vaginal atrophy is also sorely needed, and the truth about the risks of using hormones after the menopause in terms of side-effects or increasing female cancers.  We’re not supposed to have hormones after our 50s, so what are the consequences when we artificially replace them?

However, as with most things which affect women this information isn’t available.  A few years ago my Mum was having issues ‘down below’ so was referred to a very nice, and honest, gynaecologist who told her that historically women haven’t routinely lived to their 80s so we’ve no clue what’s going on with their hormones at that age or how to treat the problems older women experience.

On the one hand we’re told menopause is normal so isn’t worthy of research and on the other every Tom, Dick and Harriet is trying to ‘cure’ us with bullshit or unsubstantiated advice.  I don’t want to read about bio-identical hormones from someone who has a book to sell either – I want impartial information from Doctors who aren’t making a profit off my misery.

Unfortunately should this information ever be available it will come too late for me as I’ll be through Menopause and out the other side.  I feel, therefore, it’s important for me to discuss my transition which, for some bizarre reason, seems to be one of the last taboos – we openly discuss puberty and pregnancy these days but periods and the Menopause are still firmly in the closet.  It still amazes me when I mention my peri-menopause that people look shocked, like I’ve admitted to urinating in public or something!

A female MP this week was late to a House of Commons debate on period poverty because she was unwell due to her period and it made headline news.  It’s the 21st Century FFS – women shouldn’t have to hide their periods like it’s some kind of dirty secret!  Even some women discussing it were unsympathetic, told her to stop being a wuss and to be more professional.  I’m disgusted with them.  Some lucky women sail through their lives with perfectly healthy periods they barely ever notice, but for others periods are a kind of living torture.  I’ve suffered with endometriosis since I was 13 years old and by the time I was 40 was so exhausted from the suffering that I literally wanted to top myself.  Why can’t these judgemental women have some compassion for those whose experience is different to theirs?  I wish more women discussed their periods and menopause in polite society because then it would be the norm and we wouldn’t have to try and act like nothing is happening.

Menopause isn’t a disease, just like pregnancy isn’t a disease, but oftentimes there can be problems and it’s hard to treat those problems when Doctors have hardly any accurate information to go on.  Considering Menopause is something every woman on the planet will go through it’s gobsmacking that it’s still in the relative dark ages when it comes to research and understanding.

 

Symptoms of Peri-menopause

According to this website there are 34 symptoms of peri-menopause, some like hot flushes most of us know about and some which to me have come as a huge surprise.  So that you can all compare your Change to mine I thought I’d go through my experience of these symptoms but, more importantly, talk about the ones which I haven’t as yet had.  When you read about peri-menopause online you only really get the horror stories but it’s not inevitable that you’ll turn into Norman Bates’ evil twin – no, it’s much more likely you’ll just become a grumpy old git with a disappearing waistline 😉

Common Menopause Symptoms

Hot Flushes/Flashes

Remarkably I haven’t had these as yet, for which I am truly thankful.  However, they are actually more common in the first two years after Menopause, ie when periods have stopped, so there’s time yet!  Having said all that, as I’ve recently documented I’ve definitely been having vasomotor symptoms which feel a bit like I’m having a stroke and are massively scary – I just don’t flush.  So maybe I’m having my own, unique, version of the flushes just without the heat.

Night Sweats

I’ve had night sweats for about the past 7 years, but only in my period week.  Strangely enough, now I’m approaching Menopause they aren’t as bad as they used to be, so this symptom is again not one I’ve had huge problems with.

Irregular Periods

When I’ve been reading about peri-menopause online I’ve often seen the question “how do I know I’m in peri-menopause?” and think to myself “really?!”  If you’re in your forties and your menstrual cycle starts to change in any way, the likelihood is that your hormones are off to pastures new.  Of course there are other reasons for period changes, but when it’s peri-menopause related you kind’ve just know.  My cycles are currently all over the place, with last month’s being 40 days and this month’s being 22 days.

Loss of Libido

Hell-to-the-no 😉  In fact, there are times in the month I am so horny I could shag the dog.  Being single, of course, my rampant sex drive is wasted which seems a bit of a shame, however in reality my endometriosis is so painful sex would probably be out of the question.

Vaginal Dryness

I’ve definitely had this, but only at certain times of the month – it’s not currently permanent.  It doesn’t feel like I expected either and for me I only know it’s happening because my undies rub and irritate me and this can cause my lady garden to become sore.  A smearing of K-Y Jelly, which stings like a son-of-a-bitch when first applied, has been helpful.

Mood Swings

Over the 7 years of my peri-menopause I’ve had five massive rages however they were all due to my alcoholic Mother so would probably have happened irrespective of my hormones.  There are times of the month I can feel a bit weepy or tetchy for a few days, but then I’ve always been like that so it’s not something unique to peri-menopause.  I feel hugely thankful that my mood has so far been fairly stable, though of course this may change as the actual Menopause gets closer.

Other Changes

Fatigue

As I already have severe chronic fatigue I haven’t noticed this as a symptom anywhere near as much as if I’d been healthy.  However, a couple of years ago my fatigue became absolutely poleaxing but this turned out to be because of low ferritin stores and has improved dramatically following iron supplementation.  So if fatigue becomes troublesome look for alternative explanations – low iron is common in peri-menopause as bleeding can become heavier.

Hair Loss

I’ve never had thick hair but started losing my hair in earnest in my mid forties.  MCAD can also cause hair loss so I’ve no idea if I would have lost quite so much hair if I didn’t have that, but it’s not something I’m going to get hung up on.  Hair extensions and wigs are brilliant these days so I just bought myself some fake hair and got on with it.

Sleep Disorders

Again, because I already had insomnia due to my ME and MCAD it’s hard to know how much my sleep has been affected by peri-menopause.  I actually went through a couple of years of sleeping brilliantly, probably the best for 20 years, but now I seem to have insomnia again in particular waking at 4 or 5am and not being able to drop back off.  I just accept it as one of those things and am so used to being sleep deprived it doesn’t hugely affect my day.

Difficulty Concentrating

Yet again, I’m already completely brain fogged due to my existing illnesses and don’t think this has gotten massively worse.  When you’re not sleeping well it affects daytime concentration too, so my focusing problems are probably as a result of many factors not just peri-menopause.

Memory Lapses

Er, what was the question again? 😉  My memory has definitely gone to shit.  It was never good to start with, 25 years of M.E. brain fog has seen to that, but there are now days when it’s so bad I feel like a Dementia patient.

Dizziness

This has been one of the worst symptoms for me.  I can spend whole weeks feeling dizzy and disorientated every waking second of the day.  In fact, the second I opened my eyes this morning and the room swerved I knew today would be a dizzy day.  It’s just something I put up with and pray eases soon.

Weight gain

I have gained half a stone (7lbs) in the last year, which doesn’t sound a lot but has meant I’ve had to go up a dress size.  The reason for this is that I have the raging munchies and go through cycles where even Bert’s dog biscuits look tempting.  I have zero self-control, even though I know that once the weight is on it will be really hard to shift, and these are the times I’m glad I live 7 miles from the nearest shop otherwise I would have gained 10 stone 😉

Incontinence

Thankfully I can still hold my wee, though the fact I’ve never given birth has probably helped.  I pee for England, including having to get up at least once in the night, but don’t leak.

Bloating

The word “bloated” doesn’t do this symptom justice.  My breasts are, at times, so swollen I could float on water and I looks 5 months pregnant.  I pee, and pee, and pee and still look and feel like the Michelin Man.

Allergies

My life changed forever when my hormones started to decline and my mast cell activation took up residence.  Enough said.

Brittle nails

My nails, like my hair, have always been rubbish and I can’t see that peri-menopause has made a huge difference.  In any event, who the fuck worries about their nails?!  Get a life.  Having said that, a couple of years ago I noticed my toe nails has started to split right down the middle and the ends had all flattened out.  This is a symptom of anaemia and sure enough my iron stores were really low, so if you notice these kids of signs my advice would be to get some blood work done.

Changes in Odor

I live on my own, so I’ve no-one to tell me if I’ve suddenly started to smell like rotting fish.  I am aware, though, that body odor can change during middle age so am more liberal with deodorants and perfume than I used to be, but I think this applies to both sexes not just women – my Dad certainly has an “old man” pong no matter how often he showers.

Irregular Heartbeat

This is one symptom I can definitely relate to and is really common.  I’ve had palpitations as part of my M.E. for donkeys years but they got so bad in my mid forties I had a 24 hour holter monitor done.  I was convinced I had some kind of heart problem, but although the ectopic/skippy/thumpy beats showed up on the test they were deemed to be normal and just part of the peri-menopause.   They’ve thankfully now settled down a bit and aren’t as frequent or severe as they were.

Depression

I’m so thankful that I haven’t suffered with this symptom and mood-wise am just my usual grumpy arsed self 😉

Anxiety &/or Panic

I’m not an anxious person in general, but have definitely noticed I can become suddenly anxious for absolutely no good reason.  Anxiety can be a symptom of mast cell activation too though, so I’m never sure whether it’s my hormones or my mast cells that are playing up.  It hasn’t been too troublesome though and I just accept it as part of the process, tell myself that “this too shall pass” and try not to panic over the fact I feel panicky, which is often easier said than done.

Irritability

All I will say about this symptom is that Victor Meldrew and I must be related only in my house there’s a lot more swearing 😀

Pains

It’s been the pain symptoms of peri-menopause which have come as a shock to me as I simply wasn’t expecting some of them.

Breast Pain

Holy Mary Mother of God my boobs are sore.  Chronically, stupidly sore, all of the time.  I hardly ever wear a bra these days as they’re so uncomfortable and have been known to rub Ibuleve gel into my breasts to try and gain some relief.  It’s like PMT breast tenderness on steroids.

Headaches

My battle with migraine is well documented and is mostly hormone related.  My migraines haven’t become particularly more frequent as a result of peri-menopause, but they’ve definitely become more painful, last longer and now often include vomiting.  Along with my endometriosis and adenomyosis this is one symptom I’m praying to God will lessen when I’ve finally gone through The Change.

Joint Pain

My joints went to hell on a handcart when I first started with peri-menopause at the age of 43.  Obviously I also have hEDS, so I’ve no idea if my joints would have been so badly affected if I were healthy, but I’m definitely doing the old lady thing of “oompfing” as I get out of the chair and can no longer bend to put on my socks or shoes.  I feel like I’ve aged 20 years in the last 5.

Burning Tongue

This is another tricky symptom, because I have GERD and if acid backs up into the oesophagus and/or mouth it can cause a burning sensation so I’ve no clue if my burning mouth is due to my reflux or my hormones.

Electric Shocks

This symptom was completely unexpected, particularly as it only affects my breasts.  The stabbing, electric shocks became so bad that my GP sent me for an early mammogram last year as it’s not something widely considered to be linked to the menopause, but all was fine and the pain is less frequent now than it was a couple of years ago.

Digestive problems

I have digestive issues by the truck load already and haven’t noticed they are any worse than they were five years ago.

Gum problems

Many people in middle age start to suffer from receding gums, so I personally wouldn’t say this is down to peri-menopause, just age.  Yes I lost my first adult tooth at 48, but then my best mate’s hubby did too and he isn’t peri-menopausal although my mate says he’s definitely having a mid life crisis 😉

Muscle Tension

If you have depression, panic or anxiety as a symptom of peri-menopause it stands to reason you will notice muscle tension so I’m not convinced this is a symptom in its own right.  I also think that even some healthy women have mast cell issues during peri-menopause, with things like new allergies, hives, eczema and itching, and again muscle tension is a symptom of mast cell activation.  I have definitely noticed more muscle spasms in the past five years, but then my MCAD has gone nuclear so it was fairly much inevitable and not down to peri-menopause per se, though my hormones are probably the reason my MCAD went nuts.

Itchy skin

My itchy skin drives me bonkers some days, but it’s part of having MCAD so again it’s not a symptom I associate with peri-menopause.  Having said all that, the one symptom not mentioned in the list of 34 is dry skin, which amazes me because it’s something nearly all menopausal women notice and dry skin can also be itchy.  I’ve always had beautiful, flawless skin, it’s the only good thing about having hEDS, but I feel like my skin has aged ten years in the past two and is horribly dry and lifeless.  My whole life I’ve never had the need to bother much with moisturizer, but now I put it on twice a day otherwise my skin feels as tight as a duck’s arse.  My skin has also sagged and wrinkled at an alarming rate and I suddenly look, and feel, every one of my 50 years.  Yay.

Tingling Extremities

Having had pins & needles in my hands and feet for the better part of a quarter of a century I’m probably not the best person to ask about tingling extremities.

Osteoporosis

My maternal Gran, my Mum, her Sister and a maternal Cousin all had osteoporosis by the time they were 52 so this is something I’m probably going to develop.  On the NHS bone density isn’t usually checked until a woman is over 50 even with a family history, however as hEDS is also a risk factor I’ve already had two bone density scans in my forties which were thankfully both fine.  It will be interesting to see, however, what my next one shows in two years time as by then I should be post-menopausal.

Excluded Symptoms

There are some symptoms which, IMHO, have been left out of the list of 34.  One is dry skin which I’ve already mentioned and the other is changes to flow.  My periods don’t last any longer than they always have, but they are definitely heavier and often really clotty.  Other times the blood can be bright red, like I’ve cut myself, and I’m also more prone to sluggish brown smears/spotting both before and after my actual period.  Even if your cycles are still regular, if you’re in your forties and start noticing changes in the consistency of your flow chances are you’re starting in peri-menopause.

Your body also changes shape.  Even if your weight stays the same your waist may suddenly disappear.  I’ve always had a curvy, hourglass figure with a well defined middle but seemingly overnight my waist did a bunk and I now I’m starting to look matronly and chunky.

Something else which hasn’t been mentioned is apathy.  I don’t feel in any way depressed and I’m not lacking in motivation but some days my get-up-and-go simply gets-up-and-leaves.  Maybe this is a fatigue thing but I just can’t be arsed to do stuff, in particular housework or cooking………in fact, any of the “shoulds”.  I know I should be doing the laundry and instead I’m either sat on my lardy arse stuffing my face with Wine Gums and watching Teen Mom, or I’m in my ‘studio’ taking photographs, which is fine until I go to get dressed and realize I’ve no clean pants.  Or socks.  Or much of anything else, which turns into an excuse to stay in my jim jams and watch more telly.  Maybe getting old isn’t so bad after all 😉

Conclusion

So far my journey through peri-menopause hasn’t been the hellish experience my Mum warned me about and I seem to be doing OK.  I personally think it’s all about expectation.  By the time I was in my mid forties I expected to be starting peri-menopause so that when it happened it didn’t come as any kind of shock.  I’m gobsmacked at the amount of women I read about online who are 48 and seem surprised their periods have suddenly gone awry – surely to goodness all women expect to start The Change by their late forties, and it actually begins much earlier for many of us.

Already suffering from chronic illness also prepares you for changes to your hormones.  Healthy people who suddenly find themselves exhausted, itchy, stiff and in pain, and who develop palpitations, dizziness and insomnia, must think their world is coming to an end, but when you’ve already had these symptoms for years it’s just business as usual for the most part.  Trust me when I say I’ve been way more sick than I am now.

There are definitely parts of my transition which are crap, like my migraines and dizziness, and they have absolutely affected my life but not to the point where I feel like I can’t cope.  I’ve been hugely lucky so far in that my mood has remained fairly stable which is one of the things which worried me the most, and so far the dreaded hot flushes haven’t put in an appearance.  Of course, no-one could predict that my waning hormones would set off my dormant mast cell disease causing all hell to break loose and I was clueless as to the fact that it would impact my hEDS quite as much as it has, but my M.E. has so far been largely unaffected though I know that’s not the case for some.

I was anticipating becoming a depressed, irritable, exhausted, fat mess by the time I was 50 and although there’s still time for this to happen so far I’m just grateful I still feel my usual kind, happy but grumpy self albeit a bit thicker and saggier around the edges.  It could be worse.

Aging and chronic illness

As most of you know, I turn 50 shortly and while that’s not exactly old it’s not exactly young either. In the decade since my 40th birthday my joints have starting subluxing, I’ve developed stiffness so severe at times I can’t even walk to the loo, my back pain is so bad it both scares me and stops me sleeping, and my previously unknown MCAD has reared its ugly head, to the point where at one stage I actually thought I would die from multiple anaphylactic events every day.  Make no mistake, getting older when you’re already chronically ill sucks.

I have the utmost respect for anyone who works for a charity having done it myself for many years, and know I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the wonderful people working for EDS and M.E. organizations, however I do have a bit of a beef with them and it’s this: all their information is aimed at either kids or young adults (and by young I mean pre-menopausal).  Their magazines are full of young folks doing sports, fundraising by whatever means possible and generally being positive and not letting their disease beat them.  Which is great.  But speak to them again in 20 years time and they might be telling a very different tale.

Did you know there is not a single piece of research that’s been carried out on older people with either EDS or M.E.?  There is loads of info on possible complications in pregnancy yet not a thing on the Menopause, despite the fact that not all women will have babies yet all women will go through The Change!  I find this utterly shocking, particularly in the case of EDS where patient forums show that many women aren’t diagnosed until their forties because that’s when their symptoms seem to go nuts (as did mine).  Consequently there are no information leaflets from the charities on what to expect as we age, which is actually quite discriminatory.  I should really sue, if I could find a solicitor to take the case 😀

Due to an absolute lack of information on aging with my diseases I have no idea what to expect.  Even healthy women can struggle with joint pain, exhaustion, dizziness and stiffness at Menopause so when I have these symptoms I don’t know if they’re normal or part of my hEDS.  I don’t know if they’ll pass or if I should be concerned and ask to see a Rheumy.  I don’t know if I have a greater chance of wear and tear arthritis, though I assume I must have.  I have no clue if the extra exhaustion I feel is part of my waning hormones or whether age is negatively affecting my M.E.  Will my decades of inactivity adversely affect my heart and, if so, why is that not being monitored?  Am I more, or less, likely to have a stroke?  What’s the deal on osteoporosis?  Skin thins with age, so will mine be worse as a result of having hEDS?  Am I more likely to bruise as my veins, skin and capillaries weaken?  And 200 other questions I don’t know the answers to.

Health in general seems to be all about either children or pregnant women.  No-one seems to give much of a stuff about issues which affect the middle aged.  It’s almost like we don’t exist, and it’s not until we’re in our seventies and at risk of old age diseases like Alzheimers that the medical profession starts to give a stuff again (my Dad’s dementia care, for example, has been excellent yet I’ve never once had my memory problems evaluated let alone treated).

At the moment I feel like I’m dropping to bits, but is that a normal hormone-induced dropping to bits or is my hEDS actually deteriorating?  Should I be pushing for a referral or just putting up and shutting up?  There is an urgent need for studies on chronic illness in the older age bracket.  We need to know if there should be more regular monitoring of our conditions, whether treatments which are affective in younger adults are still as effective in older adults, and most importantly what the normal progression of our diseases should look like as we age because unless we know what’s normal we can’t know what’s abnormal.

Of course, the lack of information on hEDS and M.E. is nothing in comparison to the lack of information on MCAD, particularly in the UK.  Peri-menopause has caused my mast cells to go off the charts bonkers yet I haven’t seen a specialist since I was diagnosed 4 years ago.  I’m not being monitored in any way, am having to treat myself in the best way I know how, and am basically white knuckling it with no idea what my post-menopausal future will hold.  Which is scary considering MCAD may pre-dispose me to leukemia and other cancers and carries the daily risk of sudden death from anaphylaxis.  Or MCAD may not predispose me to cancer – noone knows, which is kind’ve my point! It seems that, in respect of the middle aged, no-one knows much of anything when it comes to my diseases and that, as a matter of urgency, has to change.

 

 

 

The M Word

Last week, Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark appeared in a documentary on the Menopause.  To be honest it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know but it was nice to hear about another woman’s experience because we just don’t talk about it in this country, not even amongst ourselves.  Yet it will happen to every single one of us.  I remember joining my Camera Club and was talking to a woman there in her early 60s.  I was rampantly hormonal that night and got confused so said jokingly “ignore me, I’ve got Menopause brain” and her eyes nearly popped out of her head that I would mention the ‘M’ word in polite conversation.

Historically, women’s hormones have been a taboo subject because we’ve lived in a male dominated world, even though men are currently in a 48% minority here in the UK.  Yes we had a female Prime Minister in the form of Margaret Thatcher but she only rose to power because she acted like a man, which kind’ve defeated the entire purpose of having a woman in charge.  Girls have always been seen as emotional, hysterical creatures simply because we behave differently to men and anyone who shows emotions is still seen as weak and not to be relied upon – then we wonder why mental health issues affect 1 in 3 people :-/

Women are just supposed to get on with their periods.  The adverts on tv tell us if we only use x brand of tampon we’ll be running marathons or climbing mountains, and if we pop a Feminax Ultra we won’t know what pain is.  Thankfully for some women this is the case but for others periods are a form of 4 weekly torture and going about our day business as usual is jut not possible.  This of course intensifies during Menopause yet we’re supposed to act like nothing is happening.  We are, thankfully, now sympathetic to puberty-induced erratic behaviour, door slamming and crying fits, and pregnant women are allowed days off work if they’re unwell, but the Menopause is still ignored and I can’t for the life of me understand why.  It’s the largest bodily change in any woman’s life and can cause absolute havoc.

We aren’t even honest about Menopause amongst ourselves.  When my periods first started to change and I suspected peri-menopause I went to see my (female) GP who said “well it’s a bit early but it only lasts 2 years then it will all be over with” which even I knew was a big fat lie!  Six years on and there is still no sign that my periods are about to stop for good.  The biggest shock of the documentary for me was to hear that at age 61, and ten years after The Change, Kirsty still has Menopause symptoms in particular the fact that she still doesn’t sleep well.  The myth that our periods stop and that’s the end of that may be true for some women, but certainly not for all.  In a phone-in for the documentary a 72 year old woman rang up to say she was still having hot flushes every single day of her life twenty years after her final period and I remember my paternal Grandmother started to sweat profusely following Menopause and didn’t stop ’til the day she died.  My own Mum’s vagina atrophied so much in her mid seventies that she was prescribed oestrogen pessaries and her (female) Gynaecologist joked “women were supposed to die shortly after Menopause, so to be honest we’ve no idea how to treat hormone-induced symptoms in old people!” which tells you everything you need to know about the lack of information given to medical students in respect to older women and the female-related issues they face.

I don’t particularly want to celebrate my Menopause but I have no intention of ignoring it either.  I will bring it up in conversation if I feel the need and people can be as shocked as they like.  I won’t beat myself up, or apologise for, feeling irrational or emotional and will pamper myself when I’m feeling physically crap.  I won’t be hard on myself when I’m fatter at 55 than I was at 45, or joke about needing an afternoon nap.   All this is normal and it’s about time society recognized this huge transition in women’s lives and made allowances.