Hello there. I’m Sam and my sister Zodle suggested I record my experiences of the menopause as a contribution to her blog. I do so gladly so that others might benefit, even just a little, from what I have learnt.

Before I begin, I’ve just remembered an exchange, relevant to this piece, which I had with my then 10-year-old daughter when walking back from school one day:

Chat, chat, chatting as usual we were and we got onto puberty which then eventually moved onto the menopause… “Uh?” says S, “I thought that was when you took a break from men…” Out of the mouths of babes, eh? Belly laughing in the street we were.

Oh, to be belly laughing now…

Rewind

Zodle and I both remember all-too-clearly the savage effects of the menopause on our dear mum. Whilst it’s not that long ago, it was still at a time when ‘these sorts of things’ weren’t discussed and so she soldiered on in her own desperately unhappy isolation. Ultimately, the very low mood and lack of meaningful interaction or support very sadly, led to the breakdown of her marriage with our dad…

Watching these devastating events unfold from a daughter’s perspective, I remember praying at the time (I was in my late teens/early twenties) that there would be some miracle solution by the time my time came around. It’s widely accepted that your experience of the menopause will probably look a lot like your mother’s experience and, having witnessed her struggle, I really didn’t want to go there. It all looked so far away at that point, all those years ago…

Play

Well, time has evaporated at a terrifying speed and the thing I had looked at from that vantage point as being way off in the distance has now arrived, uninvited, unwelcome and – BAM – out of nowhere. It’s arrived earlier than I’d anticipated too – a few years earlier than it (literally) hit mum – I’m only 48 and she was maybe 52 when it kicked off. I had hoped to stave it off for just a little bit longer…

In terms of my symptoms, the most invasive and uncomfortable are the insane hot flushes and the night sweats. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing or where I am, the flushes come on out of nowhere and I find myself entirely covered, from head to toe, in a film of sweat, accompanied by a feeling of intense overheating; it’s as though my body’s thermostat is completely and utterly malfunctioning. These episodes happen with alarming frequency – up to maybe 20 times a day – and without warning. I am doing my best to go with them and laugh them off but it’s not always easy. I know I am sometimes guilty of being a little too open about everything – I do tend to share what’s going on in my life quite freely – and so I have felt it necessary when a fierce flush strikes when I’m mid-chat with someone to explain why I have suddenly turned beetroot red and am dripping; that what they’re looking at is the menopause in all its sexy glory.

The night sweats started around a year or so ago and were, to start with, intermittent and, on the whole, whilst irritating, they were manageable. Now, they are pretty much nightly and, I kid you not, we need a dinghy by the morning. Throughout the night, the duvet is urgently ripped aside for some respite and then pulled back on just as urgently when the goose-bumps follow and I start to shiver as my body temperature re-sets and cools down again. Repeat until sunrise. Fun? Not so much.

In tandem with this hot joy, are the changes in mood. I’m normally a pretty positive, optimistic person, with a fairly calm disposition, not prone to anger and someone who is quite motivated and always planning, planning, planning. I am now experiencing bouts of dark negativity, irritability, flashes of anger and a real lethargy. I’m not liking this AT ALL. It feels very alien; I don’t feel like myself and I feel like I’ve really lost my mojo. I’m not ready for this and I don’t want to accept it. It’s this aspect rather than the flushes which is my greatest concern; it’s hugely disconcerting, feeling quite so out of sorts and somehow out of control.

I have to say that I am blessed with a genuine 21st century man who is understanding and sympathetic as I huff and puff my way through the day/night…

Pause

Time for action. I want to cut this off at the pass. My tendency to talk openly with others about what’s going on for me has proved really helpful. Some friends have yet to arrive at this place; others have sailed through relatively unscathed (grrrr!); others are struggling with similar issues to me and have tried various treatments.

I visited the GP and described my symptoms and was immediately handed a prescription for ‘standard issue’ HRT. The one size fits all variety. The type which, as far as I understand, is made from horses’ hormones. The sort which mimics your hormones but is not your actual hormones. The ones which are reported to have negative side-effects. The medication which is not tailored to suit your own specific hormone levels/deficiencies. The ones which, to me, just didn’t make sense. Needless to say, I didn’t ‘cash in’ my prescription. I wanted to do some more research and see what else is available.

A (very slightly older) dear friend described what she has been experiencing and shared that her mother had had a torrid time too… That friend recommended I take a look at the Marion Gluck Clinic in London which specialises in Bio-identical Hormone Replacement Therapy. Essentially, this is HRT but not as we know it. Each and every prescription is drawn up based on blood tests which analyse your hormone levels. The HRT – plant based and therefore natural, usually in cream or lozenge form – is then made up specifically for you and to suit your very unique requirements. I must be clear at this point that this is not a cheap route (cost of initial face-to-face consultation, including blood tests: £590 – eeeeek). I must also say though that I would literally be prepared to re-mortgage the house in order to avoid the hell mum went through. I am fortunate enough to live at a time when there are now alternative, effective, natural ways to help you through the horrors.

I had my initial consultation at the MG Clinic where I was asked about my general health and then specifically my particular symptoms. Not everyone experiences the same set of symptoms as everyone of us is different and our hormonal imbalances are unique to us; the consultant wants to understand exactly how you are affected as the symptoms are what will be treated.

Blood was taken to assess what was what with my hormone levels and there was a follow-up phone consultation to discuss the results and talk about the proposed treatment. (There is the option to attend the clinic for a face-to-face follow-up but it’s really not necessary if it’s just a straight forward case of talking through your results and the phone call option is cheaper than the face-to-face).

So, I have been found to have virtually zero oestrogen and my progesterone levels are a little low too. I have been prescribed a cream which I am to apply twice daily. The consultant advised that the treatment would probably take a couple of weeks to take effect and that we would review my symptoms and how I’m getting on in about 4-6 weeks’ time.

The prescriptions are made up by the London Specialist Pharmacy and posted out to you. The cream comes in a pump dispenser designed to release precisely the correct dosage in each squirt; this you then rub between your inner forearms, where the skin is thinner, for effective absorption. The cost for 80 days’ worth of my particular cream: £94 including postage which works out at just under £1.20/day – Billy Bargain I say.

Fast-forward

So, here I am about 2 months after I started to apply the magic cream and I am over the moon to report that there has been a significant improvement in my symptoms; hallelujah! My hot flushes have abated so much that I now only experience perhaps two during the course of the day and the night sweats have all but disappeared (dingy deflated and packed away, hoorah). My mood is lighter than it was; I’m still not quite where I was in terms of my mojo but that may have more to do with external factors and might not be solely attributable to hormonal imbalances… I’m able to remain calmer than before and, believe me, my patience has been severely tested over the last little while… (whoever thought that it was a good idea to coincide the timings of the menopause with the raging hormones of a teenage girl was surely having a laugh – sheesh).

My periods had stopped some 5 months before I sought treatment. Understandably, with the reintroduction of oestrogen, they have restarted, albeit erratically but fairly mildly and I have the associated bloating and extremely tender breasts but these things I am very prepared to put up with now that the worst of my symptoms have been attended to.

At my two-month follow-up with the consultant at the clinic, we’ve decided to leave my prescription as it is. Whilst I would love to be reinvigorated with the verve of a 20 year old, that just ain’t gonna happen and, as the consultant said, this isn’t a miracle; it’s to alleviate symptoms and make life more bearable.

I’m very happy with things as they are for the moment and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Bio-identical HRT if you’re looking for a natural, effective treatment with swift results. I did ask my consultant how long one can stay on this treatment and was told that there is one woman who attends the clinic and has been taking them for some 20 years…! I’m not sure I’d like to take ANYthing for that long but, for now, I’m sticking with it.

As a sign off, it is, of course, essential to look after yourself in every respect at this stage of your life (for those who know me, this is a bit of a challenge!). Eating well, resting (check: I officially hold the ‘Queen of Siestas’ title), some form of exercise and trying to incorporate things like yoga or meditation into your routine will all help to balance things out, will complement your treatment and help you to navigate the potentially stormy waters of this ‘phase’ with greater ease. Right now, my thing is fast-ish-paced pavement pounding to get at least 10k steps (roughly equivalent to 5 miles) under my belt per day, every day… I’m lucky enough to live in the extraordinarily beautiful town of Lewes where there’s always something gorgeous to look at and, once I’m on my way, as well as energising me, it’s also meditative.

Right, nerdy pedometer attached, I’m off to seek out a hitherto undiscovered snook and a view… I’ll report back after my first annual review to let you know how things have gone…

Until then, thanks for reading and stay cool…

🙂