The menopause should not be viewed as a woman's dirty secret

I have a confession – it’s not one I’m proud of – I’ve been a fitness coach since 1990 and when women complained to me about menopause symptoms for years I just couldn’t relate.

How hard could it be, right?

Then I turned 43 and everything changed. I was hit by vertigo, nausea, vomiting and extreme exhaustion. It lasted two days and then I felt better. But it returned, every week, each episode repeating the cycle.

My doctors could see something was wrong. No surprise there – I felt and looked like crap – but none of them could help.

I was living in Canada at the time and went through every test you can think of – scans, balance assessments, vestibular rehabilitation – all looking for an explanation for my migraines, vertigo and chronic fatigue.

I was left with no answers and became a horrible crazy b*tch from hell. My kids were walking on eggshells and my husband was worried for our marriage. Physical and mental health symptoms I did not understand left little room for him, and the dynamic of our relationship changed as I withdrew.

A general apathy for life settled in. I was frightened for my health, and depressed. I felt utterly lost. 

Menopause didn’t even cross my mind because my periods were still regular and none of my symptoms ‘seemed’ hormonal – and experts were telling me that was the case.

In Canada, women get a regular routine check-up with their gynaecologist. By spring 2016, I’d been in this quagmire for nearly two years. I was leaving my regular appointment when mine asked if I had anything else to discuss.

I told him I hadn’t felt well in a couple of years and broke down crying. Once the tears started, they wouldn’t stop.

Of course, he knew exactly what was happening to me but when he suggested: ‘perimenopause’, I had never heard the word before. He explained it was the time leading up to menopause. Gobsmacked, I honestly replied: ‘F*ck off! I’m way too young for that.’

But that conversation probably saved my soul – and my family.

An estimated 13 million women in the UK are peri- or post-menopausal and yet it seems there’s always been a conspiracy of silence around the topic.

I knew what menopause was, but I was in my early 40s and never considered it could be what I was struggling with, especially as my symptoms were neurological.

The initial relief of finally understanding that what I was experiencing was very typical of perimenopause, that he could help me, and there was no need to suffer, quickly turned to anger.

I’d spent two years trying to get answers and nobody ever considered perimenopause – I’d suffered migraines with aura, depression, mood swings, poor memory, loss of motor-skills and stress incontinence – all known symptoms of menopause – and yet no-one I’d consulted could see what was staring them in the face.

And if it had happened to me, it had happened – was happening – to other women too. I was pissed off.

I am a personal trainer and women’s health writer and, that autumn on my blog, I wrote about how I was feeling – my frustration with the medical community and the lack of valid information.

I got so much feedback with comments like: ‘After reading your article at least I now know I am not going mad, senile or have the early signs of dementia,’ and: ‘Everything you have described is ME! I thought I was going crazy. It’s such a relief to know that I am not alone!’

I knew then I wanted – needed –  to start a conversation about menopause. 

To this day, I don’t understand the hush around the topic, but this is what I’ve determined. I was having a cuppa with my family on a visit to the UK two years ago, sat around a table with my mum, 69, my sister-in-law, 44, and my niece, 16.

Talk turned to the menopause and my mum said: ‘I don’t remember that much about it.’  

In fact, I know she had a horrible time, but she said: ‘There was nobody I could ask.’ She didn’t really understand what was going on, nobody was discussing it and there were no resources available back in the early 2000s – just a lot of now mostly disproven scare stories about the dangers of HRT and cancer links – the increased risk is small compared to like smoking, being overweight and drinking.

I could see my niece was frustrated – annoyed to be unaware of a stage that is a natural part of every woman’s life, shocked it hadn’t been taught in school.

I’m pleased to see things are changing – her generation aren’t going to allow this to happen to them. They are bolshy and confident in the best possible way, and they won’t go through menopause unprepared. 

We, their menopausal sisters of my generation, are literally learning on the job to prepare them and they are already primed to fight. We’re the right generation to do this because we aren’t the fifty-year-olds of two generations ago.

We’re not what I thought midlife would be like. I expected to look and feel older at 50, and I don’t. 

We have invested time and energy in exercise, nutrition, stress-management, and positive lifestyle choices to take control of our health and wellness. Then menopause comes along and we’re like: ‘We want to know everything about it.’  

Menopause is not a linear journey and symptoms come and go – our bodies adapt so we are constantly learning.

Many women of my generation have gone into perimenopause unprepared, yet by supporting women in menopause in the workplace, through education and by giving medical advice and help, the burden of both symptoms and negative experience is lessened.

As well as the physical element, it clearly impacts your emotional and mental health. For me, the proactive way of going through menopause and thriving, is self-education.

As a menopausal woman in the fitness and wellness industry, I felt I could speak with a decent amount of authority on my own experience, and that of the mid-life women I come into contact with in the course of my work. But I would never give out medical advice – staying in your lane is important.

So, I decided to write my book, Menopocalypse, to share my experiences, warts and all, and the strategies, advice, and mindsets I found helpful – as well as those I didn’t. I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d write a book but it has been an Amazon top seller since it was published a year ago.

I think one of the things keeping it there is doctors seem to like it. High-profile medics – women at the top of their game focussing on menopause care – have connected and supported me on social media.  

It’s slowly making a difference. In my online community, women are feeling more confident about speaking with their doctors and advocating for the correct treatment.

A better experience of menopause is achievable for every woman. I hate the word, ‘holistic’ but I can’t think of any other way to describe it. Once you understand you have reached what was once mysteriously coined ‘the change’, you have to encompass it into every element of your life.

I am now fully post-menopausal, and many of my symptoms have subsided. Trust women who have reached this stage when they tell you it’s a time of liberation and personal growth – I have never felt more powerful.

Recently, Carolyn Harris, MP for Swansea East, saw her Menopause (Support and Services) Private Members Bill debated in the House of Commons. And high profile, aspirational public figures like Davina McCall are speaking openly about their personal experience. It’s starting to look like my niece won’t have to navigate her menopause blindfolded in the way I did.

If I could talk to my 40-year-old self now, I’d tell her not to be afraid to start an honest conversation with her loved-ones about what she’s going through and to knock down the door of her doctor until she gets the answers she needs. 

The truth is the menopause has been treated like a dirty secret for too long, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Half the world’s population will experience it and I’m determined to help to change the journey for the better – for everyone’s benefit. 

As told to Bobby Twidale.

For more information on Amanda’s menopause journey her book is on sale here.

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