The first time I noticed an irregularity with my cycle was back in 2020, after getting the Covid vaccination. I skipped a few periods, but upon chatting to a few clients who were experiencing the same thing, I didn’t think anything of it. Sadly, though, it didn’t stop there, and around September last year I missed three periods in a row. I started feeling really low, my moods were terrible, and I began to get really bad brain fog. It was like bad PMT for a period that just wouldn’t come.
At work I see so many women around my age on a daily basis, and menopause often comes into conversation, but mostly in an abstract way. It’s that thing that happens much later in life. Not when you’re 46. I knew menopause was meant to make you moody, but not like this. And where were the hot flushes?
After a few weeks, I started feeling worse. Negative thoughts such as, “I want to quit my career” and, “I’m not good enough to do this anymore” started to infiltrate my mind. My sex drive vanished, I felt confused all the time, all I wanted to do was sleep and my anxiety went through the roof. Did I need to go on antidepressants? What was happening? And then there was the matter of my skin, which made me look like I was about 100.
It wasn’t until my routine gynaecology check-up with the brilliant Jeffrey Braithwaite that I realised I was perimenopausal, a term that refers to those in the stage leading up to menopause. According to experts, perimenopause can last from four to 10 years and typically occurs in your early 40s. Though it varies from person to person, symptoms can include mood swings, brain fog, aches and pains, heart palpitations, sore breasts, weight gain, insomnia, hot flushes, night sweats, all-over dryness and loss of libido, as well as increased levels of anxiety and depression – most of which applied to me.
After my check-up, I did some blood tests with Effect Doctors and spoke to a few hormone specialists to discuss my options, and was prescribed oestrogen, which can help with things like hot flushes, sweats, fatigue, depression, libido, skin and hair; and progesterone, which helps with headaches, palpitations, joint pains, anxiety and insomnia. Initially, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do Hormone Replacement Therapy, but I was desperate and so started right away.
Three weeks in, I felt better. It was like my old self was coming back: the anxiety left and I could think clearly again. I’m now about to go into my third month before I have a check-up, to see if we need to tweak the treatment.
If I hadn’t had my routine check-up I don’t know where I would be right now. The whole thing hit me with a bang, without any warning. If I had known what to expect, I could have at least been more prepared. I often get upset thinking about other women in my position, who might not have access to the same resources as I do, or who may not even know that they’re on their journey to menopause. To go through life thinking there’s something wrong with you, without knowing there’s a way to treat it is terrifying. Maybe they could start drinking to cope or having harmful thoughts. I can see how it could break down a marriage or ruin a person’s career, because that’s how bad I felt. A recent study reported that 60 per cent of divorces are initiated by women of menopausal age, while a survey by Menopause Experts Group revealed that suicide rates among women aged between 45 and 54 have risen by six per cent in 20 years. With the right support, perhaps some of this could be avoided.
I also believe that men should be more educated about what to expect with regards to their partners going through perimenopause, and potentially teenage children too, who might have no idea why their mum is having a meltdown. It’s real and it’s terrifying, but with greater awareness we can work to support women.
This story was originally published on British Vogue.