One of the most difficult parts of the perimenopause and menopause experience can be the feeling that you are going through this all alone – second only to the fear that what you’re feeling right now will never end. It is so important to remember that isn’t the case.
Thousands of women in the UK are going through the same difficulties, the same symptoms, the same worries as you – and so many women have gone through it and come out the other end. When you’re struggling to find anyone to talk to about what you’re going through, or feeling that you’ll never get through it, remember that so women have been where you are, and come through the other end.
Here are some of our readers menopause diaries and real life perimenopause experiences that could help you find comfort in their connections, experiences, and similarities to your own struggles, and hope in their triumphs!
Jo’s Perimenopause Story
“I can’t – I just can’t do this anymore!”
“I lean back against the shelves, drop my bags & start to sob.
It’s May 2013, I’m 48 and in Tesco’s with my sons, then 16 & 12. I’m crying in the biscuit aisle, looking at the chocolate hob nobs and wondering how my life has come to this.
Anxious and overwhelmed, I’m desperate for a good night’s sleep. Both my parents are going through chemotherapy & as a single working Mum I am holding on by my fingertips.
With hindsight, I realise I was experiencing the perimenopause, something I knew absolutely nothing about at the time.
I share the story with a friend who asks how much exercise I do. The answer is very little: holiday swimming, the odd aerobics class. She generously gives me an old rowing machine she no longer needs.
Within a couple of weeks of rowing in my kitchen, I am sleeping. Immediately I feel better & brighter. I join a gym, I no longer cry in supermarkets.
A few months later my Mum dies of lymphoma 4 days before Christmas. Our world is shattered. Curiously I find I’m still going to the gym, finding solace in the rowing machine whilst my heart breaks & breaks again.
A few months later, with no planning, I decide I’m going to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support by rowing a million metres & marathon on the ergo. I row 10,000 m every other night for 8 months & on the 1st anniversary of Mum’s death & 5 days before my 50th birthday, I row a marathon (26.2 miles).
By now I’ve been learning about the perimenopause & I realise that moving joyfully & regularly has a hugely beneficial effect on my wellbeing – physical, emotional & mental.
Having done barely any exercise for decades before that fateful day in 2013, I have returned to things I loved as a little girl. Bodyboarding, swimming in the sea, going for bike rides in the hills. I did Couch to 5k for the first time aged 52 & learned to surf at 53.
In August of this year, aged 54, I became the first woman to stand up paddleboard 162 miles coast to coast across the north, picking up litter & fundraising for The Wave Project & 2MinuteBeachClean community.
So what has the perimenopause given me?
- It forced me to start looking after myself after years of only looking after everyone else: early to bed, fresh air, moving joyfully, strength training, saying “no” more & being careful how I spend my energy & time.
- My tiny adventures in the sea & hills have helped me develop a much kinder relationship with my body & more positive body image.
- It’s given me renewed purpose – fundraising for charity and picking up litter every day and on my PaddleboardTheNorth challenge.
- It’s given me a voice. I am honoured to have been invited to share my story recently at Jane Dowling’s Meno & Me menopause event about how exercise has helped me navigate the perimenopause. I hope I can show other women that they are not alone, they are not going crazy and there is hope ahead.
Passing on a message of hope & encouragement is perhaps the most special gift the menopause has given me. It makes all the times I cried in supermarkets worth it.”
Diane’s Perimenopause Story
“Snot, Sass & Silliness; midlife mum to a 6 year old”
“Today my 6 year old daughter Lola asked me what she could be when she was a ‘Grown Up’. Sensing my opportunity to (not so) subtly push the ‘Girls can Rule the World’ mantra, I began my spiel about how she was going to have these amazing adventures and ‘be whoever or whatever she wanted to be’.
“Maybe an astronaut” I suggested “Or a lawyer? An engineer, a teacher or. . .” She shook her head and interjected “ . . . or a Rainbow Sparkle Fairy?”
A Rainbow Sparkle Fairy. Abso-freakin-lutely. Who the hell in their right mind would choose to be anything else giving the choice?
I loved the certainty in her voice and the brilliantly, bat shit crazy world she inhabits, where this and pretty much anything and everything else is a possibility.
Conversely at 47 I am wading through the perimenopause and my own confidence and certitudes can get railroaded by fears of anxiety or self doubt. As my estrogen and the ‘happy’ hormones levels plummet my previous positive outlook can also take a nose dive. But at the risk of sounding #Blessed, witnessing Lola’s wonderment while I explain why trees are simply amazing or seeing her mind being blown that we can turn corn kernels into actual popcorn, it’s hard to maintain the melancholy. You get carried along by the excitement and newness of it all and remember ‘y’know what –the world is a pretty awesome place’.
Having a small child keeps you very much grounded in the moment whereas midlife and in particular the onset of perimenopause can be a time of anxious reflection; looking to the past and dissecting the choices we’ve made or contemplating the future and the uncertainty of what happens next. The exhausting reality of dealing with a 6 year old bundle of snot, sass and silliness negates some of this hand wringing. I often feel I should be having a mid life crisis or at the very least some sort of perimenopausal panic. Maybe I am? but am too busy Googling ‘how to do ‘The Floss’ or building a ‘Café/Disco/Sleepover Hotel out of Lego to notice.
Don’t get me wrong it’s not all unicorns and glitter.
I worry that some of the negative physical and emotional effects of the perimenopause may impact on my ability to be good parent. I don’t expect or aspire to be perfect but I sometimes fret that I am too ‘shouty’ as my tolerance levels and temper are significantly shorter these days. I get concerned that my erratic sleep means I often feel worn out and I don’t have the same energy of the younger, non ‘geriatric’ mums.
Then there are times when I wistfully recall my younger ‘London’ days sans kids when I wore heels and drank white wine on sunny Saturday afternoons. Or look enviously at my friends who are either childfree or with grown up kids, as they plan their long weekends away or float about their (immaculate) homes lighting Diptyque candles in cashmere pyjamas.
Worst are the dark moments when I allow myself to think about the distant future. I am 4 decades older than Lola, she is an only child. I don’t want her to be lonely or on her own. Ever. I agonise over becoming frail or ill. I don’t want her to shoulder any burden of an aged parent. Ever.
But for now, to Lola, age is literally a (birthday) badge of honour and time is a concept she hasn’t yet grasped. You are either a ‘child’, a ‘grown up’ or a ‘wrinkly’. I currently reside in a subcategory of ‘mum’.
She delights in counting my wrinkles “You haven’t got that many, except these really, really big ones near your eyes’ *sigh* and describes my ageing boobs as ‘long’ and ‘flat’ *sob*
Then – just when my self esteem is face down on the deck, she’ll make me a card where she draws me with yellow hair and fabulous earrings and writes underneath ‘To mummy, you are the bestest, most beautiful queen” *melt*.
These visceral emotional highs and lows are part and parcel of my experience of motherhood. Each morning I buckle up ready to withstand the emotional turbulence of the day ahead; Lola has the capacity to make my chest constrict with absolute love in one moment and then clench my knuckles with abject rage and frustration the next.
I am never sure if these erratic mood spikes are due to hormonal chaos or are just a by-product of being a parent. I expect we will find out when the menopause and puberty collide in a few years time (my husband is booking in his own midlife melt down for around the same time!). But in the meantime, in the here and now, this yellow haired ‘Mummy Queen’ is embracing every transient moment of this sparkly rainbow roller coaster ride.”
Karen’s Perimenopause Story
“Confined by my Cage of Confidence”
“The last eighteen months have certainly been memorable. Feeling dizzy, off my food, and increasingly anxious, I gained the courage to talk it all over with a doctor, it transpired that I was anaemic, my blood pressure was high and I was peri-menopausal. A trio of trouble that was doing its best to chip away at my physical health and mental well-being.
Tiredness had seeped into all aspects of my life, acting like a domino effect on mood, rational thought, patience and ability to function day-to-day. Whilst in the midst of fitful sleep the early hours became familiar beasts to be slain: the midnight attempt to switch off, the 2am worries for the next day ahead, the 4am mental checklist to tick off, the 5am visit to the bathroom, the 6am acceptance that its almost time to get up anyway! With all that going on, it didn’t occur to me that this tiredness was causing my low mood and crumbling of self-confidence.
I’ve always thought of myself as an organised person, in control, able to do many things and certainly more than capable of juggling work and home life and family commitments. All that came tumbling down, like the shifting walls of a sandcastle as the waves of daily demands washed over me. What was happening to me? With my former persona of being a strong woman came the unwritten rule that I didn’t stop to tell anyone how I really felt anyway. I was too busy – there was always a job to be completed, something that I needed to do to help the kids or to support other relatives, a meeting or a deadline to meet for work.
When the tiredness and dizzy spells were at their worst, I think I broke. I felt like a cage was constructing itself around me, putting up barriers to hinder me from functioning as before. To put it succinctly, somewhere along the way I lost my confidence. Confidence can disappear in the blink of an eye but it takes so long to claw it back again to its former glory. I found myself doubting my abilities and questioning decisions that I had to make.
I had to take control. I started to write a blog and the responses I got opened my eyes: I was not alone. I re-evaluated my life and considered what positive measures I could take. I quit my long teaching career and am now writing, putting myself first when I can and achieved a long-held dream, publishing a book which tells my story – stumbling through motherhood, midlife and menopause. Writing has proved to be my therapy and asking for help and accepting support from family and friends, essential. I have been asked by a London media company to talk about my story, something that I find exciting and nerve-racking in equal measure but a definite privilege.
I am still struggling to break out of my confidence cage but I feel that I have located the key.”
Kate’s Perimenopause Story
“I felt I needed help…something I hate admitting”
“For quite some time I’ve not felt like me – I fly off the handle at the tiniest of things, and the night sweats were out of control. Around February time I started to experience terrible heart palpitations and shortness of breath. I am awful at going to the doctors and tried to ignore it, however after a couple of panic attacks in March, as well as episodes of feeling very sad, low and uncontrollably angry, I felt I needed help, something I hate admitting.
Annoyingly, as we’d hit lockdown it meant I was unable to go to the doctor . I spent 3 months calling them every two weeks in tears and eventually after a rather desperate call I was sent for blood tests and a chest X-ray! Everything came back clear and having done much talking with experts I believe that what I am experiencing is perimenopause. Since I’ve acknowledged this, amongst other symptoms, the heart palpitations, breathlessness and panic attacks have decreased.
I still have moments of seeing red that can come from nowhere, which can have a huge impact on my family. But I am now under a consultant and hoping that I can get back to being ‘me’ soon.”
Lisa’s Perimenopause Story
“Us midlifers know that life is for living, and we want to make the most of it”
“I was around 46 or 47 when I started noticing changes in my periods. I was always regular, but now it was a complete blood bath! I had to work around my cycle because it got to a point where for 2 or 3 days I couldn’t leave the house without flooding – no matter how many tampons/pads I was wearing. It was so uncomfortable and embarrassing – especially when I occasionally left stains on chairs and had to try and cover them up and rush off to get changed. My doctor suggested the Mirena coil and that really did help slow things down – I still had periods, but they were manageable. The word perimenopause wasn’t mentioned – my doctor just said that heavy periods are common in women of my age. I was just happy that all was well again so didn’t really delve any deeper.
I was about 47 when I had a really scary attack of heart palpitations while on a short break with my girlfriends. I had been fast asleep and was awoken by what felt like a train rushing through the room! I immediately leapt up in the bed and looked around wondering where the noise/thumping was coming from – and realised it was coming from inside of me! I tried to take deep breaths and calm myself down and even though my heart wouldn’t stop racing, I stayed as calm as I could. Luckily, my friend I was sharing a room with used to be a nurse so she took my pulse and told me not to panic, but that we should get to the hospital as soon as possible. I had a barrage of tests and finally, my heart did stop racing, but it was a really scary episode. When I returned to London, I visited the GP and had some more tests and they all confirmed my heart was strong and healthy and just put it down to ‘one of those things.’ I then began to do my own research and found out that palpitations could be due to hormone fluctuations. That and the heavy bleeding made me realise I was probably perimenopausal, so I started looking into it more. Funny how you always think ‘oh that’ll never happen to me”…Oh blimey, how wrong could I have been!
It was when I was 50, along with worsening hot flushes, that the anxiety attacks began and I really freaked out. I had never had anything like it before. I would wake up at 3am with an impending sense of doom and panic with the most awful thoughts going around my head. I would worry that bad things were going to happen all the time and would go dizzy and sweaty when I was driving, imagining that I was going to crash or the bridge I was driving across was going to collapse. I knew that I had to ‘get a grip’ or get help. The doctor listened and immediately sent me for blood tests to rule out any other problems such as irregularities with the thyroid. When the tests came back, she said that my oestrogen levels were very low – almost non existent – and offered me HRT. We went through my medical records and discussed the pros and cons, and I decided to give them a go.
I’ve been on HRT on and off for 3 years and feel mostly great. I’m not sure whether it’s just down to that, but I definitely know my meditation, breathing and workouts are also helping me to keep happy and healthy. If I don’t look after myself with a good diet (including treats like wine and cake now and then!), working out and relaxation, it really has a negative impact on my wellbeing.
It’s great that we are talking more openly about menopause and that there are things such as the Health & Her Menopause App and menopause supplements to support us on our menopause journey. Being informed and having knowledge, latest research, and helpful suggestions at our fingertips is a massive positive for us midlifers who know that life is for living, and we want to make the most of it.”
What is the thread that connects the experiences of these women? Struggles, yes – but also hope. Laughter, joy, success. These women, women who are smart and successful and strong, just like you, found a light at the end of the tunnel. They found solutions that worked for them, they found help, they found support. And you can too!
If you are struggling with perimenopause and menopause symptoms and are looking for the tools and support to help you build a self-care plan for treatment, you might be interested in the Health & Her symptom checker. Input your symptoms and preferences, and the Health & Her checker can provide you the advice, information, and treatment options that work best for you.
Millicent’s menopause story
‘Don’t undervalue your strength, don’t doubt yourself, most importantly – embrace the new you.’
‘My menopausal journey really started after an operation. I had fibroids. My symptoms started showing in my early forties. I went to a female doctor and asked her to check me out. She did an internal scan and told me she couldn’t find anything, and to come back in six months. I went to the doctor again and she scheduled me in for an x-ray, where we found the fibroids. It got to a point where the doctor said these are your options – you can stay like this, or you can have a hysterectomy.. It was a difficult decision for me. I felt like parts that made me a woman were being taken out, and I was struggling with the idea of losing them. It’s a crazy thought, because obviously I’m still a woman. I had three months to recover, to get my self-esteem and self-worth back.’
‘Perimenopause, menopause, whatever you want to call it – I’m there. So, I just decided I accept my fate, I accept I’m going through this. That’s part of the battle, I think. If you just roll with it, things become a bit more bearable! I’ve changed my diet, I’m toning up – I exercise. My daughter during lockdown dragged me into exercising more. She really helps me. Sometimes we do yoga, cardio, stretch exercises. I need to do it because it helps my blood pressure, but it’s easier with another person, stops you getting lazy. It helps my health and mental state more than anything, and my physique. I felt really good because it helped me mentally but also boosted my confidence as a woman.’
‘I was not always a musician. Music was always a side hobby thing. When I was younger, I saw a lot of women when they got to a particular age who seem to resign themselves to focusing on the family, letting their appearance go. As I approached 40, I had the same experience they had – ‘I’m nearly 40, I’m done for, doesn’t matter what I wear, I just always feel awful’. Then at some point I decided I’m going to fight against that feeling. On my 40th birthday I went to see my friend playing at the Birmingham Jazz festival. I’m watching him and thinking that we were both in the same jazz band, when I was in my early twenties. He went on to a full-time music career. I didn’t see many females with music careersIt took me until I was 42 to decide I’m going to push this. I decided to give it five years to see if I can make something with my music. When I made up my mind, things started to happen.. When you are determined, you’ll see the doors and you’ll do whatever you can do to make it happen.
Don’t undervalue your strength, don’t doubt yourself, most importantly – embrace the new you. Menopause is a new chapter in your life. That’s one of the things about the menopause – it’s hard, but with the shifts comes more confidence. It makes you more ballsy. You can say what you think. It’s a great time to look after yourself. What’s going to happen in the body can be hard. There are changes in skin, increased fat deposits, some stuff is going to sag – but if your inner you is happy that sagging is going to look great. Have your nails and hair done if you want to. Doing just that gave me perspective on my body. Understanding what designs work or do not work with your shape and personality has been do helpful when shopping. It’s stopped me thinking something is wrong with me. We can’t all be Naomi Campbell or Twiggy. We are not them, we are us, and us is beautiful. It’s time to reinvent yourself. To be the person you always wanted to be, the you that you put on the back burner. Put yourself central. Don’t live in the past, there’s no point. It’s a new you, and that’s wonderful.’