This week on Talk Learn Connect, Writer Yvonne Reddin asks two professionals to share their experience with Menopause. Loretta Dignam is CEO of The Menopause Hub in Dublin and Henny Flynn is an ACC Accredited Coach and Speaker based in the UK.

Can you share your story from when you began having some symptoms to how you managed to control and to live with menopause?

Henny:
I think it was 2010 (I was about 40) when I first went to the doctor to say I thought I might be peri-menopausal. I didn’t really know what the word meant but I knew it was something to do with the menopause, and what leads up to it.
I was still menstruating - albeit randomly - but I felt odd. I knew I wasn’t myself and I just had a sense that something else was going on.
Like many women, although the doctor was lovely, I was told I was far too young. I seem to recall she did some bloods to check if anything else was going on but there wasn’t, and so that was the end of it.
I just carried on.
Things got progressively worse. But because I’d been told it 'definitely wasn’t menopause’ I looked to other causes for my symptoms and for ways to suppress or alleviate them.
By 2015, I was also dealing with deep grief, severe stress at work and a body that I thought was no longer my own. Constant aching, unexplained weight gain, hot flushes, foggy head, loss of confidence… All beautifully suppressed by working even harder, as a way of avoiding dealing with things that felt too painful.
I still had no support and none of my girlfriends seemed to be going through it at the same time - or at least we didn’t realise it.
Then in 2016, I had three bouts of pneumonia. The last one nearly finished me off for good and I finally realised that something had to change - That something was me.
Then followed an intense time of personal change. Nothing is the same now as it was then. I created a bedrock of self-care which led to an even deeper sense of self-love which I had been missing all my life.
It was this decision to care for myself, on the deepest level, that enabled me to move forward.
By changing my nutrition, my self-talk, my mind-set, by opening up to new people and new experiences, by accessing new knowledge - by allowing myself to be truly self-aware and self-compassionate - I changed my experience of menopause. Completely.
Two of the key practices I adopted were meditation and journaling, both things I still do pretty much every day. The journaling led to writing a series of love letters to myself, helping me see and hear my own inner wisdom. And (this is still very new) through a series of happy accidents, they’ve now become a book called My Darling Girl.

And the same question for Loretta Dignam Founder and CEO of The Menopause Hub -

Loretta:
Unfortunately, my knowledge of menopause was limited to hot flushes or flashes (as they say in the US) and the end of periods. I knew nothing about peri-menopause and had never even heard the word, such was my lack of awareness and education about the topic. And as I have learned, I am not alone. From market research I have conducted, eighty per cent of women in Ireland are unprepared for menopause. (Source: online research, Sept & Oct 2020, 1132 respondents)
So, the first I knew I was menopausal was a month before I turned fifty, when my periods stopped and then the hot flushes began (the average age of menopause is fifty one). It was a shock and surprise to me, as I had expected menopause to hit me when I was older… maybe late fifties. Isn’t that an older woman’s thing?Of course, like many women, I was terrified of HRT. I thought it would give me breast cancer and was for women who couldn’t ‘power through’ menopause - so to be avoided completely.
More ignorance and lack of education! So instead, I tried everything ‘natural’- cut down on tea and coffee, cut down on alcohol, increased my exercise and tried natural remedies, such as, sage, black cohosh, evening primrose oil and vitamins. I even bought a magnet in Boots pharmacy for thirty-five euro, which is supposed to help with menopausal symptoms. I had to put it in my underwear. But the only thing that happened to me was that the wire baskets in the supermarket and the chains on the shopping trollies stuck to my underwear and caused me major embarrassment! My menopausal symptoms continued, unabated.
Eventually, after three years years of hot flushes, where I could not get my clothes off quick enough, make-up sliding off my face and damp hair - I ‘gave in’ and went to see my GP. I was exhausted. The symptoms were relentless. I felt like a slow puncture, the energy slowly seeping out of me. When would this end??? Apparently, the average length of time of menopause is 7.4 years between peri and post-menopause.
Loretta Profile TLC pic
But, once again, I was unaware of that.  My GP visit was short and sweet. No periods and hot flushes – I was post-menopausal (post-menopausal is when a woman is one year without her periods and she remains post-menopausal for the rest of her life. Anything before that is peri-menopausal).
So, my female GP reassured me that the risks of breast cancer from HRT was much lower than the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative Study had led us to believe. She prescribed a combined hormone patch for me, with oestrogen and progesterone in it. I left knowing nothing more about menopause than the first two facts I knew when I went in.
Some weeks later, I took off the patch and went elsewhere for advice. This was a completely different consultation, much longer and much more expensive, where I learned about the impact of declining oestrogen on my body. I then learned that my oestrogen had been declining throughout my forties when I was peri-menopausal.
"The UTIs I had continuously were not a coincidence, the headaches (where I had to go for an MRI scan to rule out sinister causes) the asthma development, the fatigue, the dizziness, the dry eye (where I ended up three times in the Eye and Ear Emergency Department) the pains in my ankles, the palpitations, the ten pound weight gain, the night sweats, the dry skin, the leaks when I coughed, laughed or sneezed, the getting up to go to the loo during the night, the loss of confidence, the brain fog, the memory loss, the loss of va va voom the disappearing eyebrows, the chin hair… I had better stop there"
Oh, and of course the hot flushes, up to thirty a day every day and at night. The one thing that I did not suffer, which I know a lot of women experience, is anxiety. Lucky me.
I was prescribed separate hormones, oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. And within a few weeks, the symptoms improved. I had my dosage of hormones adjusted after three months and I have never looked back. I got my ‘old self’ back. My life was changed for the better and so I decided to set up The Menopause Hub to help change other women’s lives.

For many women, there is a lack of awareness around menopause but there is a great deal of information out there, where would you recommend women to begin researching?

Henny:
There are two aspects to this I believe. One is the external research and reaching out to communities that resonate with the experience you want to create for yourself. The other is reaching in, and asking yourself, what do you most need… what’s the kindest thing you can do for yourself right now… what does your inner wisdom have to say?
The point about choosing our community is SO critical. When we’re surrounded by positive voices and support, it builds our resilience in a compassionate way. And that enables us to make clearer choices about the experience we want to have.
In terms of where to look for practical information - that stretches across a really wide range of topics and themes - I would say the MPowder community on Instagram is a beautiful place to start. I’m their resident life coach, and I work with them for a reason. Diane Danzebrink’s work is also great for very practical discussion and tools.
I’d recommend having a look at Christiane Northrup’s book, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom - a medical doctor with a refreshingly open mind.
Loretta:
50 per cent of the population will go through menopause at some stage. Yet menopause is still a taboo topic. Women in Ireland rated the level of taboo at seven out of ten, in our most recent survey. Yet, there are 571,000 women in Ireland in the menopausal age group (45-65) according to the 2016 Census. And even more if we include those women who are in premature menopause, early menopause and surgical menopause.

"80 per cent are unprepared for menopause - 80 per cent will have symptoms - 45 per cent will have moderate to severe symptoms - 25 per cent will have severe symptoms - 25 per cent will consider giving up work because of their symptoms -10 per cent will give up work (Irish and UK Statistics)"

The above are shocking statistics. We are so poorly educated about this major life event. We wouldn’t dream of not preparing ourselves or our teenagers about puberty, would we? Yet, we treat menopause, which is effectively ‘puberty in reverse’ so differently. There is stigma, shame, embarrassment and the demise of youth associated with menopause. And we are still an ageist society, sadly.
There are some great resources for women to educate themselves about menopause, but there are also some peddling myths, which makes the topic so confusing. So women beware!
The Menopause Hub principles are Education, Empathy and Empowerment.
Here are my recommendations for information on menopause, I hope it will guide people to find the right data and advice -
Websites:
Support Groups online:
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In your opinion, what have you found to be the biggest obstacles you have come across with your clients and can you tell us more about your business and your approach?

Henny:
The biggest obstacles we face are generally from ourselves. They can be many and varied and really depend on each individual - but what enables us is a willingness to change. Whether that’s changing an old story, an old pattern, belief or behaviour.
Coaching is all about change. And for many of us peri-menopause marks a time where things we’ve suppressed or boxed-away in the past can arise. I term it the real Pandora’s Box.
It’s as though we’ve been given a box at puberty, and throughout our lives, we’ve used it to store all the things that were too difficult, complex, painful, time-consuming to deal with. Then, when we’re peri-menopausal, the box lid starts rattling. And we have a choice. To sit on the lid, as many of the women in our past would have had to do, or we can choose to address what’s there, in the way that feels best to us.
Every single one of us holds the capacity and the capability to make the changes we desire.  My approach is to hold space - entirely free from judgement and dogma, so clients can safely explore whatever it is they choose to bring to the session.
The art of self-care underpins the work I do - because that creates a solid bedrock - even when the path feels challenging.
I know from my own experience of being coached how powerful working with a trusted other can be... both in the sessions themselves, and afterwards, as everything percolates. In truth, the time between sessions is part of the process - neurologically, it is when we rest that we change.
Menopause is a time of change and opportunity and the work I do is often at the deeper level, creating deep and lasting change across all aspects of people’s lives. I see such beautiful shifts in how people perceive themselves and their situations. It’s why I do the work!
Loretta:
The biggest obstacle is the lack of awareness and education about menopause among women and in society in general. My story is a perfect example. Women who attend our clinic (either in person or virtually, via telehealth video) often have no idea what is happening to them, particularly when the infamous hot flushes aren’t experienced. Anxiety, depression and fluctuating moods are so common, causing women to think that they are ‘going mad’.
And women often think that they cannot have menopausal symptoms until their periods stop. A myth. Women are very often their own worst enemy, as they do not speak openly about how they are feeling, some embarrassed to discuss it with friends and family.
Another significant obstacle is the lack of supports available. The Menopause Hub is Ireland’s only dedicated menopause clinic. At present, we are inundated with enquiries, appointments and are just about keeping pace with demand. Our research tells us that just under half of women in Ireland feel confident about discussing menopause with their GP.
The Menopause Hub is borne out of my own experience.  My vision was to have a team and range of services where women feel comfortable, confident and reassured that they are in the right hands.  Our range of services include holistic and medical experts, a psychologist, an acupuncturist, a physiotherapist and a dietitian and nutritionist. Women do not need a referral and can book an appointment via our website  www.themenopausehub.ie and our email is  info@themenopausehub.ie or call us on 01 2107948. You can read what other women have said about their experience of The Menopause Hub here. 

Is there anything good about the menopause?

Henny:
In short, yes! Menopause often comes at a time in our life when we’re dealing with other things. Ageing parents, children either leaving the nest or the realisation that our options to have children are reducing; maybe increased challenges at work, either through promotion or feeling restricted by an invisible Menopause Wall (an unconscious bias we often see in organisations). And grief can often play a part too.
Either grief at the loss of a loved one, or grief at lost opportunities or grief at losing our sense of who we were, without knowing who we’re yet to become. It’s a melee of emotions and situations that can leave us feeling breathless and overwhelmed.
And yet. It’s also a wonderful time to take stock. To breathe and see what’s happening. To reconnect with ourselves, with who we are now. And make choices about what we want to come next, and how we want to be.
Henny Flynn TLC profile
Loretta:
Yes, there are two things, as I see it.
Firstly, no longer having periods is a terrific freedom as is the fear of getting pregnant. Secondly, menopause is a wake-up call for women to look after their health. In the 1900’s the average age of menopause was forty-seven and the average life expectancy of women was forty-nine.
Nowadays, the average life expectancy of women is eighty-three years, and the average age of menopause is fifty-one. So, we are likely to spend one third to one-half of our lives post-menopausal. The lack of oestrogen impacts our bone health (osteoporosis), our heart health (heart disease – after menopause the incidence of heart disease rises dramatically, overtaking that of men) and cognitive health (Alzheimer's).
Replacing that lost oestrogen is crucial for long term health but few women know that. Some women also talk about a newfound freedom in general. They don’t suffer fools gladly, they don’t care what others think so much. That may be menopause or just wisdom with age.

What would you like to see changed across the media and in other public arenas to benefit women’s health and awareness?

Henny:
More compassion. It’s simple really. When we come at things from a position of tension then it creates tension in the response.
We need to bring our practical compassion and wisdom to how we talk about menopause - removing the taboo that still surrounds it, and seeing it exactly as it is…A life stage that EVERY woman will experience in her life, and every man will indirectly experience through the women in their lives too. Just like periods, puberty, death, birth and love, menopause is simply a part of life.
Loretta:
I would dearly love to see two things -
1. More high-profile Irish women coming out and talking about their menopause and how they dealt with it. There are a lot of high-profile women in the United Kingdom and the United States who are doing just that and helping to break the taboo of menopause e.g. Michelle Obama, Mariella Frostrup, Meg Matthews, Lis Earle.
2. I would welcome a public awareness campaign that would educate women (and men) about menopause. This would help women understand what is happening to them and help them realise that they are not alone. And it would empower women to seek help, which would, in turn, drive up the availability of specialist services to meet that demand.
I think that this would be a terrific step in the right direction for awareness and for living your best life.
If you would like to contact Loretta and her team, the contact number is 01 210 7948 and here are her links:
Website:  The Menopause Hub    
Email to make an appointment
Facebook:  The Menopause Hub 
Instagram:  Menopause Hub
If you would like to contact Henny, here are her  contact links:
Book:  My Darling Girl - published 15/12/20 - a collection of love letters to all the girls and women we have ever been
To pre-order  on www.shookbop.com 
Podcast:  The Regroup Hour - an hour-ish, each week, exploring tools and techniques that enable deep & lasting change, built on a bedrock of self-care
The Regroup Hour 
Facebook community: The Positive Menopause - open to all women, wherever they are in their menopause journey - The Positive Menopause
Website: Reegroup 
Instagram:  @henny_flynn   
@the_positive_menopa -use
Finally, I would like to thank both my guests for this interview.  Two outlooks and experiences from two inspiring women who are open and honest with their stories on menopause.  
Yvonne
Loretta TLC pic
Menopause hub TLC pic
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