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?
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 -
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.
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?
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.
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)"