4 years ago, at the age of 45, I started experiencing changes to my menstrual cycle. I didn’t see a monthly cycle for 3 months which, at the time, kind of pleased me. I wondered if my periods would come to an end and I felt good about that prospect. Not that I had particularity difficult periods, but it would be nice not to have to worry about them any longer. As the year progressed, other things started to change. I noticed I was becoming moodier than usual; my tolerance of everyday issues was getting worse and I wanted to spend longer periods of time on my own.
What I didn’t know back then was that I was experiencing peri-menopausal (the build-up to menopause, as hormones fluctuate) symptoms. I began having night sweats, hot flushes, brain fog, anxiety, sadness, loss of libido, lack of concentration, feeling like I couldn’t cope with lots of things that I normally could, vaginal dryness, and crying all the time. I used to be a strong person, but I became overly sensitive.
Looking back, I put it down to various stressful life-events, but the feelings of anxiety and depression just wouldn’t go away. Meanwhile, my monthly cycle just stopped.
During this 4-year period, I visited my GP more often than I had ever done before. Firstly, my GP thought the changes were as a result of a recent surgery, so I went away and waited…and waited…for the low mood to lift.
Not being able to cope with everyday life, I went back to the GP and was diagnosed with depression. I had suffered post-natal depression 25 years earlier, so I thought I knew what that felt like: this was different. However, she went on to say that I could be peri-menopausal and lots of women benefit from taking anti-depressants, so I went away willing to try them. After 6 months, I still felt no better.
At this point, you can’t help but wonder if any of your friends are experiencing the same. I realised that we had never talked about it! As professional women, I wondered whether they didn’t talk about menopause because they feared I would judge them. Just as I was worried about discussing it with my line manager, I too was fearful that I would be judged as incompetent…
One of my friends decided to take the natural route and she recommended lots of different remedies. Over the next 3 years I slowly ticked them all off. Some worked for a while but then the positive effects would start to dissipate. During this time, a colleague told me that HRT had changed her life, so I asked my GP for the same. I remember 6 months later going back – that particular prescription hadn’t worked for me and I thought that was the end of that. What my GP didn’t tell me at the time was that there were other types of HRT which may have worked for me. I spent the next 6 months in a fog…again.
I began Googling the menopause online and was incredibly fortunate to discover the Menopause Support Network. WOW! I was not the only one suffering! However, by this time, my symptoms had caused me to give up my job and almost lose my partner…I decided that I would go back to my GP, and this time came away with HRT patches. Within 3 weeks, I started to notice the positive benefits.
When it came to HRT, all I knew were the headlines from some years ago, about the risks of breast cancer (studies whose results have now been re-examined, with the risks considered far lower than was originally believed). I thought HRT was only prescribed to older women, women in their 60’s perhaps whose monthly cycles had stopped. All I knew on this subject was that women of a ‘certain age’ get hot flushes. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
With so much time on my hands I was able to do lots of research about the benefits of HRT. I also had a private consultation with a menopause specialist who armed me with enough knowledge to go back to my GP and insist on a treatment plan of my choosing. It was then I discovered some shocking opinions and views indicating a lack of knowledge and expertise from those medical professionals you would expect to have answers.
I then discovered that I was fortunate enough to live in the only area in Wales * where there is a practising menopause specialist (within the Aneurin Bevan health board region). It suddenly dawned on me that there must be so many women in Wales who needed – but couldn’t access – these services. Almost 52% of the population would go through menopause with little to no support or specialist help.
A major reason for the lack of knowledge is that the menopause is not openly discussed – if at all. I never see posters in my GP’s surgery or in the workplace; my friends never talked about it, nor my family. It seems to me that menopause needs to stop being a dirty secret, and we need to demand better from the NHS in Wales.
I have joined forces with FTWW to create a petition, collect your stories, and start putting together a report into what we need and deserve from the health services into which we’ve paid for much of our lives. We believe that the lack of knowledge and expertise on menopause in Wales is both unfair and has the potential to impact negatively on our health, well-being, and productivity. If you agree; if you’re suffering, please join the campaign and sign / comment on the petition. And thank you for your support!
Lisa lives in Newport, South Wales. Together with FTWW, she plans to see 2018 mark the start of a campaign calling on the NHS in Wales to provide more specialist menopause clinics for women across the country. Through the campaign, she and FTWW are hoping to highlight how women’s health during this stage of their lives needs to be prioritised, particularly as more and more women now both work and have caring responsibilities.
* Since Lisa shared her story FTWW has discovered that there is another menopause clinic in Wales. Cwm Taf Health Board informed us that it also runs a relatively new designated menopause clinic one day a week. Women require a referral from a medical professional to attend.