Perhaps you have already recoiled that I even dare mention something so private so early in my blog?
Frankly I want to join the ranks of women like Oprah Winfrey and Germaine Greer, who think it is about time the taboo was lifted and the myths debunked!
I had always looked forward to menopause, if only to bring an end to the inconvenience of menstrual periods. By the time I was in my senior years at school, I had decided that I didn't want to have children, so to me my reproductive state, was little more than an inconvenience.
I was lucky. I had had a smooth puberty and from then on my menstrual cycle was as regular as a full moon and with no obvious PMT or pain.
I laughed my way through 'Menopause; The Musical' in my early 40s, but was not one of the women who got to put her hand up for having "changed". It was the first time I had ever really considered menopause as anything more than the ceasation of periods, which was a concept that I'm sure many people hold of menopause itself, along with the ceasation of child-bearing potential.
By my mid 40s I began having major mood swings and bursting into tears for no particular reason.
I thought I was going mad.
I had always been a pretty level headed person and up to taking on the world if necessary. Now, all I wanted to do was retreat into my own little world, keep my own company, shut the door and throw away the key!
If only that were possible!
At about the same time both my best friend and my mother were dying. Their deaths were, punctuated by the sudden and unexpected death of my sister-in-law. I was working full time and running back and forwards to my home town, some hour and a half away every weekend ans sometimes more frequently to undertake carer's duties with firstly my mother, then later my dad. I put where I was at and my mood swings, irritability and teariness down to grief and exhaustion.
The world increasingly became a more difficult place to negotiate my way through and petty things would irritate and upset me.
I didn't have a clue I had hit peri-menopause. I didn't know that the mood swings, irritability or teariness were all related to hormonal changes that were taking place in my body, as much as related to the taxing personal circumstances of my life.
Here I speak as an educated and informed woman. But no one had ever told me what to expect, let alone how I could tell I had reached peri-menopause.
The reality hit by the time I was caring for my father, when I began having irregular periods, for the first time in my life, that were either very short, or near heamorage proportions, coupled with my first ever experience of PMT, accompanied by regular debilitating migraines.
I believed menopause was a short sharp process. Sometimes it can be.
In my case I was not so lucky.
Next came the night sweats, that soaked me through and a very rare hot flush/flash, if you use American English. These interrupted my sleep on a regular basis, making a decent night's rest near impossible.
Eventually I got desperate and went to see a naturopath.
Bio-identical hormones really helped me, along with managing my excessively high cortisol levels from the number of stresses and grief I was experiencing. A series of traumas saw my cortisol levels soar. Luckily yet again, my naturopath, picked this up and I was spared the dire consequences of long term accelerated cortisol levels. However, my adrenal glands were pretty much exhausted from so many high energy demands, which compounded other hormonal fluctuations. My naturopath was a lynch pin in staying sane and actually improving my health through this time.
I also went to a qualified Chinese Medical Practitioner, who used accupuncture to stimulate my hormones and relieve my migraines.
At around the same time I started researching menopause, as well as talking to other women and some men about it.
Germaine Greer's 'The Change', helped connect me with other women's experience and cultural aspects of "the climateric', as it was traditionally known. Dr Christiane Northrup's 'The Wisdom of Menopause', gave me excellent medical and biological information about what was happening to me. Finally Suzanne Summers book, 'Breakthrough' provided me with perspectives on healthy ways to approach my future, with a fascinating exploration about the plethora of alternatives that are available to women as they age and simple measures one can take towards on-going health and quality of life.
I discovered that menopause is a process where a woman's brain completely rewires itself, based upon the hormonal chages we go through during the climacteric. It is a process that may take up to seven years and accompanied my mild to overwhelming physical symptoms and discomfort.
These books explore both the synthetic and bioidentical hormone debate. However, we should remember that menopause is not a 'medical condition, but a natural process.
Germaine Greer's exploration of 'The Change' thoroughly examines the cultural and medical history of menopause and how it forces a changed perspective of life on women, ultimately forcing us to evaluate, take stock and act, opening the door to positive change, where our biology forces us to "put ourselves first" often for the first time in our lives.
Dr Christiana Northrup, touched a chord with me when she explored her own battle with accepting her vulnerability, rather than denying it to survive in workplaces and relationships, where, once cast in the role of a "strong woman" you can do anything except reach out to others and say "I need you" or even acknowledging you are struggling. This was a huge issue for me and I suspect many other women who have had successful careers, where they have had considerable reponsibility and power and shows of weakness were repressed.
It saddens me that so many women get put on anti-depressants by doctors around the time of peri-menopause, where bioidentical hormones can smoothe bumpy emotional rides such as my own.
Personally I would never go down the path of synthetic oestrogen replacement, but this is an issue for all women to research and discuss with their health practitioner(s). Bioidentical hormones are not cheap, so women in precarious financial scenarios are further disadvantaged here. The trick is, to be informed and make choices that work for you, as well as allowing yourself time out, to deal with the emotional changes you may well need to explore, confront and embrace.
Another essential thing for women to get checked out, if they are having mood swings and feeling exhausted and lack lustre at any age is their thyroid function. Either hypo or hyper thyroid function is more common as women reach the climacteric, affecting up to one in eight women. Undetected hypo or hyper thyroid activity are very dangerous medical conditions with dire consequences if not treated. My own thyroid was underactive and luckily picked up early. It explained why I was always exhausted and gaining weight that I just couldn't take off.
As for me now, my main concern is that we ensure future generations of women are informed and educated about the climateric and the physicall and emotional changes they may encounter. I hope the days of the stereotypes of "the mad woman in the attic" and the "hysterical woman" may be put well behind us, along with the taboo of openly discussing menopause, even between ourselves. Surely something so natural, should be seen as a rite of passage and something for women to both know about and celebrate, rather than be condemned to secrecy and even perhaps shame?
My menopause may not have been a smoothe one, but nearing the end of it and having made enormous changes to my life that parallel its course, I can honestly say that my climateric has been a catalyst for positive transformation.