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A ‘Bit’ About Perimenopause

by Jo McEwan

For something that happens to every woman, it’s mind-boggling how little most of us know about menopause, let alone perimenopause!

My perimenopause (and until fairly recently, who knew there was such a thing?) arrived like most women’s with more of a whimper than a bang.

During a visit to my GP for something none hormone-related, in answer to her question about how I felt in general, I unexpectedly found myself offloading how not like myself I felt: I was a bit tired, a bit hot, a bit grumpy, my hair was getting a bit thin. She asked me whether I was still having periods. I was, but now she came to mention it, they were getting quite hit and miss. On hearing I was 49, she joined the ‘bits’ together saying, “you’re in perimenopause”, a new word for a new life chapter! I was on the perimenopause train, final destination menopause, with more importantly a life ‘post-menopause’.

Blissfully unaware of the mechanisms of menopause, my journey of discovery began and was accompanied by some extra symptoms. Of the 34 symptoms linked with falling oestrogen levels in menopause, I experienced some of the quirkier ones – formication (sensation of insects crawling under the skin), sensitivity to smells (my own smell included, my nearest and dearest assure me that I only think I smell, who knows?) tinnitus (a ringing in the ears which added to the increased sense of anxiety I was feeling) and more hot flushes.

What was to be done? In researching symptom management for our website, I’d tried essential oils, (sage and peppermint), supplements (red clover), made tweaks to my diet, introduced exercise in to my life but the hot flushes were still winning. The impact of these flushes, always unwelcome and unwanted, increased my anxiety levels, making me self-conscious and less in control. After one too many hot flushing, anxious episodes, I decided that it was time to consider HRT.

Pre-armed with information courtesy of the NICE guidelines on menopause management and having spoken to a number of doctors and women’s health professionals about the safety of HRT, I made another visit to my GP. I’m fairly healthy with no known high-risk factors, so after a chat about the risks and benefits I left the appointment clutching a prescription for HRT.

Two years on, whilst the HRT patches have kept most pesky menopause symptoms at bay, the flushes are slowly returning and all too often I find myself staring at the bedroom ceiling, catastrophising at 3 am. Rather than try to change the HRT prescription in the current supply crisis, I’m using the Clarity mindfulness app and am starting an online CBT programme. Whilst this won’t stop the symptoms, it will help me to change and manage my negative reactions. There’s lots of evidence to show that CBT works for hot flushes, so I’m feeling fairly optimistic.

What have I learnt on this ‘journey’? We’ll all have a unique experience of menopause, from those ‘sailors’ sailing through menopause with ne’er a symptom suffered, to those who have debilitating, life-changing experiences with 3 in 4 of us being somewhere in the middle. We shouldn’t compare and should make decisions based on our own experience, philosophy and health history.

In a time when women live, love and work longer, post-menopause, the more women know before perimenopause appears in their life, the more informed choices they can make, helping to make it a more positive experience which they are in control of. At PositivePause, we say ‘It’s no longer about the time of the month, it’s now the time of your life’. Arm yourself with knowledge that can only help!

See Jo's amazing work at positivepause.co.uk