Lying on my sofa, with the door open to my balcony, enjoying the mild evening air of Amman, watching a film with my partner he became acutely aware that I was one minute cold, pulling the blanket on my sofa over me, and then the next minute hot, throwing the blanket off and getting up and standing at the open door. He understandably thought I was coming down with something, getting sick. Little did we know I was “coming down with something” – with no warning that was obvious to me then, and no real understanding of menopause, I was perimenopausal.
I was 43.
It took me another 5 months to really start to put some of the pieces together of this jigsaw puzzle called “The Change”. My initial puzzle pieces and most noticeable to me were: hot flushes (of course, classic); night sweats (thought it was because I was in a hot country that I couldn’t handle); ocular migraines (thought it was down to too much laptop use); fluttery heartbeat (thought I was having a panic attack, soon to be a heart attack because of stressful nature of my job); trouble sleeping through the night (again, put it down to stressful nature of my job and traveling a lot and sleeping in different locations).
On reflection I had probably been experiencing a range of these symptoms for a year or more before but had successfully attributed them all to my job and stress.
And the other jigsaw parts: sudden mood swings and sudden tears (over nothing really obvious to me); irregular periods; shorter, lighter periods; heavier periods; longer periods; loss of libido; fatigue; anxiety; depression, difficulty concentrating, brain fogginess, memory loss (can’t remember the number of times I can’t remember the password to my laptop and some days even a friend’s name!); sore joints and muscles (which made me less inclined to go running or do yoga); incontinence (how far to the next toilet?); weight gain (even though my daily activity levels and calorie intake were healthy and had not caused me any issues previously); oh yeah and my personal favourite (not!) visible, dark facial hair that would have me ready to join the circus as The Bearded Lady.
I did the obvious thing – I began to google. But I did not do my usual habit of talking to my girlfriends and partner. I was embarrassed. My initial internet searches pointed me towards perimenopause, and I was embarrassed. As someone who can normally talk openly about life’s ups and downs, I found myself unwilling to want to share my experience with anyone.
I visited my female doctor (I was living in Jordan at the time) for a well-woman check-up (my pretence was to find out about perimenopause) and shared with her my (less embarrassing) symptoms. Her advice – a blood test (measures a hormone called FSH or follicle-stimulating hormone found to be higher in menopause), electrolysis for the facial hair and an electric fan / better air conditioning for my office and home. Two weeks later, and my blood test result in, my doctor diagnosed I was perimenopausal and gave me a recommendation where to go for my hair electrolysis. No other information. Left to think I must simply get on with it, or was I making a drama out of nothing.
Determined to not let anything get the better of me, mixed with denial about my waning fertility and my utter horror that I was moving into a negative stereotypical old hag phase of life, I went into full research mode. Nobody warned me about 99 percent of what I learnt – not my grandmother, not my mother, not my sister or my older girlfriends, not my doctor. And I wondered why? This lack of discussion just added to my embarrassment.
My research efforts (aka google) for the next 12 months focused on how to stop my socially embarrassing features of my perimenopause like stopping my ever-growing moustache and beard (happily took up my doctor’s recommendation). But my hot flushes that continued to make me look at work as if I had just jumped out of a hot shower in seconds and my sudden weight gain around my waist (my new Buddha belly), were harder problems to tackle. And there is A LOT of “helpful” information out there. So much information in fact that I felt frustrated and overwhelmed in equal measure because it was hard to cut through the marketing bulls**t versus tried and tested information. (As a side note, an additional “friend” that accompanies me on my journey through perimenopause / menopause is a muddled brain and really needing information to be easily digestible bites for me to really be able to take it in) I went down the “natural / plant based” approach buying online bottles and boxes of different herbal supplements. And these supplements are not cheap! And there are so many options – a bewildering amount, which I found ridiculously hard to navigate, to understand what works, how has it been tested. Not easy when your brain feels like thick fog. Devouring capsule after capsule in the mornings in the hope that they would make me feel better physically and emotionally, when really the only thing they would probably end up doing is make me sound like a kid’s rattle if I jumped up and down and add a considerable gap in my wallet!
I embarked on adapting my food patterns as well. I felt I had led a healthy active lifestyle, having been a yoga practitioner for many years, hiked, ran (well plodded) and ate a mainly pescatarian and vegetable diet. This is when I really fell down the rabbit hole of information overload. The various “natural menopause plan diet” pages, books, dieticians, nutritionists all based on science apparently, but with a perplexing amount of mild to sometimes completely conflicting different information. Given women make up 49% of the population, and that all of us will be traveling through this perimenopause to menopause and post-menopause journey I wanted a far simpler road map for continued positive health – physically, emotionally, and mentally.
I struggled as well to feel motivated to move my body. My usual strong vinyasa flow didn’t seem to make me sparkle anymore but left me depleted, frustrated when before I would feel light and energised. Running (again more like plodding on a good day) was also something I just didn’t feel motivated by anymore.
I was losing my sparkle in more ways than just the physical changes I first focused on – and I did not like it!
Over the last five years I have continued my perimenopause / menopause journey (and still journeying and learning) and finally began to connect (and re-connect) with a different mixture of bite size ingredients that I could easily digest that support me to sparkle again. And this blog, yoga specifically designed for the menopause transition, meditation, and mindfulness sessions I will share combined with my psychology and wellbeing approach based on my 20+ years of working as a psychologist and mental health specialist. These are the offerings of bite size sparkle I would love to share with you. When women share their stories, we lift each other up. We sparkle. Let’s sparkle together.