It Must Be My Hormones – The HRT Debate

It Must Be My Hormones – The HRT Debate

One of my Fabulous Fifty resolutions for 2017 is to address my hormones once and for all.  This may seem an overly dramatic statement but it is something I have been battling with for a while.  I have written previously about my menopausal madness which manifests itself largely with me feeling irritable, impatient, forgetful, tired and fuzzy headed. Everyone's experience is different and I am sure as my mid-life journey continues my symptoms will vary but this period of transition for me currently is all about my mood and general feeling of well-being.

Hormones regulate every function in our bodies and when in balance they make us feel healthy, energetic and more in control of our lives.  As we age and some of these hormones decline then the balance is upset and a range of symptoms like mine may manifest themselves.

I have always suffered from severe PMS but this is on a different scale.  For a couple of years now I have dipped in and out of various consultations with my GP and been referred to a gynaecologist regarding the best way forward and HRT is always presented as my saviour.  My mother started taking HRT in her mid-40's and to this day absolutely swears that it saved her sanity.  But we live in a different world now.  Is it the be all and end all?

Some friends have sailed through the menopause without any problems at all apart from a steely determination to not let it beat them!  Others have battled with hot flushes and horrific insomnia and come out the other end with a bigger waist.  Very few, however, have actually turned to HRT.

HRT is and always will be a hot topic and in recent years, many women have stopped taking it because of apparent growing evidence that the risks outweigh the benefits.  I am not adverse to chemicals, if there is a pill to rid me of something I will always be first in the queue.  Also I don't pay much attention to these trials as they are rarely conducted on a sample that matches "me", but I have listened to the arguments over the years and as the time drew closer for me to make a choice and stop dithering, I decided that I didn't want a one size fits all approach.

Our health is our wealth and I want to be better informed about the choices available to help me get through this peri-menopausal hell and looking ahead, to be better prepared for the menopause and all the life changes that has to bring.  The decision I make now is a long-term investment in my health and to that end I decided I would rather have a treatment that was tailor-made for "me" and what was happening specifically in "my" body.

So on this basis, research and recommendations from friends led me to look at bio-identical hormone treatment which uses plant-derived hormones that are identical in chemical structure to those found in the human body.  Basically this means that because they are an exact copy of the hormones we produce they work in our body in the way they are supposed to and prescribed properly do not carry with them any of the side effects or health risks of HRT.

For my birthday present to myself I booked a consultation which included a review of my medical history, a full physical examination and blood tests to review my hormone and thyroid function, blood biochemistry, Vitamin D levels and full blood count.  These tests aside, to me the most important questions I was asked were "Why are you here?  What concerns you the most?  What do you want to achieve from this for yourself?"  Dealing with women and their hormones on a daily basis whether, pre-natal, post-natal or menopausal must be tedious but no medical professional had actually asked me these questions before about "me" and how "I" was actually feeling, just about my symptoms.

So what did I achieve?  Well after a very thorough consultation I returned a week later for the results.  On that morning my husband texted me and said "I hope you get the answers you want."  Ultimately that is what I wanted  more than anything else.  I wanted someone to say you are experiencing this because of X, Y and Z.  Did I get that? Yes I did.  In hindsight I don't know how I would have felt if I hadn't but in short my tests confirmed that I was peri-menopausal (no surprise there really); my oestrogen level was decreasing but most significantly of all my progesterone level was low.

Being presented with a sheet of numbers for my bloods and being shown where my figures sit in the normal range was great but I needed a translation of what this meant and how it related to my situation. Well oestrogens perform a range of vital tasks in our body such as regulating our body temperature, helping us to sleep, supporting the collagen in our skin, maintaining our memory, concentration and bone density as well as helping to keep our moods positive. If that isn't enough they also protect us from cardiovascular disease and assist in the production of serotonin, which is responsible for decreasing depression, irritability and anxiety.

As for progesterone, well it truly is the happy hormone.  Its primary function is to relieve tension in the body; it decreases anxiety and depression and also relaxes us, thus keeping us calm and balanced.  On the whole it is a natural tranquiliser.  It is the first hormone to be depleted on our way to menopause and those who are progesterone deficient commonly complain of excessive irritability and mood swings like me.

As a result I have been prescribed a carefully calibrated dose of bio-identical hormones to apply in a cream via the skin twice a day.  The emphasis is on increasing my progesterone levels but I have also been prescribed an oestrogen cream as it is important that both hormones are at a level where they both balance each other because this is what it is all about, restoring my body's hormonal balance and thus getting everything back on track.  I recognise that this is not a miracle cure, but just one component of managing my mid-life changes, however, at the moment I am in right now, it is a potential antidote for my crazy lady syndrome and for that I and my family will be grateful as long as it works of course!  It is very early days but until my review in 8 weeks I am doing as instructed and applying the cream.




Teenagers Abroad – The Holiday Every Parent Dreads

Teenagers Abroad – The Holiday Every Parent Dreads

There are two significant rites of passage in a teenager's life.  The first is the festival following the completion of their GCSE's, the second is the holiday abroad with their mates after their A'levels.  The use of the words teenagers and holiday in the same sentence are guaranteed to strike terror into the hearts of most parents but it is an inevitable event.

Despite being aware of this milestone ourselves, now only six months away from our eldest teenager leaving college and embarking on a new life chapter, the reality of the "Teenagers on Tour" holiday is no more palatable now than it was this time last year.

As a mother of course it is the territory of nervous breakdown.  He is proudly wearing the badge of having survived unscathed a five day festival in Cornwall last year so equally I have experience of surviving the mental anxiety of possible sunstroke, excess alcohol, swimming in the sea under the influence and falling off a cliff, so what more is there?

Well there is as much as your mind allows.  But inevitably, excess alcohol is still there along with jumping off a hotel balcony, being mugged or worse still being drugged by those who make a living out of targeting vulnerable teenagers or even being arrested and thrown into a foreign jail to rot.

We have all been teenagers of course but parenting one is a whole different ballgame.  The discussion as to where to go has been an interesting one to say the least and has occupied many a conversation around the dinner table for a few weeks now.  Magaluf, Ibiza, Malia, these are all touted openly to teenagers as the place to go.  They are cheap and come with a guarantee of fun and no imagination required.    As each of the teenagers in my son's group started to suggest a destination I was behind the scenes contacting mothers I know that have been through this already with their older teenagers to canvas their opinion.

In hindsight it probably wasn't a wise move as of course the more you dig the more worms you will find and I found them in bucket loads.  "Oh no he doesn't want to go there.  That's where they film "Brits Abroad"!"  "He wants to avoid that island it is just organised chaos!" As you can imagine trying to feed this back into the group chats without appearing to influence their decision was not easy and there were a few fiery moments along the way.  Desperately I turned to my husband for help who had been quietly ignoring everything from his armchair for days. Forced into the front line his question to our teenager was "What are your criteria for choosing somewhere?"  Seriously??!! They are a bunch of 18 year olds.

It is not sightseeing, it is not regular mealtimes, it is not being nagged to "get up and get a move on!" or "have a shower!"  Essentially it is absolutely not about following rules especially your parents', it is about doing what the hell you like when you like, it is about hanging out with your mates who get you 100%, who you love and adore for all the right reasons before you all disperse to different parts of the country, it is totally about having a ball ... and that quite frankly needs no explanation to anyone that has been a teenager.

My first holiday away was InterRailing which was the go-to option back in the 80's.  For a month we jumped on and off trains across Europe, hyper-ventilating on the whole sense of adventure and complete unfettered freedom.  We visited some spectacular sights but we also slept in some really dodgy places, were mugged at gun point and ultimately begged our way home from Southern Spain to Dover as we ran out of money and had to survive on eating left over sandwiches and packets of abandoned biscuits and all without a single mobile phone in sight!

A three month tour around Asia whilst at university, involved hiring a Harley Davidson and cycling pillion through the mountains of Northern Thailand without a helmet - of course I would go ballistic if one of mine did that! In the style of Thelma and Louise, we drove an open top yellow jeep around the whole of Bali and got a buzz on being girls in arms together.  We sat on the roof of a train through the paddy fields of Malaysia because there was no room inside.  We risked our lives on a daily basis on the unlicensed Phut Phut's in Bangkok to visit such sights as the Temple of  the Golden Buddha.  We got drunk on Singapore Slings in Raffles Hotel because there was a monsoon going on outside.  We bought beautiful silk on the street markets and had it made into fabulous dresses for less than a tenner and dreamt of being the best dressed girls back at Uni.  We slept outdoors on the beaches in Koh Samui.  We ate well, drank alot, smoked way too many Marlboro reds (because everyone did), met fabulous people, soaked up the culture and created 100% A1 star memories.

I am under no illusion that our son will make any of these kind of memories on his first holiday abroad but it is the first step to real independence and experiences that will shape him as a young man and after working so hard I want him to enjoy being with his mates one more time.  In the meantime of course it is all about safety! Despite the horror stories, the reality is that most teens have a great time and return home in one piece if not a little bit worse for wear and smelly!

The parents have set up a group chat of their own to confirm a location everyone is happy with, to exchange emergency contact details and ultimately to agree on a line of fire for the boys.  Preaching to them is no good at all and nagging is totally off limits or they will push those boundaries even further.  They have all been away together before so they know each other's weak spots and how to look out for each other. Parenting teenagers is a battle between letting them go and wrapping them in cotton wool.  We have to let out that rope now and trust them on the next stage.  In addition, we have passed on our own words of wisdom as "has-been teenagers ourselves" and hopefully they will adhere to our advice even whilst having fun!




Fabulous Fifty..What Does It Really Look Like?

Fabulous Fifty..What Does It Really Look Like?

This is the year I turn 50, as will according to Google, such female acting luminaries as Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts, plus Carla Bruni and Sam Taylor-Johnson. Of these fellow, "soon-to-be" quinquagenarians I would most like to align myself with Julia or Sam whose approach to ageing seems most akin to my own of wanting to grow old gracefully rather than pursue a quest to look younger. I want to enter this next decade of my life knowing how best to keep healthy and look fantastic without resorting to alternative means of feigning youthfulness.  The taut foreheads of Nicole and Carla are not for me.

Turning back the clock is something we all wish for from time to time, not simply from an aesthetic perspective but in order to be able to relive those fabulous experiences that have shaped who we have become.  In my 20's I was a single, ambitious career girl who worked hard and played hard.  In my 30's I experienced my most significant life changes. I got married, became a first time mother, a divorcee, a single working mum and then a woman embarking on her second marriage.  In my 40's I put the brakes on my PR career and became a full-time parent.  Every decade has been filled to the brim with wonderful life experiences I wouldn't change for the world.

Now on the precipice of my 50's I am older, wiser and certainly more self-assured and with one teenager about to turn 18 and leave home for University, I have the time to take stock, make some amendments to my lifestyle and embrace the next decade with the same enthusiasm as the last four.


So at the juncture of this second half of my life what is changing?  What does facing 50 really look like - warts and all?  Facially most people would say that I have not changed that much.  At a party over the summer I was recognised immediately by an old work colleague I hadn't seen for 30 years.  I have lines on my forehead and around my eyes but these have been with me most of my life and having watched my mother age before me I am pretty sure they go with my genetic territory.  But genes can't account for everything.

Our skin is made up of around 80% collagen when we are young and then as early as the age of 25 it starts to decline as the natural moisture is depleted, so as you would expect, at 50 mine is not as plump and dewy looking as I would like anymore and is inevitably getting drier.   Aside from my skin, my teeth have also suffered the test of time and are thinner and susceptible to chipping.

Physically, I am gaining weight.  My waist has moved through the decades from an enviable 23 inches to a comfortable 27 inches.  This is not big I know that, just annoying in that with a passion for following fashion I have a wardrobe full of clothes that I can't bring myself to throw away because too many wage packets were sunk to buy them, but equally I can't wear for any other reason than my burgeoning peri-menopausal waist.  I am a bit stiffer than I used to be and with creaky knees I worry about osteoporosis.  My eyesight has also declined; where once I could manage to read a menu at least without my glasses, that is no longer the case and my hearing is definitely not as sharp as it once was.

Getting older is fraught with new challenges and is also quite frankly expensive as you do find that you need "retouching" a little bit more than previously.  My hair needs reviving with a colour on a more regular basis, as do my eyebrows which are getting sparser as each year goes by thanks to the "pencil thin" brow being all the rage when I was a teen.  I also spend more than I should on face creams and love a good facial.  This may seem superficial to some, but the consensus amongst my girlfriends at least is that feeling better about ourselves is crucial to our overall well being.  Just because we are getting older does not mean we have to hang up our heels and hide ourselves in dowdy clothes, invite in the wrinkles or relinquish ourselves to the onslaught of sprouting grey hairs.  Far from it.

So having painted a gorgon like image of myself physically, what is happening mentally?  Well I am becoming more forgetful for sure, particularly my short-term memory.  I have been known to walk into a room to do something and instantly forget why I am there.  I tell my teenagers a piece of information and then repeat it again hours or in some cases just minutes later.  I misplace things regularly and have an annoying habit of putting things in the wrong place or even in a safe place that I then can't recall! Are these early signs of dementia or can I blame this on the dreaded menopause too?  My mood swings are increasingly more godzilla than bambi, but of course "It Must Be My Hormones!"

As I turn 50 and continue further along my life's journey I want to know how best to care for the inevitable changing needs of my skin and body; I want to know how best to nourish myself not only for a long and healthy life but to look and feel great; I absolutely want to continue looking my best whether that involves a new make-up routine or a style revamp; I want to explore supplementing my regular Pilates and Barrecore habit with different exercises as I age; I want to combat my forgetfulness, restore my hormonal imbalance (because there must be one right?) and prevent the onset of disease such as that experienced by my mother.  Ultimately I want to be the healthiest, fittest and best-looking 50 year old I can be.

It is, however, about so much more than wanting to feel and look good.  I want to continue to enjoy being a parent to my gorgeous teenagers and watch them flourish into successful, happy adults.  There is so much more to come with them yet.

What is great about this age is the confidence that comes with knowing who I am.  I don't have to prove myself to anyone anymore - apart from myself.   So I want to continue to pursue the hobbies I love as well as investigate new ones. I am not going to shy away from offers of work, I have the time and the skill and as facing 50 looks like it is going to be more high maintenance than I imagined I can't afford to be fickle.