How do any of us pinpoint that moment on our menopausal journey when we know we need to ask for help? Mine was the receipt of a white flag email from my husband. The over riding sentiment was that he loved me, the under lying one was that it was time to call in the cavalry.
Plagued by PMT most of my post child-birth years I was a nightmare to live with for at least half of each month. I can say that now, but obviously no-one was permitted to say that at the time, at least not out loud or unless I suggested it first!
My husband called it my “flash to bang” ie the time between something irritating me a little and me morphing into godzilla.
There isn’t a definitive timescale on the menopause nor a guarantee that our experience will be the same as others. Each story is unique. For me as the peri-menopausal journey progressed, the shorter my fuse became. The result was detrimental to our family health.
We are a close unit. We chat, we laugh, we share. Our family mantra is “Hug me!! Love me!!” My situation was destroying all of that. I knew it, I could see it but I couldn’t stop it on my own despite all my best efforts.
The solution for me came in a tube of bio-identical hormone therapy. As a general rule I am not into natural therapy of any kind. I am always the one in the corner rolling her eyes and groaning at the mere mention of the word alternative. Why have acupuncture when you can have a pain-killer is largely my view. When it came to my hormones, however, I knew I wanted a treatment that targeted my symptoms specifically and not those of the generic majority. So to celebrate turning 50 I threw everything and every pound I had at finding a solution.
Hormone therapy, bio-identical or otherwise is such a personal issue and demands careful thought and consideration. It is a subject that can divide a nation of midlife women as much as the Brexit vote.
I was alone amongst my friends on my hormone therapy journey, who were and still largely are reticent about its “safety”. I placed my faith in the fact that millions are spent every year on medical research to make our lives better and whilst as with everything there are risks, in this age of information we are well equipped to make educated decisions.
My mission at the time was simply to improve my quality of life and preferably before I hit my 50th. The result? Well it worked for me and thereby my family, so for me it was a win win.
What improved? Well everything really. My general mood was the biggest issue at the outset and I was assured that my low level of progesterone (the happy hormone) was the cause, so that became the core focus for my initial prescription. My mood improved significantly but there were other benefits too - my anxiety dissipated, my heart palpitations disappeared, the fog around my brain lifted, my skin started to glow again and I slept better and we all know if we sleep well we feel well.
With the benefit of hindsight, the secret to a good menopausal journey is to start managing the symptoms early and not wait for them to overwhelm you.
Hormone therapy is not an overnight miracle cure, for me it took three to four weeks to notice a difference. When it happens, however, the euphoria is akin to that when you first fall in love and there is a definite feeling that you have simply arrived in your happy place!
Fast forward a year and that status quo evaporated. Following my shock cancer diagnosis over Christmas I underwent radical surgery just short of my 51st birthday and shifted from a position of wonderful equilibrium to one of instant chaos.
Like many others of my age battling with the menopause, I dreamed of the halcyon days free of the side effects of my yo-yoing hormones, but letting nature take its course and being suddenly dropped into the menopausal abyss forced by surgery are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
It is brutal believe me, like free-falling and landing face down without a crash mat. All those earlier menopausal side effects that hormone therapy had helped to manage returned plus some, which is not surprising as my hormone levels quite simply flatlined.
In the early days post-surgery it is all about pain management and rehabilitation so any thoughts of the menopause and hormone therapy were really at the bottom of the pile of priorities but it was always on my radar. For the year before my surgery it had become my fix, my elixir if you will – I couldn’t just abandon it.
Right now I am at a crossroads. I have passed the 12 week post surgery stage, there is tick in the box and hormone therapy is on the agenda again.
There are many who have questioned my eagerness to revisit it, inferring that I might as well just deal with the menopause now that I am in the thick of it, but that is largely the view of those who are already “white-knuckling” it. In fairness, what they can’t appreciate is that a menopausal woman who hasn’t undergone surgery still benefits from small amounts of oestrogen and progesterone but I am not. My body is recovering from the physical and emotional trauma of surgery and a complete depletion of my hormone supply and they have a job to do in protecting us against heart disease, dementia and osteoporosis.
Surgical menopause like any other can be managed and having found something that worked for me before I am confident I can again. Whether I will revert to bio-identical treatment or not I am yet to decide.
The two most important men in my life at the moment have differing viewpoints. The first, my surgeon and the man to whom I owe my life in the inimitable way of medical professionals refers to it as “voodoo medicine” and simply advocates an oestrogen patch. The second, my husband, my rock and the man I love with every fibre of my being says stick with what worked. Indecision is the territory of menopausal madness but I am a woman on a mission to get back in control of my life and manage my long term health along the way and in the short term at least hormone therapy has a role to play.
Do you have a menopausal journey story to share? Either your own or a partner's? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.