Where to begin?
It’s hard to know where to begin when I don’t know where the beginning was. Who knows where the end will be?
Perimenopause wasn’t really a word I resonated with until I did some training and qualified as a Certified 3rd Age Woman Instructor (Women’s Wellness).
Some time later, I started to experience some of the symptoms I’d learnt about and was curious to know if it meant that my journey had begun. However, it wasn’t until things were particularly bad that I sought help and I really knew I was in this stage of my life.
Full disclosure, I’m not medically trained or qualified to give advice on medical issues. My comments and opinions are spoken from lived experience, chats with friends and peers and information gleaned from books, podcasts and experts. I always recommend speaking to your doctor, specialised menopause nurse or health professional to discuss your individual circumstances.
When did I first notice things ‘weren’t right’
This is impossible to pin down precisely, and exactly why perimenopause is such a challenge. A switch didn’t flip overnight like breaking a bone in an accident and suddenly I knew “I’m in perimenopause”. There wasn’t a clear idea that I’d lost my sense of ‘self’. I didn’t wake one day and say, oh, now I’m perimenopausal and the roll call of symptoms presented in an orderly and neat manner.
Perimenopause is messy. It is overwhelming and confusing. You might at some point realise you’ve lost your mojo, or you might not. The rollercoaster is unpredictable and life can unravel. No two women experience the same bundle of symptoms, we’re all unique and our transition through perimenopause is unique too. Whether you’re overwhelmed, lacking purpose, missing connections that once felt good and right, this time in our lives is deep and complex.
The Hot Flushes
Hot flushes hit me randomly, often really inconveniently. Sometimes when I run my temperature regulation fluctuates massively. But not always. It’s impossible to predict. Suddenly mid-run I can get so hot my digestive system seems to give up and I have to stop. Stomach cramps can double me up and make me wince in pain. This symptom has been worse (though sporadic) this winter and I’m already thinking ahead to how I’ll cope when the temperature is hotter in summer. Perhaps I’ll have to plan runs next to rivers so I can take a dip and cool off!
Adding to the confusion, is the symptoms of perimenopause can present outside of perimenopause, at any point in your life. I’ve had sporadic joint pains for years…then a few years ago sitting down one day and I screamed in pain. I couldn’t sit, couldn’t stand. The pain was excruciating to the point I thought I’d need to call 999. Then as quick as it came on, it went. Was this a symptom of perimenopause or not? I’ll never really know.
The Brain Fog
Brain fog is one of the biggest issues I’ve faced. The slow erosion of ‘who I am’ is frankly quite frightening. Feeling that life is out of my control is discombobulating at best.
I think for a long time, a good few years I’d guess, I didn’t know I wasn’t ‘right’. It comes in waves, rolling in like the tide. For one day, or perhaps a few days in a row I can be fine, and then suddenly wham….the fog rolls in and I just ‘can’t be bothered’ with anything. And I know that’s not me.
I love being active. I’m a mindful person, I meditate and take time out in nature to simply be – this is part of my life that’s linked to my core values and I treasure this space I’ve created for myself. Yet, at times I simply didn’t want to go for a walk and didn’t recognise that the lack of joy was creeping in.
The Apathy and Grief
Even in the moment, when I was aware of the lack of enthusiasm for anything I just couldn’t bring myself to be anything other than apathetic. I think I felt a sense of grief that I wasn’t enjoying the things that brought me joy – especially movement and exercise.
I’m currently reading Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? by Dr Julie Smith and it’s making sense now that there is an aspect of grief with perimenopause that needs to be acknowledged and worked through.
The Anger and Sadness
I’ve felt anger and sadness that menopause and perimenopause – along with all the things that get thrown at me – wasn’t taught at school, wasn’t really discussed at home. I get it now, my elders didn’t speak of ‘such things’. I barely remember any conversations even amongst friends about periods or pregnancy, so what chance did menopause have!
Throughout my journey so far, it is evident that I’ve been on a big and scary rollercoaster of emotions. I do wish I’d known what I might be forced to experience. As I said above, the fear I’ve felt has to some extent been exacerbated by all of it being so unknown. I’ve only touched on my experiences here. Like many women I’ve spoken to, we agree we could all write our own book on this topic. I’m sure there’d be some interesting sections to read if our partners and loved ones made a contribution to the words enclosed.
I know now that this 3rd age period of a woman’s life isn’t to be feared. Fear comes from threats (potential or actual) and not knowing. Fear can be tamed if we arm ourselves with knowledge and take control. By talking openly to our partners, friends and relatives, speaking in public about it too, all can absolutely help. The more people that hear the word menopause and see it as the normal thing women experience the better. It is not a taboo subject, it’s totally normal and women don’t need to feel this is something to hide or be ashamed of.
Taking Action. Taking Control
I took control (and continue to do) by reading, learning, listening to podcasts and the stories from other women. I joined a local online group where talking about menopause is normalised. Eventually I realised the symptoms I was experiencing might be improved by HRT. I spoke with the best person at my doctors surgery and after a really great conversation was prescribed HRT patches. That was in May 2021.
HRT isn’t suitable for everyone and there are alternative treatments. I’m grateful that I could receive this treatment because within a week I started to feel more like my old self. I had spent months knowing I ‘should’ go to the gym but failing to do so. Running, which is normally a good release and a form of meditation for me was a constant battle. Within a few weeks of being on HRT I was back out running and enjoying it. I won’t lie, regaining fitness continues to be an uphill effort, but isn’t it always.
Self Development through coaching
The other thing I did was to seek coaching for myself. I’ve been self-employed for over a decade, well almost 13 years now in fact and I’m always keen to explore new ways to work. It turns out that having coaching was one of the best investments in my self development ever. It also led to me becoming a qualified coach myself so I can share my passion for learning and self development with others.
Self-discovery, learning about my inner thoughts, beliefs and values has transformed my approach to life, work and all the things in between. In some ways I feel that coaching has enabled me to grow up and take control of my life.
By taking control of my thoughts and how I approached my days there is a positive ripple effect in my life. How we speak to ourselves, that little voice in our head, can play horrible tricks on us. I learnt how to have a decent conversation with myself, which I know sounds odd, but it really can work. Positive thoughts have led me to making better choices – which ends up with my days being filled with happier things.
I’m not saying that sticking a HRT patch on was a miracle cure, there’s been a lot of mental work and my days aren’t always glowing, joyful experiences. Who’s life is like that anyway. We are human beings which means we have imperfections. I’ve learnt how to embrace those and to accept the good, the bad and the ugly stuff I encounter on the journey.
I love this quote, it embodies what I have learnt about myself.
Some things that have helped me
- Talking – with myself, with friends, with a coach*, with the nurse, in person and in online forums
- Research – finding out that what I’m going through happens to a lot of other women. I am not alone, and in the sense of self-compassion, what I’m experiencing is a natural, human thing
- Being really open with my partner about how I’m feeling. He might not know I’m doing this but I’m talking more, not hiding.
- Movement – even when I don’t feel like it, moving my body helps. I set myself a step target to stay motivated a few years ago and am still maintaining that now.
- Practicing self-compassion – the three pillars are Self-Kindness, Common Humanity, and Mindfulness (there’s a bit more about this in my article on Feeling Overwhelmed)
- Meditation and Breathwork – being still and breathing well are the best antidote to stress.
- Journaling – writing down my thoughts, that might be in a structured way or as a brain dump. I’ve created a resource for you with a collection of questions and prompts which you can download here.
- Having a routine / habits – knowing what things I want to achieve on a daily basis, and having a check list, has kept me functional on the days when I really felt like sleeping all day. I have flexibility in my routines, but planning ahead has definitely kept me going.
- Pausing & Prioritising self care – resting, relaxing, being still, taking my morning coffee outside and simply listening to the dawn chorus (I’m an early riser!).
*Coaching is completely confidential and a judgement free space. Coaching conversations don’t need to focus on menopause as the exclusive topic. It’s intertwined in ‘life stuff’ so whatever you bring to coaching be sure you can talk openly. I hope that by sharing some of my journey and things I’ve encountered will help you know that I see you, I hear you and I will be listening while walking the path along side you.
Adopting better habits and thought patterns can help us accomplish far more than we feel is possible. Life coaching conversations can help you make those positive changes. You have the space and time to explore what keeps you stuck, unfulfilled and not living aligned to your values. If this sounds like something you’d like to look into take a look at the Services I offer or get in touch to arrange an initial free and informal chat.
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