The Shite They Don’t Tell You About the Menopause!

 

The Chinese call it “A Woman’s Second Spring”.
Westerners call it “The Change”!
I call it “The Hell of my Forties”.

 

YES – I am referring to the menopause. Or to be more specific in my case, perimenopause. It’s the lovely period leading up to the time when our ovaries shrivel up for good and resemble nothing but a pair of dried raisins attached to our ever-thinning uterus.

Today I turn 46. It’s strange to see that number written down, as it confirms that I am closer to 50 with every passing day and yet it doesn’t seem possible. I still feel 21 in my head, my body acts like a 30 year old and my outlook on life remains young – yet I can tell my body is changing and it hasn’t been the smoothest of sailing.

Entering my forties was a breeze, I was fit and healthy and in better condition both physically and mentally than I was in my twenties. I felt awesome! Then two years ago, something happened. I started to feel unwell. I felt as though my whole equilibrium had shifted, I started to experience vertigo that left me unable to walk properly and sometimes not even able to get out of bed. This in turn lead to vision problems and the feeling that my head was being held in a vice, followed by bouts of nausea and vomiting. Each of these episodes would last me three to five days and leave me utterly exhausted. It was a hellish time for me as my new business had just started to flourish and I wanted to invest a lot of time and energy into it, yet most of the time I felt so discombobulated, I could barely make myself a cup of tea.  After a year and a half of tests and visits to ENTs and neurologists, it was determined that I was suffering from migraines with aura. The reason: hormones. After specific bloodwork, my gynecologist confirmed that my estrogen levels had plummeted, the result of which was that I was entering perimenopause.

menopause-mem

This was the start of my journey and honestly, it has only gotten worse!  I also know that when it’s over, when the bright light of menopause (a year without periods) arrives, these symptoms will subside.

This is not a sob story but rather a chance for me to start talking about menopause and the effect it has on women. I have spoken to numerous peers, clients and fellow trainers about this, and it has been determined, beyond doubt, that everything our mothers ever told us about “the change” was crap!  Now I appreciate that every women will have their own experience, and not everybody will suffer; in fact some women float through this period with a joyous glow on their face – lucky ladies!!  Still, we need to talk about this, we need to be open and share our trials and tribulations.

This is the first of a six part series where I will be interviewing specialists in the fields of nutrition, gynecology, physical therapy and personal training amongst a few, to get experts’ perspectives on this confusing time of a woman’s life. Before I dive in, I thought it would be prudent to share my experiences so far.

 

My Own Personal Perimenopause Hell

Migraines 

See above. Yeah I now know how to manage them, and life is so much better, but it took a lot of experimenting with foods, meds and relaxation methods to reduce the stress that often contributes to this multi-faceted infliction.  I still suffer, but with less intensity, knowing that most of the time migraines stop when we reach menopause.

Memory Loss

Tied in with mental confusion and clumsiness, makes me a joy to be around. I sometimes even forget the most basic words so I have to make a list of things to do every single day otherwise I would remember nothing.  This is probably the most frustrating aspect of perimenopause for me as I feel as though I appear stupid to others. I know this is a common feeling among menopausal women. There are ways to help with our cognitive skills as we age in general and this is an area we will explore in more detail.

Depression

Probably just fed up with feeling unwell with migraines, I hit a period of time during my second year where I started to feel numb, bored, lifeless and utterly fatigued. Initially I thought it was my marriage – my poor husband. I just assumed I was bored of HIM, maybe bored of the kids, too. It really took a lot for me to sit back and see that I wouldn’t change any part of my life if could, so why was I feeling this way?  Everybody was noticing, even my kids. They were worried about me, I wasn’t myself and I wasn’t reaching my potential by any stretch.  It was only when I went for my six month check-up with the gynecologist did he see what was happening. He put his arm around me and I sobbed; what had happened to me?  It turned out that my severely low estrogen was causing me depression and it was simply ruining the quality of my life and that of those around me.  This wasn’t something I could simply talk my way out of and counselling was not going to help me; my body was not coping with the changes that were happening.  I now take a very specific SSRI for menopause and it keeps my depression at bay. I know this is only a temporary measure as I can stop taking these drugs once my hormones are not in constant flux.

Urinary Stress Incontinence

On a 5km run in the hilly beauty of Scotland in 2014, I realised that I had peed myself. WHAT?! This had NEVER happened to me before – and how could it? I’m a fitness trainer, I had two kids years ago and never experienced anything like this before. Skipping, trampolining, jumping, sneezing and coughing had never been an issue for me in the years following my two births, yet now, at the age of 44 I was peeing myself. I was devastated and embarrassed!  I immediately went to see a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist for help.  I knew this condition was common and I also knew it wasn’t normal, so I didn’t need to accept it as such.  After some therapy I definitely saw a change and things were under control, but again this is another thing that I just wasn’t expecting. Reduced estrogen means that the body’s collagen tissue isn’t as elastic as it once was (hence wrinkles) and the lining of the uterus thins during perimenopause, which can affect the strength and function of the pelvic floor as a whole. Now before you start clenching tightly and performing kegels, take pause, this area of physiotherapy is quite unique and women need to re-learn how to correctly strengthen and correct any dysfunctions they may have. This is why I want to take time helping us through this complex area. 

Marshmallow Tummy 

I think I have always weighed exactly the same weight since the age of 16 (with the exception of pregnancy), so when I came back from my summer holidays 8lbs heavier than EVER I was gutted. My body had stopped forgiving me for my indulgences! I have always been a pretty clean eater, and love looking after the health of my body, so WHY NOW? Changes in estrogen levels change the structure of fat deposits in the body – moving fat more predominantly to the belly area.  Now let me clarify, hormonal changes didn’t get me extra curvy (eating cream cakes and bacon sandwiches every day made me gain weight) but the way my body reacted to these indulgences had definitely changed. It has given me pause for thought!  We know that our metabolism usually declines by 10% per decade as we age, for both men and women, but this number is not even close to relevant if you have lean muscle mass.

Strength training actively and regularly builds lean muscle mass which is more metabolically-active, whereas fat mass is metabolically-inactive.                          

Now more than ever it is important to keep moving, to lift weights and to stay nutritionally focused.

Smells

Yes I stink! I really do. My armpits smell like a dirty old jock-strap, I have never stunk like this before. On occasion, down in the nether-regions, I am certain that I detect an old lady stale odour  (yes sorry I went there…it’s so gross, but if I won’t and don’t talk about it nobody else will)! Only the other day I squirted my whole body with a bottle of Febreze! Note to all you lovely ladies out there: start carrying Febreze in your handbags.  Changes in hormones also can affect your smell sensitivity similar to in pregnancy, maybe I think I smell worse than I do? Who knows.

the-seven-dwarves-of-menopauseWhat has saved me?

It has become only more apparent to me over these two years that nutrition, exercise and relaxation are key to making this period of my life manageable.  A strength program that is geared towards building lean muscle and keeping my metabolism revved up is key. Avoiding shitty food also helps keep my migraines at bay and my moods lifted – if I binge on starches and sugars (which I seem to crave more than ever in my life) it just makes me hit rock bottom.  Alcohol is not my friend, but it’s on my list to reintroduce once my periods stop forever. I can’t wait to get a little tipsy again! Taking time each day to have some ME-TIME is imperative, a time when I read, nap, knit, go for a walk, something that presses the reset button. Talking about my symptoms to others has been key – speaking to a male trainer friend recently, he explained to me that it’s important that this is a normal dialogue in the industry.

Women in their 40s and 50s are going to be suffering from fatigue, stress and hormonal issues that are just so unique that we all have to be aware of them.

 

Any benefits?

A few!  My periods are almost over. I have only had three periods this year- HELL YEAH!  

The hair on my body has stopped growing, so I haven’t needed to shave my legs more than twice this year, pretty neat right? Hot flashes (flushes) – I only had this for four days but I loved them, as I am always so cold, it was almost a treat to feel that warm all the time. Truthfully though, they are strange and the best way for me to keep those at bay have been regular exercise. Finally, my boobs have grown  – this is a bonus for my husband, but not for me, I hate this actually.

It’s been pretty hard for me to lay bare my issues in this format, but I think it is essential. I am looking forward to producing more information on this topic in the following five articles, and at the end of the series I will be providing you with strength programs that will provide benefits the perimenopausal  symptoms. I am also looking forward to interviewing some industry leaders so that you don’t just learn about my experiences, you also will get facts that will help you with the WHY it happens? And the HOW to find solutions to THE CHANGE in our lives!

 

Are you suffering from perimenopause? Are a trainer, male or female and have encountered similar issues with your client? Tell me your experience.


 

31 Comments on “The Shite They Don’t Tell You About the Menopause!”

  1. Happy birthday Amanda! I’m sending you this email as I don’t have my own Facebook presence ( I am often on Stephen’s which is how I saw this blog) Congratulations! This is very helpful information. I’m sure many women suffer through much of this on their own. Even if there isn’t a simple fix to the issues, it’s nice to know we aren’t going through these changes alone. ( I’m particularly annoyed with my almost complete intolerance to alcohol and my inability to stay awake past 10:00 pm, no matter what) I wanted to know if you will address vaginal dryness in the blog. Full disclosure-I’m now selling a product for this that has been in Canada for a few years, but it’s really taking off. It’s called RepaGyn. Please do your own research and come to your own conclusions, but I personally think it’s a terrific product and definitely a helpful addition to the marketplace. If you want any further info about it, please don’t hesitate to email me. I hope you are all doing well. We are in the middle of taking Declan around to high school open houses, so he can decided where he wants to go. Is Cameron doing the same? I vaguely remember that he left Dewson for a private school-or am I mistaken? All the best, Gillian.

    1. Thank you Gillian. It’s great that all this research is happening and that we start the conversation so it’s not just an embarrassing subject. I don’t actually deal with products but people on here will be reading your comments and might find it helpful.

  2. I could hug you for posting this and I am so excited to read all the research you are planning on sharing. I just read Menopause Confidential by Dr. Tara Allman and it is one of the best that I have read so far. It is quite possible that I have read just about everything published – because as you said, what our mothers told us – or not isn’t all that helpful. And in my case, I am the fist of my peers to go through this (I am 47 – my period ended when I was 45). Perimenopause wasn’t so bad for me – or I wasn’t paying attention. For me, the bumps started once my period stopped. All the messages out there that HRT is bad, that menopause isn’t a sickness and doesn’t need medication all made it very hard for me to eventually make the decision to go on HRT and now I feel so much better. I am happy to share more if it interests you! Thank you again for this!

    1. I call BS on people who say that Pilar! If somebody had asked you 10 years ago about peri-menopause or menopause I am quite sure you would have thought it was going to be a breeze, I knew I thought that. HOW WRONG WE WERE!! hahahaha I know it doesn’t stop once your periods do, I am hoping my migraines and depression stop then though. We should all be united in WOMEN WHO DON’T BLEED (or bleed irregularly, or quite a lot)

  3. Thanks for sharing. I turn 50 in one week and this is really hard for me. So far I only have a marshmallow tummy and my boobs are sagging. I’m in great shape but my mud section just doesn’t look as good as it used to.

    1. Knowing you are not alone Ada, and hopefully this helps others create dialogue too is only going to help us stop this being such a taboo subject. Thanks for reading.

  4. Wow!! Thank the Lord for this blog!! Everything, (apart from self dousing in febreze – though I have now added it to my shopping list) you have described is ME! I thought I was going crazy. My GP (he’s male) put my symptoms down to ‘age’ – not to worry… it’ll pass…. In the meantime , however, my family sit in the other room (for their own sanity & safety) whilst I mumble & chunter & pass wind like a grumpy, bloating, farting, mad woman, recently prone to wetting myself en-route to the loo and forgetting what the hell I was doing on the way!! Thankyou for your blog.. . Its such a relief to know that it’s not just me…. I am not alone! More to the point, there is help out there…… and febreze! I can’t wait to read more….. Thankyou! !

    1. OK. I am literally DYING!!! This is brilliant. Keeping a sense of humour is also another way to save our sanity.
      ps Hoping to get a sponsorship deal out of FEBREZE for this plug

  5. This is great Amanda. I am also 46 and haven’t had too many problems yet except occasionally night sweats, but I know it’s eventually going to happen. I do have a friend who went straight in to menopause after a hysterectomy because of a cancer scare and she has told me how much harder it is to keep her weight where she wants to be and has hot flashes often. I am looking forward to learning more and being able to help women as I am a new personal trainer and I think this is something a lot of younger trainers might not understand.

    1. thank you Shauna. I think this is going to be the perfect series for trainers, male and female to follow. When I was 25-35 I had NO idea, honestly, how could we, nobody dare speak about it!!

  6. Now I’m lmao sitting in my car reading this blog post. I’m intrigued bc I’ve been looking into this very topic for the past few years. It seems you are about to go way deeper than i have and I’m definitely going to be reading every post.

    Yes after years my boobs grew. WTF?!! And this gut won’t go away. Certain food no longer agree with my system. I haven’t eaten turkey or turkey products in over 10 yrs. chicken doesn’t like me either but I try to sneak it in a few times a year because I miss it. Insomnia and periods of being full of tears and then ready to punch somebody’s lights out. My periods are very regular haven’t stopped or slowed down.

    But I’ve that menopause (peri etc) is referred to as the second adolescence. Like the first one we have no damn idea what the hell is going on with our bodies from day to day but we are more mature and emotionally wiser than the first trip through adolescence. And it’s non discriminatory. If you were born with a vagina you will get some of this! Lmao. So yes, I’ve pulled up a seat and I’m all in for this ride. Let’s see what the experts say. Especially this damn breast increase.

    Tips… I am 48 soon to be 49. I was warned by older friends to get as close to Vegan as possible; don’t fight the tears; be alone when I feel the raging coming on and most critical of all… DO NOT stop moving (working out). It’ll be the only means of staying sane.

    1. this was so very refreshing to read, thank you Rene. One of the funniest comments I received was this from my Facebook post;
      I have asked more women about their periods in the past six months than is socially acceptable. I am so desperate for peer information that I’ve lost my ability to care if I make people uncomfortable. I get my period “whenever”. And by whenever I mean one month 35 days…the next 3x in one month. After a barrage of tests I was told this is normal. WTF how is this normal?????I am 47 years old and now going through a desperate search for the right birth control to regulate this shit. I have a punch card at LaSenza because I have to buy my underwear in bulk now I’ve ruined so many. Ugh. Where are my donuts.

  7. Thanks for writing about this, Amanda. So far, I’ve only experienced some new belly fat, memory loss, and yes, occasional peeing when I don’t want to! My mom went through a depression when she was menopausal though, and I did when I was pregnant, so I’m expecting that may happen again when I go through the bigger hormonal shifts to come. My periods are still regular though so I’m not quite there. Being honest about it makes such a difference, and I appreciate you opening up the conversation here.

  8. Hi I am 52 and a trainer and I can tell you the struggle is real. The migraines for me started post menopause as well as the fatigue, the belly fat….well whom am I kidding has always been there so at least now I have an excuse….. Picked up 10 pounds and I can tell you trying to lose is seems almost impossible but I train like crazy strength to keep my sanity and I always try to eat and do the right things and my promise to myself everyday is just keep on trying it is when we give up or in that we lose the battle…so onward and upwards. By the way loved the blogg.

    1. Susan thank you so much for your honesty. It’s so good that women see people like us trainers, who appear to have all our shit together, suffering too. I love that last line where you say you promise yourself everyday to just keep trying. Well said. Let’s keep talking about this important subject.

    2. the migraines have been my absolute worst thing by far – so so debilitating, so I feel your pain. I am glad the blog post resonated with you and provided you some help. The future posts will have practical advise too.

  9. Great post Amanda. It takes courage to put that out there. Thank you for posting it. It reminded me I’m not alone.

    I’ve expienced many of the same things you wrote about. I’ve also found I have more gastrointestinal issues and insomnia that comes and goes. It’s been a few years since I’ve had my period so I’m full-on menapausal. I’m also less than a year away from turning 50 and I can say, it has gotten better. I think that is partially because I am making changes to help minimize the symptoms this change has brought on and acceptance of it. I really look forward to reading your future posts on this topic and thank you again for posting this and starting the conversation within your network.

    1. Insomnia and GI issues are so common, eating a well balanced diet is key as you know. I have some really good advice coming along soon from a PHD in Women’s Nutrition (hint: eat carbs)
      Thank you so much for commenting, and also so nice to see you this morning xxx

  10. Yes! This started for me when I turned 40 last year. Unfortunately my doctor thinks it’s not possible. Apparently I’m “too young”. Baloney!!
    I’ve also found out I have major adrenal issues on top of this so I am a walking basket case these days and decided it was best for me to pull away from my online presence (kettlebell mom) in order to take care of myself.
    Thanks for tackling this very important subject. I look forward to what you find out!

    1. yes I know you Angela – oh I know what you mean. Everyday things just seem an impossible task to do never mind trying to keep up with social media feeds. You know the bright light of all this might just be that we learn to take care of ourselves better and prioritise what is important to us.

  11. Thank you, thank you and once again thank you, the best thing I have read in ages. I too like you am going through the menopause, it really did make me smile, it was as though you had written it for me! The thing I hate most is not being in control, I am a control freak in every thing I do, my home, my work and my daily routine. But this takes over me in ways I didn’t think it could and I can’t stop it. one minutes I am happy the next I am the bitch from hell and no one can do anything right. I am so lucky I have a very understanding husband. After couple of weeks of really bad symptoms as you have expressed as above I thought I should go to my doctors, I didn’t know what to expect from him but felt I came out none the wiser!
    After reading your article at least I now know I am not going mad, senile or have the early signs of dementia, I could go on and on and do feel the need now and again to apologise to everyone I meet for my odd ways, mood swings and just generally not being me. As my doctor said it could last up to 18 months or longer, great pass me the pills!

    1. I feel it’s like an illness, that there is no way to describe. Our symptoms are so random and yet so similar all at the same time. Why can’t our doctors help us? We really have to start to advocate for ourselves and keep talking about it until we get answers. Hope you like the rest of the series! Thanks for the great feedback.

  12. I’m a 54 year old health club manager that has been in the fitness industry for 30 years! You have just about summed up my last 3 years of my periomenopause hell. I am now patiently (haha) waiting to get through this nightmare.
    I so appreciated reading your post and knowing I’m not going crazy! The migraines/vision/vertigo/hot flashes/sweating/nerve pain, etc have been the worst ! Hell!

    1. I saw this the other day and it felt like the perfect wording for how I feel right now;
      All women face menopause, but the passage is seldom easy. Distracting symptoms, confusing medical advice, unsympathetic reactions from loved ones, and the scornful attitudes of society at large often make menopause a lonely and emotionally draining experience.

  13. Such a brave and revealing article Foxy. I applaude you for sharing. I am not there yet, but having had a host of other gynae problems in the last 10 years (including cysts, fibroids and endometreoma) plus rheumatoid arthritis and unexplained infertility, plus hearing about my mothers experiences, I am certainly not expecting an easy ride! Being a woman can certainly be shite, but also rather wonderful at the same time!!

    But having you alongside me for some chuckles and perspective will certainly help! Don’t forget to send me a virtual slap when I start wallowing in self pity or become too self critical, or a hug when I need a little reminder that I am not alone. And I’ll be set on sending them back to you.

    I look forward to reading the rest xx

  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you for taking this on. I’m 51 and my previously lean, strong and fit body is practically unrecognizable. The last year of peri menopause has been nothing short of HELL. Headaches, 15 lb weight gain ( all in the boobs and mid-section), loss of strength, insomnia, emotional swings, adrenal issues, crushing fatigue, Zero tolerance for alcohol (a few glasses of wine ) and many other things I used to enjoy. I have been really struggling with it all and feeling really alone and that there are no good resources for how to manage this time of life. Bio Identical hormones have been a bit of relief but I would love to know other experience with them. Thank you so much for tackling this topic. I cant wait to read more. It would be amazing to have a community (Fb?) of fit and healthy women who can share how they are managing their peri/meno experiences. Or at least to commiserate with others who make me feel like I’m not the only one on the train to crazy town and fatville!!!

    1. can I firstly apologise for not responding, I have transferred over the platform of my website and somehow missed a few. Since your comment I have created a space on facebook called Menopausing So Hard and would love you to join us if you haven’t already. http://www.facebook.com/groups/menopausingsohard
      we really do just support each other and I am talking about this more and more, there is now a podcast on this site you might find useful. Thanks Jennifer

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