I was pushing my luck on deadline as the editor of a weekly newspaper, holding out for a story a reporter was taking too long to write, when it happened. My mouth suddenly went very dry – in fact, bone dry – and my heartbeat seemed to think my legs were picking up pace at the end of a very long marathon. An overwhelming sense of doom crippled my ability to do anything more than immediately seek some fresh air in the car park.
That was my first, and worst, panic attack. An ambulance, a good once-over by a paramedic and a week in bed (I kid you not) eventually led to the diagnosis of… panic, triggered by a hot flush.
Yes, a ‘mere’ hot flush!
I was only 47 at the time and assumed the menopause was some way off. The age of 55 was the precise milestone I had in mind. It never occurred to me that the effects can actually start long before periods stop.
What took me by complete surprise was that I felt ill. Many women have told me since that hot flushes and night sweats left them feeling dreadful.
First Signs of ‘The Change’ Can Be Subtle
The obvious signs of the menopause are often coupled with some rather vague ones. A simple blood test can determine if you are peri-menopausal.
Some things to look out for include:
- Repeated UTIs. Urinary tract infections are common in menopausal women. Always seek medical advice if an infection does not clear up with treatment.
- Unfortunately, mood swings are another sign. So, if you find yourself complaining that the bouquet your other half bought you ‘wasn’t worth the money’ or doesn’t contain your favourite blooms, it should be a lightbulb moment. Flying off the handle at something trivial or experiencing feelings of extreme lowness or elation is fairly common. It’s often out of character and embarrassing too.
- Feeling tired all the time is one of the most common side-effects of the menopause. I remember the fatigue was so bad that I lost interest in hobbies. Flaking out on the sofa as soon as I got in from work became almost the norm. However, the tiredness is often coupled with insomnia, which only adds to the feeling of exhaustion.
- Because ‘the change’ is the gift that keeps on giving, it throws another, unflattering spanner in the works – weight gain. While this is often due to uneven distribution of fat deposits, it can change the way you feel about yourself – increasing low mood.
- Loss of confidence. This can be image-related or impact an area of your life that never previously threw up any curve balls. In my case, I lost the confidence to drive. I became a nervous wreck behind the wheel and, eventually, got rid of my car.
Surviving The Menopause: Top Tips
There is nothing you can do to hold back the inevitable. However, you can get your body in the best possible shape to limit symptoms.
Here are my tips:
- Exercise – it may be the last thing you feel like but, trust me, going for a brisk walk will increase your energy levels and improve your mood.
- Quit smoking – nicotine is never good for your body, especially when it is going through such a big transition.
- Drink more water – it will flush out impurities, improve your skin tone and reduce tiredness.
- You are what you eat – change your diet to include calcium rich foods. Think of milk, fish and green veg. Superfoods like broccoli are a ‘must’. Eggs and red meat are also recommended, along with high fibre foods. If you are concerned about your diet, consider supplementing it with Evening Primrose Oil or multi vitamins.
- Pep up your skin care routine – the menopause can dry out your skin. Invest in a good moisturiser and use it regularly. You may want to treat yourself to a beauty balm and hand cream to lift your spirits.
I can assure you that things do get better. Now that I am the ‘other side’, I am back to my old self again. I have great skin, am losing weight and, yes, in spite of cancer treatment, I have energy!
Other articles I’ve written that you may be interested in:
My experience was the inspiration for my popular fiction book Midlife Crisis.