You know how it is, pretending to be normal, day after day, is exhausting and after three or four weeks where I was feeling surprisingly mentally switched on, the fog descended again this week. I had McMini off school on Monday which meant that, on some subliminal level, I managed to think it was Sunday and therefore spent Tuesday firmly convinced that it was now Monday, with interesting results. This brain fog is an entirely normal part of my monthly cycle but I’ve reached a point in life where my hormones are exacerbating it.
You may not know this, although you could well have guessed from all the effing and blinding and impotent anger on here – impotent but funny, I hope – but I am at that age when my periods are stopping, or preparing to stop or possibly finished already, I don’t know.
Amazingly, it’s not something people talk about that much. Well … I do, but I realise I’ve never really posted about it on here. I think I ought to. The bit where your periods stop is a part of your life that is probably different for every single woman but maybe if I share my own experience it’ll help someone, somewhere to know that they’re not a freak, and certainly not alone. If you, or any of your friends have reached that stage, hopefully sharing my thoughts will be of practical use. So here is your guide.
What is it, this menopause thing?
Well, what most women refer to as ‘the menopause’ actually happens in two parts. There’s the menopause, which is the actual moment your periods stop. A few years after you will still be enjoying – although that isn’t really the right word – the hormonal aftershocks. I’m not sure what they call this bit. Post menopause I suppose. Then there is the perimenopause which is the time leading up to the point when your periods stop when your body has clocked that the eggs are running out and is quietly, or not so quietly, shutting up the fertility shop.
OK so if it’s not the menopause, what do I call it?
Fine, so I know, in your Mum’s day, everyone called it the menopause but these days you’re not allowed to do that. When I say ‘the change’ I feel a bit giggly and old fashioned. I want to mouth it soundlessly, yet theatrically, possibly with a knowing expression and one finger pointing downwards, the way Les Dawson might in a Sissy and Ada sketch when they’re talking about ‘downstairs’ problems (snortle).
Seriously, though, avoid calling this time in your life ‘the menopause’ at all costs unless you’re absolutely sure your periods have stopped. Many people I’ve met use the word ‘menopause’ as a blanket term to describe the phase where they are experiencing symptoms, which are uniformly vile both before and after your periods finish. Don’t do this. For every person who knows exactly what you mean, there is another who also knows exactly what you mean but will still feel it their duty to explain to you that you are incorrect in your use of terminology. You will have to pretend this is news to you, or risk flaunting your sloppy and inaccurate use of language and eliciting another ear bashing for your shoddy lazy thinking and general wrongness as a human being.
Naturally, perimenopausal/menopausal as your anger levels are, this will annoy you extensively. Indeed, there is a real danger you might actually lamp one of these well meaning pedants if you let this scenario happen too often. So don’t. Call it the change.
What are the symptoms?
Try as I might I haven’t been able to verify this but as I’m sure I read somewhere that there are something like 98 different symptoms that can present themselves. Common ones, or at least, the ones the NHS list, are – and I quote:
- hot flushes – short, sudden feelings of heat, usually in the face, neck and chest, which can make your skin red and sweaty
- night sweats – hot flushes that occur at night
- difficulty sleeping – this may make you feel tired and irritable during the day – especially if you have the problems with memory and concentration listed, below, because it’s frustrating as hell. Try remembering to make school packed lunches, to pack the swimming things in the school bag on the right day or turn up to a dental appointment when you are supposed to, when you can’t find your arse in the dark with both hands and need cue cards to remember your own fucking name!
- a reduced sex drive (libido)
- problems with memory and concentration
- vaginal dryness and pain, during sex or, generally, itching and discomfort
- mood changes, such as low mood or anxiety
- palpitations – heartbeats that suddenly become more noticeable
- joint stiffness, aches and pains
- reduced muscle mass
- recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- in some instances, it can cause a recurrence of post/anti natal depression
How long is it going to last, Doctor?
Hmm, well the symptoms can start up to ten years before your periods actually stop and they usually go on for about four years afterwards, but one in ten women is lucky enough to have them go on for twelve years. Oh joy. I can attest to this, one of the ladies at my gym is in her 70s and still gets hot flushes. Sometimes, hot flushes are called hot flashes but we still call it looking flushed when we go red so unless you’re a bit Victorian about using the word flush because you think it’s something not quite nice a lavatory does (mwahahahargh!) or American – because they probably do talk about looking flashed rather than looking flushed let me know my lovely US readers – I can’t really see the point.
Yeh but how long is it going to take for me? How many years?
Ah yes, well, you see, there’s the thing, this is hormones. No-one has a fucking clue because the driving factor is your hormones and only they know and they’re cagey little bastards. Each woman’s body has its own, unique and joyous interpretation of how the business of ceasing to ovulate is achieved. For the record, the health professionals treating me reckon I went into an early one after having McMini aged 40. I’m now 50 and neither my periods, such as they are, nor the symptoms show any signs of stopping.
How do I know when it’s starting, then?
Some women start getting hot flushes, which is a big indicator. I haven’t really. However, I was first officially diagnosed as perimenopausal at the age of 45 when they thought I had been for five years, already. Nothing seemed to have settled down after McMini. My cycle was weird and I was getting constant headaches, the kind of nutbar hormonal activity that was giving me the spins, period pains that made the bout of appendicitis I had once look like a walk in the park and a temper that was … short. They reckoned I’d gone into it early having waited until I was 40 to have McMini. I had a marina coil put in – this has nothing to do with Morris cars and does not mean I go faster but it did put paid to the headaches and stomach cramps every time I had what Viz magazine euphemistically calls, ‘the painters in’.
The folks who inserted my first coil reckoned I’d have finished my periods by the time the hormones wore out, when I was aged 50.
They were wrong.
Aged about 49 I went to the doctor because I’d had sore boobs – yes that’s another lovely symptom – for three months and thought I ought to get that checked. I also wanted to discuss what appeared to be early onset dementia. We did the boobs first and she asked a whole raft of questions finishing up with,
’I’m pretty sure I know what’s wrong but I just have one more question, are you having problems with your short term memory?’
I said that was the other thing I was there to see her about and she said that it was entirely hormonally induced which was kind of good and kind of not as in, I’m not going mad but I’m not going to get any better.
Am I peri or post menopausal? Well, ladies, the point of a coil is to limit or stop your periods, so unfortunately, I haven’t a blind clue. I have had one hot flush but that’s all. Contrary to popular opinion, not everyone does get hot flushes, one lady at the gym I spoke to never had any at all. If you don’t have them, try to ignore the people who say you can’t possibly be having the change if you haven’t had a hot flush. They’re talking through their arses.
Is there a cure?
Most judgements about, treatments of and general related aspects to the change are based on scientific fact but their application definitely appears to be more of an art than a science. Also, clearly, the symptoms you are experiencing make a difference to the treatments you can have and they are different from woman to woman. Here are few options, anyway.
You can have hormone replacement theory, usually, but not always, involving a pill with a tiny dose of progesterone and an eostragen gel which you rub on.
Originally, HRT merely put off the inevitable, hence my choice of a coil over HRT, so the eggs go on disappearing. The last thing I wanted was to come off HRT after five years only to have the whole bloody hormone circus back in town. HRT these days is getting to smaller doses at less risk so it’s not beyond the realms that you can just take it forever. My beef with that would be periods. NO WAY am I voluntarily going back to having periods in any way shape or form. On the up side, you’re not going to end up with brittle bones which can happen over the course of the change.
Some think that the risks of HRT are too great, there is a small risk of increasing your chances of getting breast cancer but it’s much smaller than the increased risk of getting breast cancer you’ll have if you drink too much or get fat. It also means your cardio vascular system will remain in much better shape and you won’t have to worry about the brittle bone thing.
Yep you read that correctly, cognitive behavioural therapy. Addressing the anxiety about whether or not an embarrassingly hot flush will appear at a bad time has a sizeable impact on the number of hot flushes a woman has, linking them to stress. Obviously, this also works well for women who are suffering from totally irrational anxiety – another jolly symptom of the change. A friend told me, recently, that her first inkling that she was having the change was when she sought treatment for what she thought was a nervous breakdown. Yes hormones can really mess with your head.
On the hot flush front, the chemical that causes them has also been identified and a drug tested that blocks the effects of this chemical. It has worked extremely well in trials and is now creeping through the safety checks and validation process – it should be available in a few years.
Diet and gut health
What you eat can help a bit. There are various foods that can help balance hormone deficit, mainly things like oily fish, nuts and seeds, the omega things basically. I also take vitamin B12 and have for years, along with evening primrose oil which seem to take the edge off my PMT (or PMS if you’re in the US) and cranberry capsules which keep the cystitis down to a minimum. Much of this, in my case, is about feeling that I’m doing something to try and control my symptoms. It makes me fee less like a piece of driftwood tossed on a stormy sea and more like … well, if not a boat then at least, a life raft with some rudimentary form of steering and a vague notion where land is. Although, that said, whether or not it’s a victory of belief over science, it’s amazing what a can of sardines can do to get rid of the headaches I get at certain times of the month.
If you are suffering from the brain fog side of things, then, bizarrely, the balance of your gut flora and fauna can make a difference. Apparently 70% of your serotonin is produced in the gut. I am a great believer in trying anything once so when a friend said she had some Kefir grains going for a good home I went and collected some. Kefir can be grown in water or whole milk. It is a yeast which feeds on the water/milk and ferments it – the water has to have sugar and stuff in. Essentially, what this means is that you are drinking yeast shit. Try not to think about that. Like spreading manure on the fields, yeast shit in the guts does wonders and-
I should stop this here really shouldn’t I?
He looks like adenoidsMy personal stash of Kefir grains are collectively called Bob the Blob and they are the whole milk kind. Bob in his naked state looks like adenoids, under the milk he looks like something out of Dr Who – the Brain of Morbious springs to mind. He lives in a jar in a dark cuboard in our kitchen. Bob is like that thing out of one fish two fish red fish blue fish, he will grow and grow so you can give bits of Bob to your similarly post/perimenopausally challenged friends. I wouldn’t sell his … producings … as yeast shit though or they might not want it.
Bob’s home made stuff is an acquired taste, it’s a bit like drinking feta cheese. To be honest – the water kefir is made with lemon and sugar and is much tastier – but Bob definitely cuts down on the brain fog and certainly on the length of time each monthly fog bout lasts.
Cutting down stress
Yes, I realise you can’t do this, but what I mean is, it’s worth taking an open minded approach and trying everything. Take Bob the Blob for example. If drinking yeast shit reduces my brain fog, it reduces my stress. It also reduces my total and utter frustration with the day to day business of dwelling among the normals – never my strong point even without brain fog. As a result, I am a lot less stressed and that makes the headaches easier to manage. And talking to people and making jokes about it certainly helped me cope.
Magnets and cucuramins
If you get joint pain, magnets and curcuramins may help. On the curcuramins front, not the turmeric pills I mean the real heavy duty ones where the curcuramins are extracted and concentrated way more. The bonus of curcuramins is that there is some actual proper scientific evidence that they do help, and they also help fight/prevent cancer. My joint pain was identified as not being down to my arthritic knees during a prolonged bout of physio therapy in the summer. Having tried turmeric pills and discovered a definite drop in the pain levels, I decided I’d give the curcuramins with extra grunt a go and they have helped. Like Bob, they haven’t eradicated the symptoms but they have drastically reduced them and I do now have days where it’s only my arthritic knees that hurts.
Magnets, similar. Putting magnets on joints that hurt works for me. I have no idea why but it does. I use big fuck off magnets, naturally. A lot of the ones you buy are too small to make a difference. You need maximum Gauss to get any benefits. I also find a magnet on the affected area works better than one on a wrist band.
Any other advice?
The best for me, was to talk about it with other people. I’m lucky enough to go to a ladies only gym where most of the ladies are going through the change now or retired. Iti