Menopause is tough. There is no question at all: it’s a statement of fact. It’s tough physically, mentally and even spiritually. And it’s something that I’m going through right now.
Back in full lockdown of 2020, I had to have a hysterectomy. I was left with one ovary, which stopped working about a year later. In my family, menopause happens early anyway, and so I had already been perimenopausal for some years before. Since 2022, I have been going through full menopause, with all its symptoms and challenges. I joined an online community called HysterSisters on the advice of a friend who had already gone through this, and which gave me the information I needed pre and post surgery. Stuff that the doctors and nurses don’t tell you, stuff that only now is actually being talked about openly. In fact, my own GP in my little cluster of villages has now been giving menopause clinics online for the very first time, open to women and men and anyone interested in learning more. But it’s still something that affects everyone differently, much like the huge hormonal shift in adolescence, only now you’ve got a lifetime of experience, pain, trauma and joy to deal with on top of it all.
The physical symptoms can be hard to deal with. The hot flushes are exhausting, to say the least. Imagine being as hot as you’ve ever been, sweating all over your body while doing nothing but sitting at you keyboard. You feel the heat rising from your heart to your head, and then down all over your body in a fiery wave of energy. If you’re lucky, it’s a short one that only lasts for a minute or two, and you may not have to change your clothes. If it’s a bigger one, you’ll soak your clothing and either have to deal with the discomfort of being in sweaty clothes and the possible smell that will follow, or bring a change of clothing with you wherever you go. Either way, once the heat has passed you are left with the cold, which sometimes can be even worse than the heat, especially in winter. It’s like stepping out from a nice, warm house and into freezing cold, horrible weather. The shock of the temperature change just gets into your muscles and bones, which by the way may already ache with the loss of estrogen. You might be cold for around 20 minutes, sometimes even until your next hot flush. It’s tiring, stressful and just shitty to deal with, in all honesty.
I’ve gone through periods of having several hot flushes every hour, about one every 20 minutes over the winter holiday period. It settled down for a month, and now it’s back but not as bad, a short two minute one maybe one every hour. There’s also the hot flush that follows about a minute after you wake up, which is usually a big one which you should get out of bed for, otherwise you’ll have to change the sheets. There’s another big one that follows any hot drink you have, or a meal. It’s hard on the body, which makes it hard on the mind too.
The sleeplessness is another symptom that I am currently trying to work through. I’ve never had sleeping problems, but now when I wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I just can’t get back to sleep. I have the usual hot flush while I’m in the bathroom, and then when I get back to bed my brain has woken up fully after that fiery energy, and thoughts just keep whirling around in my head with no respite. It can be three to four hours before I can fall back asleep. I then wake up exhausted each morning, with very low energy levels throughout the day. Sometimes I need a nap after lunch (thank all the gods I work from home) just because I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. These naps are pure heaven, because I am so tired that I just fall into oblivion for an hour. It’s bliss: no thoughts, no dreams, just completely leaving reality for a short time and giving my body and brain a break. And then I wake up, have another hot flash, and get on with my day.
So why not just take HRT, some may ask? Well, I don’t do well with chemical supplements that affect my hormones, and as I had a serious fibroid and ovarian cyst problem, as well as breast cancer running in the family, taking estrogen for me is a definite no go. I’ve found some herbal supplements that have helped with my physical and mental symptoms which have kept me out of a deep, dark hole (Mulier’s Menopause Formula) but I still have to carry on through the majority of the challenge that menopause is throwing at me.
So, I’m tired all the time, usually achy and having sweats throughout the day. My body is going through the ringer. As mind and body are one, this also affects my mental health. I’m a pretty resilient person mentally, but menopause-related depression has been a new experience for me. Thankfully I know how to deal with it when it comes on (herbal teas and getting out of doors) but the fact remains that just getting out of bed some days is a huge deal. There is still the trauma of the surgery that I feel I haven’t fully dealt with (just having to have the surgery all alone in lockdown, when no one was allowed with you inside the hospital was terrifying enough), alongside the new phase of my life as a woman that I am emotionally and spiritually entering.
My religion and spirituality thankfully provide me with a framework for entering different stages in my life as a woman, for which I am eternally grateful. My goddess knows what I am going through. She’s been there, done that, gone through it every solar year, and every lunar cycle. She’s an example of resilience and strength that I can turn to, alongside my sisters on this same path who are/have gone through the same things that I have in my menopausal journey.
As women, we know that we physically, mentally and spiritually have many challenges to face in our lifetimes, for most of us on a monthly basis. And we know that today’s society just expects us to “get on with it”, though thankfully that is starting to change with some trials in the workplace for menopausal women to have a space to retreat to, or days off when it just is too much to bear while working. I can only hope that this shift will extend to all women who, wherever they are in their cycles, can find the time and space to help themselves through it with support and understanding, instead of ignoring the issue and putting on a front that everything is fine because we can’t leave the imaginary competition that patriarchal systems have put into place. When I was in the workplace and having a monthly bleeding cycle, I used up so many “sick days” because I physically couldn’t get into work, either due to pain or flow or usually, both. If I ran out of sick days, then I would have to take unpaid leave, even though in my eyes my condition should have been classed as a short medical leave of absence. And gods forbid I actually get a cold or the flu and not have any sick days left. Even back in high school, I missed days of classes while I lay down in a dark room clutching my belly in the nurse’s office until it was time to go home, and hoping that the hour-long bus ride wouldn’t be too horrific.
It’s been a tough 30 years for me physically and mentally with my monthly cycles, and now the final journey through menopause is one that I am trying to ride with dignity and grace. But some days are just harder than others, some weeks tougher than others, and experiencing all the physical and emotional changes is both interesting and extremely challenging. I feel like I am coming home to myself, after a long and arduous quest. There are still monsters to slay, mountains to climb and my own heroine’s journey to complete, but I feel that even though my body is exhausted and my psyche gone through the ringer, I have enough strength to get me through. At least most of the time I can feel that.
The other times I am fanning myself, wondering when this will all end, face red and tired eyes closed as I ride another wave of experience.