For most women, the thought of being relieved from the monthly ‘curse’ is something to look forward to; a time in your life when your body finally allows you the freedom to do as you please without the regular mood swings and excruciating stomach cramps. Indeed, many women of a certain age sail through this transition with little or no negative side effects whatsoever.
However, for some of us, when we reach that mature era when our children have grown up and have finally flown the nest, instead of experiencing a sense of freedom and a renewed enthusiasm for careers, foreign holidays, hobbies and so forth, our hormones decide that now would be an excellent time to turn our lives upside down and throw us headlong into menopausal chaos.
For some women, this will happen naturally over a period of time, easing them gently through the whole experience, but for others (myself included), surgical intervention will plunge them without warning into a phase in their lives which will leave them proclaiming that in their next life they will come back as a man!
Hot flushes really ought to be renamed the more appropriate volcanic eruptions. The term ‘hot’ doesn't do it justice, while ‘flush’ suggests a temporary warm glow, whereas in reality your entire insides are at melting point for what feels like an eternity, with no warning whatsoever. The odd thing about menopausal heat is that you look absolutely normal to those around you. Often there are no obvious signs such as crimson faces, and for many women they don’t even perspire, which can lead to people wondering whether you are greatly exaggerating your suffering in order to gain unwarranted sympathy. Your skin feels tepid, even cool, to touch and a thermometer under the tongue will usually show the results as frustratingly ‘normal’. There’s no actual ‘evidence’ that there’s anything untoward happening to your body, and this can lead you to you wonder whether you’re actually imagining it!
Night time episodes are often far worse than during the day, leading me to wonder whether spontaneous human combustion was simply an extreme side effect of menopause. Sleep is interrupted every half an hour or so by the immediate need to stick your head in the fridge for light relief. By morning, you’re lucky if you've managed a whole hour in the land of nod, which will almost certainly result in varying degrees of ‘irritability’, from mildly grumpy through to psychotic. Of course, your hormones are all over the place, just to add to the entire experience. One minute you can calmly talk to a friend over a coffee, and the next your tear ducts explode and you find yourself sobbing on the shoulder of a minor acquaintance in front of a bus full of intrigued and bemused passengers.
Anything can set you off; a cheery “Hi, how are you” is enough to push you over the edge on a particularly bad day. You thought that PMS was bad, well that’s nothing compared to the schizophrenic head case you've now turned into. Prior to ‘the change’ you could deal with any amount of minor irritations with delicacy and diplomacy, but now you’ve become the incredible Hulk overnight and even grown men are terrified of you.
For no obvious reason, although it may be partly due to tiredness, a perfectly intelligent and lucid woman can succumb to ‘menopause brain’ and be rendered incapable of answering the simplest of questions or even finishing a sentence. This is not (usually) the onset of Alzheimer’s but simply hormonal.
Friends and loved ones tactfully suggest various herbal or alternative remedies to help ease your apparent discomfort, but what you really want is the strongest drugs that the NHS can give you to ensure your hormones are immediately re-balanced, and you want them NOW! Then there’s the three S’s… Screaming, Sobbing and Sleeping, and at any one point during the day or night you will likely to be doing one or more of them.
You make an appointment to see your GP to discuss your options, but the only outcome you’re even vaguely interested in is a prescription for HRT. Unfortunately, due to legal reasons, the doctor is duty bound to waffle on about your medical history, take your blood pressure (which is sky high due to menopausal-induced stress) and then ritually humiliate you by weighing you. You bite your tongue while they bang on about all the potential hazards of embarking on hormone replacement therapy, oblivious to the fact that you've spent the last fortnight googling the word ‘menopause’ and could probably tell THEM all the possible side effects.
After what seems like an eternity they finally hand over that little green form, and you hear yourself agreeing to all sorts of follow-up appointments just so you can rush out of the door and down to the nearest chemist for your new magic pills.
HRT however, is no immediate miracle cure, and many of us lose sight of that fact in our eagerness to be able to finally get some much-needed sleep without feeling like we’re being cremated. There are many different types and a wide variety of potential nasty side effects to consider. While for some lucky ladies, HRT will give them the quality of life they've been looking for; with renewed vigour, glowing skin and a sense of joy at simply being alive; for others it may prove to be ineffective, or even make their lives worse with weight gain, headaches or even serous medical woes. Some women may have to try out many different sorts of HRT before they find the right one for them, while others never do get along with it. On the whole, although it may alleviate one or two symptoms, HRT is not magical – it can’t turn back the clock to give you your long lost youth, your ability to party all night long and still be at work for or your pre-children size ten figure.
In my next life, I'm definitely coming back as a man!