As a female GP, it’s fair to say I mostly saw female patients. If a man happened to enter my consulting room, I’d have to check he wasn’t lost! I’d listened to the stories of women going through menopause for many years and I really thought I got it, that I understood what they were going through. I’d often cautioned medical students that we can never truly understand a person’s experiences until we walked in their shoes. The same turned out to be true for me...
I expected the hot flushes and the night sweats; we’re taught about those in medical school and they’re commonly referred to in the media and popular culture. What I completely underestimated, as many of us do, was the psychological impact. I didn’t anticipate the relentless life-altering effect of the fluctuating hormones that are associated with the perimenopause, and the ongoing symptoms that result from the menopause.
Brought up in central Scotland by working-class parents with a strong work ethic, I have always worked. I balanced part-time work as a partner in a city centre GP practice with bringing up three boys and supporting my husband, who worked away from home for many years. This was a busy time of life, but I always felt confident that I’d do a good job, even though family support was far away in Scotland. I had a good work-life balance and, at that point, was on top of things.
In my late 40s I started to lose confidence. I became anxious and more fearful. My mood was low and little things would irritate me. I lost my sense of perspective and I could see the confusion on the faces of my family - who was this woman? Truthfully, I was asking myself the same question. This came before the hot flushes and night sweats, so I didn’t make the connection until I started to get palpitations, hot flushes more than 20 times a day and sleep deprivation that left me absolutely exhausted. That’s when the penny finally dropped.
What took me so long to connect the dots? Well, I had a Mirena coil in place and my periods had been scanty for years, so I didn’t have an altered pattern of periods to alert me to this change. A change in cycle length or bleeding pattern are useful clues to the changing hormones of the perimenopause. For women who have a Mirena or who have had a hysterectomy this isn’t always as obvious.
My breaking point
Despite my horrible symptoms, I, like many others, thought I would be able to just carry on, failing to notice the impact this was having on me and my family. It wasn’t until my mother-in-law suddenly died, eight months to the day after the sudden death of my father-in-law, that reality dawned. I thought: “If I’m going to support my loved ones through this, I need to sleep.” That was when I started HRT, and found the real ‘me’ again.
My way of helping others
HRT may not be for everyone. But women deserve to be listened to and for the severity of their symptoms to be acknowledged. They need to be given good evidence-based advice to facilitate informed decisions on their current and future health. They need support to make the changes that will help to restore a sense of wellbeing, and maintain important relationships with family, friends, partners and work colleagues. Let me help you too.