Hi, I’m Karen. I’m 44 and I’m going to share my perimenopause story with you. It’s been a long ride to say the least! But I hope by sharing my symptoms and experiences you’ll be able to identify your own perimenopause more easily and get all the help and support you need to feel yourself again.
how it all began
My mum started getting perimenopausal symptoms at 37, although at the time we wouldn’t have known to call it that. Everything was just ‘menopause’ back then and it definitely wasn’t a topic of conversation at home! But still, I knew enough to know that if I wanted children I would have to start early. So I had my first child by the time I was 30, and was lucky enough to have two beautiful kids, who are now aged 13 and 15.
Other than that, I never gave it a thought. Looking back, the signs that I too was going through perimenopause seem so obvious! But like so many other women, I kept attributing it to stress or life or something else.
When I was 33, I was under a lot of stress. I was working as a primary school teacher with two very young kids. I felt like nothing was ever good enough at the school where I worked and eventually I had to have a few long term absences. My GP recommended I g0 on antidepressants to help me manage.
Then a few years later, aged 37, (I still didn’t make the connection with my mum!) I began having my first hot flushes at night whenever I had my period, or was about to get it.
It was a terrifying experience as I could feel the heat rising up from my feet. It kept happening throughout the night and left me drenched in sweat, so much so that I had to wipe myself down and change my pyjamas. This happened mostly when I had my period but not every time. I never had any flushes during the day.
Migraines and irregular periods
Then a few months before my 40th birthday, I started to get debilitating headaches that lasted as long as three days. At this point my periods had started to be a bit irregular too, with longer stretches in between and then sometimes they would happen every two weeks.
I sought help for my headaches with a herbal tincture and I saw a couple of doctors about medication.
I wasn’t ready to hear about HRT
At this point my husband was reading up on HRT and likening my symptoms of rage attacks and headaches to being menopausal (we still didn’t know the correct term for the stage I was at!). I was horrified at this suggestion and was completely bought into the negative press about HRT leading to breast cancer.
I continued to soldier on with my tincture, which helped a bit, and since I didn’t have headaches in the holidays, I kept assuming it was due to stress.
A sudden, tragic event made everything worse
In November 2018, my beloved Dad died very suddenly of a massive heart attack, which utterly devastated me and still does to this day.
My periods became less and less frequent and I would regularly go without one for as long as six months. I also started experiencing awful cramp in the toes of my left foot and despite seeing many specialists and even trying acupuncture, no one could get to the bottom of it.
I just put it all down to grief and carried on.
My first anxiety attack
In August 2021, I had my first anxiety attack. We were driving to a place I had driven to many times before, but hadn’t done so for a while. The sat nav rerouted us somewhere I didn’t know well and I was just terrified of ending up somewhere unfamiliar. I felt like I wanted to run out of the car – I thought I was going to die. When we arrived at our destination, I could barely catch my breath and couldn’t stop crying.
This happened again in the summer – we got rerouted and I was worried we’d have to drive over the Clifton suspension bridge. I would usually have rung my dad to get his opinion but because I couldn’t do that anymore I became almost hysterical. I don’t like bridges or heights but I have always been able to tolerate them – just!
Reaching breaking point
On Christmas Day, of all days, I felt like I was visited by a peri menopausal ninja giving me the gift of full on perimenopause! I had my first hot flush in the day and had the most horrendous crying spells. It was like I was coughing but crying – I just didn’t know why I felt so sad and horrendous.
We went out for a meal with friends just after Christmas and I had another hot flush. I’d only had a couple of glasses of Pimms (interspersed with water) but I felt so out of sorts and terrible – I just wanted to run away. Everyone was being so sweet and trying to move candles away from me and ask for windows to be opened but nothing helped and I felt so embarrassed.
My husband didn’t know what to do – I’m usually the life and soul of the party and he could tell I was really struggling. At one point he uttered some very fatal words which he knows never to repeat again… ‘Are you really that hot?!’ I wanted to flip the table up and run away screaming!
The next day I vomited for most of the day and had to miss the pantomime we’d booked. A similar thing happened the next week after drinking minimal alcohol. This is when I decided I couldn’t risk feeling so bad and became tee total.
a light bulB moment
It felt like nothing was working and I just couldn’t understand what else I could do to stop my headaches and help me feel better. I was in total despair. I was doing everything right – I was exercising regularly, I wasn’t drinking, I was eating well, I had a supportive partner and group of friends, yet still I felt horrendous.
One day after struggling for so many years with these symptoms I couldn’t explain, I watched a documentary with Davina McCall about the menopause on TV. It was like a lightbulb went off – suddenly I was able to join the dots! Thinking about it now sends shivers down my spine and makes me feel very emotional. I felt like I had finally found the answer to my nightmare.
Having been terrified of hormone therapy up until this point, I started to do my own research and realised how minimal the breast cancer risk was and how beneficial it could be. I had a telephone consultation with my GP, who agreed it was a good idea to put me on HRT.
Hormone therapy helped me to feel like myself again
I started with Evorel Sequi which contains a body-identical oestrogen (estradiol) and a synthetic version of progesterone called norethisterone. I was a bit apprehensive at first and honestly it wasn’t smooth sailing to begin with. My breasts were extremely painful for the best part of 2 1/2 months. I felt very low and my libido was non-existent. I’d hoped hormone therapy would be the answer to my prayers and the fact that I was still experiencing problems made me feel really despondent.
But slowly, things started to change. I am coming to the end of five months on my hormone therapy and I have to say it’s one of the best things that I have ever done. Even though there are lots of changes going on in my life, my headaches are almost non-existent and I feel younger and so much more like myself again.
FUTURE WOMAN taught me all about the hormonal fluctuations of perimenopause
Empowering myself with the right information has really helped me feel back in control of perimenopause. I did the FUTURE WOMAN perimenopause foundations course and it’s provided me with such helpful information about all the hormonal changes going on behind the scenes. I learned the best things to eat, the best supplements to use and general tips on how to alleviate symptoms of perimenopause and things that may need to be looked at in further detail with regard to your body.
I had no idea that perimenopause happened in four stages until I took this course – but it all makes sense now when I look back at the progression of my symptoms. When any of my friends recount their perimenopause symptoms, I now just shout ‘stage two’ or ‘stage three’ at them!
It’s so important to share your experiences with other women
I think the best thing to do with perimenopause is to be open and talk about it with other people. I’ve been amazed at how supportive even the most unlikely people can be. The worst thing you can do is to be embarrassed about it and try to hide it, as this just makes things worse. FUTURE WOMAN has a great perimenopause community group full of women going through the same thing.
I started documenting my perimenopause journey on instagram (@perimenopauserollercoasterride) with the intention of helping other women in a similar situation. I have met so many amazing women who have supported me and guided me along my way. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without all of this support!
Perimenopause symptoms to look out for (that I wish I’d known about!)
- Rage attacks – uncontrollable outbursts of rage where you literally see red almost instantly then experience horrendous guilt afterwards at the way you behaved with your loved ones.
- Headaches – headaches that are barely tolerated with strong painkillers, last more than a day and keep coming back despite eating well, drinking water and not drinking alcohol and having lots of fresh air and exercise!
- Night sweats and hot flushes – hot flushes or night sweats that happen when you have your period and result in you having to wipe yourself down and change your pyjamas.
- Anxiety attacks – sudden anxiety about situations that you could previously handle. E.g. about getting on a running machine at the gym when other people are there and you’re with your lovely other half! Driving/passenger anxiety, especially to unfamiliar places/places you haven’t been for a while.
- Crying spells – crying uncontrollably like you are almost coughing. Sometimes with a trigger, e.g. crying because you’re thinking about someone who’s died but more so because you feel awful and don’t know why.
- Brain fog – losing your train of thought mid sentence.
- Leaking – leaking a bit when you’ve held the loo for too long! This doesn’t happen often (my partner is right when he says that I can’t walk past a toilet without going to it!)
- Hangovers – Having horrendous hangovers when drinking small amounts of alcohol and drinking lots of water in between and eating a substantial meal.
- Overwhelm – generally feeling like you are losing your mind and that you can’t cope with life.