How medical menopause paused me

How medical menopause paused me

I started writing this blog in June 2021 and I’ve never been ready to hit the publish button. I hope it goes some way to explain why I’ve not been so quiet lately.

How medical menopause paused me, an honesty blog, part 2

In September 2018 I wrote An Honesty Blog, and essentially that was the first part of this blog where I spoke about being referred for surgery. Tests showed that I had 2 unknown masses on one ovary and the other one wasn’t looking great either. I ended up having a total hysterectomy via c-section after key-hole surgery had to be abandoned in order to perform the type of surgery I needed.

Well that was almost 3 years ago now and I can say with some certainty that I totally underestimated the changes that I would go through.

The story so far

We all have a story. Mine started in 2016. An older mum of twin sons looking to improve her health in order to live a long life with her young family. This really hasn’t changed.

I’m still that woman with a goal of being healthy, but over the past 7 or so years my body has been to hell and back. I had a brief period where I felt strong, ate really well, created lots of healthy recipes that I’ve shared with tens of thousands of people and my fitness was pretty good. I went on to study and qualify as a Certified Nutritionist in the process which I really enjoy.

Fast forward to now and I feel anything but strong. There is no quick fix, no diet or fitness plan that will ‘fix’ my hormones but I do have faith that with some hard work I can turn some things around for myself.

Friday 5th October 2018

This is the date of my surgery and it’s the date that the old me, the me I knew inside and out, the me I was comfortable with died, metaphorically speaking.

It may sound over dramatic but I really haven’t been ‘me’ since that date because of the surgery and the effect that medical menopause has had on my body. I can remember sitting in the consultants office discussing the different outcomes; the possibility of having a total hysterectomy and being thrust into a medical menopause. At the time I didn’t feel as though I wanted to take HRT as I’d heard about the breast cancer risks (now shown to be untrue but more about that later) and as my mum had treatment for and recovered from breast cancer, I didn’t want to be at risk.

As I mentioned in my blog The Start of my Recovery, I did eventually make the decision to start HRT and at that time I honestly thought that little patch would make me feel like ‘me’ again, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Menopause – a hot topic right now (pardon the pun)

At the time of my surgery and recovery I resisted researching other ladies experiences and I’ve pretty much towed that same line ever since. I guess it was like reading a book, skipping to end and reading the final chapter. I didn’t want any spoilers, I wanted to own my menopause experience and didn’t want to be hiding behind the sofa for something scary to happen.

The thing is that I was totally unprepared for menopause, medical or otherwise and I’ve bumbled through life post surgery ever since.

The lightbulb moment

With every story comes a lightbulb moment. That moment where you wake up and smell the coffee – could I be more corny?

A few weeks ago I was having a natter with my bestie. A wonderful lady with whom I’ve been friends with since we were 18, and as I’m approaching my 49th birthday I can say with some certainty that there’s nothing we don’t know about each other, well almost.

Being women of the similar ages, you may think we’re open about everything. We can chew the fat regularly about home, work, family etc etc, but when it comes to personal medical stuff, it stops there. Knowing each other as we do you’d think that there’s nothing we can’t talk about, but from my point of view I don’t want to burden my friend with my problems, because to a certain extent, to vocalise those issues outside of my 4 walls would be to admit that I’m not all I seem to be. I’m lucky to have a very loving, understanding and patient husband to confide in and when I talk to my mate I want to have a laugh and not talk about my troubles and woes.

So going back a few weeks, my friend mentioned that she’d watched the Davina Menopause documentary. I said that I hadn’t watched it and that I didn’t intend on watching it because Menopause chatter was everywhere and I didn’t want a reminder that I was part of that ‘tribe’. I was in the midst of my own menopause and I felt that I didn’t want to hear someone else’s version of it, especially a story where ‘Menopause life was better than ever’ – miles away from my own experience.

Even though I was bullish with my dismissive opinion of the documentary, my friend went on to tell me how it showed her how shit menopause seemed to be. ‘You have no idea’ I declared and proceeded to reel off a great big list of my woes.

With our friendship we bring different parts of our personality to the table and after listening me describe my meno-moan she suggested I watch it with an open mind. That weekend, with the rare prospect of an empty house (boys at the grandparents and hubby paddle boarding) I had free rein to watch it uninterrupted. I didn’t know what to expect, but with Davina at the helm I felt in safe hands.

Within the first 10 minutes listening to the first lady’s account of what she’d experienced I burst into tears. At the first ad break I had to pause the stream to compose myself and I WhatsApp’d my friend.

I related to every ladies account to the point that my world turned upside down from that moment.

In my blog of 9th November 2018 (mentioned and link above) talking about my recovery I refer to the previous 10 months being hampered by health issues. The time since my surgery has been plagued by more health problems, some of them a direct and obvious impact of my medical menopause status, and others that I just attributed to my age and decline of fitness.

The obvious symptoms stemming from menopause

Where do I start?!?!

Anxiety. Proper crippling anxiety like I’ve never experienced before. Brain fog, impaired memory, disturbed sleep/deprivation, mood swings and a short fuse to name but a few.

Borrowed from Instagram

In addition I’ve had more UTI instances in the time since my surgery than I’ve had in my entire life. At the start of the pandemic I contacted my GP with the latest flare-up and my GP gave me enough antibiotics to treat 4 bouts of infection as he couldn’t predict how available GP medical services would be. The prospect of having to take antibiotics on a regular basis filled me with fear so I set about looking at alternative treatments.

Going back to the subject of sleep, I always was pretty good at sleeping, then I had twins and even that wasn’t too bad on my sleeping but unfortunately the same can’t be said for it post-op. I wake up at the sound of a mouse farting and it can take me hours for me to drop off, if at all.

Old age perhaps?

The symptoms I put to down to old age and a decline of fitness centred around my back. I’d undergone some investigations just before my hysterectomy as my back pain had worsened (I have a mild scoliosis) and I learned that I had the signs of early arthritis. The consultant recommended back and core strengthening by way of pilates and off I was sent.

Early in 2020 I started having problems with my right knee and later my left hip joined in, so when the pandemic allowed I was sent for investigations. I’ve since had a steroid injection in my hip, my knee is pain free and I’ve had some physio for my hip of which the practitioner was convinced stemmed from my back problems.

Fatigue was now something that I regularly experienced and I can no longer simply ping out of bed in the morning. It takes a while for me to get going!

Borrowed from Instagram
The unexpected

Since 2016 I’ve enjoyed cooking, coming up and sharing with new and healthy recipes, blogging, and reviewing new items. When the pandemic hit in 2020 I gradually retreated from all of my regular activities. Every time I had an idea for a new recipe or blog, I froze when it came down to creating it to the point where I felt unable to do what had previously come so naturally.

My passion for the life I’d carved out of my own fitness journey was stifled by massive doubts and insecurities. It was like I had something to say but when I came to say it or put pen to paper, the words just wouldn’t come out. They were trapped inside me and very rarely am I lost for words.

Obviously with the removal of some of my internal gubbins it’s to be expected that things inside my body have shifted around a bit. I feel the need to pee more often (especially at night) and my general bowel habits are different lets say (more fibre please!). Suddenly everyone is concerned at the state of my pelvic floor but I’ve yet to experience issues, for now…….

The documentary that I’d watched featured so many women who’d had similar experiences and some of them resulted in them giving up their long standing careers because of what they were going through. There were several occasions where I raised concerns with my husband about the state of my mental health and I questioned whether I should be asking the doctors to be put on antidepressants. After discussing my concerns with my husband I’ve never followed through, instead deciding to try something else.

My HRT tool chest
Getting used to this new body

On the face of it, I’m still me. I don’t appear different to the old and familiar me, but this body is not one that I know nor love.

My recovery from the physical aspects of the surgery are on-going. I had a C-section when my children were born and never experienced long-term pain and discomfort from the incision area as I do now. I can’t wear anything constricting across my tummy button area where the keyhole entry point was as it gets really painful.

With the onset of more aches and pains that are likely to be attributed to the decline in natural oestrogen from my joints and cartilage, my ability to exercise has been compromised so I’m missing out on the physical and mental benefits of exercise and of course exercise can help to maintain my bone density.

Moving forward

As I continue to write this blog I can see how this appears to be turning in to a long moan, but this doesn’t scratch the surface of it all so I’ll save you having to endure more, but after watching the Davina Menopause documentary I made the decision to get help from my GP and do something. Previous to the documentary I had assumed that a lot of the things I experienced, both physical and mental were just part of the ageing process and I simply bumbled along.

A few weeks ago I rang to make an appointment with a GP at my local surgery specialising in Womens Health. My usual GP is male and I felt a little disloyal making that request and I am aware that there are lots of Male GP’s who specialise in Womens health, but sadly not at my local practice.

In speaking to the Female GP I hoped that my ‘fellow woman’ would feel my pain and would be able to help me, but it turns out that for anything specialised (and anything more than HRT patches and pessaries) requires a referral to a menopause clinic, of which there are few in the country but the referral has been sent, bloods taken and I will just have to wait until I am called.

Worryingly menopause, either medical or natural is something that all women will go through and it would seem that we have to jump through hoops to get help. Unfortunately as it’s something that will affect almost half the population, it comes as no surprise to learn that anything related to menopause isn’t covered by private health insurance.

So what’s next for me?

I’m still waiting for my referral to the local Menopause clinic, but I refuse to sit, wait and endure any longer.

I’ve never worried about my age until now. To me it’s just a number and my brain tells me that I’m not much different to my 21 year old self in many ways. But in reality I feel old, weak and I fear how my body will continue to deteriorate if I don’t make some changes to my lifestyle.

I’m not looking to sign-up to any gruelling fitness plans like i’ve done in the past, but I have consulted with a local PT Sam Bell. During the initial consultation she listened to my likes, dislikes, aches and pains – of which there were many.

Meeting Sam

I’ve never engaged a PT before and I’m really interested to see how I get on. Things can only get better, watch this space!

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Nella Foulds
Nella Foulds

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