Menopause happens to 100% of women. So why don’t we hear more real life stories that we can relate to and that might help us? Aside from the dried up/crazed menopausal women you see on TV and in the media, and the countless medical perspectives online, what else do we have to go on?
Not much. So that’s why I thought I’d speak to a lovely lady about her experience of the menopause to mark World Menopause Day.
Mandy Filson is 47, and she’s been experiencing symptoms for around 12 months.
Sharon Macarthur (SM): Hi Mandy, thank you so much for speaking to me today. First, can I start by asking you what stage of the menopause you’re at and when you first started to notice a change?
Mandy Filson (MF): If I’m honest, I’m not sure right now. I could be peri-menopausal, or menopausal – it’s hard to tell at the moment – I’ll explain why later! I’m 47 and I first started recognising the symptoms probably about 12 months ago, in October 2017. Funnily enough, it was not long after I met up with you for lunch and you shared your idea for Miss Menopause – so I’m sure you jinxed me!
SM: What symptoms have you got?
MF: I hardly have any at the moment, apart from the occasional hot flush in the night and slightly erratic periods. That’s because after about 6 months of suffering ridiculous hot flushes throughout the night (which started to creep into the day as well), terribly interrupted and limited sleep, and starting to feel detached, unable to concentrate, and a little bit anxious, I just couldn’t stand it any longer and went back on the mini pill.
My periods had stopped as well, but that bit I didn’t mind so much. The only thing is I bought more pregnancy tests in the space of 6 months than I’d ever bought in my whole life!
I hadn’t realised how little good quality sleep I was getting until I got a Fitbit (something you showed me), and the results made me realise just how much of an impact this was having on the way I was feeling.
SM: If you are working how has menopause affected you day to day?
MF: During those 6 months of symptoms I mentioned, I gradually found it harder and harder to concentrate and focus. I became a real procrastinator which isn’t like me at all, and I also started to doubt myself. I doubted my decision making capability and worried about the silliest of things that I wouldn’t usually give a second thought. Fortunately I work for myself, so I didn’t have the pressure of fixed hours, endless meetings, looming deadlines, or being stuck in an office environment with people all around me and feeling uncomfortable. I can’t imagine how much extra stress that must add to women going through this.
SM: What support are you getting from work or from others?
MF: Working for myself meant I could easily catch up and be flexible depending on how I was feeling. I don’t think my husband realised the toll that the hot flushes and sleepless nights were taking on me until one day I just burst into tears and said I couldn’t put up with it any longer. I didn’t feel like ‘me’ at all. My GP, a woman and post-menopausal herself, was extremely supportive. She listened, she understood, she gave me options to look into and was open to my own suggestions too.
SM: What action are you taking to help you get through the menopause?
MF: My menopausal symptoms came on a couple of months after I stopped taking the mini pill, so it’s hard to tell whether the pill had been keeping the symptoms at bay, or whether it was just a coincidence. After 6 months of suffering and trying some herbal menopause tablets which didn’t really seem to do anything, I spoke to my doctor about the option of going back on the mini pill, completely aware that it would be masking the symptoms again, and that it wasn’t a long term solution.
I was going on a long- haul flight and a dream family holiday, and the thought of being stuck on a plane, having hot flushes galore, just wasn’t an option for me! My GP was very open to the idea, so that’s what I did and my symptoms disappeared within a week or so.
I felt ’normal’ again and that was 6-7 months ago now. I’ve also pretty much given up alcohol – that in itself was giving me hot flushes and sleepless nights, so it just wasn’t helping. And I’ve made myself stay active. I’ve been setting goals and events to aim for to keep myself training and keep the middle age spread at bay!
But I know that at some point fairly soon I’ll have to come off the mini pill and then look at my options, but I’ll try anything as life is too short to feel crappy. If there’s an alternative available, I’m in!
SM: What’s been your biggest menopause surprise?
MF: The massive effect that hot flushes and sleepless nights has on you, and how quickly the symptoms came on with a BANG!
I’ll hold my hand up and say that when I first heard and read about women feeling anxious, stressed, tearful or depressed, I did think ‘oh come on, what’s all the fuss about?, a bit of a sweaty night here and there can’t be that bad.’ But I take it all back. The hot flushes wake you up, several times a night, then you start over-thinking, and can’t get back to sleep. Then you’re so tired the next day that it causes all sorts of thoughts and feelings that you’re not expecting.
SM: What’s good about this stage in your life?
MF: Well, let’s face it, the menopause and all the things it brings is not great by any stretch of the imagination. But I think if you can find it within you to take control, and not let it control you, then you’re on the right track.
I think it’s made me more determined not to feel old and ‘past it’, more aware of how my body reacts to certain foods and drinks and choosing more wisely, open to anything that will help make it easier to get through and setting goals (in my case I’ve started doing triathlons!) to give myself something to aim for and a sense of achievement. There’s still a lot of life in this old menopausal dog yet!
SM: Is there anything else you would like to add?
MF: The first proper conversation I had about the menopause was with you Sharon. The timing was spooky as when we met for lunch that day, it was around that time that my symptoms had first started. After that, I felt more than comfortable to have the conversation with other people, and then I realised that even some of my close friends were going through it too but just hadn’t really said anything. The Facebook group became a daily ‘go to’ to see what conversations people were having there, and to share ideas and advice. It’s just brilliant. Thank you so much for giving us that Sharon.
Raising awareness about the menopause among women, men, and employers is all about education and making it comfortable and acceptable for people to speak about it. Menopause is not a condition to be treated and cured, it’s a normal stage of life that every woman goes through. Helping people to realise this is my mission.
My training events are aimed at educating HR professionals, managers, and working women about the menopause in a fun, engaging, and informative way.
If you’d like to find out more, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org