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Putting imposter syndrome back in its box postmenopause

by Kwavi Agbeyegbe

I recently dealt with the sudden arrival of imposter syndrome and it took me by surprise. I wrote a book this year, 50 Questions to Ask When You Reach 50, and when it was published on Amazon, guess what? I couldn’t tell anyone even though I had been so excited. It took me a whole month before I said anything!

When my publisher asked me to film myself reading from my book for a virtual book fair, I admitted to her that I hadn’t even opened the book yet. She told me to think about why I created it. As soon as she said that, it perked me up as my aim is to help midlife women thrive in a youth-obsessed culture.

I realised imposter syndrome was taking me over.”

Imposter syndrome is so real and it really threw me off. I was confident about being a coach or a speaker but the writing was new to me. There was a voice inside saying, “I’m not an author.” It’s as if you are judging yourself before people judge you.

When I think back to when I was a young child, no one could tell me anything and I was myself. Then you start to hear people asking you not to be so loud or to calm down. You learn to become cautious. 

Being a woman over 50 is rough because society frowns upon us. What we see everywhere doesn’t reflect who we are. It feels like we don’t matter as we age and it’s so easy for us to lose confidence and shrink.

If you listen to what society says about midlife women, you’re just going to be in a little hole somewhere and not come out. I want to empower women to realise that this doesn’t have to be your story if you don’t want it to be.

You can live life boldly, proudly and fiercely in a way that works for you. Younger people need to see us do this to encourage them too.”

At 50, you realise you have lived more than half of your life and start to wonder what the next chapter looks like. Are there things you want to change? This is when you get to choose. It is about you and no one else. You can stop people-pleasing and look at your needs. If you want to get to the end of life without any regrets, the time to change is now! 

Menopause is like Mother Nature telling us it is our time. Whatever you want to do, let’s go!”

Painful acne

My menopausal symptoms began with adult acne all over my face in my 40s, right where everyone could see it. I couldn’t work out why it happened as I looked after my diet and didn’t have acne as a teenager. It was the type of acne that you couldn’t touch because it hurt so much and you could see it bursting through the skin. 

My face was like a road with many potholes and I would put layers and layers of makeup on before I went out. Before the acne, I didn’t even wear much makeup. I was an eyeliner and lip gloss type of person and felt good.

Eventually, I reached out to my dermatologist and said nothing was working to clear it up. She told me that I would have to use Accutane and I was shocked as the patient leaflet is terrifying reading! I was on it for three months and my face went back to normal, the acne disappeared.

Sweats and vaginal dryness

Three years later, I woke up in the middle of the night and I thought I was going to die. I woke in a pool of sweat and my heart was racing. I had to change my clothes because I was dripping wet. I finally fell back asleep and in the morning I told my husband what had happened and he replied: “Oh it is probably perimenopause.” I couldn’t believe it!

I explained to my doctor about the sweats, feeling dry and itchy down there and that sex was really painful, almost as if my skin was being cut. She said it was part of perimenopause. I was astonished that I didn’t know vaginal dryness was part of perimenopause.

Everyone talks about puberty, but menopause or perimenopause? Nothing. When you don’t know what’s going on, you think the worst.”

My doctor told me to reduce the time I spend wearing tights and I purposely wore skirts and dresses. I didn’t want anything that constricted me and, eventually, I was so dry and itchy that I stopped wearing underwear. I was lucky to be able to do this because I work from home. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I had to go into the office, have meetings and sit around. 

The doctor said I had vaginal atrophy, which is when your skin becomes dry and tears. I was recommended a lubricant that you put on topically. Symptoms eased over time and I was able to have sex without pain. Fast forward a few years later and my gynaecologist recommended trying a suppository lubricant that you put inside your vagina, which was easier. 

Don’t be dismissed

I read something the other day that said that menopause is one of the most mismanaged medical conditions in the world and that doesn’t surprise me. It’s complex and if you don’t advocate for yourself, you’re going to be suffering in silence. My symptoms started levelling out at 50 and my body reset itself. I don’t have palpitations, dryness or notice night sweats anymore.

One thing that massively helped was paying attention to what I was eating and drinking. I noticed that alcohol was a huge trigger for me.”

I have an online community called Flourish and I tell women to go to their doctor to talk about menopause symptoms, but go with a list of questions and pay attention to the responses. They need to feel confident and empowered. It’s so important to be heard when you go to your doctor and if you get an inkling that you’re being dismissed, seek a second opinion.

I fear for the women who think something’s wrong but don’t want to say. I am speaking out in the hope that it helps someone else and to open up the conversation about menopause.”

Find out more about menopause on our blog.