Like many, I had never heard of the word perimenopause until a couple of years ago when I stumbled into it completely unaware. I had no idea what was happening to my body and was naive to the changes that had already taken place. I had been waiting for my periods to stop and hot flushes to kick in…none of which happened. Yet, I slowly morphed into someone I didn’t recognise, with debilitating joint pain and muscle tightness, at age 52.
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Pain impacted my mental health
I started to notice my back feeling tired and achy when walking. I live by the sea and love to walk most days, something I had always taken for granted. The joint pain and muscle tightness made me yelp when turning over in bed. It also stopped me from exercising and, at times, walking. I couldn’t bend to empty the dishwasher or pick up anything from the floor. The pain started to impact my mental health and I was told my only option would be steroid injections.
I looked for stretches online that might ease symptoms. I found a physiotherapist who put a personalised programme together for me, but it didn’t help. I found another specialising in the Franklin Method but, if anything, the joint pain and muscle tightness got worse, not better.
Lockdown had made getting an appointment with my doctor difficult but I got a referral to a physiotherapist six months later. After five sessions with uncomfortable conversations (the physio, not me), two MRIs and a course of acupuncture, I still didn’t know why I had little movement and terrible joint pain.
I hadn’t realised I was perimenopausal
Unable to do much else, I started to research. I read, listened to podcasts, watched ‘lives’ on Instagram, read some more and opened myself up to a whole new world that I knew nothing about.
The word “perimenopause” hit my radar outlining the impact of the many symptoms, physical and psychological. In desperation, I wrote to a private menopause clinic to ask if my joint pain and muscle tightness could be due to declining hormones. They replied that it is a common symptom. With that reply came relief…and a little tear. This symptom seems like such a well-kept secret.
Find out more in our menopause symptoms library.
Suddenly I realised just how many perimenopause symptoms I’d experienced over 10 years but had dismissed and put down to isolated incidents. These included:
- Crippling anxiety that hit almost on the day of my 40th birthday
- A lack of motivation
- Dry eyes
- Loss of libido
- An inability to multitask like I always had
- A lack of concentration, which meant I had given up reading
- Struggling to find the words I needed (“that yellow fruit” = banana)
- Memory loss
- Heart palpitations
- Worsening migraines
- Erratic but heavier periods
- I gave up a job I loved and flunked an interview for my dream job
To think that I thought the only symptom I had was joint pain!
I felt frustrated that I had been so unprepared for something that was inevitably going to happen.”
Deciding on HRT as a treatment option
I began to understand my options and what I wanted to do. I did a huge U-turn about HRT once I better understood the facts surrounding menopause versus the myths and misleading newspaper articles.
I spoke to the menopause specialist at my doctor’s but it left me even more hopeless and upset as I felt I had more up-to-date knowledge than she did. I felt my only option was to pay privately to get the help and support I needed.
I arranged an appointment and my HRT arrived a week later. I felt nervous and doubtful although I knew it was the right decision for me. I had weighed up the risks versus the benefits and knew I wanted to protect my future health. It still seemed a scary decision and my HRT sat on the kitchen table for two weeks and then in the bathroom cabinet for another fortnight.
After finally giving myself a pep talk, I started HRT. The moment felt underrated for what felt like a momentous occasion and just like rubbing moisturiser in. It was the start of a new chapter in my life and one I was so ready for.
Read more about the benefits and risks of HRT.
HRT and lifestyle changes takes patience
I wanted HRT to be part of my toolbox, together with better nutrition, exercise and self-care. HRT would never be a magic pill without all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle being addressed.
HRT wasn’t the overnight success I had expected it to be. It was a rollercoaster ride which at times induced a big enough wobble to question whether this was the right decision. But with each wobble, I came to the same conclusion – bad press and lack of education were responsible for my wavering doubt.
It took a while to get my HRT right, with many tweaks of dose and type. Although I have the first prize in being the most impatient of impatient people, I knew this was something I didn’t want to rush.
It soon became apparent my body didn’t absorb the gel so I switched to patches. After three months, I added in testosterone and slowly started to ‘do life’ again. My love for reading came back, I knew the name of that yellow fruit, I remembered birthdays and could retain information.
My confidence was back, my zest for life returned and my joint pain eased. I was back to walking and exercising and my mojo was back but it took almost a year.”
My three take-home tips
- Educate yourself
- Talk openly and share your story
- If embarking on HRT, be patient and use it as part of a toolbox
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I wish I hadn’t lost 10 years of my life to anxiety but this journey has taught me how important it is to educate yourself. Make it your business to know what to expect so you can make informed choices about your health and get the right support.
Menopause is not a time to feel ashamed or alone. It’s a second spring and one to embrace. But we can only do that if we are feeling well and have a bounce in our step. Sadly for many women, that’s not the case.
Many of us are in the sandwich generation, caring for our kids and parents, running a house and working. It’s important to take time to focus on yourself without feeling guilty and see this time as a new life phase with opportunities.