Over the last eleven years or so, my personal experience with menopause has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride. I had no idea what to expect, and couldn’t believe how out of control I felt. When I heard myself asking the question: “Is it hot in here, or is it me?”, only to be answered with a united chorus from everyone else in the house “It’s you”, I knew something was going on for sure. But what was it?
I would be woken up unceremoniously during the night, because ‘someone’ had built a fire around my feet. It was amazing to me that the bedclothes were not on fire. I worked out that I needed to sleep with my feet stuck out from under the covers. Great solution. How wrong can you be? Because now, instead of just the feet being involved, I would be woken in the night with my entire body on fire as though I had been doused in oil and lit with a match. I would wake up in the mornings exhausted, as though I had been working in the mines all night with the seven dwarfs.
This is not a life stage anyone had prepared me for. I hadn’t had the presence of mind to prepare myself, even though the warning signs had all been there. As a nurse I worked with older women and, after we had put the patients to bed, I used to find the women in strange positions in front of open windows, with their uniforms opened. I just assumed they were strange.
Another sign was when my regular visits (every six weeks) to have my eyebrows threaded started to involve my chin. What started off as one hair on my chin had now proliferated to hairs across my chin and, dare I say it, onto my neck. Thus my regular visits increased to every two weeks, with most of the time now being spent on my chin area and upper lip. (I am refusing to call it moustache and beard.) I have decided that when the pain becomes unbearable, I will join a circus as the resident bearded lady.
At this stage, I paid my GP a visit to see what he could do to help me. He carried out a blood test and was able to tell me there were hormonal changes, and I was indeed peri-menopausal. Peri-menopause precedes the menopause ‘proper’, which occurs when you have had no monthly periods for at least twelve clear months.
The subject would come up often, as everywhere I went my hot flushes came too, and I found myself having to take a fan with me everywhere, along with bottles of water, which I would sip on whenever the flush started.
I noticed too that my memory started acting up. Now that may be fine… but not in the middle of a sentence, and certainly not when addressing people in public. I would be speaking, and suddenly I couldn’t remember what I had just said, or what I was about to say. I found what helped the most in those situations was to stay calm and breathe deeply. At home, I would dash for a pad and pen, only to forget what I wanted to note down.
I had to make self-care a priority. I forced myself not to rush at the start of the day, and would lay out my clothes the night before. I would shower, then sit for a few minutes to cool off and dry off. The alternative was trying to get dressed whilst dripping wet, as a shower would trigger a flush. I cut out unnecessary appointments and shopping trips. This meant of course that I had to plan better. I still use a paper diary, and check over my schedule the night before, and make sure I write everything down – including the time I need to leave the house by.
I established a nighttime routine, which allowed me to wind down, potter around, relax and arrange myself for the next day.
The main reason I wrote my book, Menopause: What Every Woman Needs to Know, was to share my ‘menopausal journey’ and the things I did to make life easier. As we go through this stage of our lives, everyone we are in relationship with will be affected in one way or another.
If we are married, our husbands go on this roller-coaster ride with us – without a seatbelt. It leaves us – and them – confused and frustrated, in more ways than one.
If you would like to learn more about my journey into menopause, what to expect, and how to deal with symptoms, visit www.amazon.co.uk to purchase.
Pastor Yvonne Brooks serves in ministry alongside her husband, Bishop Melvin Brooks, at New Jerusalem Church in Birmingham. She also runs Esther’s Academy, a personal development programme, which helps women live purposeful lives. Visit www.esthersacademy.co.uk for more information.