Menopause – what I have learned so far….

Following on from my last blogpost calling for older women to step into their power especially at Halloween, I thought it might be time to share some insights into menopause; something that is not talked about as much as it should be.  And perhaps if we ‘women of a certain age’ start talking menopause we would encourage women of all ages to keep talking about all related topics (fertility, periods, childbirth etc) which until recently have been solely the preserve of ‘female conversations’.

Ok, so first off, let me say I am no expert in anything but life.  And so, these top tips are all based solely on my personal experience, thus far!

Top Tip – all women experience menopause differently.  We won’t all suffer the same symptoms so sharing our experiences and our methods of coping are very important.  So please leave a helpful comment after this post if you have something that worked for you that you would like to share.

The heat is ON…. and it’s not the immersion!

I had heard horror stories from some friends who suffered terrible night sweats, sweating so profusely that they had to change nightwear and bed sheets.  Thankfully, thus far this hasn’t been my experience but having spent at least 52 of my 56 years feeling the cold, my body now thinks it’s in the tropics most of the time.  A kind of personal global warming that means I now have a horror of woolly jumpers, even on the coldest days.  And polo necks are for the moment definitely a no no.

So, some top tips for dealing with the heat of menopause are:

  • Wear light fabrics and layers that can easily be removed. Scarves (not woolly) ones are fabulous – the disguise a multitude and also can add warmth around your shoulders should you need it, especially in summer.
  • Make sure your car has functioning air conditioning… my aircon was kaput for a few weeks and I was lucky I didn’t expire in that time. I now travel in the comfort of an ice-cold car.  Not great for passengers but in my car the driver calls it on music and ambient temperature.
  • Bedside fan – although I don’t suffer bad night sweats, during sleep I do tend to go from too hot to too cold thought the night. So, a bedside fan is wonderful for blowing some cool air when you get uncomfortable.
  • Gel Pillow – I am still trying this out but it certainly cools down a hot head. Called Your Sandman Cooling Pillow, this gel insert can be placed inside your pillowcase (on top of your regular pillow) and it is cold, icy cold.  Will help cool you down and I then turn it over if I no longer need it.  It’s a bit heavy and bulky but I am still working out how to best use it and am hoping that it will be a great help when I get my next migraine.  But if you want to try it they are available on Amazon UK.

Gone in the head and not gone in the head.

I have suffered with migraines since my mid thirties when they were usually triggered by stress and often (although not always) by my menstrual cycle.  Since I hit menopause my migraines have come back with a bit of a vengeance and can be very debilitating.  Migraine is, like menopause, something that also affects everyone differently so it is vital to try to work out your personal triggers.

As we get older our bodies ability to deal with alcohol changes too and many of us find that we just can’t tolerate the kind of drinking we may have happily indulged in in earlier decades.  Many of us will find that after drinking even a reasonably modest amount (by Irish standards) we don’t sleep well, suffer heartburn and hangovers become worse.  So many of us naturally cut down on our intake.

Me, however, well… I discovered that alcohol (all alcohol) hates me.  And even after a tiny glass of wine I will get a headache that in most cases morphs into a full-blown migraine.  So, after a year of two of experimenting with low alcohol and organic wines I have given up.  No more booze for me.  It’s a bit sad, but hey ho.  And that there is top tip number whatever this is.  Listen to your body and make changes you need to in order to feel better.

On a related note I have also found that I need to drink lots of water…  Yeah, yeah, I know we are all told that.  But I have genuinely found that having a bottle of water with me all the time means that I do drink way more and it also helps me generally feel better, less headachy and less bloated.  Another top tip…. stay hydrated.

The ‘OUCH’ Factor

As we age we naturally become stiffer and less flexible.  And for a few years I kind of accepted that this was just the way it is now.  I thought exercise might help but I hate exercise for exercise sake only.  In other words, I love a nice walk in the countryside but pounding the pavements around suburban Dublin doesn’t really do it for me.  I keep vowing I will take up swimming as I do enjoy it but the palaver of defuzzing and wet hair keeps putting me off…  and yeah, I know that that is only an excuse.  I have also toyed with idea of buying a bike.  Having spent a few days in Sweden and Denmark earlier in the year I have a vision of myself making stately progress through the burbs on my high nelly.  But would I?   Bike lanes terrify me as a car driver…. I would be too terrified to use them on a bike.  Even if I could work out how not to get a sore arse!  Regular cyclists must have bums made of steel.  Mine is made of soft cotton wool!

However, thanks to my youngest daughter I have started doing stretches, yoga moves mainly and I have definitely noticed an improvement in my ability to move without going ‘ouch’.  So, I aim to keep that up and once I am more flexible I might actually take up yoga.  Which won’t make my hair greasy!  Another top tip right there – stretch and bend

Is it bedtime yet?

One of the first symptoms I noticed and put down to menopause was the fact that there are days when I am bone tired and weary.  You know the kind of days that just getting up, showered and dressed makes you feel exhausted.  The kind of exhausted that makes you want to close your eyes and sleep immediately.  Not always possible of course.  Life gets in the way.  But – top tip alert – when I can, I am kind to myself and if I feel that I need a nap and can avail of one, I do.  Although this symptom has lessoned in the last year or so and my energy is generally returning to normal levels now.

Right, so.  These are my thoughts for the moment.  I intend to revisit this topic every so often and would love feedback from you so that we can all share what we have found works and what doesn’t.  Leave a comment if you can!

 

 

HAVE YOU HAD YOUR SMEAR TEST YET?

I don’t know any woman who looks forward to having a smear test.  But as I have learnt over decades, bringing a sense of humour with you to the doctor’s surgery is highly recommended. 
Now at the outset let me categorically state that I believe in the absolute necessity of regular smear tests.  I have twice had precancerous cells detected which required further treatment and I am glad to say that for the last number of years my smears have been normal.  But my history means that I am called every year for a new test.  So I consider myself a bit of an expert. 
I was probably twenty something when I took myself off for my first ever smear.  Our family GP was a lovely chap.  Described in our house as a bit of a west Brit, he was an angular, tall man in the mode of Basil Fawlty, with a mid Irish Sea accent and an easy laugh.  Being a woman of the world I thought I am not going to seek out a female GP who I have never met before, I can do this with your man I always go to.
So appointment was made and I presented myself at the surgery.  His greeting to me was always the same “Oh Barbara, oh good.  How are you?”  “Hi Doc” I answered trying to calm the butterflies in my stomach, “I am here for a smear test”.  His face displayed that rare combination of delight and puzzlement.  “Oh right. A smear test you say? Great.  Golly gosh no one has come to me for a smear test in years.  I normally just see all the old women round here.” 
 My heart sank and my brain roared “mistake Scully, big mistake”  He ushered me towards the bed with the usual instructions to remove all my lower garments and said he’s be back in a minute.  To this day I suspect he went to consult some medical manual to remind himself as to where he was likely to find my cervix.  Minutes passed as I lay there until I finally heard him re-enter the room and his face came around the curtain wearing a big grin and what looked like a miners lamp strapped to his forehead.  “Jolly good, we’re all set”, he announced as he blinded me with his ‘headlight’.  That test took ages but it was ‘jolly good fun’ by all accounts.
The following years my smear tests were carried out by my gynaecologist due to a combination of recent childbirth and my odd cells.  But some years later I was back at my local GP. 
Basil Fawlty had retired and so my current GP is a younger man.  But it seemed that all the other women in the village knew what I still did not.  Go the practice nurse for a smear test.  So, although he wasn’t quite as gleeful at the prospect of furkling around in my undercarriage, he was just as at sea.  “Right you get sorted there and shout when you are ready” he instructed as he pulled the curtain around the bed.  I took off my shoes and looked around for modesty blanket.
“Em, where’s the blanket, Doc?”
“What blanket?”
“The blanket. I am not going to lie here with everything on show.  I need a blanket”
“Oh, right.  Back in a minute.”
So once again I lay there while he went off in search of a blanket. 
Finally he returned and an arm came though the curtain brandishing a blanket.  A picnic blanket.  A very small one.  A scratchy one.  “Please tell me you didn’t get this from the boot of your car” I pleaded.  By now he was right grumpy.  “No I didn’t” he barked.  So I disported myself on the bed, knickerless looking like I was wearing a tartan mini skirt a la Vivienne Westwood at the height of the punk era.  In the distance there was the sound of a penny dropping.
The following year I made an appointment with the practice nurse.  The room was nice and warm.  There was a gorgeous soft yellow blanket she was that wonderful ‘nursey’ combination of common sense and empathy.  As she approached with KY Jelly in one hand and the speculum in the other she announced that she was using a plastic implement.  “More comfortable, and not as cold” she assured me.  Everything was going reasonably smoothly as she began her furkling.  “Oh I think you have a tilted cervix” she muttered with only a small hint of exasperation.  Then a loud crack, like a gunshot rang through the surgery.  It emanated from my nether regions.
I nearly fell off the bed with the shock, I am sure some elderly patients in the next door waiting room got a right fright.  The nurse turned a bright shade of red.  “Well I have never had that happen before” she said as she retrieved her speculum which was now in two separate pieces. 
 I still go to the nurse but I make sure to tell her immediately that my cervix is round a bend and breaks plastic implements.  I bet not too many women can say that!!