“Why do they call it ‘menopause’ babe?“, my (now very much former partner) asked me one day.
“I don’t know“, I replied.
“Because ‘mad cow disease’ was already taken!“, he guffawed.
But to be fair, he had a point. The effects of menopause, are many and varied! And they impact both you and your partner.
Trust me, I know. I went through menopause very early – at the age of 37.
Fortunately, I noticed the signs and I didn’t have to suffer the full intensity of all the effects for too long.
Nevertheless, I did experience many of them. And, when I think back, I have some sympathy for my then partner’s analogy of menopause with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (aka mad cow disease).
My friends and family will attest I have been known to lose my temper a few (ok, many) times. But throwing the front counter of my local phone shop at a sales person was a first in terms of temper tantrums, even for me! As was my decision to pull a metal-frame bed through a wall rather than take apart and re-assemble it in the next room!!
And let’s not go near the emotional roller-coaster I was on, including the uncontrollable episodes of crying over Disney movies.
In fact, fortunately, I didn’t have a full-time partner when I went through menopause. So some poor sod was saved from the horrors associated with my hormone changes – yes, it was like a scene from the Omen movie.
The many “joys” of menopause
As I said, I went through premature menopause – technically, that’s when the final menstrual period occurs before a woman is aged 40.
This is associated with a number of factors, including physical (such as surgery) or emotional trauma, and smoking. And family history increases your chances of experiencing it my about 12%.
Of course, whatever age you go through menopause (the average is around 50), you will probably experience the same symptoms as I did – temper tantrums and crying. But there are a host of others you might get to “enjoy” also – irregular or absent periods, irritability, anxiety, bloating , breast soreness and, the all time fave, “hot flushes”.
I guess my circumstances were a little more complicated than most. I had been sterilised at 33 because I knew I did not want any more children. I had also undergone surgery for a number of health conditions around that time. And my immune system had crashed. All this resulted in my weight dropping to 47kg, and my periods stopped.
I am fully recovered. However, my periods never returned. The doctors had warned me after being so unwell that it could take up to a year before they did. Well, they didn’t – not that I’m complaining!
A year later, I was back fit as a fiddle and able to exercise and live my life to the full in every way, including sex thank heavens.
I knew something was wrong when I put on 7kg in a month.
And then I really knew something was wrong when my sex drive evaporated – and I mean literally – completely – zilch! I had also gone dry down below, which made it painful to even masturbate – a first for me.
So, not only was I acting completely bonkers, but my sex drive had disappeared. So I knew something was very wrong and I took action. I saw my doctor as soon as possible. She did some tests that revealed I had an under-active thyroid, and that I was in menopause. A scan also detected a benign growth in my uterus. I had the growth removed within 3 days and a coil fitted to keep the lining thin – I understand this reduces the risk of further growths developing.
But back to menopause and sex. Trust me when I say when Estrogen levels are reduced, it affects you sexually.
Sex drive and Hormone Replacement Therapy
As I mentioned, my libido practically disappeared. I know my sex drive very well indeed. I know it is higher than most, which is great. But when your libido goes from high to non-existent, you need to see your doctor as there is something going on. And I did.
The good news is that you don’t need to suffer. My doctor took fortnightly blood tests and put me on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).
Unlike the UK, HRT is commonly accepted practice in Australia. Fortunately, HRT has recently been re-introduced in the UK. I wear Estrogen patches, and I take Progestogen pills. And I can assure you, it’s fantastic! I have re-discovered the sex drive I had in my early 20s!!
A few words of warning. First, HRT is not a contraceptive. And, second, you need to be patient – it will take some time, and trial and error, to get the doses right for you. But trust me when I say it is the fountain of youth.
Thank god I was not in a relationship when I went through menopause.
Women who experience menopause may experience issues that affect their relationship. One is the fact it seems to make communication difficult. And let’s face it, it’s hard to explain this stuff to men at the best of times!
Frankly, you need to prepare your partner for the reality that you are most likely going to put them through hell from the other side of the room. And you need to prepare yourself for the fact that they will just look at your strangely as if they don’t understand what the f*** is going on. And you know what, for the most part, they won’t – and that’s where they need your help – to help them help you.
Try to maintain a dialogue. Discuss what you are going through. Re-assure them it is not about them – if you can – since when do men think anything is about anything but them!
Seriously, partner attitudes to menopause are important to support you, and to sustain your relationship through this difficult phase of your lives. Having an informed, supportive partner can help enormously.
Suggest to your partner they should do their own research so they don’t take anything personally.
When you cry – trust me, you will – a lot – tell them you just need a hug, not the psychiatrist they have suggested!
It is very important to be able to discuss what you are experiencing openly and without argument or abuse. Having said that, you need to understand, and make clear to your partner, there will be times when things become heated and emotional. Again, re-assure each other it is not about the other person.
If you suffer emotionally – and trust me you will – talk to your doctor. Life’s for living. You do not need to suffer unnecessarily.
HRT certainly helped me in this and other ways.
If you don’t want to go on HRT, there are alternatives. A psychologist who specialises in couples counselling can be useful. You may only need one or two sessions. They should be able to help support you both in your communication, and in understanding the issues you are both going through and how to manage them as best you can.
If you are experiencing sexual problems within your relationship – and, again, you almost certainly will during this phase – it may be helpful to consider the extent to which they are due to the physical symptoms of menopause on the one hand, and other issues. You will probably find they are a combination of both. On these occasions, try to maintain a positive and constructive attitude – after all, obstacles are just opportunities in disguise! And don’t hesitate to seek the help you might need – whether it is medical, psychological, counselling etc… Knowledge is power in all things.
Early menopause is no reason to abstain from sex. In fact, if you work at it constructively, you can get it sorted relatively quickly. In particular, choose a doctor you trust and with the right experience with these issues – someone you can talk to well. They will help you re-balance your hormones and get your sex life back on track. And you’ll be at it like rabbits in no time. Good luck ….. to you AND to your partner.
Oh, and remember – they’re not “hot flushes” – they’re POWER SURGES”!