Guest post by Katie Taylor, founder of The Latte Lounge, ahead of World Menopause Day on 18 October
I was 43 years old the first time I ‘didn’t feel right’.
I can’t put my finger on what it was, I just know that I was walking home from the school run that day and I felt empty, numb and slow. I felt like I was walking in a fog, through thick treacle, slightly disconnected. I felt low, tired, anxious and not sure what my purpose was in life, now that my youngest had finally started going to school all day.
I put it down to being a mum of four kids, juggling family and home life with work.
But things got progressively worse. I didn’t have the energy to make a meal, to tidy the house, to make decisions. I stopped enjoying socialising. Things that I used to find hilariously funny, I just stared at with no emotion. I comfort ate to try and ‘feel’ something – but this just made me gain tonnes of weight, which in turn made me very self-conscious, and I became a hermit who never wanted to go out, see people, or even phone anyone.
I went to the doctor to ask what this bag of mixed symptoms could mean. After less than 5 minutes talking to a young man who couldn’t have been much older than my son, he said it was probably depression, and sent me on my merry way with a prescription for Fluoxetine.
A month later I felt no different. In fact i felt worse – now I was just numb, getting on with life but not living.
I started to forget words in meetings, I couldn’t remember where I’d left things, and I became convinced I was suffering with early onset dementia. I was constantly teary, which was very embarrassing, and I felt ashamed of the woman i had become.
On my next trip to the GP, he said it was probably stress from juggling so many different things, and he suggested I give up work for a while if I could afford to.
Taking his advice, I decided to leave my job and give myself some time off, to try and take things a bit easier. But then the heavy periods began. Little did I know, I was becoming seriously anaemic, which caused heart palpitations and made me sleep for most of the day. Convinced I was now suffering with ME, or having a heart attack, I trotted off for a third trip to the GP. This time he sent me off for heart tests; surprisingly, nothing showed up.
Next the backache kicked in. This time the doctor said I was just overweight and should take up Pilates. He added that it was probably all in my mind, and humiliated me by asking if I wanted to see a psychiatrist. I felt utter despair; was I actually going mad? Here I was: a happily married lady, with four fantastic kids, living in a lovely house, surrounded by family and friends. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I enjoy my life? Where had I gone? And how could i get me back?
For four years I was tested for everything under the sun, and made to feel like I was losing my mind. It was only then that my father, who is a breast cancer professor, suggested it may be hormonal, and that I should see a gynaecologist who specialised in hormones.
After a blood test, and giving a full history of my symptoms over the last four years, the gynaecologist said one word: PERIMENOPAUSE. She explained that my oestrogen levels were on the floor, and were the entire reason I was feeling all these things. She reassured me that nothing was wrong with me, suggested I have a coil fitted to stop the bleeding, and told me I’d feel like a new woman after a month on hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
And she was right. Four weeks later, my mood had lifted significantly, my energy levels had peaked, my memory returned, I could think clearly and make normal decisions, the anxiety and palpitations stopped, and I suddenly realised I was happy and really enjoying my life again. It was the first time in years that I could remember laughing and feeling. My husband said he’d got his wife back.
That night, as I lay on my bed crying my eyes out in relief, I turned to Facebook to see if anyone else could relate to these last four years of perimenopausal hell. All the women’s groups I could find were for mums with young babies, comparing notes on nappy rash and buggies. So I decided to set up my own group. I wanted it to feel like an online coffee shop for midlife women, as I’ve always found chatting with a friend over a latte is the solution to most of life’s problems.
To my utter surprise, within 24 hours of setting up the group I had 2000 new members. In 48 hours that had doubled to 4000. And so The Latte Lounge (top tips for women over 40) was created. Today, after two years, we have over 15k women across 69 countries in the world. I’ve since set up a website, www.lattelounge.co, put together a medical advisory committee, and have more than 30 contributors to help support other women, in all areas of midlife – so that no one ever needs to feel alone, confused, lost, or like they’re going mad.
Doctors need better training to understand and spot perimenopause symptoms, and women need to be educated from an early age on what the word perimenopause means. After all, I wasn’t having hot flushes, and I still had periods. But the ten years before menopause, as oestrogen levels start to drop, can create symptoms that are the same as or even worse than the menopause.
I feel angry that I lost four precious years of my life, and I want my forum to be the go-to place for all things mid-life, so we can be a force for good. We can campaign for better education and awareness; provide up to date, evidence-based information; and we can support and signpost women correctly so they get the help they need, when they need it.
Buy Katie’s book, The ‘Not So Secret’ Diary of a Midlife Menopausal Mum on Amazon.