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My story: ‘I was at rock bottom – now I support others through their menopause’
Rowan shares her experiences of menopause-related anxiety, UTIs and heart palpitations
Rowan was running a successful business when she started to experience physical and psychological symptoms that impacted her confidence and her career – but no one mentioned the perimenopause or menopause.
Here, she shares her story.
‘I lost my father when I was thirty-nine. He had brought me up, and I had cared for him before he died, and it hit me particularly hard. So when I had the symptoms of what I now know as perimenopause, I initially thought it was grief. But then it went on, and on – even two years later I’d have emotional days when I couldn’t stop crying.
‘I had been a fit and active outdoor person my whole life and had been working in the equine industry, running a busy event yard, teaching and riding semi-professionally. Yet here I was in my early forties, suffering from broken sleep, anxiety and lost confidence. It began to have a serious impact on my riding career, as the anxiety became unbearable and I had panic attacks. I felt so unwell all the time – like someone had knocked me off my feet.
I thought I was too young to be perimenopausal
‘The only thing I knew – or thought I knew – about the menopause at that point was that I wouldn’t have to worry about it until I was well into my fifties, and then it would just involve getting a bit hot and sweaty. How hard could that be? I spent half my life sweating doing physical work, anyway. I had no idea it could hit women of my age, or even in their twenties.
‘I’m sure now that by the time I was 42 I was perimenopausal. Hot flushes weren’t a big thing for me, but I was running a temperature and felt overheated the whole time. I developed urinary tract infections – I got electric shock pains through my pelvic area, had a really painful pelvis with cramping. I thought I was diabetic because I was really thirsty and wanted to go to the loo all the time.
Night sweats and heart palpitations
‘I went to see a GP because I thought I was run down. It was having a real impact on my life. I’d stopped competitive riding, but I was still trying to work and be active and do my day job. I had night sweats; I’d be shivering; I’d be woken up with heart palpitations, which was really unnerving.
‘The GP ordered blood tests and everything came back negative. Further down the line, I was tested for Lyme disease, connective-tissue disorders, Addison’s disease – but nobody even mentioned menopause or perimenopause.
‘I said to the doctor that I thought it was my hormones – that I thought my estrogen and testosterone were low – and asked if I could be tested for that. He couldn’t even look at me. He turned away and said I’d have to talk to someone who knew something about that.
‘At this stage I was really struggling. This wasn’t like a cold or flu, something that would go away in a few weeks. It was constant.
‘I saw another GP and she gave me HRT. But I wasn’t given any information about it. She asked me if I wanted patches, gel or tablets. How was I supposed to know? I said I’d try tablets, so she wrote the prescription and off I went.
‘Within three or four days, my temperature had come down, my dizziness and nausea had gone and I thought, ‘Thank God, it’s worked’. But after several months, the symptoms came back again – and my muscles ached, brain fog crept in and I felt utterly exhausted all the time. I went back to the GP. I had done some research and now knew I needed body-identical HRT – and a much higher dose.
‘My life changed when I watched a menopause documentary and found a menopause specialist. I had to wait three months for the appointment and by that time I had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue. I tried to carry on, and then I slipped a disc in my back. I couldn’t work – I couldn’t stay awake; I was at rock bottom.
Feeling listened to
‘When I got to the specialist menopause clinic, I finally felt listened to. They understood what was going on, and the help I needed. I was told to keep increasing the dose of the estrogen every two weeks until I felt better. I was on testosterone as well, and after several months, I felt great. All my symptoms had eased, the chronic fatigue had lifted, the brain fog had gone and I was back to teaching. It took longer to sort out the progestogen, but I feel brilliant.
Supporting others through their menopause
‘Now I volunteer at my local GP practice running menopause-support meetings. This isn’t just a meet-up-and-have-coffee thing – it’s a place where women can come and gain more knowledge about the menopause and how to deal with their symptoms with up-to-date medical information. I’ve also set up a Facebook group.
‘I’m very lucky to feel as good as I do now, but it hasn’t been without a fight. Women shouldn’t have to go through this. We’ve got to come out of the dark ages, and there’s still a long way to go.’