Going through menopause is a normal part of ageing, but people don’t often talk about the effect it can have on your mental health. Sarah, 50, explains how menopause has forced her to accept her body as it is now, and surrender to the waves of grief that come with it.
“It crept up on me”
I was 44 when I came off the contraceptive pill. At the time, my partner and I were discussing the idea of having children.
A year later, I started getting less frequent periods. I went to see the doctor and they said I was too young for perimenopause [the time leading up to menopause]. So I put my irregular cycle down to a personal trauma that I was working through, as well as other factors, such as work.
At 48, my periods suddenly stopped. I started to get hot flushes and horrific mood swings, and I would have sleepless nights. I also noticed a sensation that went up through my feet, all the way to my hands. Like an electric shock throughout my body, lasting for a few seconds.
I went to see another doctor, who listened to my symptoms and said, “Yes, it sounds like you’re perimenopausal – you didn’t want any kids, did you?”
It felt like I’d fallen off a cliff. I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t expecting it, and I was in denial.
The grieving process
I was also grieving. Grieving for the children I couldn't have naturally – that the decision had been taken away from me. Grieving for the parts of my body that were no longer functioning, and being reminded of my own mortality.
Grief goes through your body – there’s a tightening of your throat and your breathing becomes much more shallow.
Grief doesn’t just happen when you lose someone – it also happens when you lose something. It can be felt throughout your life: when your child leaves home, a relationship ends, or you leave a job.
In Western culture, we’re often shamed if we struggle with grief for too long, or show too much emotion. But I think we need to be with our grief, to feel it and let it out of the body.
When it comes to menopause, we’re grieving for our lost periods – like a part of us is dying. At the age of 50, I’ve only just started accepting that.
Fear and anxiety
My sense of fear was heightened with menopause, too. I became scared of the future, and how much of it was left for me. All of a sudden there was a sense of urgency when it came to getting stuff done.
Not to mention the anxiety I had when I got hot flushes. I was worried that everyone could see my red face whenever I was out in public. Over time, I’ve learned to accept the changes my body is going through. I do a lot of breathwork, practise mindfulness, and exercise more than I used to.
These strategies don’t always stop my hot flushes from happening, but they move through the body much quicker now.
Accepting that I’m menopausal, rather than fighting it, has helped me feel much calmer in myself. I feel lighter, and fear has less of a hold on me, which makes it much easier to talk about my experience.
Going through menopause is a huge transition in life – there’s a process of letting something go that’s been part of our womaness for most of our lives. It can make you feel lonely and isolated.
Much more needs to be done to understand the impact of menopause from a mental perspective, rather than just treating it as a symptom. I had no support from doctors, who told me to go away and do my own research. At the time, I felt there was simply no information out there.
I would have appreciated more support when trying to navigate this transition. I needed help with understanding what it meant for my body, what I could expect and what I could do to support the process.
Menopausal symptoms can vary a lot. For some people, it lasts 10 years, while for others it can be over more quickly. There’s no set process or archetype, which is why talking about it is so important.
I want women to know that they’re not alone going through this – it happens to all of us. Find your support network, whatever that looks like, learn more about who you are and how your body works, and work towards accepting this cycle of life as a process of change, rather than resisting it. The journey will be much easier if you do.
Sarah is a transformational maturation life coach who offers 1-to-1 coaching. To work with her, visit unearthyou.com
If you'd like to share your menopause story with us, you can do so here.