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Managing Menopause

The menopause saved my life

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Alice Girling

Registered Midwife, PGCE, FHEA

I hear “But you’re too young to be menopausal” at least once a week. I am 33 years old, and yes, I am menopausal. Then comes the face of surprise, followed by pity. I am proud to say I am menopausal; three years ago, I made the difficult and decision to have a total hysterectomy because I suffered from the life-threatening, hormone-based mood condition Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).

For 20 years, PMDD controlled every aspect of my life. As the female sex hormones ebbed and flowed during my menstrual cycle, I would have severe, abnormal reactions to these changes – both psychologically and physically.

PMDD, living a half-life

Many describe PMDD as living a half-life as you battle with a condition likened to ‘PMS on steroids’ for up to three weeks of every month. PMDD is a life-threatening disorder, as suicidal thoughts plague the sufferer. In fact, it is estimated that up to 30% of those living with PMDD will attempt suicide at least once, a staggering statistic that is largely ignored by the medical community.

PMDD affects 1 in 20 women and individuals assigned female at birth. However, it is estimated that up to 90% are currently living without a formal diagnosis.

Why is menopause regarded the way it is?

So why do I face the look of pity when I explain that I am in surgical menopause? Is it because I was not able to have children before my surgery? Is it because of the widely-held, socially-conditioned belief that menopause is something that only happens to elderly women? Or, is it because there is the subconscious assumption that once a woman enters the menopause she ceases to be of value to society?

PMDD affects 1 in 20 women and individuals assigned female at birth. However, it is estimated that up to 90% are currently living without a formal diagnosis.

These questions have haunted me and challenged my identity to the core. The grief of giving up on my lifelong dream to become a mother was devastating, and yet I knew surgery was the right choice for me. PMDD is an inherited condition, and I couldn’t face the possibility of passing it on to a daughter or granddaughter, which ultimately made my choice very easy.

Becoming menopausal overnight

I recognise that I was very fortunate in that my transition into the menopause was relatively straightforward. Having battled with a debilitating, life-limiting condition for two decades, I adapted well to the physical symptoms of menopause. I understand my body well, and am acutely aware of how hormones affect me.

What I wasn’t expecting was the psychological impact of entering the menopause overnight. The anxiety, grief and loss of identity brought with it a cloud of depression that required intensive therapy to manage. Logically, I understood that my reproductive system was killing me, and yet the loss I felt was overwhelming. I felt as though I was the only person in the world to be feeling this way, and so the isolation was a desolate place.

The beginning of my womanhood

Gradually, over time, and with the unconditional love from my partner, I began to rebuild my identity, redefine who I was and what my future would hold. As a midwife, I quickly realised that I no longer had a place in the profession in the literal sense, and instead focused my energy on supporting others, becoming their own menstrual health advocate. And so, PMDD & Me Community Interest Company was born.

I now understand that being a woman means so much more than simply being a mother, and the menopause saved my life. It is not the beginning-of-the-end of my womanhood, but rather the beginning – and now I shout it from the rooftops! Everyday I remind myself of this. Nowadays, when I am told that I’m too young for the menopause – I smile and explain that becoming menopausal saved my life and I’m proud of it.

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