In this two-part series Sylvia Hallinan, or Dotty Senior as she is affectionately referred to by the It’s a Lawyer’s Life team shares her experience and advice on the menopause.
Although not a lawyer herself, Sylvia is the mother of Rina Bailey (barrister at 23 Essex Street Chambers and co-founder of Dotty’s Oils) who, before she retired, worked as a social worker for a local authority as well as for a large national charity.
The Menopause: Part One
What better place to start than with a definition? Menopause: The ceasing of menstruation or the period in a woman’s life (typically between 45 and 50) when this occurs.
I was 52 years old when it happened. I realised it one afternoon when I saw a huge bead of sweat drop onto the book I was reading and knew that I really, really was going through the menopause. Up until that moment I had put the thought behind me and come up with a myriad of excuses, despite the hot flushes (I put them down to drinking too much coffee), the mood swings (everyone has their ‘off’ days don’t they?), the inability to string a sentence together (I was overworked, very tired) and the fuzzy feeling in my brain (I hadn’t slept well the previous night).
That bead of sweat confirmed to me that it was, in fact, happening to me. I rang my mother who told me that she had begun the menopause at 52 as well and that I had “years of pain and misery ahead” but consoled me with the thought that I was in the company of thousands of other women who were “on the change”.
Facing the irrefutable truth, I decided to read up on it and trawled through several books, some gloomy, and others packed with (helpful?!) advice such as “maintain a daily meditation diary” and “avoid trigger foods such as caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods”. This advice did not appeal to me as I faced the next few years. Rather than avoid, I had intended on increasing my caffeine, alcohol and spicy food intake during this time to help me cope.
I confided in a few work colleagues who said they’d not noticed any difference in me. On reflection, I think they were being kind. I can clearly recall chairing a large meeting when I had a full-blown hot flush. It was a warm, but not hot afternoon, and I had on a loose dress. From the middle of my chest I felt a warm glow that quickly spread over my whole upper body and into my face and hair. I knew I was scarlet but luckily for me someone else asked that a window be opened as they felt hot and I laughed and agreed, and secretly thought I’d just got lucky.
My daily life continued but now I had the added stress of:
• Fuzzy Brain. On one memorable occasion I spotted the butter on top of the television and wondered why Mike had put it there. I opened the fridge to put it back in and found the remote control inside. It was then that I realised that it had been me who’d misplaced it. I started writing things down in a small notebook in case I forgot something, and I still do this.
There were days when I felt detached and different. I’d be part of a group conversation in work but unable to get the gist of it. Some days I felt as if I was losing my mind. I convinced myself I had a serious illness or even early onset dementia.
I went to my doctor who suggested I start HRT. I declined as I felt I should / would be able to manage without it. With hindsight, I would reconsider this decision. He suggested I try Black Cohosh (a herb that may help the symptoms of the menopause) instead. I did try it, but I didn’t find it effective.
My symptoms came and went. I wasn’t always moody; I didn’t always have cystitis and the night sweats became less frequent. Over a period of three to four years, I saw my periods become increasingly more erratic until they finally ceased altogether. I was relieved and gradually the troublesome symptoms declined and finally stopped as well. I was over the bridge and feeling myself again!
In Part Two, Sylvia will share some of the positive aspects of being post-menopausal as well as some tips for getting through the tough times.