The menopause is a life stage that the vast majority of women will experience, but it’s surrounded by myths and often seen as a taboo subject.
It impacts every woman differently, and each journey is unique, from when it starts to the varying symptoms it brings on – as five British women have revealed by sharing in their personal experiences.
The women are currently starring in a landmark campaign from Holland & Barrett named Me.No.Pause.
Supported by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Loose Woman panellist Andrea McLean, Me.No.Pause is a campaign aimed to show the reality of menopause for millions of women across the country.
Here the campaign’s stars reveal their personal experiences…
Cassandra, Recent Graduate, 38, Brighton
Cassandra first began getting symptoms of the menopause when she was just 35, kickstarted by the chemotherapy during her battle with cancer
Cassandra’s menopause journey started at the relatively young age of 35. She was fighting cancer and had to undergo a round of chemotherapy.
The chemotherapy treatment rocketed the start of the menopause for Cassandra which was completely unexpected and ‘out of the blue’.
What is the menopause?
The menopause is when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally.
Periods usually start to become less frequent over a few months or years before they stop altogether. Sometimes they can stop suddenly.
The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51.
Common symptoms include:
vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
low mood or anxiety
reduced sex drive (libido)
problems with memory and concentration
Menopausal symptoms can begin months or even years before your periods stop and last around 4 years after your last period, although some women experience them for much longer.
‘I didn’t have anyone my own age to speak to and that was really isolating for me,’ she explains.
It was something she assumed was “confined to nannies and the older generation”, and not something she believed she would have to think about in her thirties.
As the generations before her were more private about their personal health and tended to keep these conversations close to their chests, she hadn’t had any insight about what to expect and was ‘simply handed a brochure from the doctor’ to learn about the symptoms.
‘The earliest symptoms I experienced were unpleasant hot flushes and weight gain, followed by thinning hair, but it also started to impact my mental health which was probably the worst thing about it.’
Cassandra discusses how going through the menopause, and the impact this had on her hormones, made her angry, and how she had to learn to manage these emotions around her husband and children.
‘You have to accept that you will have bad days where you’ll cry or be really angry. Take a beach walk or go to the gym.
‘Take yourself out of the situation. Just go out for 20 minutes and clear your head if possible’.
Importantly, she wants other women – no matter what age they go through the menopause – not be afraid to talk or even find humour in what they’re going through with their friends and family.
‘We need to stop the taboo. Think about all the hard work we as women go through and how amazing our bodies are and appreciate that what we are experiencing is completely normal.’
Cassandra says that for her the hardest part of menopause was the impact that it had on her mental health. She wants to encourage other women not be afraid to talk or even find humour in what they’re going through with their friends and family
Atifa, Integrative Wellbeing Therapist, 47, Guildford
For Ati, the menopause had quite a sudden and horrendous start. As a result of her endometriosis and adenomyosis, which left her in excruciating pain from heavy periods and uterine fibroids, she needed to have an urgent hysterectomy.
She lost all of her estrogen overnight which put her into an immediate state of surgical menopause.
One week after she had her hysterectomy, Ati was hit with the distressing news that she had life-threatening blood clots in both of her lungs.
Thankfully, she battled through and overcoming these huge blows to her personal health made Ati confident she could survive anything.
Ati, 47, from Guildford’s experience was dramatic as she was put into an immediate state of surgical menopause overnight before an emergency hysterectomy was performed
As a result of her endometriosis and adenomyosis Atifa had to undergo a hysterectomy which meant she lost all her oestrogen overnight forcing her into a state of surgical menopause
Atifa was hit by ‘endless hot flushes’ and found herself experiencing ‘unbearable night sweats’
The physical symptoms of Ati’s menopause were much more challenging than the mental ones.
‘I had endless hot flushes. My body temperature was permanently completely freezing or burning hot and I was also experiencing unbearable night sweats. I had severe joint pain, started to lose my hair and had vaginal atrophy. But I was not going to let the menopause defeat me.’
As a wellbeing therapist, who often supported menopausal women, she felt like she had the tools to handle the effects on her mental health; however some symptoms were much harder for her to deal with than others.
‘I had no idea of the extent of the changes my body would go through’ she explained, ‘and if the body is depressed then the mind can follow suit very quickly.’
As a wellbeing therapist, who often supported menopausal women, Atifa felt like she had the tools to handle the effects on her mental health
Ati’s mission in life changed as a result of her menopause. She now makes it her purpose as a wellbeing therapist to help others going through the menopause learn to cope through natural remedies, her personal favourites being essential oils, sage tablets, oral vitamin D spray and ‘golden’ turmeric lattes.
She encourages her clients and other women and not be ashamed and to speak about what they are experiencing.
Bunny, Actor, 47, London & Norfolk
When Bunny first started to experience menopause symptoms, she felt as if the health care professionals she spoke to were unsympathetic and tried to brush her off. It was as if they ‘hadn’t had to have those conversations before and simply didn’t want to.’
She explained: ‘All I wanted was a bit of encouragement that what I was going through was normal. If we’d spoken about the symptoms then that would have been empowering as I would have felt more prepared for it.’
Bunny, who identifies as gender neutral, says that she feels menopause is misrepresented in the media
Bunny said she often feels uncomfortable discussing the menopause as she feels like it’s a taboo subject. She hasn’t really opened up to friends or family about her symptoms, including anxiety and a lowered mood.
Identifying as gender neutral, and not feeling any sense of connection to the way the menopause is currently represented in the typical discourse and in the media, she feels there needs to be a greater spectrum of menopausal experiences shown.
‘It’s mostly pictures of women with long flowing hair and children around their ankles, and I don’t feel like media coverage of the menopause is really about me or for me’ she explains.
‘It’s never mentioned in the gay media, which means when you go through it in this community you feel isolated and a bit faulty.’
She says she feels that the subject of menopause is often seen as ‘taboo’ and she often feels ‘uncomfortable’ with the subject because she feels she doesn’t ‘fit the role’
‘The way menopause is often talked or written about is very much in the category of ‘women’s health’ or ‘women’s issues’ or something that happens to ‘us girls’ and I don’t relate to those groupings.
‘In fact, the streamlining by gender panics me. So my thinking about the menopause happening to me has been uncomfortable because I don’t feel like I fit the role.’
She thinks broadening the pictures of the individuals behind the menopause will help more people feel prepared for the journey.
‘That way everyone will feel included and able to handle anything the menopause throws at them.’
Toshi, Actor’s Agent, 56, Wolverhampton
When Toshi started to experience the symptoms of the menopause, she had no idea what was happening to her. ‘I honestly didn’t even know what the menopause was.’
After her doctor told her that it was nothing to be ashamed of and it was ‘completely normal’ and something ‘every woman had to go through’ she looked at her blankly. She simply did not know what she was referring to.
Toshi was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis at the age of 34 and, after a complicated pregnancy with her last child, experienced multiple traumatic health issues including a protein leak in her kidney and pulmonary embolism.
Therefore, she put the multiple symptoms she was experiencing down to her general health which at the time was in an extremely poor state. ‘I didn’t even know what hot flushes were.’
Toshi, who was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis at the age of 34, says she didn’t know what the menopause was when she started to experience symptoms
She says that the menopause had a big impact on her relationship with her husband (pictured together) after she suffered vaginal dryness and he became concerned about touching her and causing her pain
Toshi started feeling constantly fatigued, bed-ridden and was switching between feeling burning hot and freezing cold; however, the biggest issue for Toshi was the impact it had on her relationship with her husband.
Speaking of her vaginal dryness, Toshi explains ‘My marriage was being hugely affected. My husband didn’t want to touch me because he didn’t want to put me in anymore pain.’
It was the effect the menopause had on her relationship with him and subsequently her mental health that was the most challenging of all.
Toshi used natural remedies such as turmeric tea and Black Cohosh to calm her symptoms
However, since these symptoms have settled down, with the assistance of several natural remedies including turmeric tea and Black Cohosh, Toshi has found positivity in the menopause. She also believes that her plant-based diet really helped her through.
‘Now I want to break the code of silence and taboo around the menopause. I want to help empower disabled women, and women of all abilities, cultures and ethnicities to know that if I can get through it then you can too.’
Ebony, Artist & Actor, London
‘My mother didn’t ever call it the menopause, she referred to it as The Change In Life.’
Ebony describes her experience with the menopause as being fairly stress-free. She attributes this to her Caribbean descent and her mother’s positive attitude towards it.
‘Caribbean women called it the Change In Life because it’s when we get older as well as wiser – it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.’
Ebony describes her experience with the menopause as being fairly stress-free, crediting her mother’s positive attitude towards it to helping her get through
The symptoms she describes as being the most challenging to deal with are the joint pain, sweating and the ‘feelings of gloom.’ However, she tries to keep herself busy and has developed several coping mechanisms.
‘The feelings of gloom did throw me a bit at first’ she admits. ‘Around 9pm in the evenings I’d start to feel really low and alone, but I’d go somewhere bright and busy like Oxford Street where there were lights and people everywhere and that would make me feel better.’
Ebony also found the sweating to be quite embarrassing to begin with. ‘It’s fine at night as you can be prepared and always have another, fresh night gown ready to change into, but dripping with sweat at work is hard to hide and it is quite embarrassing to have it running down your face.’
She’s since taken to spraying herself with lavender water which she finds helps as it’s cooling and soothing on the skin.
Ebony has taken to spraying herself with lavender water which she finds helps as it’s cooling and soothing on the skin
To ease her joint pain, Ebony finds having a healthy, balanced diet and doing weekly water aerobics are good remedies.
‘I eat a healthy vegetarian diet, with lots of walnuts, fruit and herbal tea and take vitamins – I think all of these help me. I particularly like fresh ginger in hot water in the mornings.’
When it comes to her general perception of the menopause and how to thrive through it, she feels it’s important ‘not to take it too seriously.’ She urges other women to ‘put systems in place for support and really know what helps you to relax. Remember, it’s a natural process in life and as much as you can, look after yourself with whatever works best for you.’