Menopause is not a dirty word
Menopause is not a dirty word
Image: @123rf

While talking to my high school friend the other day, she happily declared: “I’ve stopped drinking. I feel amazing and I am almost the same weight I was in high school.” We are 43, turning 44 this year. “Sleep is still a problem though, so I take half a THC gummie every night,” she said. 

In the four years, since the pandemic, we’ve reconnected and have got to know each other better as grown women. It has been a pleasure sharing deep, dark thoughts and anxieties as well as sparks of joy and delight almost weekly with a childhood friend. We have both been relieved to find out that we are going through similar struggles physically, professionally, spiritually and mentally. I too have been annoyed about the random weight gain, though I do not wish to go back to my high school size. I would take my high school bones, though.

First there was the knee injury that should have been minor but lasted for months and is still fragile. Next, there was the out-of-the-blue painful shoulder that lasted a week. More consistently, I’ve been moaning about interrupted sleep every night. Suddenly I’m in a routine I didn’t agree to — up just before 2am, fight to keep my eyes closed, get up for some water, fight the urge to grab a sweet snack, lose, feel like a loser, get anxious, crawl back under covers with a serving of a sugary snack laced with a dose of anxiety. There is also the brain fog, the drastic mood swings, hair loss, heart palpitations and some bowel movement issues. It turns out my friend and I are right in the middle of perimenopause — a term we both had never heard of until a year ago. Simply, we are less than a decade away from menopause.

I always thought menopause meant hot flashes, no more periods, some mood swings and maybe dryness everywhere.“No-one’s talking about the multi-organ system failure that a lot of women are going through, suffering in silence because physicians aren’t helping, we’re not trained,” says Dr Mary Claire Haver, American OB/GYN and women’s wellness activist. She has made it her mission to become a source of menopause information on social media, building a large community of women who have found resonance and affirmation in her content.

In an interview with Steven Bartlett on his The Diary of a CEO podcast, she gives good reasons why everyone, not just women, should know more about menopause. You can listen to it here. 

Dr Mary Claire Haver
Dr Mary Claire Haver

It’s incredible to me how much we are taught about menstruation and even pregnancy, yet we are not well versed in menopause even though none of us get to opt out of it. Most enlightening to me have been the links made between menopause and mental wellness (new onset or worsening cases of depression/bipolar/anxiety/ADHD), bone fractures (osteoporosis), and increased risk of kidney and cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. There is also an increase in divorce numbers. A 2021 survey by UK family law firm Stowe revealed 68% of divorces involving women were initiated by wives during their menopausal years due to communication breakdown between partners. And yet only 10.5% of the 85% of women complaining of menopausal symptoms are receiving effective treatment. As women live longer, the number of women in post menopause keeps growing. In 2011 women aged 50+ accounted for 22% of all females globally. In 2021, this number was up by 26%. In SA it went from 18% to 21% in the same period, according to research and consulting firm Ipsos.

Actress Naomi Watts is founder of Stripes - wellness and beauty brand for menopause health
Actress Naomi Watts is founder of Stripes - wellness and beauty brand for menopause health
Image: Getty images for Stripes

Thankfully, with the rapid growth in women’s wellness as a movement, more information and products directed at educating us and normalising if not minimising unpleasant symptoms have become available. In an article titled ‘Rebranding Midlife’ in 2022, the New York Times’ culture website The Cut wrote about an event called New Pause. Described as a “menopause symposium”, it was hosted by actress Naomi Watts, who is and fast becoming the face of menopause and who is also the founder of Stripes, “a brand promising menopause solutions from scalp to vag.”

Indeed, companies such as Stripes, Goop (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Kiko Vitals (Kerri-Lee Taylor) are on a mission to rebrand midlife for women, with products and events that address intimate topics including painful intercourse due to vaginal dryness, chronic urinary tract infections and general hormone imbalance.

I too have jumped on the oral supplement bandwagon and am religious about my daily dose of Kiko Vitals Hormone Balance capsules packed with Magnesium and Ashwagandha. I’m trying to pack more fibre into my diet, do some weight resistance training and somatic workouts all in the hope that the vertigo, the rage and the sleepless nights finally taking it easy on me. Fingers crossed.

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