Breaking the taboo of menopause: Katie's story
When Katie found herself experiencing perimenopause, she realised we are conditioned to feel negativity around this event, but decided she would take back control and feel empowered at every stage of life
In 2018, I discovered I was perimenopausal. The glitch? I was 43.
At the time, I was experiencing a myriad of physical ailments and discomforts – painful acne, horrific night sweats, mood swings, brain fog, a lack of inspiration, super heavy and irregular periods, tiredness, and a frighteningly low mood, which was starting to feel like depression.
This fluctuating and generally low mood was the toughest thing to deal with, and seemed to come out of nowhere. It never occurred to me that perhaps all of my ‘issues’ were linked, until some friends who said (I initially thought jokingly): “Perhaps you’re in perimenopause?”
I felt overwhelmed. How could this be happening? Surely menopause was something that began after turning 50? It wasn’t on my radar at all, and I’d never even heard the term, ‘perimenopause’.
For those who are also unaware, perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause, when your hormone levels start to shift. That period of time can be anything from a few months to several years. Eventually your periods will stop, and once you’ve not menstruated for a full 12 months, you have officially reached menopause.
My conditioning led to me believing that menopause was a horrible nightmare, and my initial response was to start feeling undesirable, old, and on a downhill slope – all of which heightened my symptoms, and I felt even worse. But as a transformational self-love coach, author and speaker, it occurred to me that I wasn’t responding in a conscious, empowered, or masterful way to a very natural part of life.
While conversations around puberty, periods, and giving birth have become more socially acceptable, menopause is still surrounded in secrecy. Why did it feel so shameful and disempowering to realise I was reaching this phase of my womanhood?
I decided to make my experience of menopause positive and life-affirming. I wasn’t going to allow my conditioning to create my experience. I intended to get back in the driver’s seat.
I felt a similar empowerment when I left my corporate career and trained in transformational coaching about 11 years ago, after a major wake-up call (AKA a breakdown) at the age of 35. A life-changing healing journey awakened me to the realisation that I was self-sabotaging every area of my life due to conditioning that I wasn’t enough. I learned a new way of living, where I got to choose thoughts and beliefs that supported me in having the life I desired. I learned to love myself, and I now help other women to do the same.
As I contemplated how I’d approach menopause more positively, I thought about my mum. They say a woman’s experience of perimenopause can often be similar to her mum’s, and as I thought this through, I was horrified to realise that when my mum took her own life she was 49. She would have been in perimenopause.
Mum always had a propensity towards feeling sad and withdrawn. I sensed her low moods from a very early age, but I only recently discovered that she tried to overdose around 1975. She had postnatal depression (PND), although it was never formally diagnosed, because in the early 70s PND wasn’t as understood as it is today.
Sadly, this seems to be a theme in mum’s life – unnecessary suffering because the mental health issue she was dealing with wasn’t yet understood or properly supported.
This time of life has the potential to be the most empowering rite of passage. It’s also an opportunity for a woman to know and love herself
During her early 40s, I remember mum experiencing hot flashes, which she laughed away. Mostly, however, I remember her moods being particularly challenging. She seemed more withdrawn than usual, she would anger easily, and seemed really sensitive. I felt on eggshells around her.
I put her low mood down to the traumatic divorce she’d recently gone through with my dad. Her whole life had turned on its head, and it was a terribly difficult time. Mum was going through a major life overhaul at the same time as her hormones were clearly fluctuating.
In 1991, at the age of 43, my mum attempted suicide. It was blamed on the divorce, and she was diagnosed as clinically depressed.
Mum was prescribed antidepressants and therapy, based on her diagnosis of depression. I never heard any mention of perimenopause. Hormonal shifts were never discussed.
She began another relationship shortly after her suicide attempt, and it seemed to be an optimistic new beginning. Sadly, that relationship ended five years later.
I remember the day mum killed herself very clearly. I was the last person to speak with her.
It was 1996. I was a 22-year-old advertising exec, newly in love, with the world at my feet. I was about to finish work for the day, and thought to call to check-in with her, as she had been having a rough time. She still lived in the same house as her ex, but in separate bedrooms while they waited for it to be sold. She had taken to locking herself in her room at about 5pm, to avoid any interaction with her ex when he returned from work.
When we spoke she was in tears. Life seemed so hard for her in that moment, and she was feeling incredibly defeated. Her speech was slurring, and when I queried why, she assured me she had just taken her medication, which made her drowsy, so she was going to go to sleep early.
It turned out that she had overdosed. She died that night, completely alone, and was found 24 hours later.
I feel very strongly that her experience could have been avoided if menopause was better understood, and not seen as something to be ashamed of.
Depression, anxiety, and mood swings are common in perimenopause, and from my personal experience it’s a scary and lonely place to be when you don’t understand why you suddenly feel so low. Information, as they say, is power, and while I had no clue what was going on in my body, I felt worse every day. I can see now that this would have been my mum’s experience – it’s even been reported that 50–54 is the age group with the highest suicide rate for women in the UK. The average age of menopause is 51.
The day I decided I would own the natural shifts in my body and not give in to societal conditioning, I started to reach out to experts for information. I lined up 18 experts to interview, as I wanted the best advice, and to make it publicly available to help others as a way of honouring my mum.
I’ve come to discover that this time of life has the potential to be the most empowering rite of passage. It’s also an opportunity for a woman to know and love herself, because her body is literally asking her to finally put herself first, in order to experience her hormonal shifts with ease.
I’m pleased to report that my experience of perimenopause has shifted dramatically! Awareness, education, expert support, some simple dietary and exercise shifts, plus a new supplement regime, have me feeling so much better. I am finding my own way to navigate perimenopause, and I am keen for others to find their way, too.
Self-love is self-responsibility, and I am passionate about inviting women to take the time to get educated about this very natural stage of life. I can’t bear the idea of a woman going through what my mum did – in this day and age, that is utterly unnecessary.
Rav Sekhon | BA MA MBACP (Accred), says:
Katie’s true story brings sadness but, even more so, a strong dose of inspiration. Katie’s determination to explore menopause allowed her to come to terms with a difficult life change that affects so many people, which, in turn, helped her maintain her own wellbeing. Katie’s empowerment throughout this process is evident, and it’s not only making a positive difference on a personal level, but for others too!