When Maria Linehan started experiencing perimenopause symptoms, she couldn’t get any answers from friends, nor could she get any support from her doctor. Having struggled with intense symptoms and deeply-entrenched societal taboos, the mum of 2 set out on her own health journey to treat her symptoms and uncover a new enthusiasm for life.
It all started when the now 50-year-old began to notice some distressing symptoms.
“I began my journey with mood swings that were really becoming quite stressful for me,” Maria said. “The moods tended to include irrational anger and bouts of tears. I also began painful periods for the first time in my life and breast pain.”
Maria’s not alone here – many people experience these debilitating symptoms, ranging from the psychological side of things down to the physical symptoms like hot flushes and chronic pain. Take a look at some of the most-commonly reported symptoms:
Maria shares the struggles of navigating her mood swings – and she’s not the only one. Countless women go through cognitive and mental health changes, with many reporting low mood, mood swings, a lack of motivation, reduced energy levels and negative thinking spirals during perimenopause and menopause. For many, even a small task can feel insurmountable, leading them to stop their usual exercise and healthy eating regimes, which only furthers the severity of their mental and physical symptoms. The result? Poor mental health, low self-esteem and near-to-no motivation. A range of other physical symptoms from menopause can worsen the situation, like hot flushes, joint pains and excessive sweating, all of which leave people feeling physically drained and fatigued, with around a third of women in one survey revealing their symptoms had negatively affected their social life, and 20% reporting lower confidence levels at work.
But Maria wasn’t just facing debilitating symptoms – she also had to navigate an isolating experience with dismissive medical professionals and inadequate support system. This is where her journey of discovery – and medical setbacks – began.
“I wanted to understand my journey a bit better so asked my doctor for a blood test for which he responded that he didn’t understand why I would want this and I was only 45 at the time and probably too young,” she said. “He asked if my periods were still regular and they were so what was I worried about?
“I also began to feel the physical discomfort of a prolapse and this prompted me to see a gynaecologist.”
Prolapses are estimated to affect anywhere between 5% and 50% of women with research showing those in their 40s and 50s to be most commonly affected by pelvic organ prolapses, indicating that menopause is linked with an increased instance and severity of the condition. This is because of the changes that menopause and perimenopause often bring to the pelvic floor function, resulting in a weakening of the support structures that keep organs like your bladder, vagina, rectum, uterus and urethra in place.
Maria believes it was her hysterectomy that resulted in the onset of menopause, bringing with it host of other symptoms.
“Because I had a hysterectomy, I do believe I had a crash menopause and over a span of a year I went through many changes that I would say is menopause,” she said.
“Hair thinning and loss, crepey skin, more mood swings, increasingly difficult to maintain my weight….” She says of her symptoms. “But to this day I can’t even be certain I’ve completed the cycle!”
When Maria decided to get to the bottom of her symptoms, she was met with resistance and dismissive attitudes from the people around her.
“I was made to feel silly for wanting to understand this better,” she said. “When I asked other women about it, I really didn’t get any straight answers.”
The mum of 2 shines a light on the country’s appalling lack of education and awareness around the topic, sharing that she wasn’t even aware of what perimenopause was until she was in it. Maria laments on the negative effects of this alarming lack of support – even from medical professionals.
“Even when asking my doctor about a blood test, I was given no information or referred to any information sources to help me understand what I should expect.”
These setbacks didn’t stop Maria from taking back control of her life and health – here’s what she did next.
“So, I began a health journey that saw me lose 40kgs and change my life around. I basically have a no sugar and low carb diet. I am now vegetarian (sometimes fish) and have been on this journey for about 4 years now," she says. "This diet helps me reduce inflammation and I find alongside exercise (walking mostly) have helped me manage my moods and given me a great complexion.”
While Maria has made substantial lifestyle changes to reduce the severity of her symptoms, she notes that the journey brought to light some misogynistic attitudes running rampant in our society.
“I feel that menopause is a way of pigeon-holing women and almost makes me feel like a used by date is placed on me,” she says.
“I have let my hair be grey for the past 5 years and I do not conform to the stereotypes that a 50-year-old woman is “supposed” to. I often get confusing looks like… um your hair doesn’t match the rest of you.”
But despite these societal strictures, Maria shows how powerful this stage of life can be.
“I really love being this age and it’s just the best age of my life! It pains me when I hear other women suffer through this time and feel invisible.”
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