Opinion

Menopause at 36: 'I would wake up exhausted, dehydrated and fearful of drowning in my bed'

Perimenopause is rarely talked about but very real, writes Lara Roberts.

Lara Roberts, a young woman in her thirties with shoulder length brown hair, looks away against a pale blue background

Lara Roberts didn't think menopause would be on her radar until her forties, but life had other ideas. Image: Freya Roberts

I’m going through a challenging time. An unanticipated, challenging time. Menopause. Or as I refer to it: “‘pausing”. Yes, I turned menopause into a verb, because let’s be honest, it is an evolving, doing thing. 

Menopause wasn’t even on my radar until this past year. Why would it be? I’m only just 38 after all, and this isn’t something I expected to experience until my mid-forties at the very earliest. Even then I had desperately hoped it wouldn’t bestow on me until well into my fifties. 

Yet here I am, not so much riding a rollercoaster as the ghost train, where every new symptom popping up scares the hell out of me, making me pray with each new bend for the ride to be over.  

The symptoms first appeared when I was 36. They came slowly and sporadically, so I didn’t pay much attention. Headaches and restless sleep. After a while, brain fog and sore joints. Struggling to concentrate or remember things. By that point I was questioning it, but convinced myself this was nothing more than tiredness, stress, parenthood, life. I promised myself earlier nights and more swimming. That would help. Back to myself in no time.

Before I could get on top of those symptoms, the big ones came in like a tidal wave. Night sweats and low moods. “Night sweats” is a twee understatement compared to the reality. They should really be named night puddles. I sweated so much it felt like when my waters broke during labour. I would wake up exhausted, dehydrated and fearful of drowning in my own bed. And “low moods” sounds almost pleasant compared to my actual state of mental health. I couldn’t lift my head off the pillow. Exhausted, floored from doing nothing. Feeling unable to look after my young children. At times, fantasising about scenarios that would hurt me so it would all be over. Quite literally, wanting my life to end. 

I knew this wasn’t me. Even as I was feeling this way, I knew this wasn’t who I was. I was a happy, social, capable person and yet unable to rationalise these feelings away. I no longer recognised myself. My family and friends were so sympathetic and supportive, for which I was grateful, but I couldn’t shake feeling incredibly lonely, confused and misunderstood. 

I started to notice a pattern with my low moods. They came every few weeks, just before my period was due. I had multiple consultations with different doctors. They thought it could be an extreme form of premenstrual syndrome called premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

I was prescribed medication for anxiety. I was referred to a psychologist for coping strategies. Although the latter was useful and informative, neither helped me fully overcome these overwhelming feelings. During this time, I had started researching my symptoms and noticed the word “menopause” coming up frequently. But I was too young for menopause, so I never gave it much thought.

It wasn’t until I mentioned it to my mother, that she reminded me she went through menopause at 36. I knew somewhere in the back of my mind she had experienced it young, but I didn’t realise it was the same age I was when I first started feeling this way. Turns out, there can be a hereditary link in menopausal age. According to one study, around 44% of daughters experienced menopause at the same age as their mothers.

Game-changer. Another consultation with my doctor, two blood tests later and sure enough, my blood levels were right on the button. The one difference between me and my mother was that I was in perimenopause, the first stages featuring all those overwhelming symptoms, whereas she had gone through full menopause by my age. 

I was swiftly prescribed hormone replacement therapy in the form of patches. My doctor warned me it could take up to three months to notice any improvements. Within 24 hours of that first patch, I felt like myself again. I couldn’t believe the turnaround. It was as though I could breathe again. I felt energised, capable, happy. Healed. 

It’s been two months since I began HRT and my world feels like the right-way up again. No more sweats, no more dark thoughts. My confidence has returned in abundance. Balance has been restored. 

I’m aware this type of treatment isn’t as effective for every woman, but for me it has been a lifesaver. When I look back over the past 18 months, I still can’t believe perimenopause was the cause of my suffering. While information on menopause is plentiful, there is very little on early menopause. According to the NHS: “Premature menopause is estimated to affect 1% of women under the age of 40 years and 0.1% of women under the age of 30 years.” 

If I could give any advice to women who think they might be experiencing this, it would be to pay attention to your body and mind. Make a note of your symptoms, when and how often you experience them. Raise it with your doctor and ask to be tested. If I hadn’t, my life would still be pretty grey, instead of the array of colours it is now.

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