Dear Doctor: The letter about menopause every GP should read
Menopause can hit long before we expect it and the symptoms can leave us feeling scared and alone. For many years, my Pausitivity co-founder Karen Kenning suffered a range of common symptoms that were never diagnosed as menopause because she was considered “too young”.
Here’s the letter she wishes she’d written to her doctor…
I need your help and I don’t really know how to ask for it.
I don’t want to waste your time and I don’t want you to get impatient with me. I know how incredibly busy you are and I fully appreciate that your time is valuable and expectations on you as a GP are high. I simply want you to make me feel better, but I’m not even sure that there’s anything wrong with me.
Something isn’t right, though.
I have just ten minutes to tell you what’s been happening to me and I don’t know the best way to use that time. It’s taken me months to pluck up the courage to make another appointment – I’ve been to see you so many times. Now, before I even step foot inside your surgery, I feel pressure and I’m stressed.
What information do you need from me that will help you to hear me? How do I prioritise the list of symptoms I have? I’m scared you’ll think I’m faking it – I sometimes think I’m imagining most of what’s going on. How can I expect you to believe what I’m saying when I don’t really believe or recognise myself anymore?
I think I’m going a little bit crazy.
I don’t understand what’s going on, but there’s not just one thing so how do I choose the symptom that affects me the most? I can’t put my symptoms into that kind of order. They all have an impact and I swing from thinking I’m turning into some kind of needy hypochondriac to thinking I have early onset dementia.
My heart races and sometimes I can feel it booming and thumping in my throat. It’s not painful, but it makes me think that maybe I’m dying – and the panic is real. Then it disappears again and I feel ridiculous. A drama queen.
I’m incredibly anxious and I don’t understand why. It seems to have come out of nowhere and normal, everyday activities such as going to the supermarket or being a passenger in a car are now stressful events. I find myself making excuses to avoid doing these things. My family are irritated when I make excuses. And so am I. It makes me feel angry and sad all at the same time.
I ache. All the time. My knees are sore. My elbows ache. My bones creak. My joints are stiff. I do try not to bother you by making unnecessary appointments and I did try to find a solution myself. I read that I should try Omega 3 and glucosamine, but after four months, I can’t feel a difference.
I’m bone tired. I haven’t slept well for such a long time. I dread going to bed because I know the heat will overwhelm me to the extent that I feel as if I’m suffocating. I try to have the bedroom really cold and I have the windows open and a fan on. (My husband hates that – he likes to get wrapped up!) I try all sorts of things to stop if from happening but the constant wave of heat leaves me soaking wet and miserable. I find it hard to breathe when it happens. The feelings that come along with the waves of heat are overwhelming. I try to sneak out of the room once my husband is asleep.
I can’t keep up with the relentless round of washing damp sheets and nightclothes and I worry that my constant tossing and turning disturbs my husband.
My husband wants to cuddle up (and more) and I do, too, but I can’t stand the heat that contact brings and my constant rebuffs are causing tension. So much tension. It’s also embarrassing to discover that things are uncomfortable and sore when we try to be intimate and I find it hard to talk about any of this because the simplest conversation can have me dissolving into tears.
I look and feel like some kind of emotional catastrophe.
In truth, watching the news or any TV drama can bring me to tears – I have no control over the waterworks. If I’m happy there are tears. Sad, more tears.
My emotions are unpredictable. I can go from naught to rage in seconds and it can be for the most ridiculous of things. I detest the lack of control.
I have suffered with depression and recently I feel so low. There are days when I struggle to get out of bed and I’m miserable. I can’t be bothered to do anything. If I didn’t have teenagers, pets or a job, I’d happily spend the day in my PJs on the sofa.
It feels different from previous episodes of depression, though, and I can’t explain why. Maybe it’s not as constant it comes and goes. But it’s there and it’s real and I hate feeling this way.
I worry that my family hates me sometimes and I don’t blame them at all. Sometimes I am horrible to live with and I don’t like myself much either.
I know you’re looking at me and formulating a way to raise the issue of my weight. I know I’m overweight – I’m not daft. I know I self-medicate with food and sometimes have wine to help me fall asleep (it doesn’t help!). I know I shouldn’t, but I’ve had so many appointments with you and nothing seems to work. I don’t feel better. I lost weight – I turned my whole diet around. I exercised. I thought if I lost weight I’d feel better. I didn’t. The same symptoms were still there.
Each time I see you with a different symptom, I think you must be so irritated with me. But I just don’t feel well. I am not Me anymore and I hate it. Yet there’s never enough time to tell you all of this.
Thank goodness I don’t have to cope with periods anymore after my hysterectomy. The sore boobs and the PMT are still there. I thought they might have gone by now, but at least I’m no longer bleeding for three weeks out of four and worrying about flooding when I leave the house. I guess I should feel grateful that I no longer have to deal with that, but I thought everything would get better after the op. It’s been years (14, in fact). I expected to feel better yet I still don’t feel right.
My migraines are off the scale. I think they’re stress-related. I’m grateful that I now have medication that helps me deal with them quickly and nowadays I can continue with my daily routine if I take my tablets early enough. The headaches are there most days, though, and I have to supplement what I get on prescription with over-the-counter medication. I don’t want to bother you about them again. But I wish they would stop.
I wonder if the dizziness that takes me by surprise sometimes is something to do with the migraines. I forgot to mention that last time – I find my memory is so patchy sometimes and I get frustrated when I later remember something that I forgot to do because the fog has descended once again. It’s embarrassing in the office when I lose track of the conversation and have to ask someone what I was saying. Almost as humiliating as sitting at my desk with water running down my back and off the end of my nose. I have no control when the sweats will appear and when they do I feel mortified. I have to keep a change of clothes in my desk and a towel. The tablets for hyperhidrosis didn’t help. Everything but the sweats dried up – I found it difficult to speak sometimes because my mouth became so dry, but I stuck with them for almost two years.
I try to make fun of what’s happening to me, but it’s really not funny at all. This is something else that sometimes makes me cry. I don’t know how to fix it.
Oh – and my nails are weak and brittle and my hayfever seems to be a permanent fixture instead of when the grass pollen is at it’s worst and I also have spells of uncontrollable itching that drives me insane.
To my eyes it all looks even worse written down for you and I know when I come to see you for my appointment there’s not a chance that I’ll be able to tell you all of this. I don’t even know myself which part of this needs to be fixed first. I just know I’m so unhappy and I’m scared. I don’t know what’s happening to me and I need you to help me figure this out.
In my ten-minute appointment, which one of these symptoms do you think I should tell you about?
Scared and Confused
It’s easy to stop other women feeling this way. Download a poster, share a #KnowYourMenopause selfie on Twitter with @pausitivity2 and then pin the poster wherever people can see it. Read more about the Pausitivity campaign here!
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY TO YOUR DOCTOR? LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.
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