If you are experiencing the joy of going red from the neck up as a hot flush overtakes your body and, like Superman, find you are looking for a telephone booth to strip off some clothes, don’t panic.
Or you might be changing your PJs and bed linen regularly as you “sleep” in a sweat hot enough for mussels to cook in your belly button.
It might not feel normal, but everyone who menstruates and lives long enough will get to experience something like this.
Menopause. Got to love it because it will be coming to you sometime soon. But what exactly is it and do you need to do anything special to get through it?
Peri – meno - post
Menopause is when your periods stop completely, with the time leading up to this known as perimenopause (“meno” means “month” and “peri” means “about/around/near”). A year after your last period you are in post-menopause, which you can enjoy for the rest of your life.
Perimenopause usually starts when a person is in their forties and can last from 1 to 10 years, with the average being about 5 years. But, just like any “normal”, there are many variations on this, including spontaneous menopause (see Newsletter Summer 2020). The first thing you are likely to notice is irregular periods or changes in blood flow.
With the winding down of the ovaries comes fluctuations in the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. It is the change in these hormones that cause most of the symptoms, including vaginal dryness and vaginal pain during intercourse, mood changes, weight gain, dry/itchy/crawly skin, hot flushes, night sweats and sleep disturbance. This is the time to grab hold of your inner super powers and celebrate just how powerful your body is.
It can help, also, to see your GP or health worker to talk through your symptoms and how to minimise negative experiences. For example, alcohol, sugar and caffeine can be triggers for hot flushes so decreasing your intake of these can help. Eating healthy food and increasing exercise can help reduce weight gain and improve low moods. For some people, hormone replacement treatment may be helpful. There are also many herbal and alternative remedies – just check they work for you as their cost can accumulate.
The changes in sex hormones can also increase a person’s risk of serious mental ill health so it is important to seek help if you are feeling vulnerable: increased paranoia and hostility are two possibilities. The reduction in sex hormones can also lead to increased risk of osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease during post-menopause. Got symptoms? See a health professional.
Not all menopause is the same
While every person’s experience of menopause is likely to be different, there are also differences due to culture and gender. Some cultures embrace aging and research has found that women in such cultures experience fewer negative symptoms of menopause. Menopause can bring economic advantages (no need to purchase menstruation products) and religious freedoms (with menstruation seen as “polluting” by some religions).
There has been very little research into the menopause experience of indigenous Australians. While it is known indigenous Australians seek help for menopause at a lower rate than others, their risk of significant side effects is likely to be higher due to a range of poorer health risk factors. Menopause is likely to be yet another part of Australia’s health system that is failing the indigenous population.
Trans and non-binary people can experience menopausal symptoms caused by their hormone treatment. People undergoing fertility treatment or suffering diseases that affect their hormones can also have menopausal symptoms.
If you are able to, embrace your menopause. It is the coming of wisdom in some cultures. Why not make it so in ours? Be open about it if you can. Make sure you name it up at work if you are worried it is affecting your work performance. Talk to your partner about how you feel and what you both need: separate bedrooms may help you survive. Very civilised. Menopause is not a taboo; it is a sign that you are likely older, wiser, a bit drier and perhaps a bit more impatient. But you’ve earnt this position.
For further information
And for a wonderful expression of menopause in the Trans community watch Menopausal Gentleman https://sites.dlib.nyu.edu/hidvl/t1g1jx4s
 For those under 30, a telephone booth was a small cubicle on the side of road in which you could put coins or a phone card to make a phone call. Coins used to be part of our monetary system and could be used to purchase goods and services.