Menopausal? Nobody has to suffer says Cork's Dr Fiona Barry

Ahead of World Menopause Day on October 18, EMMA CONNOLLY talks to a number of women about the experience and shares their advice
Menopausal? Nobody has to suffer says Cork's Dr Fiona Barry

Dr Fiona Barry, from Ballinlough

WOMEN are conditioned from a young age to put up with suffering, to park it and just get on with it.

That’s according to advocate and educator for women’s health, Dr Fiona Barry, who says because of periods, pregnancy and child-birth, women simply accept that they won’t feel great an awful lot of the time.

We spoke to Dr Barry ahead of World Menopause Day, on October 18.

“We’re stalwarts, and of course the body is also amazing at adapting. But I feel that nobody needs to suffer, and if something is going on with you that is impacting your quality of life, you should do something about it,” said the Cork-based certified Chinese Medicine Practitioner.

Fiona’s reputation for her fertility work is renowned, but she said it’s become obvious to her that more needs to be done to educate women about peri-menopause, and menopause.

“Women just were not joining the dots. They were coming to me saying they were feeling fatigued, really anxious, having heart palpitations, joint pains, thinking they might have arthritis. 

"And a lot of it was women in their 40s, who were peri-menopausal, and whose fluctuating hormones were causing the symptoms.

“When I’d tell them what was going on, they’d mostly be completely surprised as their periods were still regular, so it was very obvious there was a lack of understanding there.”

World Menopause Day takes place on October 18.
World Menopause Day takes place on October 18.

PERI-MENOPAUSE

Despite her knowledge and expertise, Fiona found herself in the same boat.

“I went into peri-menopause without even realising it and didn’t recognise it for a number of months.

“I was in my early 40s, I was starting to feel fatigued, but I was working full time, and was busy.

“I had a number of months where I wasn’t feeling great. I was also noticing a big anxiety creeping in, but the penny still didn’t drop. It wasn’t until my period was late that I realised exactly what was happening,’ said the mum-of-two, originally from Ballinlough.

The more common symptoms she sees clients present with are hot flushes: “Around 75-80% will get hot flushes and night sweats. But lots will wait until they get to that stage to come, and realise that all the other stuff they’ve been putting up with for months, often years before this, has also been to do with their hormones.”

Anxiety is another symptom of peri-menopause.
Anxiety is another symptom of peri-menopause.

ANXIETY

Anxiety is also very high up there: “Worry is normal, but anxiety is where you have this uncomfortable feeling inside you where you think that despite everything in your life being OK, you still don’t feel OK; you still feel that something is wrong, something is about to happen, you’re on edge.

“Worry might be a concern where you haven’t earned as much money as you need and you don’t know if you’ve enough to pay rent, there’s a cause for it.

“Anxiety is unexplained, there’s no real cause, this constant feeling of dread, being down for now reason, out of sorts.”

BRAIN FOG

Impaired cognitive function, brain fog and memory issues are also common symptoms among her clients.

“The problem is that a lot of women will present to their doctor saying they don’t feel great, they’ve the anxiety and fatigue and no motivation, and the ‘go to’ still with a lot of GPs is antidepressants. 

"But to me this is a hormonal issue, not a brain issue. Your brain is just reacting to changes in your hormones.”

In the same way, she says ‘it’s absolutely ridiculous’ that teenage girls are still prescribed the pill for acne, irregular and heavy periods.

“Realistically, a menstrual cycle is not established for about 10 to 12 years, so for the average woman her cycle is not fully established and matured until she’s in her early 20s.

“Yet you’re getting kids being put on the pill at 16, 17, 18 – when their periods are meant to be irregular because the whole thing is trying to establish itself. I think this is a big part of why we’re seeing all of the fertility issues now, because you’re interfering with a process that hasn’t even fully matured.

“Of course, it’s not the only thing – age, lifestyle, diet, loads of factors play into it.”

SYMPTOM CHECK

The mother of two is a big believer in women cataloguing their symptoms: “Take note if you’re feeling anything that isn’t normal for you. So where you might have been tired before, now you’re exhausted; you’re anxious where you weren’t before or you’re on a different level, with foreboding feelings; you have aches and pains in your joints, headaches you never had.

“Start writing them down. We’re great at sweeping things under the carpet and adapting, but it’s great if you can look back and see a pattern emerge.”

She also urges women to trust their bodies: “We have a history of teaching women not to trust their bodies, giving them a very negative picture about their bodies. When you think about it, if a man loses his temper does anyone turn around to him and tell him he’s being really hormonal?

75 to 80% of women will get hot fluses and night sweats.
75 to 80% of women will get hot fluses and night sweats.

“But we’re taught that our hormones are negative, that they’re something that literally control us. On one level they do, but so do men’s. And the way I look at it is that ours are cyclical, but men’s testosterone can change in an instant. So actually men’s hormones are all over the place and women’s are very controlled!”

Fiona feels that negativity and shame has surrounded symptoms like vaginal dryness and atrophy, incontinence, painful sex and low libido for a long time. 

“But other than vaginal dryness and atrophy, men get all of these too,” she said.

Loss of libido, she says, actually has more to do with context than hormones.

“For a lot of women, it occurs when they have too much on their plate, when they’re too stressed, when there’s too many brakes and not enough accelerators,” she said.

“Also, because of vaginal dryness and atrophy, sex can become painful so women avoid it, and it’s something they’re embarrassed to talk about.

“But this could be a time in your life to use your imagination and to look at other types of sex besides penetrative – oral, anal, whatever floats your boat.”

Over the past two years, Fiona, whose background is in bio medicine and pharmacology, has been involved in an exciting collaboration with Revive Active. The result is ‘Meno Active’ a supplement which aims to support women’s hormonal activity, brain and psychological function, nervous system and energy throughout the menopause.

Regarding HRT, she says, it’s come on ‘leaps and bounds in the last number of years.’

“But I’m not going to tell someone to stick on a patch of oestrogen and to ignore their diet, lifestyle, lack of sleep. 

"You need to practice self care. Be your own advocate and take ownership of what you’re doing for yourself.”

Her overwhelming advice is for women to listen to their bodies:

“Please, please, please, I beg women to start trusting the messages their bodies are giving them. Inherently, you know your body, and it’s telling you something for a reason.”

Make sure to get enough sleep.
Make sure to get enough sleep.

Dr FIONA'S ADVICE FOR PERI-MENOPAUSE

Prepare your body!

Our ovaries aren’t the only site in the body that creates hormones – so do our adrenals glands, our skin, our hair follicles, our brain, our muscles and our fat cells.

Fiona says that by caring for our adrenals by not living a constantly busy life, they can actually increase hormone production, to compensate for losses elsewhere.

It’s the same with fat cells. They step up a gear at this time, which is why women’s body shapes will ultimately change during menopause.

Fiona says an easier transition will be had by prioritising sleep, good food and a moderate lifestyle.

Prioritise mental and emotional health 

Perimenopause and menopause has a way, Fiona says, of slapping you in the face with any of the stuff you’ve been trying to push down.

It’s a time a lot of resentments can come up, so it’s important to deal with any issues that may have been ignored.

Attitude and connection

Never feel like you’re alone, take time to connect and be open with people around you and who love you. Fiona recommends having a conversation at the dinner table, and telling your kids about your experiences of hormonal fluctuations – if they’re teens that gives them permission to do the same.

Dr Fiona Barry has launched a new forum called 'The Menopause Mentors'.
Dr Fiona Barry has launched a new forum called 'The Menopause Mentors'.

THE MENOPAUSE MENTORS

Dr Fiona Barry has just launched a new forum called ‘The Menopause Mentors.’ The first event takes place on Sunday, October 31, 12pm - 4pm. 

Dr Fiona Barry explained: "I am the founder of The Menopause Mentors. We are a group of four women with expertise in every aspect of your life that might be affected by menopause. 

"Our aim is to create a safe space for women to connect and share their experiences; a space for frank and honest discussion and non-judgmental support. It will also be a place to learn and grow through this life transition, to access your inner wisdom and, in short, ‘revive your thrive’. 

"While we will be providing valuable content on social media, ultimately our goal is to create our community through a series of events, which will build towards retreats. Our first ‘Revive your Thrive’ event is on Sunday, October 31, from 2pm to 4pm, in The Cork International Hotel. We are starting with a Prosecco Reception and Afternoon Tea will also be included. This will not only be a day of learning but also one of indulgence."

The four mentors include:

Dr Fiona Barry PhD: Fiona is a women’s health advocate, a Chinese Medicine practitioner, a PhD graduate from UCC, and an unshakeable optimist dedicated to helping you become the best version of yourself. She runs two very busy women’s health & wellness clinics in her native Cork and also works as a wellness consultant for Revive Active. She was an integral part of the formulation team for Revive Active’s new super supplement for menopause, Meno Active. Fiona is the 'Hormone/Medical Mentor'.

Orla Mc Andrew: Orla is a qualified chef and runs her own wedding and event catering company. She’s passionate about all things food-related, particularly around using your food to nourish and support your health. Orla and Fiona have been collaborating for the last eight months on their ‘Food as Medicine’ Series. As well as her interest in the role food plays in maintaining a healthy gut-brain connection and a healthy microbiome, Orla is passionate about the sustainability and progeny of food. Orla is the 'Food Mentor'.

Louise George: Louise is a qualified yoga teacher, counsellor, mobility specialist, and self-confessed ‘people-person’. She has her own Yoga study in Douglas and divides her time between teaching yoga and counselling people. Louise is passionate about connection, particularly the connection between our body and our mind. A recovered anorexic/bulimic, Louise exudes understanding and compassion. Louise is the 'Movement Mentor'.

Tracy Geraghty: Tracy is a transformative coach and works primarily with women. She helps them to reconnect with their inner wisdom and wellbeing. Tracy’s career path has been varied, from nursing, to medical rep., and there was even a stint as a make up artist. Coaching came on the back of her own awakening and the process of ‘reclaiming’ herself. Tracy has recently set up an online network for business women, called the Women’s Wisdom Circle, and she already has participants from around the globe. Tracy is the 'Mind Mentor'.

For more see the_menopause_mentors on Instagram and fionabarry.ie

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