“DON’T suffer in silence, and don’t feel like you’re going mad because there are supports out there.”
That is the opinion of Maura Mackey, who says navigating the menopause was one of the hardest things she’s ever experienced, and at one point she felt convinced she was developing dementia.
The interior designer/home stager from Ballinhassig started experiencing symptoms when she was 46.
“It started with my cycle being interrupted, but in my head, I was too young to even have menopause on my radar, it was the furthest thing from my mind,” she said.
Her cycle returned to normal after a time, but soon she started to get hot flushes at night, followed by far more debilitating symptoms.
“I was only getting about two hours’ sleep at night most nights, and had very bad pains and aches in my joints,” she said.
The mum-of-two also had numbness in her legs: “Sometimes, I couldn’t leave the car as I knew my legs wouldn’t carry me. I couldn’t go for walks after school drop-off and had to stay in the car for two hours a few mornings for the sensation to leave me, it was that bad.”
She also had brain fog, itchy skin, and low moods, which led to lack of confidence and random outbursts of crying.
But worst of all was the anxiety and palpitations she experienced.
“I won’t lie it was one of the roughest times in my life. Initially, I thought I was going mad. I wondered was it dementia.
“I didn’t know anyone else that was feeling like I was, and when I brought it up to people at the start of my journey, it was still seen as a taboo subject. I felt people didn’t want to talk about it. Maybe if they spoke about it they were admitting they were getting old?
“I am a very positive person most of the time but this knocked me and even though my husband was my rock and he was there for me, I still felt like I was going mad.”
Her mother is a breast cancer survivor which meant Maura had concerns about taking HRT.
“But I tried all the alternatives. I joined menopause Facebook groups (Happy Hormones club is fab) and went to a menopause clinic where HRT was recommended to me, but I still felt afraid.”
At this point, Maura, who turned 50 last January, was after launching her staging and interior business, and considered packing it all in as she felt so bad.
“There was one morning I was doing an interiors presentation online, as we were in lockdown, when all of a sudden I just broke down and couldn’t stop crying.
“The ladies in the group advised me to breathe and helped me through it, which showed me why it’s so important to tell people you are suffering from the menopause and not be ashamed about what’s happening to you.”
What followed were a further challenging few months, which saw Maura battle lots of anxiety: “I even ended up in A&E a few times with pains in my chest, and thought I was getting a stroke or heart attack. I was recommended anti-depressants by doctors but I knew I wasn’t depressed.”
She spoke with an old school pal who recommended she see Dr Caoimhe Hartley in Dublin.
“I had a Zoom consult with her in April but had had my bloods done prior to this. When I spoke with her, the first thing she said was, ‘Maura, I am sorry you had to go through this.’
“I cried for the first hour explaining my journey to her, but was relieved my symptoms were menopausal and I wasn’t going mad.
"She told me that I was actually post-menopausal which I was shocked at. But I discovered that just because you are post-menopause doesn’t mean you don’t have symptoms.
“I started on a land and sea based HRT, which is a progesterone tablet, before bed every night, and an oestrogen patch I change twice a week. Within two weeks I felt like the old Maura. I felt like I was back to me, I had a full night’s sleep, the anxiety disappeared, no more brain fog, no more aches and pains.
“I had a follow-on consult three months later with Caoimhe and she increased my oestrogen as I felt traces of the anxiety were seeping back in every now and again. She told me she started me on a basic dose of oestrogen so it was normal to increase it after a few months. Once again the magic happened and I can nearly six months now on HRT and I feel amazing.”
Maura’s advice to other women is to know that ‘it’s OK not to be OK.’
“Tell people how you feel, don’t keep it to yourself as it can be a very lonely place, get support from friends and colleagues – this is just another stage in your life – by ignoring it we are not doing ourselves any favours.”