Try to be gentle with yourself: things I wish I'd known before going into menopause | Alison Daddo as told to Svetlana Stankovic

Googling menopause throws up a host of negative messages, but there are powerful, positive things every woman should know

I was 45 and thought menopause was just irregular periods. I had no clue there were all these other possible health challenges that may come with it. Apart from understanding what the symptoms are, there are so many other things I wish I had known.

Look after your body

I wish I had known how important it was to have my health in a good place before I started perimenopause. Of course we know that to stay healthy is a good lifestyle choice anyway. But when you go through perimenopause and menopause and you’re not at a really good level health-wise, you’re playing catch-up and then it’s incredibly challenging.

Your hormones are already going crazy and you’re exhausted and then you realise you need to get healthy. You don’t have to be a fitness fanatic, but to be physically healthy – to be moving your body in some way three to four times a week – is really beneficial. And it’s good to take a look at your diet and how healthy your food intake is. Smoking is not great, heavy drinking is not great – all those things affect our hormones.

It’s all the things we know that are good for us anyway but it’s good to know that going into perimenopause it’s going to make a big difference to be healthy, and I would have loved to have known that.

I also would have loved to know that it helps to have all your blood tests done. If you’re starting to feel a bit different, a bit off, if you have brain fog or hot flushes, it’s vital to not ignore those symptoms. You’re not sick, you’re just going through changes. But you should go to a doctor who understands hormones and get all of your base levels done so you know where you are at health-wise. Because when you know those things you can support your body more effectively.

Don’t ignore the signals

There is a lot more available to us medically, which I didn’t realise until I did my research. There are different kinds of hormone replacement therapies available now, and with the help of your doctor you can find the right mix for your body.

As women we’re so used to ignoring the signals of our bodies, especially if it’s around our reproductive organs, because we deal with period pains and endometriosis and all those things constantly. So when it comes to something like menopause, a lot of women just ignore the symptoms and feel like there isn’t any help. A lot of what I hear from other women is that a GP that might not be trained in menopause and hormones may be very dismissive of the woman’s experiences. I was lucky as I had two great doctors that really helped me, but a lot of women are dismissed medically, so you should keep searching to find someone to work with you. Women deserve as much care as they possibly can have during this time, because it can be so life-altering and we need all the help we can get.

It has been hard for women to talk about menopause as it is. There’s still a lot of stigma, there’s shame around it, because we’re getting older – and god forbid women age! So it’s about finding the right person. There are some fabulous people that are taking your symptoms seriously and tell you that you’re normal, and the reason why you’re having these symptoms, and what you can do about it medically.

Mental and emotional challenges

I really wish I’d known about the mental and emotional challenges you might go through as well. I was certainly left feeling like I was losing my mind and I didn’t understand why I was so anxious and so depressed. I struggled with my memory. I just didn’t know why all those things were happening until I started really researching, and that’s when I learned that these are very normal experiences and you can get help.

Alison Brahe Daddo at her home in Dee Why, Sydney, NSW, Australia
‘There is light at the end of the tunnel, and there is actually a really fabulous life awaiting us.’ Photograph: The Guardian

It can be very lonely

It’s really helpful if your partner understands what you’re going through – not just for your sake but also for their sake. It can be really alarming seeing someone you love go through something that’s not physically obvious. All of a sudden they’re crying more, they’re worrying more, they’re not sleeping and they don’t want to be touched, or they’re angry, but they can’t tell you why they’re angry. I always suggest having your partner come with you to the medical appointments so they can hear from your doctor that what you’re going through is exactly on track – yes it’s hard, but here’s how we can help you. So you’re on the same team. Because it can be very lonely and alienating for both of you going through a challenge like that.

Because I was writing a book about menopause, my children heard a lot about it. I told them it had nothing to do with them or how I felt about them and that I loved them. It was just so they knew they weren’t doing anything wrong when their mum was sad or angry. That’s the most important thing a child should know – that it’s not their fault, that Mum is just going through something right now but she’s going to get better.

Light at the end of the tunnel

One of the biggest things is to know that it’s only temporary. We’re not told enough about the postmenopausal years. There is light at the end of the tunnel and there is actually a really fabulous life awaiting us. We’re not stuck in this perimenopausal and menopausal challenge – and body – for the rest of our lives. We do get through it, we do then get our sleep back, we get our energy levels back.

If you Google menopause, you often just get the horrific symptoms and the message that you’re old, you’re baggy, you’re saggy, you’re washed up – but there’s little out there about the postmenopausal years. So it’s really up to women to talk about it more and to share it with women that are already going through it or are about to.

Be kind to yourself

It’s easy to flippantly say this, but the thing I really had to dive into was how to take care of myself and to actually have self-care. That’s been a huge benefit of menopause. I had been in a battle with my body for such a long time. Menopause made me realise that if you’re not going to start to be kind to yourself now, when are you ever going to start being kind to yourself? And that changed everything for me.

It’s more of a mindset in many ways, but it also means checking in and thinking: what do I need today? Maybe I don’t need to go to this thing, I just need to go home and put my feet up and read a book, or I need to try this new class, or make some more friends, or whatever it is for you.

That’s a huge gift that menopause gave me and an important thing that helped me through my menopause. And even if you’re in a position where you don’t have the time to do all those things, it’s just about not demeaning and judging yourself so harshly. Just try to be gentle with yourself.

• As told to Svetlana Stankovic

• Alison Daddo is a married mother of three, author of Queen Menopause, teacher, podcaster of Separate Bathrooms with her husband, Cameron, advocate of health and wellness, ambassador to RizeUp Australia, and cheerfully post-menopausal

Alison Daddo as told to Svetlana Stankovic

The GuardianTramp

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