PART OF THE Summer Reading ISSUE
‘We got loads of women – so, so many came forward. They just thought, This is great we’re talking about this now. And it was wonderful that they spoke up because every single person who does that, through some ripple effect helps so many others.’
Extract taken from STILL HOT!
By Kaye Adams and Vicky Allan
Published by Black & White Publishing
SAHIRA AHMAD BELCHER
Sahira Ahmad Belcher, 45, is an official for the Oxfordshire fire service. She began her perimenopausal symptoms not long after the birth of her daughter, Indy. She was just thirty-five and it took a four-year battle for her to get a diagnosis. She suffered depression and still now, on HRT, she struggles with anxiety.
I had an early menopause. I’m forty-five now and it’s been going on for ten years and still hasn’t finished yet. Sometimes I think, Please just go. I don’t want to wait anymore.
The symptoms started the year I had Indy, my daughter. My periods became irregular and some months I wouldn’t have a period at all. I’d also have the hot flushes and just be really anxious and sad all the time, really down.
I went to the doctor who said, “Oh, it’s your hormones because you’ve just had a child. It will calm down.” But it continued and I kept going back and forth.
After I’d done my own research, I knew that normally before a hot flush you can get palpitations. So I said to the doctor, “I think it’s probably either perimenopause or menopause. . .”
The doctor said, “Don’t be daft. It can’t be that. You’re far too young.” I wasn’t taken seriously. I went home again. It was going round and round in my head. I was thinking, There’s something wrong with me and I need someone to validate it. It took a few years of going back and forth to get a diagnosis. I saw this one GP, an old lady, who basically said, “What are you complaining about? Pull yourself together. You should be glad you haven’t got periods anymore.”
I was probably about forty when I got the proper diagnosis. It was a relief to get it. When you have all these symptoms, you start to think there are all sorts of things wrong with you. You think of all these different illnesses. I thought I might have dementia because of the brain fog – I would, and still do, forget the most basic things, forget people’s names. I thought I had ME [myalgic encephalomyelitis] at one point because I was so exhausted. You work yourself up so much because you’re so anxious and then finally you get the diagnosis – and that’s good in some ways because it feels like it’s not in your head and someone is actually taking you seriously.
Lorraine Kelly has been the queen of morning television for the last thirty-five years, presenting her show, Lorraine, since 2010. She is married and has one daughter. When, during her perimenopause, she began to feel flat, she decided the menopause was something that needed to be talked about on her show and created The M Word campaign.
It was on a holiday in Cordoba, Spain, that it hit me that there was something wrong. I just felt flat. I think probably I’d ignored some signs – and maybe I was feeling a little bit more tired.
But this was almost like I went over a cliff. I think it had been building up – and I felt like I lost myself. It is awful when you lose yourself, you lose that sense of who you are. It’s really scary and I can understand why a lot of women and a lot of GPs misdiagnose, saying that it’s depression or anxiety. Yes, it is actually. But it’s because you’re going through this change – it’s depression caused by the menopause and what you need to do is treat the menopause and not the depression. So it’s difficult from that point of view. And it’s not the GPs’ fault necessarily. It’s all about education and talking more. I was really down. Joyless sums it up. I couldn’t get any joy out of anything. I was on holiday in this beautiful place and it was gorgeous. You couldn’t have had a more idyllic place. And I should have been really happy. Content, not happy – content is very overlooked and underrated. I should have been content but instead I was thinking, I don’t understand why I don’t feel anything. I just feel flat. It’s like all the energy has been sucked out of my body.
It was Dr Hilary who diagnosed it. We are so lucky at work in having him there. In the morning there’s always a queue for Dr Hilary, and especially now [during the Covid-19 pandemic] you can imagine everyone’s very scared and wants reassurance and advice. Back then, I just said to him, “Do you know what, I’m just not feeling myself. I don’t know what’s going on.” I talked to him and I told him the symptoms.
He said, “You’re menopausal.”
I thought, Oh right, great, good, we’ve got a label, we can do something about it.
Back in 2017, I felt we really needed to talk about this more on the show. Of course, it was a huge taboo and it was quite hard to get other people to talk about it, so in the end I said, “Well, I’ll talk about it and Dr Hilary can interview me – we’ll swap seats.”
After that interview we had a massive response from viewers who wanted to know more and were desperate to talk about it, and Ulrika, Carol and Meg came on the show. We got loads of women – so, so many came forward. They just thought, This is great we’re talking about this now. And it was wonderful that they spoke up because every single person who does that, through some ripple effect helps so many others.
Val McDermid, 65, is one of the biggest names in crime writing and her books have sold more than 17 million copies worldwide. She grew up in a Scottish mining community and went from there to read English at Oxford. She worked as a journalist for sixteen years before her life as queen of crime kicked off. Val came out as lesbian at nineteen. Her own menopause was far from a big event.
The menopause almost passed without me noticing. There was this sudden realisation that I hadn’t had a period for three months and I remember thinking, Oh is that it? It’s hard to say when my menopause started because I had quite a long time when I had insanely heavy periods.
I’ve always been very sanguine about the idea of ageing. I think it’s the one war you can’t win. It happens. So I didn’t feel a sense of mourning my young self. Also I didn’t have the biological clock thing that so many women speak of and indeed that my partner at the time experienced – this absolute obsession with the idea of motherhood.
With my own menopause I feel there was a levelling out of my hormones over the month, and I suppose a comparable levelling out of my state of mind. I used to get quite knackered in the days before my period started – I really felt like I was dragging my weary body through the day but I don’t really get that anymore. I actually feel that as I’m ageing, I’m healthier and fitter than I was ten years ago. Mostly that’s because I made changes in my lifestyle because I didn’t want to be falling to bits as I got older. As I say, ageing is the one battle you can’t win, but you can try to mitigate it. I think I dodged a bullet. I got lucky. I don’t think I did anything particularly clever to make the menopause easier on me at all. It’s just the way it happened and I’m grateful for that.
STILL HOT! by Kaye Adams and Vicky Allan is published by Black & White Publishing, priced £17.99.
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