I interviewed Anne Scott who talks about early menopause and the end of her sex life. Now, I do hope you will bear with this rather long article, in fact it’s a transcript of our interview but I found it so enlightening that I’ve just included the whole thing here for you to experience.
With a background in IT and communications, delivering technology, she’s completely changed tack and is now specialising in business creation and transformation, helping people to be intuitive in their leadership – calling her business Crossing Frontiers.
Q: What would you say were the symptoms you first recognised and made you think it might be menopause?
Anne Scott: This is a really interesting question, because retrospectively I can see that my first symptoms were probably night sweats. And I was having those in my mid thirties, 35, 36 up to about 39, got really hot, really sweaty, woke up at night and sometimes had to change the sheets.
KC: So what did you do about that?
AS: Well, actually I just lived through it, and I think part of it was at the time, I worked out myself, that there was a relationship between the night sweats and drinking a couple of glasses of wine, so the alcohol was exacerbating this but I still wanted to have my few glasses of wine. I assumed it was purely to do with the alcohol, but now I clearly realise this was a very significant symptom.
KC: Yes. So you felt it was alcohol related and had no idea that it was potentially hormonal and that you were starting to go through menopause, you were peri-menopausal.
Early 30’s: 10 months without a period
AS: I didn’t, because the other thing that had happened to me in my early 30s is that I was about 10 months without any periods… Bearing in mind that I’m not under weight and nor am I significantly overweight, a robust person. I lost a bit of weight at the time and I was delighted with this and I was travelling a lot. It was when I was 30, I was travelling in Asia, I was really pleased not to have periods; it was a great convenience actually. But it did cross my mind that potentially there was something else going on there. Nine months later I got to Australia and my periods started again, so I didn’t particularly worry about it, but when I got to my mid 30s, my periods got heavier, lasting seven days and I just had to be very aware of it.
Heavy Periods then less and less
My periods, over a period of about 2 years, went from 7 days down to 5, then down to 3 and probably in my late 30s and moving into my 40s I was actually having a 1 day period. So that was another significant change. For me I didn’t actually go to the doctor. I didn’t treat it as a medical issue. But what I am interested in, is alternative health, so I was going to an acupuncturist and I also found a great homeopath at that time and so I did start taking herbal and homeopathic medications, but not specifically because I thought I was menopausal.
Didn’t even consider Menopause
KC: Did you know about menopause at the time? It probably didn’t even enter your radar did it, at that age?
AS: The only reason why it even peaked my interest is because an Aunt of mine had what they called an early menopause. They had just got married when I think she was 36, and within a couple of years, very similar to my story I suspect now, she was menopausal, but this was a bit of a family anecdote, it wasn’t something she talked about.
Doctors insisted NOT genetic, therefore NOT menopause!
But every time I talked to a doctor or talked to somebody in the medical profession about it they were very clear that you would copy your mother’s symptoms, that it was genetic. My mother didn’t start her menopause until she was well into her 50s. In fact she was pregnant when she was 48, and I think she had her periods into her mid or late 50s. My mother’s story was completely different.
KC: So listening to your story, your symptoms didn’t seem to follow the norm. And the homeopathic regime, was that helpful?
Significant Hot Flushes kicked in
AS: I found it helpful particularly as I then started getting hot flushes in my early 40s; I had night sweats and hot flushes. When my night sweats stopped, there was then a break and I had hot flushes, then I was getting a hot flush say once every half hour. Very, very strong for about 2 years and it was at that point that I really found that the homeopathic and the herbal medication helped. What I noticed as well was I had a massage at one point called a Chi Mei Teng massage, and it really loosened things up, got things flowing. I really felt I was stuck and that’s how I would describe my system, my menstrual system, that it was stuck. And I felt that these things I was taking were helping.
KC: Yes, they do say that certain massages help the flow of the organs and help us to unblock certain areas. I know from my own self, I reached what I would describe as a tsunami, the symptoms all came together at one point and were so overwhelming, I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing. Did you experience that?
Hot Flushes were most distressing
AS: I’m not sure that I did, I think the most excruciating symptoms were the hot flushes. Particularly because I was working in a corporate environment with a lot of men, and also because my normal disposition was to feel cold, so I dressed for the cold and suddenly I’m having these experiences and the way I dressed just didn’t suit. The idea of wearing a polo neck… I just wouldn’t dream of wearing a polo neck now. So I really had to adjust the way I dressed. And also at the end of a hot flush, how cold and clammy you feel, so I really found that very discomforting.
Awful to discover my mother suffered badly with heavy periods, flooding
The one thing that I am aware of is what they call flooding which I’ve never experienced. I’ve never experienced that. What happened was my periods tailed off, they didn’t get heavier. I didn’t have this experience of my periods getting heavier and heavier before they tailed off they just tailed off and that was a convenience. It was a convenience not to have heavy periods. But my mother particularly suffered flooding and she suffered them out in public and that was something I was always apprehensive about because she told me some horror stories about that.
KC: It can be a nightmare for some women. And unfortunately it’s still the case that so many women are then offered a hysterectomy to be the method of reducing that problem when there are so many other avenues to explore. Were there any other symptoms you particularly experienced?
Menopause not discussed but I was sent for ovarian scan
AS: No but I did have a bad experience at this time, I think when I was probably 40, 41. I was prompted to go to the doctor because of my periods, really. At this point they never discussed menopause with me, but what they said is I should go for an ovarian scan and at the time they couldn’t see one of my ovaries, and they said look maybe you should come back, but you know what, you look healthy, you’re not having any other issues, just leave it, but about 6 months later I had a niggle and I thought I’m going to go back and see if there’s anything going on, so I went back and they said there is definitely an ovarian cyst, you should have come back sooner than this, and we’re referring you. What a shock!
Ovarian Cancer and it was my fault?
This all came through my doctor and they were referring me to an ovarian cancer clinic, which was obviously very shocking for me and I chose to go private at the Queen Charlotte Hospital in Hammersmith. A lovely gentleman there, whose name I’ve forgotten, and he said “right we’ll get you down for a scan and straight away”, which they did, no ovarian cyst “but I’m referring you to a clinic for follow up” which I thought was an ovarian clinic.
‘You’re menopausal, you know that’ – I had no idea!
I ended up in a menopause clinic and I wasn’t aware of this, they hadn’t briefed me; I was examined by a woman, who reported to the nurse while she was examining me that my uterus was closed, and she described something quite shocking, which I can’t remember but implied my uterus wasn’t operational.
And I said “I don’t understand what you’re saying” and she said “well you’re menopausal, you know that”. And I said “no I don’t know that. I had no idea about that” and I would have to say that was the most shocking experience and it was shocking to receive it from a woman. And there was this big expectation that I understood all about this. I think I was 41 at the time.
Why don’t doctors ask patients for their opinion – they’ve certainly got one!
KC: That’s quite shocking and doctors are not talkingn to each other or their patients. and therefore not making the connectionn. Doctors don’t ask our opinion and we certainly have one!
Attending a Menopause Clinic for 8 years
AS: I’ve been going to the menopause clinic for 8 years now and I’ll be 50 this summer. But back then what that triggered for me was this realisation that I probably wasn’t going to have children. I’d left a relationship with somebody who couldn’t commit and I thought well I still had the opportunity, so at the age of 41 I really had to start going through that grieving process.
KC: Do you think it was because of the uterine malfunction that was probably the reason you couldn’t have children, that it was all linked somehow?
AS: Well, I think they made it very clear. Potentially I was thinking that I’d have to fast track having children and find some guy, have sex all the time and hope for the best, then realised that I was on the downward slope. I’m sure if I said I’ll go for hormone treatment, I’m sure if I took a very directly focussed approach I potentially could have children now, but at the time it was just this realisation about the natural cycle of my body, and I’ve always felt that I was in tune with my body and I have never been on the pill. I’ve never taken the contraceptive pill and haven’t had HRT either, for the reasons that I really would love to work with my body with the more natural approach around it and everything then fell into place.
KC: Yes, you could see the pattern, then but you were too young to acknowledge it at the time and nobody else helped you to find the right answer. So how do you feel now, health-wise?
Good care from Mr Nick Panay’s clinic
AS: Health-wise, I feel healthy, I am aware of and I’ve had some challenges around this. I think medically because the menopause is medicalised in this country you know, but medically the three things that you know certainly I’ve been advised about in the clinic, which I really love actually, Mr Panay, it’s a gentleman called Mr Panay (Mr Nick Panay http://www.nickpanay.com). I like him, I like his clinic and apparently he has told me I’m the only person in the clinic who is not on HRT and we’ve had a number of discussions around it. My mother had oestrogen related breast cancer, so that was a very significant factor for me. As well as the fact that I didn’t really want that kind of intervention, a chemical, pharmaceutical intervention.
3 important areas of concern for me now: bone, heart and brain health
It wasn’t really of interest to me, but the three things that they mentioned was brain, bone and heart health, and as a result of going to the clinic they sent me for bone scans, and the key deficiency, is that I’ve got osteoporosis. And over the last 8 years that has been quite significant, the decline in my bones and to add to that I’ve been Caseine (dairy product) intolerant. I’ve been allergic to Caseine all my life, but actually only became aware of it in my late 20s. It’s only been medically acknowledged in the last 2 or 3 years, but I haven’ t been taking dairy products since my late 20s, so I haven’t drunk milk.
KC: I think it seems to me that a lot of women are lactose intolerant and don’t recognise it.
The benefits of cow’s milk are a myth
AS: I believe it’s a myth about milk and bone health, and in fact what they said to me when they first did the scan is my bone health was really good, and so from the age of 28 through to 40 I hadn’t taken milk, but what I was very dedicated to, was weight bearing exercise, and I will go between 3 and 5 days a week to a gym and in addition I did pilates, and hiking.
KC: All the right things.
Suffers with Tendonitis
AS: All the right things, but then in my 40’s, I’ve had I started to suffer from things like really bad tendonitis in my wrists, ended with problems with my ankles, so I actually had to stop the weight bearing exercises for a while. I then took up pilates and did some yoga and more recently I’m getting back into more weight bearing exercises again. But I have had nearly 2 years of not doing as much but really my body hasn’t been supporting me as well as I would have loved it to.
HRT can help arrest the decline of bone loss
KC: And I don’t think enough women realise that it’s the decline of our hormones and the changing of our hormones that does affect the heart and our bones and that you do have to take extra care about diet and exercise and make sure you’re eating lots of fruit and vegetables and doing some form of exercise. HRT is recommended to a lot of women because it has been shown that it helps arrest the decline of bone loss. Hormones have such a powerful effect on our lives that we don’t realise the support they have provided and at menopause nobody tells us anything.
A good supplement is Udo’s Choice
AS: I do think that when I realised how oestrogen works in our bodies and as I was having joint pain (another symptom not mentioned), and it was my sister-in-law who is a physiotherapist and normally not into alternative therapy at all, but because of her job, she had come across a supplement called Udo’s Choice (available at http://www.bodykind.com) and started using that, loved it but for somebody who would pop a pill before she’d do anything else, I was really pleased. Udo’s Choice is probably the supplement I’ve been taking for the longest period of time. It has certainly made a big difference to joint aches and pains.
KC: What’s it got in it?
AS: There’s Linseed Oil, Cod Liver Oil, and I think it contains Omega 3, Omega 6 and Omega 9. Cod liver oil will have maybe Omega 6 and Omega 9, but not Omega 3. I really notice the difference around my joints, and also it is supposed to be very good for mood as well, and take the edge off depression.
KC: Yes, I was listening to Ruby Wax recently who says that she had been mentally ill all her life and she is doing this show at the moment, I think it’s very brave of her to do that, but you don’t recognise, that you’re going through this crazy period and that you’re actually mildly depressed and most of us don’t have time to be depressed. It’s only when you give yourself a good talking to that things start to change and you turn your life round. I’ve certainly come out of it a completely different person with so much energy and vigour to run with things and do things ‘my way’. It’s quite a different thing that happens to women that is still not written about and we’ve got a long way to go to recognise the whole true effect of menopause in women, and we’re all working longer as well.
KC: And now you’re taking on a new career, post-menopausally and I bet you feel ready for it and you’re invigorated by the challenges that you’re now facing. I know you mentioned to me that you’ve studied medical anthropology; suddenly we’ve become sponges again and can’t get enough information about certain things and we want to do other things to bring those areas of education into it. Would you agree with that?
AS: Yes. I wouldn’t necessarily feel it was directly related to the menopause, I could be wrong, because I’ve actually studied over the course of my life. What is illness, what is cure? and what was fascinating was to realise that menopause is medicalised in this country, it’s a medical condition and I’m not demeaning it by saying that it shouldn’t be but it’s this idea, it’s like childbirth, it’s a medical condition instead of being natural events in our lives, but in a country like Japan for instance it’s not very medicalised. They actually don’t have a notion of menopause. According to what I’ve read.
KC: Until they move to the West.
In Japan: no menopause but do experience joint pain
AS: Exactly and they’ve done studies around that. And the key issues apparently that women present with in that age group is joint pain. It’s the bone issue, but they don’t have all this horrendous hot flushes and night sweats and I think there has been a lot of conversation about the relationship between that and things like lactose and milk and I wasn’t taking those in my diet, so it may well be, because I didn’t think I had a serious menopause, I don’t feel that it really impacted on me in that way.
Shocking realisation that my child bearing years were over
The shocking things that really happened to me was coming to terms with the fact that my child bearing years were over earlier than expected and just also what that meant not to have periods.
My girlfriends are still talking about all of those issues and they’re asking questions and I’m in a different stage, so for me those were the really challenging things for me. It’s interesting, I don’t feel like I had to deal with lots of medical effects. I could go to the menopause clinic and they would offer me HRT and their whole thing around HRT, by the way, as you know, was for me to take it till I was 50, purely to cover that gap because the way they explained it to me was that when you’re around 50, 51 a number of other systems come into play which actually supplement oestrogren, and I decided not to do that. I think if my symptoms had been not so severe like I don’t really feel that I had significant depression for instance. I feel that the level of depression I had was the same as what I’d had with pre menstrual tension (PMT), so I may well have been lucky in that respect.
Atrophic Vaginitis – sex was very painful
But I do think the social aspects were very significant for me and just the only other thing I forgot to mention earlier, which was a shock to me, was discovering that I had atrophic vaginitis, and that again is oestrogen-related. And that’s pretty shocking because I hadn’t realised it and I was in a new sexual relationship and sex was very painful and I didn’t want to talk about it and only talked to a girlfriend who said “go to your doctor”. I said “I can’t do anything. I’m sure it’s menopausal” and I am actually taking local oestrogen for that.
World’s best kept secret – Atrophic Vaginitis
KC: And again, it’s such an embarrassing subject even for women that have been in, like me, been in (long term) relationships. I’ve been married 38 years now and I just couldn’t talk to my husband about that, I couldn’t talk to my doctor about it and it was only when I attended a medical conference that there was lecturer up there talking about it and saying what could be achieved by prescribing women locally applied oestrogen and all the other different products that are available, and I was so cross because there are so many women that are affected and nobody’s telling them that there is a simple solution. There’s a moral dilemma there and you were talking about medicalising menopause, and I think you’re right. It seems to me that unless when you’re going through menopause and you’ve got all these symptoms, and some women going completely crazy and don’t understand it unless the doctor can put a medical label on it, like depression or it’s gynaecological. If you can put a label on it it gets taken care of but it’s all those other women where there is no medical label attached, they are being sent away with a pat on the hand saying “never mind dear, it’s your age” and to me that’s all wrong, they’re just not getting the right information. So again, they’re having to put up with it because nobody can tell us what to do. So we’ve just got to get out there and do it ourselves haven’t we?
“Oh my god, my sex life is over now as well”
AS: Absolutely, and I think a far better and more nurturing way to do it, to be honest, is women to women, and I don’t think it has to be medicalised, but I do think it’s so essential to have a forum and to be able to discuss, and also having better end results, to be able to say, yes I still want to have a sex life. Atrophic vaginitis, I got that when I was 45 and I thought “Oh my god, my sex life is over now as well”, and I really don’t believe it has to be like that, and being able to support each other whether it’s natural remedies, whether it’s something medical, let’s be open to all of it.
KC: Yes, because it’s choices we’re looking for and we all need to try different things to find what suits us. And we shouldn’t be put off, even the women that go for HRT, I say well go for it. If that’s suits you, if it’s sorting out your symptoms, giving you a better quality of life then discuss this with your doctor and go for it! All pharmaceuticals have side-effects so we shouldn’t highlight HRT as being the worst case scenario.
Consult a Herbalist or Homeopath
AS: Yes, and it’s interesting that you should talk about that, because i’ve got one of these tinctures I’ve used, called Black Cohosh, and many women may well have come across Black Cohosh but not the right strength because it’s actually very powerful as a tincture and potentially toxic, which I think is why there’s an awful lot of concern around herbal tinctures. It just goes to show that herbs are the basis of our pharmaceuticals, so equally we should be as respectful and cautious of something like herbal tinctures as we are of HRT. I feel quite passionate about this, I really would suggest to anybody if they want to use anything for menopausal management that they work with somebody like a herbalist or a homeopath, you know somebody who can come up with a journey plan, if you like, if they want to try these things for two or three months it may not be appropriate to keep going with some things for more than that. It may not be appropriate to put certain things together. To me it’s about personal responsibility and values. You talked about people who choose HRT, women who choose HRT viz-a-viz those who don’t, and I think it’s all about resonating with ourselves, whatever resonates with us and if you do something that doesn’t resonate with you it’s not going to work with you and that’s my opinion.
KC: Yes I think you’re right.
AS: I think it’s not just the pharmaceutical, it’s about your relationship with it, I know that sounds a bit crazy but it’s that intuitive thing you were talking about, and I think that if you’re in tune with something it may well work for us, and if somebody else uses it, it may not.
KC: That’s right. That’s exactly what’s happening of course and it’s for us to be better informed to allow us to make those decisions for ourselves.
I think that’s been absolutely brilliant Anne we’ve had such a good conversation about so many different things and I’m sure it will help other women that are experiencing and early menopause. It’s all so helpful.
AS: I’m very pleased for you to hear my story, Kathryn. My story’s going to be different to other people’s stories. What’s wonderful about what you’re doing is you’re really eliciting that. Your story is part of the patchwork quilt.
KC: Yes, well put; a patchwork quilt. And all that information allows us to pick the bits that relate to us. We’re going through a metamorophosis and being better informed will guide us to a better end result.
KC: Thank you once again Anne for joining me on this journey this morning, and we’ll talk again another time.
AS: Lovely, thanks Kathryn.
Kathryn Colas: Well, that brings us to the end of the interview with Anne Scott who spoke most eloquently about her own journey through a very early menopause.
If early menopause is affecting you, there is a specialist website: http://www.daisynetwork.org.uk you may find useful.