By chance this morning, I ended up having a long telephone conversation with Sheila, a friend I haven’t spoken to for a while. I say by chance, because I had arranged to talk to her husband about a work matter. Much to Sheila’s embarrassment, he had forgotten our appointment and was having the time of his life racing cars in Wales.
His forgiveable forgetfulness gave us the time to catch up together. Two years ago Sheila’s husband had been diagnosed with a life threatening illness and their lives changed radically because of it. Sheila faced this with immense courage and willingly took care of him when he came out hospital. At the same time, she was supporting their two children, running the home, and trying to continue with her successful design business.
Fortunately, as the car racing suggests, her husband is doing very well (although he most certainly is not out of the woods yet) but as our conversation progressed, she admitted that she was beginning to experience panic attacks at night. These were causing her considerable distress.
She then admitted that she was increasing caught up in disaster thinking. ‘I know it’s daft,’ she said, ‘but when I drop my son off somewhere, I immediately get this image in my head that he’s going to get mangled by a truck. Sometimes, I think I’m going mad.’
It was the ‘sometimes, I think I’m going mad’ that raised my suspicions. I asked her to remind me how she was. ‘46’ she said. ‘Any hot flushes?’ I asked.
‘At times I could kill.’ she replied.
‘Ah’, I said, ‘sounds like this could also be the menopause.’
She was horrified. She was far too young for that.
The truth is, she isn’t. Research now suggests that stress can and does bring on an early menopause. Although, Sheila is unquestionably experiencing stress related symptoms (understandable with what she copes with on a daily basis), these symptoms can also be attributed to the onset of menopause. When I explained this to her, Sheila was tremendously relieved, and decided then and there to talk to her doctor.
So, don’t be mistaken into thinking that the menopause only begins in your 50s. Even though the average age for a woman to go through the menopause in the UK is 51, early menopause affects around 1% of women under 40, and 0.1% under the age of 30. If, similar to Sheila, you are coping with a constantly stressful situation, this can also bring on the menopause earlier than usual. Do talk to your doctor about it.