"Menopause hit me like a freight train"

Author and journalist Annamette Fuhrmann (49) knew next to nothing about the menopause before she found herself in the middle of it and felt like a fourth division player who had been forced to play a World Cup final against 12 Messis.

That made her take to her blog and Instagram account @fuhrmannshedetur where she shares her frustrations, milestones and experiences.

How are you experiencing the menopause?

I have been in the menopause for five years and I tick almost all the boxes of the most common symptoms – with the exception of ‘reduced libido’. At the moment, I’m still experiencing hot flushes and insomnia and I retain liquid when I drink alcohol. My memory is not very good either. I gained 22 kilos of which I have lost 17 in the past ten months.

How are you experiencing menopause physically?

For me it started with nocturnal hot flushes that escalated to the point where I had to change sheets and bedding. Every night. After that I got sore joints, started losing my hair, stopped sleeping through the night and lost my memory. Mentally, it felt like severe PMS combined with a feeling of depression that I had not known before. It was quite devastating. Now I am much more in balance, and mostly experience ‘only’ hot flushes and poor sleep.

Are you doing anything specific to reduce the discomfort of the physical changes you are going through?

I have tried almost everything from my box of tricks, but what has worked the best is daily exercise with kettlebells, an anti-inflammatory diet, actively relaxing with a heat pad that has a core that I heat up and place along my spine. I also use an acupressure mat every day, also known as a shakti mat, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. I lie on the mat for 10-20 minutes a day. Calming the nervous system is more important than anything else during menopause.

How are you experiencing menopause mentally? What does it feel like?

I was not at all prepared for the mental challenges that hormonal changes bring. I felt depressed, tired, resigned, confused, anxious and stressed. On top of that comes the many nights of interrupted sleep, which affects your memory and general well-being. It can become a vicious spiral, which is incredibly important to take seriously. Many women, me included, have lived through many years with very poor sleep. I think we should get a medal for everything we still manage to do anyway.

Has anything surprised you?

Just about everything. Most of all, how little I knew about that period of a woman’s life when it all began for me in 2018. I had no idea. For example, I thought you went through menopause when the hot flushes stopped (huge LOL), and I had no idea that menopause can last up to ten years. I also had no idea that menopause was divided into phases: from the perimenopause, when it all starts and periods become irregular, to the menopause, which is when you have not had a period for a year.

Has this phase of your life changed you?

Honestly: it has felt pretty hideous a lot of the time. I wish I had been more prepared for the physical discomforts and that someone had told me a lot more about the mental challenges. Menopause hit me like a freight train. It was like being a fourth division player in a World Cup final facing 12 Messis all alone. It’s been a pretty steep learning curve. Conversely, this phase has also taught me more about myself than any other phase in my life, and I feel that I am stronger than ever. I have often thought that the menopause was a bastard, but at the same time it has shaped me so much as a person that I can now say that I would not have been without it.

Has it changed your relationship with your partner?

I am single and, luckily, have not experienced low libido or vaginal dryness. But I know from many other women in relationships that it has been a challenge. That the hormonal changes affect your sex drive and give women so many mental and physical problems that it can be a difficult nut to crack in a relationship. But as with so much else in the menopause, you just have to meet the challenges head on. Recognize that there is a third player on the field in the shape of hormonal changes and recognize that this is a phase where you as a couple have to support each other – just like you did when you become parents. Women need to be open about it, and men could benefit from being more curious about what it means to be a woman in this unique phase of life.

Follow Annamette on Instagram: @fuhrmannshedetur