Diane Danzebrink is The Menopause Counsellor - a wellbeing consultant with professional nurse training in menopause. She is a member of the British Menopause Society, founder of Menopause Support and of the #MakeMenopauseMatter campaign.
Here’s our exclusive Q&A...
What were the first menopausal symptoms you had?
My first menopause symptoms were psychological and came on after my total hysterectomy, They included: severe anxiety; what I would describe as depression - a total lack of self confidence and feeling deeply unhappy to the point where I felt that I had lost my joy; and finally panic attacks that were incredibly debilitating.
What was the effect of menopause on your mental health?
In one word, devastating. I went from being a generally happy, healthy woman to a shadow of my former self. I had to stop work, I wouldn’t leave the house, wouldn’t see anybody and wouldn’t even answer the telephone. I lived in a permanent state of anxiety and my mother had to come and stay with me while my husband was at work as I was too scared to be on my own and my husband was too afraid to leave me.
I found it impossible to sleep through the night and would wake in a state of panic. It felt as if I had fallen off of a cliff into a deep, dark pit that I just couldn’t get out of.
Did you find it possible to talk to people about menopause and what you were going through?
Not really, the only people I could talk to were my mum and my husband, none of my friends were going through it. When I rang my GP practice and asked if there was any sort of menopause support service they said no. That was a very dark day.
What helped you to live better with menopause?
Educating myself; getting the right treatment, which for me is HRT; having the support of my family; working with a therapist; a healthy balanced diet; exercise; yoga nidra; and my dogs.
How did you come to start the Menopause Support campaign?
When I was really struggling I started to wonder if anybody else felt like me, and because I couldn’t sleep I would sit up in the early hours reading posts online. The more I read the more I realised that thousands of women were struggling. I promised myself that if I ever felt well again I would do something to change it.
The #MakeMenopauseMatter campaign was launched in Parliament on World Menopause Day (20.10.18) ahead of the first backbench debate on menopause. The campaign aims to improve training for healthcare professionals in menopause, to improve awareness and support in the workplace and to have menopause included in the PSHE curriculum in schools.
What help and support should there be for menopausal women that isn’t available now?
Everyone – men and women – should receive a basic education to understand what menopause is, when it happens and how it can be managed. This would lead to greater understanding.
Every woman should receive information from the NHS before she is 40, reminding her of that basic information to enable her to recognise the early symptoms and management options.
When a woman sees her GP or practice nurse she should be able to expect that they can recognise her symptoms and offer factual, evidence based advice upon which she can make an informed decision.
If menopause symptoms are affecting her at work a woman should be able to approach her employer, if she wishes, to discuss reasonable adjustments safe in the knowledge that there is established guidance or policy in place in a similar way to pregnancy or maternity.
Do you think there are any myths about menopause that should be busted?
1) Menopause happens in your 50s.
Most women start to experience perimenopause symptoms in the early to mid 40s.
2) Menopause is all hot flushes.
One of the most common and often earliest symptoms of menopause is increased anxiety.
3) HRT is dangerous.
Unfortunately the flawed WHI study and the resulting headlines in 2002 have stopped many women considering HRT but it is the most effective treatment for symptoms and offers protection for long term bone, heart and brain health. The right preparation, in the right woman, has low overall risks and significant benefits.
4) Your sex life will be over after menopause.
It is true to say that libido declines in both men and women as we age but libido is multifactorial. For some women, particularly those who have had their ovaries removed, supplemental testosterone may be recommended. Women who experience vaginal symptoms, dryness, soreness etc understandably don’t want to engage in intercourse if it is uncomfortable or worse, painful. Local oestrogen from your GP along with vaginal moisturisers and lubricants can be very helpful in alleviating those symptoms but it is vital that they are identified and managed correctly.
5) It’s all downhill from here…
Absolutely not! Menopause can be transformational, I have never been happier, healthier and more confident than I am now, it has very much been a work in progress.
My periods were horrendous so I am delighted not to have them any more (I recognise that may be very different for others).
I have very much reconnected with the authentic me and my truth and now on the whole I please myself. It is truly empowering to discover the power of ‘no’ (usually followed by ‘thank you’.)
I no longer do things I don’t want, go to places I don’t want to go or spend time with people I don’t choose to. If any of that sounds selfish don’t be mistaken this is exactly the opposite, this is self care and its vital if you are to give your very best to the people, animals and endeavours you choose to.
What advice would you give other women approaching or going through menopause?
Educate yourself. Knowledge is power and it is so important to understand what is happening during menopause. If you are one of the 75% of women who will experience some symptoms knowing how you can manage them before they happen can be very empowering. Menopause is not something to be feared, for the majority.
It is a natural stage of life but to navigate it well we need to take control of our own health and wellbeing. Most importantly recognise that this is an ideal opportunity to be kind to yourself.
What are you working on next?
I am currently very involved in progressing the #MakeMenopauseMatter campaign, supporting my private clients and my Facebook community.
I will be speaking at several menopause events this year and delivering talks and workshops in workplaces and I have just started writing my first book.
Read more about Diane’s work on her website www.dianedanzebrink.com.
To sign the #MakeMenopauseMatter campaign petition, visit www.menopausesupport.co.uk