My “New Normal”

By Heidi Clarke

‘What’s going on with your hair?’

It wasn’t a weird question from my husband given that over the past few washes I seemed to be losing hair in clumps every time I washed it. I always ‘shed’ a fair bit of hair and as it was dark it seemed to be more obvious, however it just seemed to be getting more and more. “I don’t know!?!” I responded. 

It is funny how little things can change over time and we just adjust to the new normal. My memory changes were really affecting me. I have always had what I would deem a poor memory. I was surprised when people would say to me what I great memory I had, as I found I have really poor recall on childhood memories, life events or even conversations I have had. My memories seem to be made of stories around photographs that I have been told or retelling of an event from someone else. My general memory concerns were a constant, and makes sense given a recent ADHD diagnosis, however at the end of 2023, I was struggling to recall words, events that had happened over the past week or clients that I had seen the day before. When I mentioned it to people, it frustrated me when they would put it down to being a ‘busy mum who owns a business’, or ‘stress’, which I understood, yet I felt that was so dismissive of the change I was experiencing and it made me want to scream ‘FFS’ for not being taken more seriously (see comments below on frustration). 

It all came to a head when I bumped into someone I had met only 3 weeks prior and at the time had had a long and engaging conversation with, to not have any sense of familiarity with that person. This was the moment I knew I needed to do something about it. I started reflecting on things that had changed over the past few months. Obviously, my husband was a great resource here, not being able to rely on my memory as the only source of information. 

I had been suspecting perimenopause, however, again, very well meaning people and their opinions, felt I was too young at 41yrs old to be going through that. I also thought if it wasn’t perimenopause then bloody young on-set dementia was not a better alternative. So I stuck to my guns and compiled a list. This is what my list looked like.

• Hair loss (as discussed)

• Memory and brain fog – worse than normal

• Running hot – not hot flushes, but anyone who knows me, knows I would wear a puffer jacket at work when the air-conditioning was on and I hadn’t worn one consistently for months

• Poor sleep – I have always prided myself on my sleeping, I have slept through fire alarms, police sirens outside my window and I often slept through my kids crying to be feed (thanks to my husband being such a bad sleeper I was quickly alerted). Recently I started waking up at 1-130am and not getting back to sleep, at all. This progressively got to the point where it was 2-3 times a week, often on consecutive nights and had my husband asking what was going on (again).

• Skipped heart beats – I have history of an arrythmia which was ablated some years backso these did not worry me. The exponential increase in such a short period of time was the clincher for me, it screamed perimenopause and this was the one symptom that after a month or two that I would push me to go to the doctor. 

• I was horribly fatigued, which ties in with the sleep and affects memory, but it was more than that. I felt like my internal dialogue had to play cheerleader to get me out of my chair to even go to the toilet. I presume it was what a zombie feels like.

• I was finding exercise terribly challenging – my legs felt as though they were dragging through mud when I would go for a walk or try a shuffle (my version of a jog), as a result my motivation was low. Again, think zombie.

• I’d had 3 or so UTI’s over the past year which in my life time I had probably only had 2. 

• When I would wake up at night my body felt agitated, I couldn’t get comfortable and my joints and limbs were achy.

• I was finding that I was experiencing headaches which given I could go years without a headache or using Panadol it seemed odd. 

• My periods were heavy and longer, yet still regular. 

• Lastly, one I hate to admit as I try not to feed in to body weight focus, but I was noticing some changes around my waistline.

Also, if I reflect now and am being truly honest, I would say my mood was changing. I was experiencing apathy, disengagement, greater response to stressors and things frustrated me more than normal, which would sometimes result in me crying and then getting more frustrated and more bloody crying! 

When I review that list, it looks huge! It is like a big bloody neon sign flashing ‘perimenopause’! I can hear the shouts of ‘how could you not know!?!’. However when they creep up on you and you look at them as all individual things not collective symptoms of a ‘condition’ then it is easy to see why people dismiss their concerns, trial a range of medications that do nothing or just keep going until they are sitting there, fanning themselves with a book and wondering why they are crying eating a ANZAC biscuit (that wasn’t me but I am sure it would have been coming!!).

It took me 3 appointments with GP’s, a blood test to check my iron, and a pelvic exam (and just for those of you playing along at home, it does include an internal) to get prescribed hormone replacement therapy or HRT to those in the know. 

Yes, I did my research and yes, I had heard the rumours about breast cancer, however with the changes in medication, the risk is the same as the general population risk. What was more important for me living in that moment was my quality of life, family life and my work was being affected and for me, that was not something I was willing to just ‘cope’ with. 

Since starting HRT (which I started on my 42nd birthday – one of the best presents I have bought myself) all of the above symptoms have returned to ‘normal’. My hair is coming in thick and fast, I am sleeping through the night, and thankfully my ‘zombie’ feelings have gone. I did cry a fair bit in the first month but I have returned to my normal, only-cry- when-dogs-die-in-movies or someone-wins-a-gold-medal crying level. My memory has returned to ‘normal’ which I can live with, I mean I have made it 42 years with living off second hand memories so I am ok with that. I can remember what clients I saw yesterday and could even tell you why they saw me (albeit I won’t – privacy and all). I am re-engaged in activity and life, and importantly I am comfortable with my treatment decision and feeling my ‘normal’.

I encourage women to not be so dismissive and just put up with the ‘change’. I am highly offended when people, particularly men, dismiss women for being ‘emotional’, or ‘crazy’ when it comes to their hormones. We should be open about perimenopause, menstruation,and menopause. They are normal parts of life (and unfortunately can be costly and horrible experiences for some), however my experience is not going to be the same as my identical twin sisters experience, or anyone else’s for that matter. Educate yourself, discuss with your GP, speak to friends and family, make a decision around what you want and feel is suitable for you. It might just be the best way of keeping you, you.