When Elizabeth Carr-Ellis went back to the GP with an array of symptoms doctors and tests couldn’t figure out, she was finally told the Menopause was to blame. But why are the symptoms of menopause not known and the information not readily shared in practices?
This is an edited version of an article first published by The Independent
Sitting in the waiting room, ahead of a GP appointment, I could feel myself getting angry. Everywhere I looked were posters about the signs of a heart attack, or how to act FAST when a stroke happens; others about breastfeeding and ante-natal clinics and vaccinations. Not one was for the reason I was there: the menopause.
Over the past four years, I’ve been to the doctors with palpitations, hair loss, anxiety, mood swings, aching joints – each a classic menopause symptom. Each time I’d be sent away with a prescription that worked short-term, or a blood test that showed nothing wrong. Once I was even given an ECG stress test, which I passed with flying colours.
My periods were becoming irregular and I had hot flushes, so I knew I was peri-menopausal. But I had no idea everything else I’d been suffering was connected.
When I did get a diagnosis – after breaking down in the doctor’s reception following a week of no sleep – my GP printed off four or five sheets of A4 about menopause, searching for the file on his computer while the clock ticked down our appointment time. The print-out explained too late what I’d been going through. I quickly put it in the recycling.
The lack of readily available information was astounding; after all, menopause will affect 51 per cent of the population to some degree. But after writing about my experience on my blog, 50Sense.net, I learnt that few women knew about the symptoms – beyond hot flushes. We’re hit with a wall of silence until it’s too late.
So I wasn’t surprised that it took until this week for doctors to announce that a decades-old procedure – removing and freezing ovarian tissue before re-inserting it later – could also help with menopause symptoms by allowing women to delay it.
As far as women’s health is concerned, it seems that menopause is an afterthought – something we ‘just have to get through.’
Rage is another menopause symptom and that day in the GP’s office, looking at posters for conditions I may never suffer, it hit me hard. “Right,” I said, “if the NHS won’t give women a bloody poster about menopause, I will.”
My plan was simple: create a poster and get it shared on social media to highlight the lack of information. Allyson Shields, a graphic designer I have previously worked with, took my vague brief – “I want it kick-ass and colourful” – and delivered a design that went beyond my wildest dreams.
I knew some women on Twitter who had also spoken about the lack of information and asked them to be involved. They didn’t hesitate.
And so ‘Pausitivity’ was born, launching last month with us sharing selfies, showing the poster and explaining why we were campaigning. We encouraged others to download the poster and share their own photos, with the tag #KnowYourMenopause.
I didn’t sleep the night before. Here we were, a group of midlife women who had never met, trying to make the NHS listen. This was going to be a disaster, surely?
But my notifications never stopped pinging. Within the first week we had the backing of the Scottish government, with equalities and older people minister Christina McKelvie wanting the poster for their new period and menopause policy, and inviting Karen Kenning (our campaigner in Scotland), to Holyrood to be involved in their menopause awareness sessions.
MPs began joining in, tweeting photos of themselves with the poster and putting it on display in their offices.
We’re now discussing an event in parliament for World Menopause Day in October – a highly surreal thought for a woman brought up in the back streets of Byker.
In addition, we’ve had councillors, police chiefs, trade unions, city councils, hospitals, health trusts, authors, TV presenters, actresses, comedians, beauticians, therapists and more give their support.
But in truth, it is the GPs getting involved that has made us happiest.
Along with TV doctors such as Sarah Jarvis, we’ve had tweets, retweets and selfies from all over – one even in Texas.
Seeing GPs with the posters has shown us how desperately they are needed. If I had seen a KnowYourMenopause poster in the waiting room, I could have realised the common thread between all my complaints, saving myself worry and frustration and the NHS all those pointless blood tests and prescriptions.
After only five weeks, we’re discussing how to take Pausitivity further to help more women. It’s tiring and an emotional rollercoaster, but menopause also has one other side effect that no one mentions: it can make you feel invincible. That’s why we won’t rest until every GP has our poster in their office.