As Lisa Snowdon, 49, launches the Fabulous Menopause Matters campaign, she reveals how she battled everything from rage to loss of libido.
Plus, she talks to two women about finding the light at the end of the tunnel.
As told to Rosie Gizauskas & Rosie Hopegood
Waking up at 3am, my heart was racing with anxiety and the bedsheet was soaked with sweat.
All I wanted was the old Lisa back, but I was deep in the perimenopause, aged 47, and felt like I’d lost her.
Around 13 million women in the UK are menopausal or perimenopausal – that’s a third of the female population – so it’s a huge issue, and yet it’s still shrouded in secrecy.
We speak about periods and having babies, but not the M word, and that needs to change.
That’s why I’m so proud to be launching the Fabulous Menopause Matters campaign, which aims to make HRT free for all women through the NHS, get a menopause policy that supports staff in every workplace, and to get both women and men speaking more openly about the menopause.
It’s such an important issue and affects not just women but their partners and families, too.
According to the British Menopause Society, over half of women say the menopause has negatively impacted their lives – for 51% this was their sex lives and for 45% their career.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but I became perimenopausal back in 2016 when I was just 43.
The average age for a woman to start the menopause is 51, and I had no idea that perimenopause can begin as early as your mid-30s.
I was wiped out – and my periods became irregular, sometimes light, other times heavy, leaving me bleeding through a tampon in 15 minutes, and terrified to sit on the train to work.
I did I’m A Celebrity! in November 2016, and to cope with my painful, heavy periods my GP put me on the contraceptive pill, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to do the show.
The menopause still wasn’t suggested as a cause.
I assumed it was still years away – I didn’t know at the time, though, that my mum Lydia, 68, went through the menopause in her 40s.
In 2017, aged 44, I began to really pile on weight – around 3st over the next year or so – and I was having brain fog, anxiety, and real fits of rage.
In 2018, I went to the doctor for blood tests, which was when I got the bombshell that I was perimenopausal.
According to the British Menopause Society, over half of women say the menopause has negatively impacted their lives
It all finally made sense, but it was hard to process.
Though it’s still possible for some women to have a baby in perimenopause, I knew my partner [George Smart, 43, an entrepreneur] and I probably wouldn’t be able to have a biological child now.
We’d discussed it in the past, but hadn’t started trying, so I knew we’d have to explore other options in the future if we did want to become parents.
George was brilliant about it and told me we could look into alternative ways in the future. It was a lot to come to terms with.
The doctor put me on HRT with a bioidentical progesterone cream that I could apply to my inner arm, and for the next 18 months things improved.
My periods and anxiety settled down and my energy levels came back a bit.
But by the start of 2020, I was suffering from insomnia and the worst hot flushes.
George was so supportive, but I just felt horrific and felt totally unsexy, with intimacy the furthest thing from my mind.
I just felt horrific and felt totally unsexy, with intimacy the furthest thing from my mind
Last March, I was finally prescribed oestrogen as well as body-identical, much cheaper progesterone, and it was like a miracle.
Within three months, the hot flushes and brain fog calmed down and I began to feel like me.
I also started working with Naomi Potter – AKA @drmenopausecare – to help women going through the changes I had.
Finding the right HRT has given me my life back. I’ve got va-va-voom and confidence, and it’s a bonus that I feel attractive and sexy again, which has been so important for my relationship.
At the moment I’m using an oestrogen spray, a progesterone pill, as well as testosterone.
I also love the new Prai Beauty MenoGlow range, especially the Ultra Rejuvenating Sleep Mask, which gives my skin a glow if it’s feeling dry.
I do a mix of cardio and weight training to get mood-boosting endorphins flooding my body, and I try to limit caffeine, because it can set my anxiety off.
I lucked out with George being so understanding, but I’m very aware that it could be totally different, and this is why it’s so important that we educate men about the menopause, too.
Now, I feel amazing. I’m going to be 50 in January, and it’s been a year since I last had a period, so I’m officially menopausal
When I spoke to Cate and Katie about their experiences for this report, it became clear that every woman has a totally different journey.
Now, I feel amazing. I’m going to be 50 in January, and it’s been a year since I last had a period, so I’m officially menopausal.
It’s a relief to not have periods or pain any more – it’s like a new chapter of my life is starting.
I want other women out there to know that it can be the same for them, too.
Fabulous Menopause Matters
An estimated one in five of the UK’s population are currently experiencing it.
Yet the menopause is still whispered in hush tones like it’s something to be embarrassed about.
The stigma attached to the transition means women have been suffering in silence for centuries.
The Sun are determined to change that, launching the Fabulous Menopause Matters campaign to give the taboo a long-awaited kick, and get women the support they need.
The campaign has three aims:
To make HRT free in England
To get every workplace to have a menopause policy to provide support
To bust taboos around the menopause
The campaign has been backed by a host of influential figures including Baroness Karren Brady CBE, celebrities Lisa Snowdon, Jane Moore, Michelle Heaton, Zoe Hardman, Saira Khan, Trisha Goddard, as well as Carolyn Harris MP, Jess Phillips MP, Caroline Nokes MP and Rachel Maclean MP.
Exclusive research commissioned by Fabulous, which surveyed 2,000 British women aged 45-65 who are going through or have been through the menopause, found that 49% of women suffered feelings of depression, while 7% felt suicidal while going through the menopause.
50% of respondents said there is not enough support out there for menopausal women, which is simply not good enough.
It’s time to change that.
‘My partner left me’
Cate Boyd, 47, runs a supplement business and lives in Lancashire with her daughter, 17, and son, 15.
Lying in bed, I could barely lift my head off the pillow. I’d been hit with a sadness that was so overwhelming, it felt paralysing.
Aged 38, I was going through the menopause, but I didn’t realise it, putting my mood down to the break-up with my ex Greg*, then 36, who I’d been with for two years.
Greg really wanted kids, and while I had two from a previous relationship, I agreed to try.
But I struggled to get pregnant, and tests in May 2014 revealed that at 38, I had the egg count of a 42 year old, which would make it hard to conceive. Greg left me soon after.
I spent months sobbing at the drop of a hat. I’d worked for 20 years as a lawyer and expected people to leave their emotions at home, but I’d sit at work in tears, which was mortifying.
As a single parent, I had to hold things together, though – bills needed paying and the kids needed me. Luckily, my parents could also help.
My GP prescribed antidepressants that October, but they made me feel worse, and I was signed off work.
I found it hard to get out of bed, I had hot sweats and brain fog, my memory was hazy and I felt like I couldn’t do simple tasks.
My periods had been getting lighter, and by December they’d stopped. A blood test confirmed I was menopausal, and even though I knew my mum Patsy had hers at 40, it was a shock.
Thankfully, my GP offered HRT right away and I didn’t think twice – I’d have done anything to pick myself up.
Within two weeks, my mood lifted, my hot flushes went and I had more energy.
I resigned from my job in law in January 2015 – I couldn’t face going back – and retrained as a PT.
It was terrifying taking a pay cut, but I had to turn my life around. Seven years on, I’m a world away from the woman who couldn’t get out of bed.
I run a women’s nutrition supplement company, and though the depression lingers, I take care of myself with lots of exercise to stop it sneaking back in.
My big regret is not going on HRT sooner, as I could have avoided so much unnecessary suffering.
What is the menopause and what age does it usually start?
Menopause is a natural part of ageing, which usually happens when a woman is between the age of 45 and 55.
In the UK, the average age for a woman to go through menopause is 51.
It occurs when oestrogen levels in the body start to decline.During this time periods become less frequent or they can suddenly stop, and after menopause occurs women will be unable to become pregnant naturally.
Around one in 100 women experience menopause before the age of 40, and this is known as premature ovarian insufficiency or premature menopause.
Many celebrities have spoken out about their own experiences, including Lisa Snowdon, Davina McCall, Michelle Heaton and Zoe Hardman.
What are the symptoms?
Menopausal symptoms can start months or years before your periods stop, and can last until four years or longer after your last period.
Changing or irregular periods
Difficulty in sleeping
Anxiety and loss of confidence
Low mood, irritability and depression
Vaginal dryness or discomfort during sex
Reduced libido (sex drive)
Problems with concentration or memory
‘I started the menopause in my 20s’
Katie Ayres, 28, is a nanny and horse-riding instructor from Ludlow.
Listening to the doctor’s diagnosis, my heart plummeted. Aged 24, the menopause hadn’t even crossed my mind.
I knew I wanted to start a family one day, so it was a brutal shock.
I’d had irregular periods for as long as I could remember, but I put it down to having the contraceptive implant.
For several months before my diagnosis in November 2018, I’d been having hot flushes and feeling exhausted.
Recovery was so gruelling that I barely registered when my periods stopped
I thought these were side effects from a serious horse-riding accident I’d had in May 2017, which had left me bedridden with several broken vertebrae.
Recovery was so gruelling that I barely registered when my periods stopped.
But as I got back on my feet, I couldn’t ignore the hot flushes and low energy. I’d previously run marathons, but now I felt knackered all the time.
Tests revealed I had premature ovarian Insufficiency (POI) and that I was going through the menopause.
No one in my family had suffered from this, and although the doctors said it could have been brought on by the trauma of my accident, I couldn’t get my head around it.
Dreams of meeting someone and starting a family suddenly seemed out of reach.
The doctor recommended HRT, so I signed up to see a specialist at the Online Menopause Centre (OMC), and was given a treatment plan containing estradiol, progesterone and testosterone.
Within six weeks I was feeling more like my old self.
I’ve had time now to make peace with everything. I think of myself as quite strong and most of the time I feel OK, but I do have my down days – like when friends announce a pregnancy, and I feel really sad.
I recently started looking into how many eggs I have left to see if there’s a chance of freezing any of them.
It’s expensive at £12,000, but my family have offered to help. One doctor is optimistic, but if it’s not successful, I wouldn’t rule out an egg donor or adoption.
My sister Maggie, eight, is adopted, so I know it can be a wonderful experience.
I recently started dating a guy who’s been really supportive. Telling a new boyfriend can be scary, but I prefer to be open.
Sometimes I wonder why this happened to me. But I’m proud of how strong it’s made me, and I’ll never let the menopause define me.
*Name has been changed
Photography: Mollie Rose/Kintzing
Visit Cate’s website at Prettypea.blog.