There's been a lot written about the menopause recently - it's the new break-the-taboo subject to write about, with a whole load of different angles being discussed, explored and exposed.
As a newly initiated peri-menopausal woman - and one who writes, commissions and edits a fair number of articles on this subject - I felt I was relatively well-informed about what to expect.
It happened slowly at first. The burning bed syndrome - waking at 3am masked in sweat and feeling like the bed beneath me was on fire was unpleasant but not unexpected; ditto not being able to regulate my temperature in the office, but this was easily fixed and I'd taken to ditching the manmade fabrics and wearing lots of thin layers and having a warming scarf to hand at all times.
So far. So expected. Then I washed my hair and huge clumps came out - the only time I've seen such dramatic tufts was when my mother's hair started falling out during chemo. A quick google and it transpires that this is sometimes listed as a menopausal side effect.
Then I woke in the night with leg cramps and back cramps - if that's even possible - so painful I was in tears in the darkness. Compound that with itchy skin - so sensitive my body felt like crumpled and scratchy crepe paper - liable to tear at any moment.
Then all my nails broke - one by one the nails on my hand flaked away, then on my toes, splitting like they had once done during puberty.
And then there was my changing body shape. As a candid friend once joked, I've always had the potential to be big but have fought it with varying degrees of success up till now. But all of a sudden I developed the classic muffin top - turning from a relatively shapely figure into a barrel in a matter of months despite eating less and walking more.
The final straw was what is dismissively described as mood swings. By that term I had imagined a variant on the PMT-scale, not a full blown, personal plumbing to depths of which I've never experienced before. A sense of overwhelm, anxiety, brain-fuzziness and yes I'll say the word - depression. I don't suffer from depression, so don't know what it actually feels like, but this was, for sure, the closest I've ever felt to understanding it. I felt detached from the world, unable to take part in any of the joy surrounding me, until my daughter said she hadn't seen me smile in a week. I don't mean to conflate those who suffer real depression with the symptoms I experienced as I'm guessing it was more caused by my hormonal changes but oh my! It was brutal. A few days and lots of tears later, I was 'back in the room' but it's safe to say, I'm not looking forward to the next episode of that.
I've shared my experience with a few friends and on some social channels only to discover that almost every woman my age is struggling with several of the above symptoms to vary degrees of severity.
One comment which sticks in my mind is that it's like some kind of cruel joke. You go through puberty, recalibrate, go through pregnancy, recalibrate, go through breastfeeding recalibrate, return to work, recalibrate and now just as things seem to be on the cusp of settling into a routine where children can sleep through the night, you're holding down a half decent (or better) job and beginning to feel like you have a grip on life again, the rug has once again been pulled from under your feet. Cue recalibrate. Again.
For now I'm popping evening primrose supplements with meticulous regularity and I shall be looking at the various medical options but so far, my best consolation has been hugs from my partner and children, talking to them and my friends, and realising I'm not going mad, not losing the plot, but just going through the next phase in this complicated life.
This is perhaps the most depressing list of the year I've come across so far.. They're not kidding about 40 either, I count myself as having, at various times, at least 24 of these so far! No wonder some days are a struggle.
1. Hot flushes
2. Cold Flushes
3. Night Sweats
4. Feeling Clammy
5. Heart Palpitations
7. Mood Swings
8. Difficulty Sleeping
9. Irregular Periods
10. Low Sex Drive
11. Dry Vagina
15. Lack of Focus
16. Poor Concentration
17. Faulty Memory
19. Itch, crawly skin
20. Achy muscles and Joints
21. Tense Muscles
22. Sore Breasts
24. Digestive Issues
26. Exacerbated Allergies
27. Weight Gain
28. Hair Loss/ Thinning
29. Increased Facial Hair
32. Changed Body Odour
33. Electric Shock Feelings
34. Tingling Extremities
35. Bleeding Gums
36. Burning Tongue or Roof of Mouth
37. Bad Breath
39. Weakened Fingernails
40. Tinnitus (ringing in your ears)