One morning last week, I found myself lurching between wanting to cry or faint as I deliberately pricked my left middle finger with a lancet and painfully tried to ‘milk’ my blood into a tiny test tube.
Most of it dripped on the floor as I squeamishly tried to fill it to the required level. Once I had, it was to be sent off to be tested for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV.
I wasn’t worried I had an STI. Instead, it marked the latest step in the battle for me to get treatment for my menopause symptoms.
I despair that women have to go through so much just to get the help we need.
I’m 51, and have spent at least three years in denial that the menopause was creeping up on me.
In those years, I’ve dealt with the death of my mum and clearing the family home, all in the middle of pandemic lockdowns (beyond painful), then bringing back only the most precious of sentimental items to remember my family, only to lose virtually everything in the devastating London floods in July 2021.
It was hard to know where grief and trauma stopped and the crazy dark mood swings of menopause began.
Was constantly waking up with a racing heart and anxiety down to processing the trauma of the past few years? Was I regularly bursting into tears for reasons other than loss?
The hot flushes I could mostly cope with, working from home, but the brain fog and everything else started to hamper me doing my job. Luckily, my relationship has always been great as my partner is hugely understanding and we talk about everything.
All of this is still impacting me hugely, but it was only after finally moving back to our rebuilt flat this summer that I began to realise these symptoms could all be down to my menopause transition.
After filling out the excellent free medical questionnaire at online health service My Menopause Centre, it confirmed I was perimenopausal so I decided to talk to my doctor about it.
The hoops you have to jump through to be prescribed treatment – like having unnecessary STI tests – mean women are left waiting
I managed to finally get an appointment, and as I’ve been on the mini pill for years, he recommended a Mirena coil followed by an oestrogen gel prescription, which I should book myself to get fitted via family planning.
He told me he preferred not to prescribe HRT when women were still on a mini pill (so as not to add even more hormones into the mix). He suggested the coil, which could be used as part of the progesterone bit of HRT and then oestrogen gel for the other bit.
Cue trying – and failing – online to get an appointment to have my coil fitted at any local clinic, with no available appointments listed even months in advance.
My GP then said he could refer me as a temporary patient to another practice, which could fit the coil – but only if I tested negative for chlamydia. I was sent a link to the Sexual Health London website to order the test, only to discover it was for HIV, syphilis and gonorrhoea, along with chlamydia.
Hence me hunched over my work table feebly squeezing my finger for a vial full of blood. I am so glad my partner of six years understands I’m having STIs tests to get HRT, and not cos I’ve been shagging around.
But who knows when I’ll actually get treated.
I won’t be prescribed the gel until I’ve had the Mirena fitted and even then there’s no guarantee that I can have one – not all women can, but they won’t know until they try.
As a recent report by the Menopause All-Party Parliamentary Group pointed out when they called for women to be invited for a menopause check-up when they turn 45, current menopause support is inadequate; and the Group’s chair, MP Carolyn Harris, highlighted the many ways in which the enduring menopause taboo can impact relationships and careers.
There are some brilliant free resources out there when it comes to identifying menopause symptoms and it’s great that we’re all talking about them, but awareness of ‘The Change’ isn’t the issue here.
What is the issue is the level of support available. It’s an uphill struggle from the first time you try and get a GP appointment.
The hoops you have to jump through to be prescribed treatment – like having unnecessary STI tests – mean women are left waiting.
Some of us can barely afford the prescription costs on the NHS. Even getting our hands on HRT is a challenge with supply shortages causing delays.
Obviously, I know many women have it a lot worse and remain undiagnosed and untreated for years, and the NHS is wildly underfunded.
But it seems mad that I have to test for HIV to get HRT.
I am one of the 13million women in the UK currently going through perimenopause or the menopause and I agree with the Menopause APPG – current menopause support in the UK isn’t even remotely adequate.
It might be Menopause Awareness Day, but it seems awareness is no longer enough when it comes to getting treatment.
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