Perry meets babe Susannah Conway, writer, photographer, and teacher. Susannah has noticed perimenopause symptoms at age 44 and has shared with us her perimenopause discovery and life with perimenopause since then.
1. Susannah, so great to have you, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Glad to be here! I’m a writer, photographer, and teacher and I’ve been working — and sharing my heart — online for over a decade. I teach creative courses to people all over the world and have had three books published, including This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart (2012) and LONDONTOWN: A Photographic Tour of the City’s Delights (2016). I live in London and share my life with a very beautiful cat called Cat.
2. What was your AHA moment when you realized: holy f I am in perimenopause?
I’m 46 and for the last three years my sleep has been completely wrecked but I didn’t realize this could have been linked to perimenopause. In all my doctor appointments about my sleep no-one ever noted my age and asked me about my periods. I’ve tried everything to fix my sleep: acupuncture, allergy testing, an air purifier, anti-allergy bedding, yin yoga, a new mattress, antidepressants, sleeping pills, lavender oil, magnesium, supplements, the works. It was only when my periods started becoming irregular earlier this year that I realized it could be linked to perimenopause.
Recently I decided to go see a doctor who specialises in menopause (a private appointment, not on the NHS) and that’s when I discovered I have 11 symptoms related to perimenopause.
3. What would you have liked to have known before entering perimenopause?
I would have liked to have known that perimenopause can start in your early 40s. I’d always assumed that menopause was something that happened in your 50s. I remember mentioning my sleep issues in a newsletter I sent out to my community a few years back and one kind soul replied saying it sounded like perimenopause.
I had a HUGE reaction to this — how could I possibly be menopausal when I’m only 44?!
Of course, she was absolutely right but it took me another two years to join the dots and get informed. If I’d have known the journey starts in your 40s I would have known what to look out for. It’s not just hot flushes! In fact, I haven’t had a hot flush yet. There are 34+ possible symptoms and we’ll each have out own unique combination. I only recently found out that perimenopause is the reason my allergies have gotten worse!
4. What is the most positive side effect of being perimenopausal?
Honestly? Nothing feels positive about it currently but that’s because my symptoms have had a debilitating impact on my life. Inability to sleep through the night, restless legs, and brain fog are my worst and after three years of struggle — and everything seems to be getting worse now my menstrual cycle is shifting — I’ve started taking HRT. It’s only been four weeks but already I’m sleeping more deeply. After three years this feels like a freaking miracle.
5. What are your life hacks to make perimenopause an awesome ride?
Our bodies are going through massive change and we need to look after them. I’ve given up caffeine and don’t drink alcohol and that definitely helps. I eat really well and drink lots of water — in fact, staying well hydrated definitely impacts the quality of my sleep. It’s been hard to exercise when I haven’t been sleeping but now the HRT is kicking in I want to ease back into yoga and Pilates again. Anything we can do to stay healthy and keep our car well-oiled helps. Mentally I find meditation and journaling help me stay connected to myself.
6. Advice for other perimenopausal babes?
Get informed. Read books and websites and learn about what’s happening to your body. Some women breeze through perimenopause without a symptom but they’re the lucky ones. Most of us will have some combination of symptoms. I attended a workshop on women’s hormonal health last year and I remember hearing that women who struggle with PMS will often have a difficult perimenopause too. That’s certainly been the case for me. Knowing that I’m not going mad and that other women struggle with this too has really helped.
Also, don’t be afraid to investigate HRT. I was adamant I wanted to do this the “natural way” until I realized just how much it was impacting my life and work.
I’m self-employed and if I can’t work I can’t pay my bills. I did my research and know that HRT is the right choice for me.
7. How can we as a community break this last taboo, so that no woman has to go through this in silence?
We can talk about it more and share our stories with each other. Share about it publicly, too. We’re getting so much better at talking about menstruation and peri/menopause is a part of that.