Andrea McLean Confesses to Hot Flush - about her menopause, her book & a little more!
This Girl Is On Fire!
Andrea McLean has been open about her early menopause. She's an inspiration to many women, encouraging them to get talking about menopause meaning that it's no longer the last taboo.
She was very up for sharing her experiences with Hot Flush, imparting helpful tips and clearing up a few misconceptions in recent media coverage.
We've got three copies of Andrea McLean's 'Confessions of a Menopausal Woman' to give away to Hot Flush followers. Find full details of our competition at the end of this article.
HF: When you started having symptoms of perimenopause in your mid-30s, did you know what was happening, or was it more of a slow realisation? Do you think awareness is improving?
Andrea: I was aware that it could be the peri-menopause because my mum started going through the menopause at 40. My symptoms kicked in in earnest in my early 40’s, and I knew I wasn’t ‘myself’ – terrible night sweats, hot flushes during the day, mood swings and irritability were all signs. I’m usually a pretty patient, steady Eddie, so this wasn’t right at all.
HF: After going into immediate surgical menopause at 46, you’ve said you were plunged into physical and psychological fallout. What three things do you wish you’d known in advance?
Andrea: It’s not so much what I wish I’d known, as I had read up on what ‘might’ happen in the practical sense, but for me I wish I’d known what things would ‘feel’ like. Words like brain fog, low energy, anxiety are just that – words. Until someone describes how they feel, you don’t know if they relate to you. So to me, that’s why I wanted to write the book, so women had a reference pint of “Oh I feel like that too! So this must be normal!” and that instantly makes you feel better, and less alone or like you’re going mad. In terms of three things that I would love other women to know, it is that exercise, diet and mindfulness are not just airy-fairy new-age nonsense that women with too much time on their hands are able to indulge in. We can all take more care to look at the food we eat, to see if it is helping us feel better by giving us the vitamins and minerals our changing body needs. It’s odd, as mums we make sure babies have what they need as their bodies are changing and growing, but somehow we don’t think it applies to us any more! It’s absolutely NOT about going on a diet, it’s about including foods that help you – and yes, it’s the usual stuff like oily fish, pulses and green veg.
Anxiety is one of the most common side effects of the menopause, and one of the most debilitating, because it affects us physically as well as mentally. We mentally feel drained, unable to cope, overwhelmed, useless, tearful, angry and low, which physically manifests itself in lethargy and exhaustion. Mindfulness and meditation really does help, it gives your brain a chance to stop whirring around, grabbing on to anxious thoughts and spiralling streams of consciousness by giving it something else to focus on for a while. That in itself is such a relief, and a huge help.
And as humans, we KNOW we aren’t designed to sit around all day staring at our phones or a computer screen. We are meant to move, even if it’s just going for a walk in the fresh air, stretching after we have been sitting down for a long time or pushing ourselves harder by going for a run or an exercise class – it all helps our bodies and minds stay healthy.
HF: Nutrition is so important in managing menopause. As a self-professed sugar addict, you’ve cut it out. What benefits did you notice and how long did it take for them to kick in?
Andrea: I have been on and off the sugar wagon for years! I kicked it before I had my hysterectomy, and once I’d got over the initial week or so I didn’t think about it at all. I lasted really well, almost a year, and then I thought “Ooh, I’m sure one bit of cake won’t hurt…” and “What difference will a few sweets make?” and bang! I fell off the wagon. I’m half a stone heavier, beating myself up about it, and wishing I wasn’t so weak! I am in the process of trying to give up again, because I know I feel better physically – more energy, less of a slump in the afternoon, and bizarrely, less hungry for snacks. I’m a work in progress, just like everyone else.
HF: You manage your symptoms with a range of natural remedies and HRT. What’s a top natural remedy for you?
Andrea: I don’t necessarily think there is a ‘top’ natural remedy, because there is a no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to the menopause. It’s a matter of finding what works for you, in terms of diet, vitamin supplements and natural remedies such as Evening Primrose Oil, Red Clover and Black Cohosh. You know your body better than anyone else, so find what works for you.
HF: You’ve said your worst nightmare would be an oestrogen hormone shortage. Did you have any reservations about trying HRT?
Andrea: No I didn’t. My mum had had a really good experience with it, which I’m sure helped me subliminally, but I also trusted my doctor, who reassured me that I was fine to take it. Then I felt the difference it made, and was very happy that I’d decided to go on it. It’s a personal choice though, and HRT is not suitable for everyone, whether it’s through choice or otherwise.
HF: The M badge idea stirred up quite a media storm. Were you surprised by the reaction?
Andrea: I was really surprised. What I’d actually said during an interview about the menopause was that one winter’s morning I’d seen a woman overheating on a cold train yanking the window open, and I could understand what she was doing, as I could tell she was having a hot flush, but other passengers couldn’t and thought she was mad. We spoke about having badges like pregnant women do, and I was asked if I thought that a badge for the menopause might be a good idea. I said sure, it could be if it helped people understand and make allowances for needing a window open on a freezing cold day.
The whole thing blew up into a media frenzy, and at first I was horrified. Then I stepped back, and looked at the bigger picture, which was that EVERYONE was talking about the menopause. It made the news, radio shows, TV shows, everyone was talking about: “Should women wear an M badge?”. And I looked beyond the fact that the hook was ridiculous – no one SHOULD wear anything! If you WANT to wear one, then go for it, but I would never tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do. Despite the misconception, the fact that a story about the menopause went viral is something I’m pleased about, because it means people are talking about a subject that to me is the last taboo.
HF: What’s been the most surprising, touching or special thing that’s come out of writing ‘Confessions of a Menopausal Woman’?
Andrea: The conversation that it’s started. I love that women are getting in touch with me to tell me they have read my book and have realised they are not going crazy, that they have gone to the doctors and got the help they need, and that it resonated with them so much that they now don’t feel alone. That has been wonderful.
HF: What’s your key message for women facing early or sudden menopause?
Andrea:Keep a note of your symptoms so you have something concrete to go to the doctors with. Write down how you are feeling, mentally and physically, so that you an idea of timings – how long you have been feeling that way, if anything seems to trigger them, how long they last for, what helps make you feel better – that kind of thing. If HRT is something you are interested in, then ask your doctor about the options that could work for you. And, this is really important, if your doctor won’t listen to you or dismisses your symptoms as “just something women your age go through” get another doctor who is more understanding. Don’t suffer for any longer than you have to.
Andrea McLean has given us three copies of 'Confessions of a Menopausal Woman' for our Hot Flush followers. The three lucky winners will be chosen at random and announced on our Facebook page on Sunday 5th August 2018 at 8.00pm. Good luck all!
This competition has now closed. The three lucky winners were Yvonne from Ripon, Michelle from Merthyr Tydfil and Josey from London,