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Julie Kneafsey

Julie Kneafsey is a writer and content creator best known for her Instagram channel @thefiftyist where she talks about everything from pro-ageing and life after breast cancer to silver haircare and clean beauty. At 55 her mission is to stay visible and challenge society's age-related expectations – while having fun along the way. She lives with her husband and puppy, Bramley, in the Somerset countryside.

1. The best thing about the menopause…

It’s an open gateway to what’s turning out to be the most exciting part of my life. I love that my body’s freeing itself from the hormonal constraints it’s been tied by for so long. Nature’s regular emotional cycles have ceased and I am enjoying the freedom from those roller-coaster waves; there’s peace to be found in that. Plus, bonus…sex at any time with no period or pregnancy worries!

As well as the physical aspect, I feel more sorted mentally. I have more life experience to draw on than ever before, I feel able to make choices that work for me and not just others and menopause is my final hurdle if you like: one I feel I’m almost on the other side of.

Also, in moving into this third chapter of my life where time becomes more precious, I am motivated to write my own narrative, be my own advocate and ultimately step out of my fear of what others think.

That’s been massive for me and encouraged me last year to completely change life direction, from working with children with special educational needs to focusing on creative pursuits such as writing and social media.

 

2. The hardest thing about the menopause is….

I’ve been on a hormonal roller-coaster ride since my first breast cancer episode at 34 when chemo really messed things up. Then came the menopause: I had my last period in 2013 and felt fine for the first couple of years but it was a slow descent culminating at a very low point in 2020 when I wasn’t sure how I could go on.  I thought menopause was just about hot flushes and the end of your periods.  I didn’t expect the brain fog which was horrendous – memory loss, confusion, deep feelings of embarrassment – imposter syndrome on a huge scale. I had crippling anxiety, paranoia and a huge loss of confidence, tiredness, heart palpitations, lack of sleep – you name it.  I didn’t know what was happening, I just thought I wasn’t handling everything, that it was my fault entirely. My relationship and job were suffering too – casualties of the perfect meno-storm!

If there had been an earlier protocol in place to warn me about the symptoms and offer support, I feel I wouldn’t have reached the low place I did.

 

3. My lightbulb moment was….

Coming across some menopause information on social media in 2020 and realising that what I was feeling was caused by hormonal changes. I saw lists of symptoms that mirrored mine completely and realised that this is a chemical withdrawal and not my fault. I started to understand that I can’t hurry it or stop it, just that I must do something about it myself. Because I’ve had breast cancer (I had a second diagnosis last year but am now cancer-free) I can’t have HRT so this meant I had to find other ways to help myself.  As well as a very supportive family and friendship group, my good fortune led me to the wonderful Dani Binnington – a menopause coach and awesome role model who had also been through the same breast cancer treatment and who gave me the support and resources I needed.

Encouraged by Dani, I signed up for breast cancer counselling which inadvertently supported my menopause journey as well. Talking to someone has made all the difference and allowed me to start coming to terms with what happened and why.

 

4. My selfcare superhero is…..

I can’t say one – there are so many helpful things out there! Here are my top three…

(1) Exercise

This has been so good for me. I wasn’t in the best shape earlier this year and decided to start an online Instagram challenge and see who would join me. Turns out, lots of brilliant women were up for it and it’s gone on from there.  Having this support and connection with women has been brilliant and I’m amazed at how much more positive I feel. I now love exercising and using my body every day, even if it’s just a walk.

(2) A Gluten-free diet

Having had many digestion-related issues over the years I finally chose to go gluten free as I realised that when I ate gluten, my menopausal brain fog was worse. Turns out I was right – what a difference! Clearer thoughts make life navigation so much easier.

(3) Having patience

Menopause is a long game. Once it starts, there really is no choice but to accept it the way it is and work with it rather than against it. Meditation (Calm app is brilliant!) has helped immensely with my racing frustrated brain and given me strategies to employ when I’m feeling anxious.

 

5. I couldn’t live without…

Vaginal hormone cream – absolutely a game-changer for me and the only HRT I am allowed. Being comfortable in your nethers is so important!

 

To get involved in Julie’s fitness challenges, gen up on silver-hair insider tips or for clean-living inspo head to @thefiftyist 

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