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‘I was so full of rage, I couldn’t stand to be near my family’

Marina Gask, 60, a journalist and copywriter from south London, found her family relationships suffered when she became menopausal, especially when a particular symptom took over her life. But in the end it was being more open with her husband and sons that really helped.

“The main thing I remember about the menopause is the sense of isolation and feelings of rage. Whatever they did, I felt disproportionately angry and upset with my husband and two teenage sons. They were probably just being their usual (sometimes thoughtless) selves, but I constantly felt hurt and full of irrational anger. Why didn’t they understand how I was feeling? Why didn’t they seem to care?

I was 48 when the perimenopausal symptoms started – the irregular periods, the frequent sense of ‘overheating’, day and night, and the itchy, aggravated skin. I was anxious and emotionally all over the place. A visit to the doctor and a blood test confirmed that I was perimenopausal. I didn’t consider taking HRT as, at the time, there was still a lot of fear over the risks of taking it – the links to breast cancer – so I decided to just put up with it, like my mum had.

But the skin problem soon got out of hand. Around my fiftieth birthday my neck was covered in an angry red rash which gradually spread to my whole body. It was maddeningly itchy especially at night, keeping me awake. My doctor was sympathetic but baffled.

Eventually, after a referral from my doctor, a dermatologist told me it was a menopause-related rash linked to psoriasis, which I had a history of, and had probably been triggered by an allergic reaction. There was nothing they could do, the hospital told me, apart from give me soothing skin creams to cool my skin until the rash disappeared of its own accord. I took sedatives so I could sleep at night.

At the time I was editing a magazine and had to avoid wearing anything man-made as it aggravated my skin. I was self-conscious about the way I looked – the rash was very visible on my neck and impossible to hide. It was hard to get through the day, and when I got home, I’d just want to be alone. We’d just converted our loft into a bedroom, and I found myself hiding up there, grumpily watching TV or having a little cry.

It was easier this way, as day to day I’d fly off the handle or get tearful at the slightest thing. To make matters worse, my eldest was 15 at the time, so he was dealing with his own hormones. We often clashed. He was doing mocks for his GCSEs, and I wanted to be supportive and to encourage him to put the work in, but when I tried, it all came out wrong. We just didn’t seem to be able to communicate in a normal way.

Living in an all-male household made me feel isolated during this period. I found it hard to talk to the boys about the menopause. I’d never talked to them about my feelings much before, having always just been ‘Mum’, and it was hard to get them to understand that I wasn’t OK (and that it wasn’t ‘serious’ but I still needed their understanding). It sounds mad now, but I suppose I didn’t want to embarrass them by talking about the menopause, so I just clammed up, which must have been weird for them. I knew I was behaving irrationally but just couldn’t help myself.

At first, I couldn’t even share how I was feeling with my husband. Obviously, he was aware of the itchy rash, but how I felt inside was another matter. I just felt choked up and tearful or anxious or angry all the time, but I couldn’t articulate why, even though he is a pretty understanding person.

It was hard to articulate the emotional rollercoaster I was on. I think it was confusing for him – I really wasn’t myself – but eventually I found the words to describe what was going on in my head. I really wish I’d been more open about it all from the outset, because he was so supportive, and made sure the boys understood what was going on too. They gave me my space – but also brought me the occasional cup of tea.

After a couple of months, with the help of some treatment from an acupuncturist, the rash subsided, and life became a bit more normal. But it took a while longer for the menopausal symptoms to recede. Luckily, I’d read somewhere that exercise is a really good way to help manage the symptoms and had taken up running. Taking my dog for a jog in the woods a few mornings a week became a major part of my routine. It helped enormously, especially with balancing my moods.

I was 52 when my periods stopped for good, as did all the symptoms. I’m now 60 and still running three times a week. I’ve learnt to be more open with my emotions, and my relationship with my husband and sons is much better too, thank goodness. And they certainly all know what the menopause is now too…’.

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