I’M a fairly good example of Mrs Average. I’m a happily married, 50-year-old mum of two teenage boys, with three dogs and a couple of guinea pigs, living in the beautiful north-east of Scotland. It’s not an earth-shattering existence, but I count myself as fortunate.

If you passed me in the street, you wouldn’t know that I’ve spent most of the last fortnight caught up in a frenzy of social media activity highlighting the symptoms of menopause.

As a front-page report in this section explained last week, the menopause is something that will affect every woman, yet so few are prepared for it. A third of us will go through menopause with no symptoms, another third will have a few symptoms, while the final group will have symptoms so severe they impact on all aspects of their lives, from family and relationships to their work lives and physical and mental wellbeing.

I fall into the last category.

It began in 2003, when, nine months after giving birth to my younger son, I had a hysterectomy. I had been bleeding continuously since giving birth and had always had gynae problems – both my pregnancies were difficult, with both my life and my babies’ lives in danger.

Despite being sad that, at the age of 34, I’d be unable to have any more children, I counted myself lucky for the two beautiful boys that I had and resigned myself to the news. I still had my ovaries and I was sent on my way with the advice that I would go into menopause “at the normal time”.

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I didn’t know when “the normal time was”, and to be honest, it didn’t occur to me to ask. It was a way off, surely, and nothing for me to worry about.

Except that, despite my hysterectomy, my periods continued. I didn’t think having periods after a hysterectomy was even possible and my mind was filled with all sorts of terrifying cancer-related scenarios. As a young mum with two small children to consider, my fear about what was happening was enormous.

I went to my GP after a couple of months, but he was very blunt and told me not to be ridiculous. “You can’t be having periods,” he said. “You’ve had your womb removed.” I felt incredibly stupid as I listened to him, as if I was somehow to blame for whatever was going on. Who could blame him for not believing me? I knew what was happening to me and yet I didn’t really believe or understand it myself. His reaction was upsetting and unhelpful and I left feeling frightened and confused, with no idea what was wrong.

I looked elsewhere for help. I googled “hysterectomy” and looked for information on bleeding after hysterectomy. The most relevant search led me to send an email to the British Menopause Society, but what was happening baffled them too. No one seemed able to help.

It was only when we moved to Germany, where my then husband was posted as part of the civil servant contingent for the Ministry of Defence, that I found a gynaecologist who was able to work out what was wrong. It turned out that a previous caesarean section had left some of my cervix scarred on to the side of my bladder and rather than risk any long-term complications by removing this, my hysterectomy surgeon had left it behind. Thankfully, I was able to have keyhole surgery to solve the problem.

Throughout all this, I started to experience symptoms I now recognise as being menopause-related. I suffered hot flushes so severe I would be left embarrassingly drenched. There were low moods and insomnia so debilitating that I struggled by on between two to three hours’ sleep each night. Add to that fatigue, sore joints, heart palpitations, brain fog, dizziness, headaches.

I didn’t know what was happening to me and, more worryingly, the doctors I went to see didn’t either. There was always an explanation for each symptom, but never a look at the symptoms as a package.

The sweats were because we lived in Riyadh, even when I argued that I kept my home air conditioning set to Glasgow temperatures. When the flushes continued in Germany, I was treated for hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) and everything dried up except the flushes!

My insomnia, I was told, was because I had two small children and nobody gets much sleep when they have small children. The insomnia continued until last year.

I was told all I was suffering was an anxious reaction to continuing to have periods after my hysterectomy. But even after that was resolved, the symptoms remained.

No matter what symptom I went with, I was given a seemingly reasonable explanation as to why I was suffering from it. I didn’t know anything about menopause to enable me to recognise what was happening.

Countless trips to the GP continued until eventually, in 2012, one of them suggested that I may be experiencing menopausal symptoms. However, blood tests didn’t support this theory (I now know they can be unreliable due to fluctuating hormone levels). We still discussed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as an option, but this was dismissed because I suffer with migraines.

My lack of knowledge, together with my assumption that GPs know more than their patients, stopped me from taking this any further and I decided to look for other ways to deal with my symptoms. Spending more money than we could afford, I tried all sorts of everything to get relief, with some remedies more successful than others. There are lots of products on the market targeted at menopausal woman and in my desperation I tried very many of them.

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However, I couldn’t continue that way, and so, in 2018, frustrated and fed up, I began to look for answers once again. I found a Facebook group where menopausal women could ask questions and get support. It was so refreshing – women talking about menopause! I no longer felt alone.

As I became more involved in the group, I was asked to moderate the company’s new community forum, set up specifically to help women cope with menopause symptoms. It was perfect for me. I had access to experts on the site and could ask them all sorts of questions.

Soon, I discovered that HRT was an option for me if I took it via transdermal patches or gel. I also had a new GP and at the beginning of this year, armed with my new information, I asked about getting HRT patches. My new GP was sympathetic, he was informed and he listened. Best of all, he agreed.

We talked about the possible side effects including bloating, breast tenderness and an increase in headaches, but he also explained the benefits of HRT, including future-proofing my bones against osteoporosis and helping protect my heart from coronary heart disease. Finally, I felt I’d found a doctor who knew about menopause.

Almost seven months since my first prescription for patches, I am a different woman.

Every woman has their own menopause story to tell. This is simply what happened to me and I’m sharing it in the hope that it may help other women.

This is why I’m one of the co-founders of Pausitivity, a new menopause campaign group providing women with information about menopause symptoms on a poster, to prompt them to ask questions and to discuss all things menopausal with all the people in their lives.

I sincerely believe that if I had known the symptoms of menopause, if I had known that despite leaving my ovaries during my hysterectomy I might experience an early menopause, if I had known more about the HRT treatments available, I would have been better placed to identify what was happening to me and not suffered so long.

Thanks to the changes taking place, I have high hopes that future generations of women will be far better informed and much more able to choose the way they direct their own menopause stories.