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Your Stories: Niamh McMahon

Hi I’m Niamh and last year I discovered I was in early Menopause at the age of 44.

I was well used to change in my life, both personally and professionally but this change has had its fair share of challenging moments.

At 10 years of age my body was changing in more ways than one – along with hitting puberty and dealing with the changes that every young girl deals with at that age my spine was also growing – be it in the wrong direction. I had been diagnosed with scoliosis and I had a rapid curvature which required immediate surgery. Due to my young age I had to have 2 spinal fusion operations but looking back on it now this early change only made me stronger. I ran my own my own branding and design agency for 20 years and that has also taught me to adapt to change on a regular basis.

Life is constantly changing

4 years ago I faced a difficult change in the form of a loud ringing sensation in my ear and sudden hearing loss (in the same ear). After visiting numerous ENT consultants looking for answers and feeling very deflated, I made the decision to enrol in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course. This taught me more about how Life is constantly changing. Our bodies change in so many ways throughout our lives. Our opinions change, our outlook and views about things change, our relationships change. EVERYTHING CHANGES! And while I was aware of this it can still be so daunting when it is your body changing in more ways than one and that is what I have experienced in menopause.

When I was first told by my GP in June 2017 that my bloods showed that I was in early menopause I thankfully processed the news in a way of acceptance. I said to myself, “This is just another part of life. I’ll be fine”. For the 6 months that followed I thought I was. I continued to take my magnesium supplements and also started a range of different natural menopause supplements and read all I needed to know to equip me on this new journey.

…I seemed to have no control over how my body was feeling. I have never experienced complete exhaustion quite like it.

While I was feeling a tiredness in my body that I had never experienced before my hot flushes didn’t seem too bad; I felt then that they were manageable and I seemed to be managing well at breathing through them. I had had hyperemesis during both my pregnancies so maybe my menopause was going to be a walk in the park? I was feeling like this wasn’t going to knock a stir out of me. 

The start of summer 2018 was a different story. While I was still managing my hot flushes through my breath and mindful practice by just acknowledging the flush and reminding myself that it will pass seemed to keep them at bay, I seemed to have no control over how my body was feeling. I have never experienced complete exhaustion quite like it. I went on a 5 day silent mindfulness retreat in June and what I was looking forward to the most apart from deepening my mindful practice was the space away from everyone. While I was enjoying my 7 and 12 year old more than ever in my life I often felt overwhelmed with things I needed to do as a mum – the questions I needed to answer. Thankfully once again because of my mindfulness practice I have been aware of most of these so I seem to catch a lot of them before they set me off but there have obviously been the days when I haven’t… I’m only human! My daughter is 12 so while she is at one end of the hormone spectrum I am at the other end with mine! Having young children while in menopause has definitely felt challenging!

While I had finally got on top of my sleep after 3 years of living with tinnitus and endless sleepless nights, menopause was now taking it’s place so along with my body feeling tired in general I was also waking up a lot at night from hot flushes which left me completely exhausted. 

Overcoming The Physical Pain

I was experiencing back pain like I had never experienced before so I was sent for a DEXA scan and it was confirmed I had osteopenia. My rods were feeling weighty: a sensation I had never felt before and it really scared me.

…often the simplest of questions from my kids felt like I was being asked to solve the world’s problems!

I was getting the kids ready to go back to school and picking up their bits and pieces and I remember going to a health food shop close to home and told the girl what was going on and then I told her about my tinnitus, then I told her about my scoliosis and she looked at me and said – “Wow, you’ve a lot going on don’t you?!” I felt like collapsing into her arms when she said it as I knew this was something that while I was coping with on my own my body was telling me otherwise. I think I found it most difficult when the kids started back at school as my daughter started secondary school and my son is still in primary so they are in different schools with different uniforms, different requests for lunches, different drop off and pick up times and above all different needs. My husband leaves early in the morning for work and often I would feel as if I wanted to burst into tears when I heard, “Mum…where are my socks?”!!! I ran my own branding and design agency for almost 20 years so I’m used to being asked lots of questions but often the simplest of questions from my kids felt like I was being asked to solve the world’s problems!

Before menopause I had finally got to a stage in my life when my mindfulness practice had made me feel calmer than I had ever done; I was no longer over-analysing and overthinking like I had often done in the past. However, menopause often made me feel overwhelmed over the littlest of things. I honestly don’t know what I would have been like if I hadn’t learned all I have about noticing and recognising my feelings or spotting my automatic pilot through mindfulness. It’s as if my body had been hijacked and it’s a very unsettling feeling.

Knowing my body

I recently went back to see my GP as the physical pain in my back was becoming increasingly worse. Along with pilates and yoga I also started cycling when I developed tinnitus, in addition to keeping me fit it also helps me deal with it mentally, but my back pain was making my cycle difficult. I knew that cycling has kept me mentally strong over the last few years so the last thing I needed was not to be able to go on my bike. My GP advised that I think about going on HRT as she felt that this would also help to keep the osteoporosis at bay so she suggested I visit my obstetrician for a scan due to my age and as I thought she also seconded my GP’s suggestion. 

It’s not that I didn’t want to go on HRT, I just wanted to make sure it was the right decision for me. When I had hyperemesis on my first pregnancy I also suffered with post-nasal drip but my GP at the time told me I was having chest infections due to my scoliosis and the pressure the pregnancy was putting on my lungs, so I ended up taking lots of very unnecessary antibiotics so you can understand how these days I want to be sure what I put into my body is going to benefit me. 

Clarity of mind

One of the things I did after completing my mindfulness course was to develop a range of “Flash cards for grown ups” called MoMe cards – MoMe comes from taking “A Moment for Me” to help encourage taking small moments often to check in with yourself and to encourage positivity and self care. I have connected with so many women – and men – who suffer with tinnitus, or have scoliosis, or who want to explore mindfulness for one reason or another. I often share my experiences of living with tinnitus on my social media posts and I have often been asked how do I stay so positive. However, this past year I have felt that I wanted to share my early menopause story, as the impact it has had on me has often made staying positive a bit harder but continuing my gratitude and mindful practice has helped. I would hate to think of any woman ever feeling like I have felt in the last year and not be aware of what is happening to them. It is Meg’s website that has given me the strength to write about my experience and also the information I needed to support my decision to start HRT. I feel very grateful for that and also for other feeds such as Menoandme and Hotflush. I think the more women who share our experience the better.

Before Menopause I used to joke that my tinnitus was my body’s alarm bell shouting at me to slow down but I now know that it was my body’s way of strengthening me for the year that I have just put down. I finally started my HRT today and I am looking forward to the new chapter that is starting in my life and who knows…maybe the best is yet to come!

To find out more about MoMe, visit Niamh’s website: