Your Stories: Olympia Ermogenous

Hi my name is Olympia and I am fifty-three years young and this is my menopause story.

I moved to Cyprus in my late thirties which meant I lived in the sun (which I loved) and was a mum working full time in the investment industry. 

I was forty-seven when I first started to notice strange things with my periods. I was two weeks late and decided to do a pregnancy test. I was one of those women who was always regular as clockwork every twenty-eight days. I knew deep down I was not pregnant, but I started to suspect that this was the beginning of something. After getting a negative result from the pregnancy test, I finally got my period three and half weeks later.

After this my periods became quite erratic. Sometimes I was really early and sometimes quite late. I would also sometimes miss a month or two. Around the same time as my periods went haywire, I started to notice that my shoulder joints were very stiff and quite painful. I put this down to living with an air conditioner for six months of the year in a hot country. 

Just before turning fifty, I lost my mother quite suddenly and this was a huge shock and affected me very badly and not realizing now that I was mid perimenopause.

During this time I started to suffer from depression, anxiety and panic attacks. To the point where I was put on sick leave for six weeks and prescribed anti-depressants. I also became a recluse and did not want to go out and socialize. After a while I stopped the anti-depressants as I felt it was not something I wanted to be on long-term. 

When I turned fifty I started to get severe neck ache and very bad headaches. This went on for so long that in the end I thought I might have a brain tumor as it got to the point that I could not think straight! My head was always fuzzy and I was relying heavily on pain killers. I did not know that also one of the side effects were joint pains, headaches, fuzzy head. I went for a neck MRI and also ultrasound to check my arteries leading to my brain and also countless blood tests. I was given a physio prescription by my private doctor in Cyprus to have eight sessions of physio which did help greatly, but after six months I started to suffer the same symptoms. I decided to go back for another eight sessions of physiotherapy. My headaches continued for a long time and in the meantime I took lots of different vitamins, including the MENAPACE for pre-menopause which I took for around three years and only recently stopped. Then came the high blood pressure!

I went back to my private GP at the time, who told me it was fine and all part of the menopause and that I will get through it in time. 

However, it gradually got worse as I was feeling very anxious and stressed and could feel my blood pressure going up. On having it checked at the pharmacist many times it was 160/90 which started to worry me and my local pharmacist suggested I seek medical advice. 

I sought out an excellent heart specialist who measured my blood pressure and saw that it was above average and had been for a while. He performed a heart ultrasound and saw that the lining of my heart was beginning to get damaged. So at the age of fifty-one I now had to go on blood pressure tablets which I was so against doing as I knew the implications once you start, it’s for life. The doctor explained that if my blood pressure was continually high it would cause further damage unless I was taking tablets to reduce it.

The worse part of my symptoms began in September 2017 after a trip to Italy when all of a sudden I started to get these awful hot flushes and night sweats. They lasted for four weeks and then disappeared for nearly a year. By October 2017, I had a PAP test with a private gynecologist, which in Cyprus is a smear test performed with an internal ultrasound which detects your eggs and any problems in the womb. She advised me that I was no longer ovulating and that I would maybe have just one more period. I asked about having blood tests to check my hormones and her answer was, “what for, you don’t need to, as you are going through menopause”.

After this, I had a period every three to four months. 

Then in November 2019, we had a big change. I decided to move back to London as I was becoming a first time grandma and wanted to be back here for her and also my two daughters who lived here. Once arriving in England, within a few days I started to get these really bad hot flushes I had heard came with the menopause. I also started to get night terror sweats that I had not experienced for nearly a year. It got so bad that I was waking up drenched in sweat my body going into spasms and then trembling freezing within five minutes from start to finish. The night terrors would wake me up every thirty minutes. I also experienced such bad dry mouth syndrome that I could barely swallow. 

I went to the local medical centre and was seen by a GP and he prescribed me HRT patches on the spot, without even  testing me or knowing my history. On telling him that I had constant headaches and thought maybe the blood pressure tablets were causing this, he told me to stop any blood pressure tablets immediately, as I did not need this and the blood pressure I was suffering was affected by menopause. He also prescribed a cream for my tongue which was dry and said it was thrush! Bear in mind, I was new from Cyprus and he did not ask or know any of my medical history. As I was so desperate for some help, I took his advice and started both treatments and stopped my blood pressure tablets. 

My dry mouth eased a bit with the patch, but on checking my blood pressure at home with my machine, it had started to go in the 140/90 range again. So I panicked as I was still getting migraines even though I had stopped the tablets as he had advised me to do. After five days of using the HRT patches my arms were burning so much where I had to place the patches, that I could not stand it any longer even though they did help slightly with the night terrors and I was managing to finally get some sleep. In the end I had to stop them as I still felt so unwell.

I then went through a period of time where I saw GP after GP trying to get answers.

I had a blood test done, but the results came back fine so no action could be taken. At this point I had not had a night’s sleep for over two months and felt like I was going mad. All of my family were worried sick about me, as they knew I was not myself. I felt totally desperate, miserable and unhappy. My memory was so bad, that I had parked my car in a multi-story car park at work and left the engine running for 4 hours! At this point, I felt like I was having a total breakdown. I did not want my family knowing what had happened as they would worry, but I felt like I was losing my mind and I was very scared.

I went back to my GP and I insisted that he refer me to a gynecologist to be tested for menopause and I was not leaving the surgery until he did. When he saw how desperate I was he referred me to have blood tests to check my hormone levels and explained that as I had not been period free for a year he could not do anything until the hormone blood tests results were back. He also prescribed me blood pressure tablets to control my blood pressure. In the meantime I had to beg for sleeping tablets which he gave me for a week.

Once my results were back I went back to see the GP who confirmed that I was in full menopause (hallelujah) and he could prescribe me HRT. He told me the risks and said I had to have regular checkups and could not go on normal HRT until I was period free for a year. I had the packet at home for a week. I was too scared to take them after all the horror stories I had heard from professionals saying it causes cancer. I researched online as much as I could and finally as I was so distraught and not sleeping at all, I decided to take them.

Almost within a week, my life changed! No hot flushes! No night terrors! No hazy head! No headaches! It was like a miracle.

I had more energy and hardly any joint pains! After all this time of suffering and feeling like I was going insane, I started to feel back to my old self again. My dry mouth is the only thing it has not fixed, but to be fair my reluctance to quit smoking and my weekly wine hasn’t helped that either.

Going through menopause is a very long and lonely journey and at times soul destroying. Apart from the physical side effects there is also the mental and emotional drama to go through. There is no information or help lines out there for woman and nowhere to turn to for advice. Until now it has been such a taboo subject. “Oh your going through the change”. Even GPs and doctors have a very blaze attitude to it and there is not much you can say in a 10 minute appointment slot. I feel that is so unfair as it such a huge aspect of every woman’s life and it can leave you feeling desperate and suicidal at times. Much more needs to be done and there should be more help out there. Also unless you have the money to go private, there is no assistance as local GP’s tend to say if you have not had a period for over a year, then they cannot diagnose you. 

Women need to push and prod and demand help and advice! We are not mad and we are not making it up, we are suffering without being recognized or diagnosed! It’s ridiculous.

I feel that HRT has been used to frighten women in the past with the health risks, but the positives far outnumber the negatives and it has definitely worked for me. Although I’m still getting the monthly bleed with them and also I’m not 100% yet, at least it has eliminated 80% of my symptoms and most importantly given me back my life! I can finally see a light at the end of this very long dark tunnel I have been stuck in for the last six/seven years.