Where are you in your perimenopause or menopause journey?
I’m perimenopausal, and my symptoms began four years ago. I had always had quite severe PMS but it began to feel constant. It accelerated when my father died.
The timing sounds challenging?
The symptoms couldn’t have come at a worse time. After 15 years of being a single mum, I had embarked on a new relationship. My daughter was doing her A-levels and applying for university, and I had started in a GP partnership that I’d wanted for a long time.
How did perimenopause feel for you?
I had constant fatigue, joint pain and stiffness in the morning, a loss of confidence, anxiety, weight gain (I’d always struggled with my weight and have food anxiety). For the first time in my life, I had to get up in the night to use the bathroom. It was a horrendous combination. I felt vulnerable and most certainly not sexy!
What has been the most challenging thing to deal with?
The emotional hit and constant fatigue of the perimenopause was a drain and shock to me. I was constantly eating for comfort and for energy but it wasn’t working.
My confidence suffered, which I wasn’t prepared for, especially as I was trying to make new relationships work personally and professionally. I suddenly felt old, unattractive and emotional. It all contributed to me losing a sense of myself and feeling insecure.
Have there been any positive symptoms?
Sometimes when you’re tired and irritable you don’t have room to take crap. I realised I’d made a huge mistake in rushing into a new relationship. It was time to re-evaluate my life, my priorities and ask myself some questions. How did I want to live the next stage of my life? What did I want to achieve?
How do you feel today?
As a woman you’re used to putting everyone else first, especially in the Pakistani Muslim culture that I’d grown up in. Finally, I started to feel free and to take charge of my life and make changes. It wasn’t easy but I had to do it for myself, for my daughter and our future.
You must feel a great sense of achievement?
I am incredibly proud of who I am today. I’m running my own clinic and I’m working as a menopause doctor. I make a difference to hundreds of women’s lives by bringing all my skills from my GP life and from my own experiences. Would I have done this if I hadn’t been circumstantially pushed? It’s difficult to say.
What are the things that are getting you through?
I started taking HRT pretty soon after experiencing my first perimenopausal symptoms. I wouldn’t have coped without it. It enabled me to regroup and regain my independence.
HRT gave me back my energy and my ability to focus. My joints stopped aching and I felt able to concentrate. I have always valued my intellect and memory and the effect of perimenopausal ‘brain fog’ had been frustrating.
Did you seek any advice from experts, friends or family?
My own GP was very understanding and supportive. I was very lucky because not all women have the good fortune of having access to a women’s health expert or menopause doctor. Plus, I had my own experience and knowledge about my health.
What was the best advice you received?
The biggest help I had was the reassurance that I wasn’t going mad. Everything fell into place after that.
Another interesting piece of advice was that on top of taking HRT – which entailed oestrogen and progesterone replacement – additional testosterone was something that would make a big difference. It was the final piece of the jigsaw. I recommend it to a lot of the women who tell me that it feels as if something’s still missing, but they can’t put their finger on what it is.
What do you say to other women about the menopause?
The menopause isn’t the end, not by a long shot, although it is often depicted in that way. You need to start thinking about it early and prepping for it. Don’t be scared.
This stage has been the best few years of my life, even though I’ve been juggling ageing parents, bereavement, my daughter going off to uni and personal issues.
Perimenopause for me is a time of ascent. As my daughter said to me in the birthday card she gave me, “Mum, it’s your time to shine”.
How do you describe your life now?
I’ve regained my power and I’ve never felt more proud to be a woman. I’m the most confident I’ve ever been, the most sexy, the most at home in my own skin. Any pandering to society’s perceptions of a “middle aged woman” or compromise in terms of personality is finished for me.
You feel Hylda when…?
Perimenopause for me is a time of ascent. As my daughter said to me in a birthday card she gave me, “Mum, it’s your time to shine”. That’s what I tell the women who come to see me at my clinic. That’s when I feel most empowered… or Hylda!
Find more about Dr Harper at The Harper Clinic, and find her on Instagram @drshahzadiharper and @theharperclinic.