Christina Ioannidis reveals her experience of entering the menopause and how this turned her life upside down.
Sleeplessness. Depression. Pain. These are the 3 words which dominate my life.
When lockdown is announced in Dubai on March 6th 2020, I start the most challenging journey of my life. And I have been through a few of those – double-redundancy, business failure, and a near-death experience are just some of the marks on my personal tapestry.
However, the physical and emotional journey of perimenopause that I enter into in March 2020 – age 47 – is like no other.
It starts with the pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic hits me hard. I go from having a blistering international career as a speaker and trainer, to being a house-bound, financially-stifled woman almost overnight. Indeed the sleepless nights are the worst kind of torture. Our small flat is not big enough to contain my thoughts or wanderings. And, in the morning, I have to peel myself out of bed to face another groundhog day.
And the period pains. Well, my time of the month is a complete nightmare. Sometimes I wonder if it is even worth carrying on. I drown my pain with alcohol, not excessively – but enough that I know it is not the healthiest of strategies.
Much like March, April is marked with a feeling of complete loss of control. Work-wise, I am trying to pivot my business to virtual learning and training, but the world is in a weird place. The responses from clients are downright flaccid. My emotional world becomes even darker.
The light in the tunnel is when my husband and I move in with a wonderful friend and his daughter. A large villa with a pool does wonders for gloomy spirits in the midst of lockdown in Dubai. Even better, our new housemates have cats and being able to cuddle up to the feline pets does wonders for my feel-good vibes. I regain some energy and start power walking and even cycling, which also helps to lift my spirits.
‘I wonder why all the information around the changes taking place in my body are so confusing. After all this happens to half the population.’
I have been recommended the book Hormone Cure, by Dr Sara Gottfried, which I devour on Kindle. It gives a great overview on how hormones work and whilst I admit I do not quite understand all of the biology, I took the assessment in the book and realise that:
- I have high cortisol – purely from the Covid-19 stress levels (which explains my inability to sleep)
- I am oestrogen dominant and low on progesterone – my heavy bleeding, the extreme period pains, the mood swings all attest to those.
So, I follow the Gottfried Protocols and start taking supplements wildly. Sometimes I feel like am rattling: I down 15 pills a day. I wonder why all the information around the changes taking place in my body are so confusing. After all this happens to half the population. Why do I feel so at sea?
LYMA Tip. It’s not quantity over quality.
The LYMA Concierge team are regularly contacted by customers who talk through their daily routine of 15 tablets and more, looking for help to simplify their regime. Unfortunately, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors in the supplement industry – it’s not the quantity of pills you take daily, but the quality.
May – July 2020
Our idyllic existence in our Dubai bubble is heaven-sent. It could not have come at a better time. However, much like Dubai’s humidity (yes, it does get very humid in the summer), a dark cloud is starting to settle on me again. I don’t know if it is the sense of languishing, losing all normality as the pandemic takes hold, but I get lower and lower.
I turn to comfort eating and despite working out, my mood just gets darker. Externally I hide my depression, but I know deep-down something is off kilter. My periods? They are hell on earth. The PMS is horrific, I can’t hold back the tears. My period pains are vile. In the first two days of my period, I have the trademark cramps where I literally feel my insides are being scraped out.
Tests at the gynaecologist
In July I visit my gynaecologist. I am in tears in her office and beg for every test possible to understand what is be happening to me. She sends me home with a bunch of small vessels to spit into at different times of the day to measure my hormone levels. And so I start my learning journey into how female hormones operate. Why don’t I know this stuff?
LYMA tip: Start with a supplement audit
We suggest everyone audits their daily supplement intake, looking at the ingredients and checking that the ingredients are trademarked and then checking on PubMed if the ingredient has been proven in independent peer-reviewed studies. If an ingredient is listed with peer-reviewed studies check the dose of the test – you need the exact same dose in your supplement to get the same effect.
The results? Complete oestrogen dominance, extremely low progesterone and, this time, hypothyroidism. Being so oestrogen heavy can lead to an increased cancer risk, so my gynaecologist recommends I add Indole3 to my supplements as it, apparently helps reduce the risk of cancer. I am also prescribed a small amount of thyroxin to get my thyroid gland going.
This month is rock bottom for me. I am as low as I have ever been. My depression is unbearable, so much that I have to do something about it. I hit the lowest of the lows. Finally, my fighter spirit kicks in. I know deep down something has to change. One day I am idly scanning through Facebook when I notice a post from a friend. She looks great, slim and vibrant.
I decide to follow her example and get fit; maybe that will cheer me up. I reach out to her and she tells me to read a book, Delay, Don’t Deny, written by a woman who has lost weight through taking up intermittent fasting. I devour that in one morning, and know I have to do it too. Right there and then I decide to skip breakfast and try to eat within a 4-hour window. I am lucky, because my husband naturally follows this eating approach, consuming nothing but tea in the morning and having a solid meal at night.
I start losing weight, and, when travel bans are lifted we decide to move back to Athens, Greece, to be near my parents before the winter sets in in Europe. I try a 36-hour fast during those days when we are moving as being busy helps me not think about eating.
However despite being very good on the diet and losing weight my depression and period pains are unrelentingly grim. I am in tears for 3 days after leaving my beloved cats behind in Dubai. I realise that one of the reasons I have become so attached to them as they help with my oxytocin levels (stroking them stimulates this feel-good hormone). When our hormones are so out of whack, every little change hits us hard.
September – October 2020
A new beginning. I am living in Athens, Greece. The sweltering heat of Dubai is just a memory and Athens feels like a tonic. Change is good for the soul, and my mood lifts as I spend time with my parents. Every morning, in my mask, I spend time with my mother. We do not hug and maintain social distancing but we laugh a lot together. It is a special time. We recount stories from my childhood. For a brief time I am transported away from my depression and the pandemic.
Work also becomes easier. The brain fog that demotivated me a few months ago is also clearing. I feel stronger and healthier as my weight-loss continues. I am on my way in adopting an intermittent fasting lifestyle, whilst also walking a lot in the windy streets of old Athens where we are living.
Despite the changes happening to me – a slimmer waist, thinner legs – my time of the month is still unbearable. It is so bad that I plan my work around it. I know that the first two days of my period, I am completely debilitated and cannot move. I take 6 ibuprofens, the maximum daily dose, just to survive….
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