Hot flushes, chills, night sweats, mood swings. These are just some of the symptoms women suffer while going through the menopause.
It can be daunting, bewildering, isolating, and take a huge physical and emotional toll.
For those who don’t know, the menopause is defined as occurring 12 months after a woman’s last menstrual period, and can no longer get pregnant naturally.
For some, it’s straightforward but for others the peri-menopause – the lead-up to menopause – can last 10 years, or even more.
And Louise Bowditch should know. She has been going through it for four years.
The 51-year-old, from Wickham, feels the menopause is still treated as a taboo subject, that women going through it are overlooked.
So she’s taken matters into her own hands and become a menopause mentor.
Her new business, The M Word, ‘helps women navigate through the mid-life muddle’.
Here the mother-of-three explains what made her go for it.
Louise says: ‘I had suffered with anxiety before but it suddenly came back with a vengeance.
‘On one particular night I was awake all night with this awful anxious feeling.
‘I had no idea where it came from or what I was anxious about.
‘It was only really after I had done a lot of research that I realised it was the menopause.’
Louise says people don’t talk about the mental health problems the rapid drop levels of oestrogen and progesterone can cause.
‘Once the anxiety arrived it never really left,’ says Louise.
‘It came and just sat on my shoulder. I wondered if I was having some sort of mental health breakdown.
‘There was no information out there to help me link it to the menopause, I had to find that out myself.’
It was that lack of information, and the widely-held view that you shouldn’t talk or complain about going through the menopause, which led Louise to start her business.
She says: ‘The problem is that the menopause is still a taboo, we talk about everything else but we don’t talk about that.
‘That’s why I called my business The M Word.
‘You’re not supposed to say it out loud. It has connotations of crotchety, sweaty old women who are angry, dried up, shrivelled up and have nothing to contribute to society anymore.
‘Unfortunately that view has been perpetuated by comedians like the late Les Dawson and Jim Davidson with their mother-in-law jokes.
‘I’m not an ardent feminist, and I don’t want to burn my bra, but along with the #Metoo campaign, we have to change the way we view the menopause.’
Over the years Louise has had a number of businesses, including a florist and a photography partnership with her husband Mark.
And she says she felt a sense of failure when the businesses ended – although they were successful at the time – which was exacerbated when the peri-menopause began.
But as she researched the menopause, she saw helping other women through it as a calling.
She says: ‘Because I couldn’t find the help and support I needed, and because I was unhappy doing what I was doing, I decided to do something that would make a real difference.
‘It feels as if this is what I was always looking for.’
Louise is not a trained therapist, but a coach.
She signposts women to places and people who can help them through the menopause – such as homeopaths.
‘Having gone through the process, stumbling and tripping up along the way’, says Louise, ‘I researched as much information as I could until something stuck.
‘I gathered up everything I’ve learned and put it together in a 12-week programme so I can talk other women through the process and find the essences of their feelings of being lost.
‘My aim is to change their mindset, give them their confidence back. Rather than seeing it as a negative, it is a time of liberation.’
Louise continues: ‘This is the start of a movement, a sisterhood, to embrace our changing bodies, to stop us hiding and bust the myth that menopausal women are past our prime.
‘It’s time to rebel against society’s negative view of the menopause, look at it through new eyes and make it work for us, not against us.
‘Because who said the menopause should leave us in a hot mess?’
A fan for hot flushes to spark conversations
They are brought on by changes in hormone levels which control temperature causing a surge in heat through the body and profuse sweating.
It’s enormously embarrassing for sufferers but Louise has designed a fan which embraces it.
The Fan Fatale is bright and bold to encourage conversations and made from 100 per cent eco-friendly cotton with the words HOT STUFF.
Louise is now crowd-funding to produce the fans.
She says: ‘Hot flushes can be incredibly difficult to deal with and they leave you feeling embarrassed and vulnerable.
‘I have experienced them while in meetings and in shops. You feel like you’re burning from the inside out and it can engulf you.
‘You can feel the beads of sweat forming and then running down your body.
‘I wanted to create a hand fan that not only keeps women cool but keeps them looking cool too and will hopefully provide some inspiration.’
To donate to the Fan Fatale production, go to igg.me/at/fanfatale. Visit Louise’s website at louisebowditch.com.