Blurry vision and night sweats – the menopause made me feel like I was kicking heroin again, says Davina McCall
STANDING in a TV studio unable to read the auto-cue, presenter Davina McCall feared she was getting dementia and her career was about to crash down around her.
For months she had suffered sleepless nights, her vision was starting to deteriorate and severe night sweats were giving her flashbacks to her days battling a heroin addiction.
The Masked Singer judge thought she was going mad — until she finally realised, at just 44 years old, she was going through the menopause.
The realisation came as a hammer blow and left her consumed with so much “shame and embarrassment” that she did not tell anyone about it for nearly a year.
Eventually she reached out to a medical expert and secretly started hormone replacement therapy (HRT) which she believes saved her life.
Now she is on a mission to educate the nation and fronting a Channel 4 documentary, Davina McCall: Sex, Myths And The Menopause, which airs on Wednesday.
Davina, 53, recalls of the dark days: “I thought I was going mad. I even thought I was possibly getting some sort of early-onset dementia.
“The menopause didn’t even cross my mind because I was young — 44 — so I battled on for a year. I didn’t know who to talk to, where to go.
“I was getting night sweats, and what was horrible is that I’m a recovering addict and it took me back to being sick and trying to recover from addiction. Then I couldn’t read the autocue. It began affecting my vision — because of lack of sleep I couldn’t see or read.
“A producer who is now quite high up at ITV came up to me and said, ‘Are you OK?’ because I was normally so on it but I just couldn’t get on it any more. I was just in a fog.
“I’m a recovering addict, I was a heroin addict, I haven’t had a drink in 30 years, I don’t even like taking over-the-counter pills for headaches and things. So I was just not going to go down the medical route.
“I thought I’d up the exercise, take some herbal remedies, but none of those cut it. I wanted to battle through, until it hit me in the eyeballs and then I educated myself.”
There are some 13 million women in the UK going through the menopause, with many clueless as to what is happen-ing to their body.
Scaremongering about HRT’s impact has left many terrified of taking it, wrongly fearing it could give them an increased chance of breast cancer.
When Davina decided to take HRT she was so ashamed that she was using a medical intervention and not “allowing nature to run its course” that she kept it secret from those closest to her.
She was even warned speaking out could damage her career.
She says: “I was told not to talk about it, that it was ageing and a bit unsavoury. Clearly that didn’t go well because I am sat here talking to you.
“I lied to friends and told them I wasn’t on HRT. I was so ashamed of being on HRT because it somehow felt I was doing something wrong or dirty. It felt like I was chasing youth.
“The idea back when it started happening to me was somehow you’re going against the natural way of life, against the natural path — you should just go through it, be strong and battle on through. You’ll get out the other side and you’ll be fine.
“But I couldn’t work any more and I was the breadwinner. I needed to make money, put food on the table.
“So I had to find a way of working. I just thought, ‘I can’t work if I don’t have hormones’.”
In 2017, Davina separated from her husband of 17 years, Matthew Robertson, former host of Pet Rescue, with whom she has children Holly, 19, Tilly, 17, and 14-year-old Chester.
But Davina says her decision to take HRT turned her life around and she is now firing on all cylinders and feels “reborn”.
Flashing her trademark grin, she declares: “I am back to normal. In fact, I am feeling better than I have done in years. I am working hard, I’m at the top of my game and feel like I’ve been reborn.”
For her documentary, Davina spent months speaking to specialists, and a host of women opened up about their experiences.
So what shocked her the most during her research?
She says: “The stories from our wonderful women — women on the brink of something drastic, who have been fobbed off as ‘overdramatic’ or just told, ‘Pull your socks up’, women who are suicidal.
“Suicide peaks between 45 and 49 in women and that’s the time of the perimenopause and menopause. That is not a coincidence, we need to wake up to that.”
The stigma of going through the transition, often described as “the change”, has left many suffering in silence. But Davina says women need to speak up — including about the impact on their sex lives, with many either saying no to intercourse or finding it too painful.
During filming, she visits a sex shop in her home town of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, that specialises in helping women who are struggling in the bedroom because of the menopause.
She gets to grips with several sex toys and boldly states the one thing every menopausal women needs in the bedroom: “Let’s talk lubricants. It should be something every woman has in their bedside drawer.
Of course it would be completely different if men went through the menopause. Let’s face it, if they had their testicles cut off and their testosterone collapsed, they would be put on testosterone immediately.
“Let’s face it, none of us want to share private information about our vaginas but we’ve got to talk about Kevin, or whatever yours is called.
“I had severe dryness, so sore. I had no idea it was part of being menopausal. It was one of my big symptoms and it was horrible.” Since she announced her documentary, Davina has been flooded with messages on social media from women battling to get their hands on HRT, as GPs are often not fully educated on symptoms of the menopause and how to treat it.
She says: “The injustice is crazy, it’s a pandemic of injustice. Doctors learn in med school about pregnancies and fertility but not all women get pregnant, yet all of us will go through menopause.”
As well as calling for better education in schools, Davina says it a “scandal” that women are treated differently to men when it comes to health matters, and those in power need to change this. She says: “Of course it would be completely different if men went through the menopause. Let’s face it, if they had their testicles cut off and their testosterone collapsed, they would be put on testosterone immediately. I know lots of men go to their doctor and go, ‘I’ve got a loss of libido, my sex life isn’t what it used to be’ and they get put on testosterone quickly.
“There’s no hullabaloo about it — it’s like, ‘Of course you need testosterone, it’s your hormone, you’re just replacing what you haven’t got’. But if that happens to women we’re told to pull our socks up and this is the natural way of things.
“This is the scandal, the disparity in treatment of women compared to if it was a man.
“I’m very aware we need men onside, to support us We have to educate them. Lots are on board but lots aren’t.”
Research for the show found nine in ten women felt the menopause had a negative impact on their work. In some cases, they had been forced out or quit careers.
For professions that rely on a female workforce, it is a timebomb and Davina says big corporations need to do more to help.
She says: “Menopausal woman are the fastest-growing group of workers — there are now 4.3million of us.” But she adds: “We are on the cusp of change. One in ten companies now implements some kind of menopausal policy. We spoke to some big business, like HSBC, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, and they all have menopause policies in place for women.
“That means women are going to be able to stay in work. That’s not just great for women’s welfare, it’s really important to keep all that fantastic experience.
“Think about how amazing we are as women in later life, once our kids have left home. We’re like, ‘Let’s get working again’. We’re so excited, it’s like a second life.”
Davina knew making her documentary was a risk, especially sharing her own experiences when many warned it might be deemed “unsavoury”.
But given her secret year of shame surrounding menopause and the shocking statistics her research has uncovered, she says she will not stay silent any longer.
Davina also urges viewers to get talking more. She says: “Making this film and talking about all this personal stuff on camera wasn’t easy but I’m not going to be embarrassed about a transition half the population goes through.
“When I hit menopause I couldn’t talk to anyone and I felt so alone.
“But now we’re part of a national conversation and our voices are louder. We’ve got to carry on talking, at work, at home and in bed.”
- Davina McCall: Sex, Myths And The Menopause airs on Channel 4 on Wednesday at 9pm.
MENOPAUSE IN NUMBERS
51 Average age UK women experience menopause
80% have stopped periods by age 54
45 Age before which menopause is classified ‘early’
40 Age before which it is ‘premature’
1% have premature menopause
2yrs How long the symptoms usually last. But they can go on for more than 15yrs
33% of women hide symptoms at work
63% of 44-year-olds are reluctant to ask for help
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