Hot flashes in sweltering Spain. The Irishwoman cooling down the menopause in Valencia

In March this year, Iseult Harrington set up the first perimenopausal group in Spain

Iseult Harrington and her daughter Ana Rosa González Harrington, who is eight, on the 10 kilometre-long dry river bed that is now a green walkway running  through  Valencia

Iseult Harrington and her daughter Ana Rosa González Harrington, who is eight, on the 10 kilometre-long dry river bed that is now a green walkway running through Valencia

 

Iseult Harrington is from Menlo just outside Galway city. She left Ireland in February 2009 and went to Madrid where she worked with the Instituto Cervantes on a short-term contract . She moved to Valencia in 2014

I left Irish shores just after the 2008 financial crash, lured by the sunnier climes of Spain’s capital city, Madrid. I was lucky to be hired to cover a temporary maternity position at a translation agency soon after arriving and I continued to work as a freelance translator once that contract ended. Five years later, I moved to the Mediterranean city of Valencia - Spain’s third largest city- along with my then one-year-old daughter, and I have lived there ever since.

As I neared my forties, I began to read up on and do several courses on the menopause, both for my work as a medical translator and to be as prepared as possible for my own menopause. I joined several online groups, and this was when I first came across the term “perimenopause”. Perimenopause is the period preceding the menopause. Technically speaking, the menopause lasts for just one day - exactly 12 months from your last period.

These symptoms are due to the hormonal fluctuations, which seem to appear overnight and can be quite disruptive and distressing, particularly when women do not know why these things are happening to them in the first place

And I was shocked that perimenopause can start from your late thirties and can last for up to a decade. Initial symptoms can be very benign including erratic periods, mood swings and general fatigue that women often do not associate with perimenopause. After all, we always think of the menopause starting in our late forties or early fifties. By the mid-forties, these can escalate to heart palpitations, brain fog (forgetfulness), migraines, very long and heavy periods, joint pain, loss of libido, depression, insomnia, skin itchiness. And don’t talk about hot flashes, further exacerbated by the sweltering hot summer months here in Spain - at least air con is standard in most newer houses and apartment here!

These symptoms are due to the hormonal fluctuations that start to take place in our body, which seem to appear overnight and that can be quite disruptive and distressing, particularly when women do not know why these things are happening to them in the first place.

In March this year, I set up the first perimenopausal Facebook group in Spain. My Facebook group has grown quite quickly and is composed mainly of expat women living in different parts of Spain. Due to demand, I have now opened it up to women from any part of the world.

It is a confidential space for women to share their stories and feel heard and less alone. We do not offer medical advice, but I am in contact with the Spanish menopause society to compile a list of recognised resources and information.

I do live interviews with medical practitioners from all over the world who specialise in different areas of menopausal including a menopausal sleep specialist from the US and a pelvic health specialist.

I believe that facilitating basic information on what to expect during perimenopause will enable and empower all women to take the right course of action for them. Sharing their stories with other women and realising that they are not alone can also be very helpful.

The recent screening of the Channel 4 documentary Sex, Myths and the Menopause brought the perimenopause out into the open, thanks to Davina Mc Call talking about her experience. It highlighted the general lack of information and misinformation about this stage of women’s lives and the critical need for support and education.

While groups like mine do not dispense any medical advice, we can at least provide a space for women to feel supported. The public healthcare system here in Spain is extremely efficient and free, with very short waiting times at hospitals compared to Ireland. However, women have reported having to resort to private specialists to receive the proper treatment and support they were looking for as they felt their symptoms were brushed off by their own doctors, something that seems to be the case in other countries as well.

Midlife should be celebrated and by bringing the perimenopause and menopause more out in the open, as well as providing more information, hopefully the next generation of women will have access to all the information and support they need.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do

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