How hot flushes brought me to my knees in front of Enda Kenny

The hormonal rocky road that is the menopause is too often ignored

It is not exactly ideal to get a hot flush on a first date. Particularly when you are standing in six-inch heels in the middle of the library of the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin's Dawson Street and the then taoiseach is talking.

It was September 30th, 2014, my birthday as it happens, and I had been invited by author Anne Chambers to the launch by Enda Kenny of her new book on economist TK Whitaker, Portrait of a Patriot.

Since myself and Mr X were planning to dine across the road in Marco Pierre White’s gaff, this reception provided the perfect intellectual and alcoholic aperitif for a relaxed and vibrant chat over a delicious dinner.

Not before my sudden undoing, though.

There was Enda waxing lyrically about “the maker of modern Ireland” when I suddenly felt a tsunami of heat creeping up my body.

Since it had become an all too familiar experience, I knew the next phase of the affliction would be that I would feel like fainting. I would begin to feel the blood drain from my face and gradually I’d become the colour of a ghost.

Apparently, the sudden rise in body temperature causes the blood vessels to dilate, so one’s body fluid moves into the legs courtesy of gravity, causing low blood pressure and possible fainting, or heat syncope.

Since I had been prone to fainting since childhood, the menopause didn’t come to mind straight away, despite my age. Indeed, my first experience of passing out was whilst on a primary school pilgrimage to Knock and had nothing to do with sudden visions of a blessed virgin dancing on a gable. It was a hot summer’s day and before I could say Hail Mary, Mother of God, I was being whisked away to an infirmary for the sick in a wheelchair.

I knew if I could hyperventilate to get some oxygen back into my bloodstream, an evening of good food, nice wine and a flurry of flirting was not lost

Fifty years later and I’m thinking of the headlines if poor Enda felt forced to give me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation just because I was one of his constituents from Co Mayo.

So, instead, I whispered to my date that I needed to go to the ladies room and headed off on a desperate quest to cool down.

I knew if I could hyperventilate to get some oxygen back into my bloodstream, an evening of good food, nice wine and a flurry of flirting was not lost.

Fortunately, I found a porter who directed me down to the basement to a large toilet where I immediately took off the killer heels, fell on all fours to the cold tiles and began breathing deeply.

Avoiding losing consciousness at all costs was my mission. I certainly didn't want to be locked in the basement of a building overnight which was built in 1770 for Lord Northland – coincidentally one of the Knoxes of Co Mayo – and most likely housed a few ascendancy spirits.

Like the many stigmas around mental health issues, the menopause has been a hidden issue in our society. As an educated and liberated woman, I don’t think I’d even heard of the term perimenopausal until my GP told me I was in the middle of that hormonal rocky road to the end of my reproductive years.

With a cultural emphasis on women staying young forever through cosmetic surgery involving boob jobs and buttock lifts, anti-wrinkle creams and body balms, it is no surprise that the media has baulked at debating this subject. Well, there is big advertising revenue to be made from the elusive elixir of forever young.

The Government’s recent decision to establish dedicated menopause clinics in hospitals in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway has to be welcomed. These clinics will also provide invaluable advice for GPs.

I happened to be going through a stressful period in my life when my hot flushes and fainting episodes started. Both my parents were ill, no longer able to fend for themselves but still attempting to live independently. I thought for a long time I was having panic attacks over the stress of having to cross the country from Westport to Dublin for a series of parental emergencies.

I’m sure the conductor on that crowded train from Westport did too when, on another dramatic occasion, he found me on all fours hyperventilating in that cool place between carriages. He was ready to pull the cord and call for an ambulance until I reassured I just needed to be left alone and allowed to breathe like a rhinoceros for a few more minutes and I’d then be as right as rain.

It is easy to laugh now but at the time it wasn’t fun.

Ironically, when I returned re-ventilated from the basement of the Royal Irish Academy to hear the end of the tributes at the book launch, my date, clearly a cool dude, quipped: “ A hot flush, I assume?”