She was once a Britpop Queen, but now Meg Mathews has a new passion that’s poles apart from her former party lifestyle – the menopause.
She’s fired up about helping other women avoid the problems she endured going through menopause, which she says was “a dark and lonely place”.
Mathews, who was married to Oasis’ Noel Gallagher back in the Nineties (they have a 20-year-old daughter, Anais) and was once a music industry PR, now runs MegsMenopause.com and has written a new book on the topic, called The New Hot: Taking On The Menopause With Attitude And Style.
“I never thought I’d be doing this at 54, but I love it,” she declares. “I enjoy every minute – I feel it’s the first time I’ve had a purpose in life and it feels amazing.”
This radical shift from Britpop party girl to fervent menopause campaigner was sparked by her shock at what the menopause did to her, she explains, and the fact there was so little information available about this huge life change and how to handle it.
“When it happened to me, I was about 48 or 49, not feeling myself. I didn’t really know what was going on, and I just thought: ‘Is this life? This can’t be natural, are other people going through this?’ And yes, they were – millions of them,” she says.
She describes constantly feeling tearful, exhausted and like she was “trailing through treacle”. Her GP prescribed anti-depressants, which she took for two years, but they didn’t help. It was only when she went to an AA meeting [she’s a recovering alcoholic] and revealed she was exhausted, wasn’t sleeping, had lost her libido, had aching joints and felt anxious and overwhelmed, that a woman there suggested she was menopausal. “She pointed it out to me and I thought, ‘Cheeky cow!’”
The woman was right, though. Armed with new knowledge about her symptoms, Mathews returned to the doctor and the menopause diagnosis was confirmed. She points out there are 34 common menopause symptoms “and I was rocking 30 of them”.
Menopause and mental health
“I never had a hot flush, my symptoms were all connected to mental health,” Mathews explains. “Nobody ever warned me that mental health was part of the menopause. I was overwhelmed by life, with terrible anxiety, not leaving the house for three months because I just couldn’t cope. We now know that oestrogen works that part of the brain and anxiety is a huge part of the menopause, but nobody had ever told me that.
“Everything was hard work, all the things I’d always loved – like the thought of going on holiday and having to pack. And I know it isn’t just me that’s felt like that.”
After setting up her website she was soon getting 100,000 hits a month, suggesting that, like her, lots of other mid-life women were desperate to learn more about what’s happening to their bodies and minds.
The wider health impact
Menopause isn’t just about managing difficult symptoms, either. This phase of life can also be associated with other health issues – for example, the risk of heart disease can increase for women post-menopause. Osteoporosis can be another concern.
Mathews was diagnosed with weakened bones at 49 – and having seen her mother be affected by the condition, and bedridden with it for the last few years of her life, she admits it “scared the living daylights” out of her.
There are lots of things that can help though, including lifestyle changes and, when suitable, HRT. “It’s all about prevention,” says Mathews. “I just thought I’m going to make this my mission, to make this knowledge for women. It baffles me that thousands and thousands of women just do not have a clue about [these things], and they should have.”
Mathews says she spent thousands of pounds on alternative therapies – including tapping and reflexology – in a bid to alleviate her distressing symptoms.
While these may play a role and many people do find complementary therapies beneficial, Mathews says returning to her GP and being prescribed a body identical oestradiol gel, an HRT with the same molecular structure as a woman’s hormones, was key for her.
“It saved my life, I was in such a dark place,” she says. “You just rub it on your inner thigh or arm. Within four or five nights, my night sweats had stopped and the anxiety went – not altogether, but it was so much better.”
Look at your lifestyle too
While Mathews firmly believes HRT has vastly improved her quality of life, she also champions following a healthy diet (she’s a teetotal vegan, and has been vegetarian since age nine).
“It might sound a bit odd that someone who used to live on cigarettes, rum and recreational drugs is now almost fanatical about nutrition,” she writes in the book, which also contains advice on what types of foods and nutrients can help during menopause – including omega-3 fats from oily fish and nuts, which may help reduce hot flushes and night sweats, and protein, which can help increase muscle mass lost during this life stage, impacting metabolism and weight. “I’ve realised now that what you put into your body can make a huge difference to how you feel,” she adds.
As for exercise, she admits she’s always found excuses to avoid it, particularly in the middle of her menopause when she felt very lethargic. However, although she’s always been slim, Mathews says she put on two stone during menopause and realised her exercise apathy needed addressing.
Now, as well as walking her dog, she does online workout classes and 10 minutes of yoga every morning. She also did ‘Couch to 5k’ – and admits she was “very impressed” with herself when she managed to run the full distance.
“Do whatever it is you enjoy,” Mathews advises. “I’m not a big lover of exercise, I do it because I’m vain and I like to eat. I’m not one of these people who’s gagging to exercise in the morning.”
As for whether she’d like to go back to those hedonistic party days?
“Absolutely not! I have no regrets and had an absolute blast (at least the bits I remember!). However, I am now so much happier and more self-accepting, and menopause was my kicker to reassess everything,” Mathews says.
“I get messages from hundreds of women every day and I feel I have one purpose in my life now, and that’s being a service to women, so that no woman should suffer like I suffered.”
The New Hot: Taking On The Menopause With Attitude And Style by Meg Mathews is published by Vermilion, priced £16.99. Available now.