Secrets of menopause

Fiona O’Donnell On… The 5 Secrets Of Menopause

Fiona O’Donnell is a woman on a mission, to get Irish women talking about menopause – here are the five secrets of menopause she thinks we all need to know

Have you ever thought after menopause? Or is it one of those things you’ll talk about when the time comes? Not if Fiona O’Donnell has her way…. the nutritionist is here to talk about the five secrets of menopause.

What you need to know

I was sitting at home on the couch recently wearing gym gear and a hoodie when I suddenly had the urge to take it all off. Like not just the hoodie, but everything! I felt that every layer between that hoodie and my skin just had to go. The sensation wasn’t heat per se – it was more like that uncomfortable cold sweat you get when you have run for a bus in the middle of December with a duffle coat on. You go from cold to hot in a second and you just have to get out of those clothes.  This had happened sporadically over the previous week, but it was only when my hubby said “Are you having a hot flush or something” that the penny dropped.

You see, at 34 years of age (four years ago now) I never anticipated being menopausal. When I thought of ‘menopause’, I thought of grandmothers, short tempers and flushed cheeks. I never thought about young people going through this experience. In school, we are all taught about periods, but there is no real mention of menopause. Should we not be teaching our children about the changes that they will definitely experience at some point in their lives? Is it still a taboo subject?

I want to break that taboo and talk about the five things that I would have like to have been prepared for. I started menopause following a six-month course of chemotherapy and high dose steroids. My pituitary gland took a chemical hit and my thyroid and ovary function headed on a downward trajectory over the course of a year. And some symptoms affected me more than others.

The hot flushes

Can we please rename these. They aren’t a gentle warmth like you might feel on a beach in Mallorca in May. I honestly feel that  “Fires of hell flushes” might be more appropriate. They come on suddenly and, with no prior notice, you find yourself in a fully-fledged panic to get your arms out of your cashmere polo neck with or without the use of scissors. My face and neck feel as though I’m standing too close to an open fire and I feel a serious sense of panic in my throat, my heart races, my cheeks, and chest get flushed. My top lip beads with sweat and I feel like I’m in the middle of a spinning class with the heating on. It’s no wonder that a lot of women might begin to feel anxious around the time they become menopausal.

Skin changes

I went from having relatively clear skin to a spotty teenager to my skin being as dry as the Panstick that has been in the back of my makeup drawer since 1995 over the course of a few months. As an aside, once I started HRT, this all cleared up.


I kept eating as normal. I have a really healthy, balanced diet and I exercise lots but suddenly, I looked 6 months pregnant after a handful of raspberries and even my stretchy jeans were a little overstretched. Again, these are symptoms improved with HRT.


Don’t make loud noises. Don’t make quiet noises. Whispering annoyed me. Music annoyed me sometimes… on a Tuesday. But I loved the same song played loud on a Wednesday. There was no rhyme or reason, but I was irritated and you may lose a limb if you get too close.


This hit me hardest. I am not the type of person that feels anxious. It doesn’t start, like most anxiety, with a single thought that spirals out of control. It just arrives. I suddenly felt really uncomfortable, worried and anxious. I knew it was hormone-related because there was no reason for it. It was clear I wasn’t worrying about something real and I knew that, but it takes a lot of practice at gaining that insight!

Read more: 3 ways to deal with anxiety

What to do

My first port of call was to see my GP. As I am so young (yup, a 38-year-old spring chicken!) my GP suggested that to maintain bone and heart health, I should begin hormone replacement therapy. I go into this in more detail in my blog so you can find all the ins and outs here.

The emotional side is a bigger task to manage and should really be taken seriously. My friend used a great analogy to describe how to manage anxiety. She said it’s like standing in the sea, watching a wave roll towards you. You can see it coming, you can feel it coming and you can choose to let it crash into you and knock you over or you can surf it into the shore. We have to have the tools to manage this hormonal wave that is definitely coming. I have started to meditate, practice some breathing and distraction techniques and it has really helped me.

 I think it’s time we all started talking about menopause. Its time we supported women to take control instead of letting that wave wash over us. #letstalkmenopause

Fiona O’Donnell is a nutritionist and works with busy women empowering lifestyle change. With a background working as a cardiac physiologist, her focus has always been on health. In 2017, Fiona underwent a kidney transplant thanks to an altruistic donation from a close friend. Since then, she has slowly returned to competing in triathlon and open water swimming. Fiona has a blog www.westcorkfit.com where she frequently posts recipes and fitness articles.

Read more: 7 ways to improve gut health