When I started perimenopause, there was a dearth of information to help with the menopause journey. So Menopause Goddess Blog was born out of the collective experiences of our core group of goddesses. These days, there is plenty of information, a glut actually, (not all of it helpful) and it can be difficult to sort out what’s relevant. One of my favorite sources is Hotflash Inc, Ann Marie McQueen’s carefully curated repository of wisdom. I asked her to write her story and tell us how she came to start and continue such a helpful, heart-filled space. Her story was too long for one post, so here’s Part I – Part II will be posted next week.  Enjoy!

Why I started Hotflash Inc        Part I

Sometime around my early 40s, things started to get really weird.

I began having nightmares, crazy vivid ones in which I was dying of something undefined and needed to take a pill to stay alive.

Night after night I would jerk awake, gasping, thinking I had forgotten to take the pill. That I would die if I didn’t take it immediately.

Daytime wasn’t safe either: I’d just be sitting somewhere, minding my own business, often having fun, and a sheet of fear would just rip right through me. The fear was attached to a horrible thought, one that never made any real sense.

For example, one frosty February morning back in my hometown in Canada, I dropped my toddler niece off at daycare, taking off her little snowsuit and boots, stowing them, and holding her hand to her classroom. Soon after my dad picked me up to go see the World Figure Skating Championships. I was watching the pairs warm up for their portion of the competition, fulfilling a dream I’d had since I was a young figure skater, when it happened.

Like a lightning strike, terror, and a voice: ‘You left her in the van. She’s there now, frozen’. I sat there for hours on what was supposed to be a fun day, in mental agony, arguing with myself about saying something to my dad or calling my brother. I knew it could pour water on my brain, but I’d be alerting them to the fact that I was clearly losing my mind.

I had lots of physical issues too: crazy headaches, heart palpitations, body aches and sharp chest pains, the kind that sent me to the ER at 3am, only to have a full cardiac workup finding nothing wrong. I’d feel tingling all over my body, smell things burning that were not and get a really strange whooshing feeling in my head – enough so that I’d think to myself ‘well, at least if I have an aneurysm and fall out of my chair, my staff can take it from there’.

IBS issues I’d had for more than a decade intensified. I was so tired. I got paranoid at work, developed a sudden fear of flying – and was plagued by obsessive thoughts. Then all my eyelashes fell out.

You get the picture. I was a mess. At the same time, we had a major, scary family illness, my live-in relationship was falling apart, and I was in the most demanding job of my life. To deal with it, I did what I’d always done: hard work, punishing exercise, restrictive diet, lots of self-flagellation, and self-medicating with unintended binge drinking a few weekends a month just to get some relief from the anxiety, followed by excruciating days of shame, depression, and regret. Repeat. I did do a lot of positive things during those six or so years: lots of therapy, lots of self-exploration.

I saw about a dozen doctors, too, and none of them flagged what I now realize was a big contributor to all this internal chaos.

It wasn’t until I was 47, and skipped my first period, that the light bulb went off. And I finally found out about this thing called “perimenopause”.

I definitely hadn’t heard of it. But I was also embarrassed! I am a journalist for goodness’ sake. I was a trends columnist for Canada’s Sun Media newspaper chain, and in 2007 – when I was 37 – I even wrote about menopause under the headline “It’s the new puberty.”

And if I didn’t know about this, someone with years of experience covering health and wellness, on top of all the latest trends, what hope did other women have?

I started a Google alert for perimenopause and menopause in 2018 and found that most of the media coverage was just not good enough. It was either fear-mongering or unbalanced, thinly veiled PR, or driven by affiliate links – all still a problem five years later, unfortunately. I could see that menopause was becoming increasingly polarized, people arguing about whether HRT or the natural approach was better, as if this is an either-or proposition.

I’ve always approached my journalism career with curiosity, skepticism, and an open mind. A good journalist is a scared journalist, scared of getting it wrong, of quoting the wrong person, of missing something. A good journalist also has courage, because when you are doing the job right, you are pointing out things that don’t make sense, inaccuracies, injustices, inconsistencies and conflicts of interest – and that tends to piss people off.

Along the way I’ve learned hype is never a good thing; negative narratives, fueling fear, division, arrogance, egos, and obstinance hurts all of us, and that the people who yell the loudest usually know the least.

I started to realize that no one was producing the kind of perimenopause information that I would want to read. Everything got easier for me once I knew what was going on with my body and mind, and I wanted to give other women that feeling too. And I felt my fingers itching, the way they always do when I want to get to the bottom of something.

I had always admired the way the American actress and entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow launched Goop as a newsletter, and started talking about doing the same. “Will you have enough to write about?” was the common question I’d get back.

“It’s so niche!” was another. One friend said she was worried I’d get depressed, but having pulled myself out of those horrendous years where I didn’t know what was happening, with only my own innate positivity, tenacity, and curiosity to lean on, I wanted to tell other people what I’d learned. And I also knew I could bring my renewed light to those who had maybe forgotten where their own switch was.

Ann Marie McQueen is an award-winning health and wellness journalist living and working in the Middle East. Through Hotflash inc, Ann Marie shares balanced information about the peri/menopause transition and all aspects of midlife with a community of more than 30,000 women around the world. The platform is based on sharing information based on evidence, experts, and human experience, incorporating all modalities, revealing bias or a conflict wherever possible. You can connect with Ann Marie via her Substack newsletter, website, podcast, and social media. She is also launching live monthly Office Hours for paid subscribers of her Substack community.