Claire Hattrick, 56, from Hampshire, endured over 10 years of joint pain that took over her life, before realising it was menopause-related and finally finding a cure. She now coaches other women and businesses on menopause symptoms.
I didn’t realise that morning when I woke up that my life was about to change completely. It was around 2010 and I had a searing pain in my fingers – I thought I must have rolled onto my hand in my sleep. I couldn’t even pick up the kettle to make a cup of tea or reach for my water bottle, it was so painful.
I was in my early 40s at the time and working as a beauty therapist so I had to use my hands all the time for work. I dosed up on paracetamol and tried to carry on as normal.
Over the following months, the pain got worse and worse and spread from my hands to both sides of my body, my elbows, hips and knees. I couldn’t even get out of the car without help and it must have looked as though I was drunk when I staggered out, crippled with pain.
I had to ask my twin daughters, Abby and Beth, who were in their teens at the time, to help me. My knees and hips felt as though they were dislocated and had come out of their sockets.
I had to reduce my hours at work to cope but as I was self-employed I couldn’t really take much time off. I would come out of an appointment and sit on the stairs with my head in my hands, crying with pain.
Sometimes, if I had to do a wax, or I’d been standing for seven or eight hours straight, I would be in terrible pain afterwards. Even doing a facial, I’d be leaning over someone and find my elbows would be throbbing. I’d have to put my elbows in ice to try and soothe the pain afterwards.
I went back and forth to see my GP and, as the months went by, he referred me to 11 different consultants for everything from fibromyalgia to Lyme disease and arthritis. No one could work out what was wrong with me. I remember my GP saying, "You’ve gone from having four appointments in the last few years for a pill check and laryngitis to practically having your own parking space at the surgery." I used to hate needles but I had to get over that with all the tests I was having.
My anxiety got worse and worse and at night I would lie there full of dread.
I’d been a gym member since I was 18 and was really fit and active. I used to go four or five times a week but I had to give it all up when the joint pain started.
With no answers, I turned to social media and, of course, I went to the worse-case scenario and thought perhaps I was seriously ill. My anxiety got worse and worse and at night I would lie there full of dread. I went from being so sociable to not wanting to leave the house.
The pain got so bad that I couldn’t even get out of bed or go to the toilet without one of my daughters helping me. I didn’t want to be a burden to them but as a single parent, there was no one else I could ask for help.
I remember one time I went to meet some friends at the local garden centre and the first thing I did was find a load of cushions to sit on but after a few hours of sitting chatting, I found I couldn’t get up. My friend had to help me. I was so embarrassed.
The lightbulb moment came a few months later when I went to see a physiotherapist I had already seen a few times before and built up a good relationship with. It was 22 December, 2019 and I’d been working flat out in the salon and I was still feeling so low. "Can you tell me what’s wrong with me?" I asked him in despair.
I went to see my GP and he found that my oestrogen levels were really low. He put me on HRT and it was a game-changer.
He thought for a moment and then said, "Hang on, all the women with joint pain I’ve seen today are from the ages of 40 to 60. Do you think it might be menopause-related?"
I told him I hadn’t had a period since my early 40s but that no one had ever asked me about that before.
"You need to go into see your GP and get your hormone levels checked," he told me.
I went to see my GP and he found that my oestrogen levels were really low. I was 52 at the time. He put me on naproxen, an anti-inflammatory drug to treat pain and then HRT. It was a total game-changer and the pain vanished. I remember thinking, 'Wow, I can hold a water bottle without it hurting.'
Things were going well then in lockdown, I had to shut my salon which floored me financially. It was my daughters who suggested I launch a website and blog after everything I’d learned about the menopause. They helped set it up with me and after just three months, I was invited to do an online talk on the menopause.
I realised there was a big gap in the market for menopause advice so I started working on a handbook for businesses on what they needed to know about the menopause. I wanted to make sure there wasn’t too much jargon and keep it straightforward. I included everything from unknown symptoms to the best natural supplements.
Then, a couple of years ago, a local company asked if I would come in and talk to them about menopause issues. Last year, I took a CPD-accredited course to become a professional coach.
I went to an event last year and got chatting to a group of businessmen who asked if I wanted to come in and do a talk at their company. My work has taken off from there and next month we’re holding our first event for local businesses with menopause specialists.
I feel like my old self again and when I look back on that difficult time, it feels like a bad dream.
I always say to people, "Don’t just ask someone once if they are okay, ask again." I know from personal experience, it’s so easy to fob people off and pretend that everything is okay but so often that’s not the case. I put on a brave face when I literally felt as though I was dying inside. It was really hard.
I came off HRT about seven months ago and so far, so good. I feel like my old self again and when I look back on that difficult time, it feels like a bad dream. I’m passionate about helping women through menopause. I want to make sure no one else has to go through what I went through and feel alone.
For further details, see The Executive Menopause Coach.