Anna Timson was just 17-years-old when went through early menopause and has been taking the contraceptive pill for the ensuing 20 years to help ease the crippling symptoms.
Now aged 38, Anna, from Warwick in the UK, is sharing her story to raise awareness about the condition that ultimately meant she'd never be able to conceive children naturally.
Menopause at 17
Anna, who works in HR, started noticing something wasn't right when she was studying for her high school exams.
"I had normal periods when I was 14 and then when I was 16, I noticed they had become erratic and irregular," she told Caters News.
"I would have to hang out of the windows in the classroom because I was so hot so the menopause diagnosis made a lot of sense," she added.
But Anna was initially diagnosed with a high level of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and immediately put on the pill. This regulated her periods and stopped the hot flushes and mood swings but after coming off the pill a few years later, her symptoms returned.
"When I eventually went back [to the doctor], they did blood tests which confirmed the menopause diagnosis."
She was told by doctors to continue taking the pill to 'mask' her symptoms and she's been on it ever since.
"If I'm not on some form of hormone replacement, I could get brittle bone disease which is why they want me to stay on it for now until I'm at the age where hormone replacements work."
'Worst possible thing'
For Anna, who was a 21-year-old university student at the time, finding out she had premature menopause was heartbreaking.
"It was the worst possible thing I could have been told.
"It felt like I had had my future ripped away from me and I questioned why it had to happen to me before I had even had the chance to consider having children.
Anna worried about what her future would look like now she had no say in whether or not she wanted to start a family.
"At that age, I hadn't even considered having a family and that decision was taken away from me - it was devastating.
"I locked myself away for months and grieved; I went into complete shock and didn't want to talk about it because, at the time, there weren't many other people talking about it."
Now, Anna wants to raise awareness for early menopause and the devastating impact it can have on someone's life.
She regularly uses The Daisy Network, which is a UK charity offering information, advice and support for women diagnosed with premature menopause.
"I think it's a lot more spoken about and known about now and I've realised the importance in using my voice to speak out and share my story."
But it hasn't always been easy to open up. Anna recalls how her sister's pregnancy in 2018 'opened up a lot of the trauma' that she's been through.
"I finally sought counselling through the NHS and after six months, I felt ready to start opening up about it and now a lot of people are open to having the discussion.
"The worst part is when people make assumptions or ask when I'm having children - I normally respond by telling them I can't."
A happy future
When Anna met her current partner Russell, 32, seven years ago she filled him in on her health journey immediately.
"I told him straight away that I couldn't have children; I wanted to be honest with him," she said.
They've had many discussions regarding their options for starting a family and even began looking into IVF after her sister offered to donate an egg.
The process came to an abrupt halt when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, prompting Anna and Russell to realise that they are 'happy as we are for now'.
"I always thought I would be a mum because that's what the social norm is.
"We've taken the decision that we're fine the way we are and if we change our minds, we'll do it privately or adopt."
While Anna is aware that the window for IVF will begin closing as she gets older, she's proud of how far she's come in terms of accepting her diagnosis.
"I was terrified people wouldn't want to be with me and I wouldn't find love because you think you'll find someone, marry them and then have kids and I couldn't do that.
"I feel like for the first time in a long time I'm at peace with the whole situation.
"I used to questions why it was happening to me but this experience has made me who I am today and if I can do something positive with it, I want to."
For menopause support, The Australasian Menopause Society offers education, information and guidance to help navigate the process.
Additional reporting by Cally Brooks/Caters News.
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