Sunday, 17 August 2014

An open letter to Boots The Chemists, or A Cry In The Wilderness...

...because believe you me, the perimenopause is a wilderness.

Last December, in the weeks after that nasty bout of gastroenteritis, I began to be woken in the night by my body temperature suddenly soaring.  The first two or three times this happened I thought I was having some sort of feverish nausea flare-up.  I would stagger to the bathroom and crouch there expecting to throw up any minute.  Of course, it was nothing of the kind.  It was the long-dreaded development of another of the major symptoms of the run-up to the menopause; night sweats (I was already getting hot flushes, but finding them less hellish than I'd been led to expect - unpleasant, but quick to pass and hence manageable most of the time).

By mid-January, I was being woken an average of six times a night, running in sweat and boiling as if in a high fever.  I don't know why it started then, whether the gastroenteritis had triggered something, but there I was, sweating like a dog, throwing off my bedcovers and then having to wait until I had cooled enough to wipe myself down and try to get back to sleep.  Basically, from mid-December onwards I did not have a single uninterrupted night's sleep.  I was functioning on about four hours instead of seven to eight..

I don't believe in sitting and bewailing your lot and not trying to do anything about it, so I started trying various herbal remedies.  Red clover had no effect on my symptoms, black cohosh made me nauseous; and then I discovered sage.  Specifically, after working through the three brands on the market, Boots own label sage leaf capsules.  Their effects were little short of miraculous.

I'm not asking the menopause to not happen, I know I have to go through this experience (unless I get hit by a bus, which I'd prefer not to have happen).  I just wanted not to be woken multiple times every night.  Work was already busy and stressful enough without this.  Battling on, on around half the amount of sleep you need, gradually frays the nerves and saps the stamina, and leaves one increasingly desperate in the face of every minor difficulty.  I had begun to wonder if I could survive several years of this.

Within three days of starting to take the sage capsules I had my first good night's sleep in four months.

It got better.  Not only did my system settle into giving me only very mild night sweats, with the ones bad enough to wake me happening about once a week instead of repeatedly every single night; on top of that, my hot flushes got easier too.  They went from "nasty but bearable-I-guess" to "mildly irritating".  And with improved sleep I found my moods improved, which in turn made everything more manageable. 

Work remained hectic and stressful, and there were other troubles on my plate, in particular the horrible business of having to flatshare-hunt and move in June.  But gradually, slowly slowly, I began to cope with things better, and all because I was getting enough sleep; all because of this little capsule with the musty aftertaste that I was taking twice a day.  It felt as though I had got my life back.  I got moved, I got settled-in, I kept my head above water at work, I began to see friends and to have enough energy to do simple things like going to the flicks at the weekend or having a walk in my lunch break.  I could imagine a future in which I coped with things and didn't feel at my wits' end the entire time.

In short, I felt human again.  I felt normal, healthy, and like myself.   

But then, a few weeks ago I began finding Boots branches didn't have it in stock anymore.  The label had vanished from the shelf in each store, as well.  When I asked members of staff for help they were pleasant and friendly but knew nothing, and none of them could tell me what was happening.  When I found my sage capsules one weekend in Hammersmith I panic-bought the last boxes they had in stock, several months' supply.  But yesterday, finally, I spoke to a member of Boots' staff who was prepared to commit himself: "If it isn't on the shelf and it isn't showing up on, it's been discontinued".

I want to scream; other brands are more expensive and less effective (I've tried both the other brands I can find, H&B and Vogel).  It felt as though Boots had saved my life; and now it feels as though they've taken it away again. 

Please, Boots The Chemist, listen to this one despairing perimenopausal voice!  Boots, why would you do this to me? - why would you do this to all of the women using that particular product? 

If you've ever had to struggle on, trying to get on with a normal life for day after day on an inadequate amount of sleep - & I know that anyone who's had children knows what this feels like, for starters - you will know how tremendously difficult it is over time.  The smallest challenge becomes a horror, and real pressure is an out-and-out nightmare.  The most trivial things start to feel overwhelming, like a job being postponed, a friend bugging you to do something, a kindly rebuff...

I look back on the person I was becoming, in February and March and April, withdrawn and ill-tempered and on the verge of tears much of the time; I think of what a pain in the neck I must have been to my friends, to my family, and especially to my poor patient colleagues who had to deal with this frazzled hag on a daily basis; and the thought of going back there makes me want to weep.  Please, please, don't do this to me!

This is not a product one would buy once as a treat and then not get again; it isn't a nail varnish or something.  The perimenopause lasts several years on average, and if one finds a product that will help with the symptoms, one is going to buy and use that product loyally throughout that time.  I would potentially have spent £18 a month in my local Boots branch, for the next two or three years minimum.  And I can't be the only one.

I'm not a powerful voice in the blogosphere, I know, and I'm not calling for a boycott or anything, anyway.  I've written to their customer services to plead for a change of heart.  And I am repeating that plea here.  Please, Boots, bring back my sage!  Let my friends and colleagues and family know a sane woman who isn't hiding and crying and close to despair all the time.  And let me keep this simple, humble, blessed benefit of getting a night's sleep!!! 


Kate Wise said...

Hi,I'm also desperate to get these back. I've been thrown into the menopause full force, yet another side effect of breast cancer treatment. I'm not allowed any hormone based herbal remedies so sage is my only option. Like you, I've found the boots sage leaf much more effective than the other brands. Maybe we should start a petition!
I have a chillo pillow. Its fantastic for the night time furnace!! Well worth the high price. Take care, Kate. (

Imogen said...

Kate, I have recently found it in stock again, at one of the local branches (Westfield/White City). Haven't looked in others but this made me more hopeful. The quality seems to have stayed the same, which is good! I will check out the chill-o-pillow; I've never heard of it but a night-time cooler sounds like a good idea, so thanks for the tip-off...

Kate Wise said...

Thanks, I'm going to phone around a few boots branches . You can get the chillow from Amazon or directly from
I'm loving your blog, thank you, it gives me something else to think about!

Imogen said...

Thank you very much, that's very kind of you to say that!