It’s billed as the decade where life is meant to be fun and carefree but, for Michelle Ackerley, her twenties couldn’t have been more different as she secretly battled debilitating health problems.
The bubbly TV presenter, who hosts shows such as The One Show and Crime Watch, spent most of her youth suffering from endometriosis, a painful condition where the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places in the body. But when she started a hormone treatment for it, Michelle endured gruelling menopausal symptoms at the age of just 24.
“I was experiencing intense pain with my endometriosis and heavy bleeding. I’d had laparoscopies [keyhole surgery to investigate inside the abdomen] and had tried various treatments, including pain killers, over the years, when my gynaecologist suggested trying hormone replacement therapy injections,” Michelle, 37, tells Closer.
“It worked, but basically put me into an early form of menopause for 18 months. I was given monthly injections into my stomach, which made my periods completely stop. I’d experience these intense hot flushes, my skin became itchy and sore and I had breakouts on my face. I suffered extreme mood swings so I was all over the place, feeling really panicky and then really angry.”
The timing couldn’t have been worse as Michelle had just landed her first job in production at the BBC and felt she was unable to share what she was going through with close friends or colleagues.
The star, who has also hosted Loose Women, explains, “I had lots of responsibility, and it was really exciting, but I remember sitting at my desk and occasionally I’d get this wave of heat, like someone had thrust a hot water bottle onto my chest. It started happening during meetings and phone conversations and I tried to fake it as best I could – I felt so embarrassed.
“I didn’t even tell my friends what was happening. I was so busy trying to be this bubbly, positive person while physically and mentally my body was crumbling. Often, I would go to the toilet and just stand in the cubicle trying to get myself together. I even put a fake smile on my face in front of the mirror to see if that helped.”
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She adds, “Part of me felt I couldn’t talk about this because it was meant to be helping me. There probably would’ve been other people sitting next to me who’d been going through their own problems and I think it’s a real shame none of us said anything. It’s great things have started to change in terms of having open conversations about women’s physical and mental health. We have more information and we’re open to discussing what we’re going through.”
After suffering for nearly 18 months, Michelle came off the treatment and the menopause symptoms subsided. However, her endometriosis returned and, eventually, she was given the mirena coil, which helped alleviate some of the worst effects. What has helped her most, Michelle says, is confiding in her mother Mavis, who’d also suffered from endometriosis and underwent a hysterectomy in her early 40s.
The star, who is set to front new BBC series Dirty Rotten Scammers – alongside her mum – this Spring, investigating the rise in cyber fraud, and has also recorded a special show for Magic Radio’s Menopause Month, says, “Mum and I were discussing it recently on a podcast and we both got tearful. I was feeling emotional about what I’d been through as a young woman, feeling so isolated. And after the hysterectomy, Mum went straight into the menopause, which must have been awful.
“I remember sometimes she’d drive us to school and would burst into tears. She told me that for many years, she wasn’t happy. She felt so down, physically and mentally. But now she’s in her mid-60s, she’s in a good place.”
With the help of Mavis, who’s a personal trainer and life coach, Michelle looked into alternative ways of managing her symptoms. She says, “To feel better physically and mentally, I’ll go for a run or, if my stomach’s really hurting, I’ll go for a walk, it gets me out into the fresh air and moving.
“With my job, I do a lot of travelling so Mum has taught me some floor exercises to stretch my body, my back and ways to steady my breathing. I still suffer, but I feel as though I’m in the driving seat now.”
Michelle says her partner Ryan, 50, who’s a rugby coach, has been a huge support and he understands her fears for the future. She says, “Ryan says all this has been a massive learning curve for him. He’s had to hear about these hormonal problems and to have him being so supportive is brilliant. Often, we’ll have these conversations when we’re outdoors on a three-hour walk. It really helps.
“There are still questions about what’s coming next for me. Will I need a hysterectomy in my 40s? Will I be able to have kids? These are things people can’t say for sure, but I understand more about my body and I feel more positive and in control now than I ever have.”
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'Cold water therapy is revitalising'
Like many celebs, including Fearne Cotton and Ruby Wax, Michelle recently discovered the benefits of cold water therapy.
“There are so many benefits to having cold showers and cold water swimming. Having a cold shower in the morning is invigorating and it revitalises you. I was in Devon over Christmas with Ryan and we went swimming in the sea.
“It’s such an amazing experience to immerse yourself in cold water. It teaches you to be in control and present. It’s about getting the breathing technique right so you can regulate your body and slow down your heart rate.
“When we came back from our cold water swim, we sat in the hotel room with a cup of tea, and just enjoying a hot drink when your body temperature has dropped is such a lovely experience. It’s so calming and mindful.”
Michelle and Mavis will co-host Dirty Rotten Scammers on BBC1 this Spring. Menopause Month airs on Magic Radio in March, with programmes powered by the Audio Content Fund to raise awareness of women’s experiences. On 14-18 March, Mavis and Michelle will join Emma B’s show to discuss how menopause impacts loved ones. Weekdays, 1pm.