I feel quite disappointed in those groundbreaking sisters, who went before me, blazing a trail in what seems like all areas of life. Well almost. In so many ways these amazing women made life so much easier for my generation so why then nary a peep about the M word? Women like Madonna, who let’s face it rarely keeps her mouth shut about anything (she revealed all her bits in a coffee table book, for Christ’s sake!) never even utter the word never mind owning up to being in the grip of it. And for lots of us, that’s what it feels like, being in the grip of something alien to ourselves. In fact, I would imagine it’s not unlike being abducted by aliens and subjected to some seriously weird mind and body experimentation.
Let’s first address then why this astonishing experience, which affects most if not all women, is kept locked away like a dirty little secret. Actually that’s not true; it’s sometimes given an airing to poke fun at, in the same way mother in laws used to be. The idea of middle aged women fanning away the hot flashes is about the only way we see the menopause depicted. In more recent years an alternative to the previous image of the middle aged frumpy battleaxe is that of the cougar. All I have to say on the matter is – get real. It’s telling, however that the only way the media can deal with women is to objectify them. We’ve had young women depicted as playful sex objects for years but now we also have the aforementioned Madonna cavorting around in her underwear. Not to mention actresses like Courtney Cox or the Desperate Housewives and Sex in the City lot chasing after men they are old enough to have given birth to. These women must surely be menopausal so why no mention of it?
I’ll tell you why – misogyny. We still live in a society defined by misogyny, no matter how much we like to bleat on about girl power or women ruling the boardroom. A society that finds the idea of women being no longer fertile demeaning and ugly. I don’t blame men; it’s probably in their DNA to chase after nubile young women and good luck to them with their middle aged paunches and thinning hair. No, my beef is with women. Why do we collude with this misogyny and, in the same way we inject ourselves with Botox and knock years off our age, deny an experience which is at the very least life changing and at worst debilitating.
You may think I’m exaggerating but, since revealing my own menopausal horror, it’s unleashed an outpouring from other women too ashamed to admit that they’ve reached ‘that age’. If you think about it, years ago it was referred to as the change of life, so it stands to reason that change is what it’s all about and unfortunately not in a good way. The help that women receive when they speak out about their symptoms seems to range from patchy to dire. My own doctor gave me short shrift with the wise words – 50 to 55 are notoriously difficult for women. Other women I know have had HRT pushed onto them without first exploring any other options.
I was lucky because I found an amazing acupuncturist, who has helped me tremendously. I say lucky because I actually consulted her as a physiotherapist due to a neck problem and she turned out to be an enthusiastic proponent of Chinese medicine. I’m also very much aware that a lot of women would not be able to afford her fees and no such treatment is available on the NHS. The good news for all of us menopausal women is, my acupuncturist assures me (she is as wise as the Dalai Lama and so she must be right), this hormonal tsunami passes and, once we’ve passed though the eye of the storm, we’ll feel better than we have for years. Apparently, we’ve probably been suffering in little ways for a long time and not really noticed it but once it’s over I’m convinced a new lease of life awaits us.
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of symptoms then, which are wide ranging and seemingly random. This in a way is part of the problem; the very randomness means that symptoms are often taken in isolation rather than as a part of the big fat hideous package. The obvious ones that we all know about are the hot flashes/sweats and mood swings. However, I’ve never had a hot flash, even though as someone who feels the cold easily I’d often welcome one. It would at least save on my heating bill. I’m often gripped by a moodiness which sees me wanting to throttle poor unsuspecting people to death with by bare hands but that’s nothing new, I’ve always been an irritable grouch. So you see there’s no real pattern.
Exhaustion seems to be a common complaint and I have never felt so tired in my life. Indeed at one point I convinced myself I had ME, until my sister told me I was being ridiculous. In reality, the exhaustion is probably down to the fact that I barely get an undisturbed night’s sleep – another common symptom. It seems there is an army of middle aged women all lying awake in the wee hours, unable to get back to sleep no matter how much lavender we ingest. Believe me, I’ve tried everything and nothing works but surely there’s a comfort in knowing that it’s part of the cycle of life and there are millions of women worldwide all in the same boat.
Total befuddlement is another problem area for me. I used to have the best memory of anyone I know; now I have days when I can barely remember my own name. You may think I’m joking but I’m really not. The other day I got on a bus, went into a trance and the next thing I knew I was on the opposite side of the city, miles from where I needed to be. I’m in total awe of middle aged women holding down important jobs, like doctors or nurses, because I would surely have killed someone by now.
It’s not just the mental incapacity either; I’ve been blighted by migraines, which I’ve never had before in my life. Apparently the most likely cause is the surge of menopausal hormones and the only good news is they will hopefully be a short term affliction. I have friends who have been just as suddenly afflicted with a whole host of seemingly unrelated problems. It seems the stress that the menopause places on our systems is likely to unleash God only knows what. No two menopausal experiences are the same except in the way they are shocking and overwhelming in equal measures.
I’m sure there are some women out there who don’t want to be defined by the M word, who are horrified at the thought of making all of its associated problems public. My argument, however, is that forewarned would have been forearmed. Maybe if the shock of finding yourself in the grip of this monster wasn’t so severe, women wouldn’t feel so anxious and depressed about the whole experience. I’m not convinced that there’s much we can do to alleviate the symptoms, I’ve spent a small fortune on a myriad of alternative remedies, none of which have worked. What we can do though is acknowledge that the menopausal experience is just as much part of being a woman as puberty or our sexual awakening. We can take comfort in knowing that we may be navigating choppy waters for a while but we are in it together. So, over to you ladies.