I’m 48 and I’m forgetting things. I forget what I walked out the room to get. I want to use one word and another word comes out even when I can see the word I want in my minds eye.
I have days when I wake up with a sense of doom. I can’t put it any other way…doom and dread that everyone I love with somehow be taken from me.
I seem to be crying a lot for no apparent reason. And I get angry at things I don’t usually get angry about.
I also seem to suffer from severe and prolonged bouts of CBA (Can’t Be Arsed) and then at other moments I feel deliriously silly and happy.
I’m still having periods, I haven’t gained weight but I do wonder round the classrooms I inhabit opening windows only to hear the students telling me they’re cold so I guess maybe my temperature is out a bit too.
- Have you noticed any changes in yourself?
- Have you noticed any changes in your friend/partner?
- Have you talked about it?
- Do you want to?
My mum died when I was in my 30s so we hadn’t talked much about the menopause. I do know she didn’t take HRT. I don’t know how old she was when her menopause started or ended or how it went for her.
I have watched some friends and colleagues go through the menopause.
M is an amazing consultant who came to work somewhere I was working. She is a Doctor as well as a highly successful educator, writer, mother of 4, grandma and all round lovely person. We would be working and one minute she would be fine and then next it was as if a bucket of water had been tipped over her she was so wet with sweat. She shrugged and said she carried on regardless.
Another friend has been going through it for 13 years and still gets the sweats. She talks about how at times she has felt she was going mad she was so anxious and fearful.
Another friend sailed through it on herbs and massage. OK she went through a stage where she repeated herself a lot but she/ out the other side looking great and feeling good.
Another friend has been on HRT for years and hates how she has put on weight and how she aches more and how down she gets in spite of the drugs.
The BBC a week or so ago announced that NICE have published clinical guidelines for how to treat the menopause and the news link showed a couple, married for 35 years who said the menopause nearly broke them up.
So why does not one talk about this stuff?
- Do you talk about it?
- What stops you talking about it?
- What allows you to talk about it?
I mean, talk about it out loud. women do talk about it to each other or I wouldn’t know about the people above. But it isn’t talked about publicly. I worked with one woman who really did seem crazy at times, she would scream and shout and cry and then could be completely normal and rather nice. When I look back I think she might have been menopausal.
I don’t know if you found the same, but at puberty, secondary school was a minefield for us young girls waiting for our periods to start. If you started too early the boys teased you and fired your tampax round the classroom. If you started too late you felt like there was something wrong with you. Worst of all, if you started at school there was the risk of smells, stains and shame (especially in turquoise crimpoline – you’ve got the love the 70s!). So us girls would check each others skirts every time we stood up so that we would save each other from the shame of ‘other people’ ie teachers and boys, knowing. We certainly weren’t meant to be make our periods public..good heavens no. Girls who had time off school for stomach cramps etc were seen either as fakes or failures in the ‘coping with being female’ stakes.
But then you get pregnant and the whole world feels like they have the right to stroke your bump, tell you how much weight you’ve gained and say how shiny your hair is (just before it all falls out after birth!). Men and women, old and young congratulate you on being pregnant.
Birth however is a different matter. ‘What did she have?’ I asked. ‘A baby’ replied partner. Doh! you don’t say. Trying to get details of gender let alone birth weight and how the mother had was took days. Women tell women about birth (but only once you’ve been through it..no one really tells you how gritty it is until it’s too late and your stitches are healing, then everyone has a story to tell.)
Men don’t seem to talk to other men about birth. One man phoned me in tears after his partner finally gave birth after a brutal and bloody tug of war which left her traumatised and scarred. When my male partner asked ‘how was it?’ he got the reply ‘bloody awful’ and that was it. I got the blow by blow account of how scared he had been fearing that his partner and baby would die and that there was nothing he could do about it.
But the menopause. No one talks about it at work, it’s not seen as ‘professional’.
- How are hormones treated at your work?
- What do you really need when you’re really feeling hormonal
- Can you ask for it?
There is part of me that could get all feminist and ranty and I want that part to have it’s say. However enlightened we think we all are, lots of men just don’t want to hear or know about ‘women’s issues’ and so women don’t tell them. Which means at work, women feel like they have to play by the same rules as men so having time off with PMS or stripping off layers during a hot flush just isn’t on, or is a bit embarrassing somehow.
But is that true? Is it really possible to pretend that something isn’t going on when it is? Why can’t we just say it as it is? ‘Hi class, today I woke up with a sense of doom so sorry if I’m a bit low key’. ‘Sorry folks I’ve been awake all night changing sweat soaked sheets so not quite firing on all cylinders today’.
- How honest are you with people when you are feeling out of sorts?
- What do you imagine they will think of you if you talk to them?
- What responses have you had in the past?
- How do you respond to people?
I’ve been thinking about Sheryl Sandberg today writing about the sudden death of her husband Dave Goldberg. In an open letter she wrote: ‘many of my co-workers had a look of fear in their eyes as I approached. I knew why – they wanted to help but weren’t sure how. Should I mention in? Should I not mention it?’
So the non-feminist part of me thinks that this isn’t about gender at all..it’s about fear of the unknown. We don’t talk about birth to people who haven’t been through it as we don’t want to scare them. We don’t talk about death in case it scares people. We are also scared of how people will see us. If I tell people I’m getting forgetful, will they write me off. If I say to people that I feel a sense of impending doom some days, will they think I’m mad?
But I want to talk about the menopause, just like I wanted to talk about my periods starting and pregnancy and birth. To not talk about them seems like denial of what is happening for me, it seems dishonest.
Also this menopause business some days feels like A BIG DEAL and I can feel some fear around it for me. Will my hair fall out? Will my waist get bigger and my boobs get smaller? Will I start to dement? Will my vagina go dry? Will my face wrinkle overnight?
As a woman we go through so many extreme bodily changes; puberty, pregnancy, post birth, menopause. All hormonally driven, all effecting us emotionally, cognitively, physically, sexually and potentially socially.
Can we talk about this stuff please? I’ve looked on-line and all the menopause books are about diet/ herbs/ massage/biology etc…I want to hear people’s stories about how it was/is for them.
I’d love to write that book but I can’t do it alone. Would you be up for sharing your experience/story so that we can help each other and spread our experiences more widely too?
If you fancy sharing your story hit reply to this email and let me know and we’ll take it from there.
I look forward to hearing from you.
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