It’s been 6 months since I posted on here. What can I say? I’m busy! Among other commitments, I’m doing a wonderful post-graduate diploma in journalism with the London School of Journalism which is really broadening my horizons in terms of career paths and pushing me to write things that I would never have considered before. It’s also showing me that actually I can achieve whatever I want to if I put my mind to it; a very necessary boost to my self-esteem.
For our last assignment we had to write a 5 minute talk for a radio show, on any topic. Inspired by a hilarious conversation I had with friends on the way to a Christmas party, this is what I came up with. Sit down with a cuppa and imagine Jenny Murray introducing this on Woman’s Hour…
If you’re a woman, it’s an undeniable fact that eventually you’re going to go through the menopause. Just as your body changes as a teenager, growing breasts and hair in alarming places, one day the periods you’ve endured for years will come to an end.
But how much do you really know about the process? In the same way that no-one tells you what giving birth is actually like, nobody discusses the menopause either. Is it embarrassment, in the same way that many of our mothers refused to enlighten us about sex, or indifference, because it’s only a “women’s issue” and therefore something we should just get on with by ourselves? Perhaps it’s a combination.
Actually, your periods don’t stop over-night; usually it takes several years, as your oestrogen level gradually decreases. This process is combined with many other symptoms and is called peri-menopause.
During a recent phone call with my own mother, I confided that I may have reached this point.
“Why, what’s happened?” she asked.
“My periods are getting closer together and I’ve been having awful dreams. I’m convinced that somebody’s in the bedroom and they’re going to attack me, or sometimes I think the house is falling down.”
“Oh, I had the same experience and thought I was going mad,” my mother said. “One day I mentioned it to the doctor and he was really offhand and told me it’s a very common menopausal symptom.”
There were two other facts I learnt that day: you’re likely to start your menopause around the same age as your mother and the whole process can take years and years.
“Oh that’s just fantastic I thought,” slamming the plates into the sink as I got off the phone, “It’s bad enough that I’ve put up with periods and PMT for decades and now my mother’s telling me I’ll experience years of physical and mental carnage before my menopause is complete.”
It’s a good job I was alone in the house, as my bewildered dogs were subjected to some very choice words.
So let me enlighten you about the delights of the peri-menopause. Most women will experience night sweats, waking up in the small hours soaked to the skin and desperate to shed their pyjamas. You may even fling open the bedroom window, although it’s November and freezing outside.
But feeling too hot isn’t limited to night time. Whichever deodorant I choose, I simply cannot stop myself sweating profusely, whenever the room gets a little too warm or I exert myself physically. I’m forever going to the toilet when I’m in company, not to empty my bladder, but to freshen up.
You’ll also find that your hormones go completely haywire. Think PMT on Ecstasy and you’re getting close. Things which never stressed you before will have you throwing tantrums like an A-lister, and you’ll be forever apologising for your behaviour. Many women also suffer from a lack of confidence and feel depressed.
As well as hormonal changes, you’ll experience physical symptoms, like your periods getting closer together. Sometimes you’ll get three weeks between your cycle, if you’re unlucky, only two. If I were you, I’d invest in some Tampax shares, because you’re going to be giving them a lot of unwelcome profit.
It’ll be hard to keep your weight down too. The mood swings will make you want to buy up the chocolate aisle in Tesco, but eating it is the worst thing you can do. Try and wean yourself off it now, because when your time comes, every single bar will end up on your middle, whether you like it or not.
And although the urge to have sex is a primal instinct, you’ll find yourself preferring to lust over men from a safe distance, rather than actually getting your kit off. When the opportunity arises, instead of eagerly participating, your ageing body will switch off your libido and tell you to go to bed and read; leaving your partner unsatisfied and you guilty and stressed. And if you do feel overcome with desire, your body will play another trick on you by making that essential part of you drier, so that sex becomes more difficult physically. Just how cruel is nature?
So what can you do to survive the onslaught of physical and mental symptoms that accompany peri-menopause? If you can’t bear having periods every fortnight then you could have a coil fitted, although be aware they aren’t suitable for everyone. Some people have had them removed after an adverse reaction. Having Hormone Replacement Therapy (or HRT) also relieves the symptoms and is very popular.
Eat a healthy diet and do some regular exercise; it’ll keep that spare tyre at bay and improve your mood. If you’re suffering from stress or anxiety, seek out some counselling and take up an activity which improves your mood and gets you out of the house.
Above all, find some friends who’re going through the same thing; sharing your anxieties will lessen them and help you stay positive.
Underneath it all, you’re still the same person and just because you’re getting older, it doesn’t mean that you can’t still enjoy life.