How to survive the menopause

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Do me a favour. Click open a new tab, go to Google Images and type in “menopause”. Go on… I’m waiting. That’s it! I can hear you screaming – I mean, have you ever seen anything a selection of more depressing pictures in your life? Row after row of women with crumpled, agonised faces, desolately holding their head in their hands or their hands to their foreheads – when they’re not holding a massive electric fan, that is.

My favourite is the woman in bed, head in both hands (it’s that bad) and her husband by her side, a comforting hand around her to love away those pesky hormones – because someone touching you is exactly what you need when your body is suddenly so hot it makes standing on the Sun seem like a walk in Whitley Bay during a wet weekend in… why are there no months beginning with W?

When you have to scroll and scroll and scroll to find a remotely normal face, is it any wonder that in the 21st century, more than 50% of women are depressed when they hit the menopause?

I’m not there, yet. I’m peri – perimenopausal, so I’m having several of the symptoms of menopause while my periods have become few and increasingly far between (leading to a lovely hunt for a pregnancy testing kit on New Year’s Eve 2016. Me: No, I’m perimenopausal, so that’s why my period is three months late. Doctor: Yes, or you could be pregnant. Me: Aaaaaaargh! Of course, the doctor was completely right to remind me that natural pregnancy is still a possibility at my age. Telling me after a Christmas week of drinking gin, however…)

I’ve gone the natural route to treat my menopause symptoms. And no, this isn’t some hipster, vegan, hate-the-pharmaceutical-companies stance. It’s simply that I was advised against HRT because of breast cancer in my family.

Now, the jury is out on this, but the medic did make it clear the choice was down to me and that this was her opinion.

However, I hated being on the pill and I don’t think I have the symptoms too bad, so a dose of Menopace (get it from Wilko – it’s a lot cheaper there) does it for me. It’s stopped the hot flushes and I sleep a lot better. Whether that’s placebo effect or what-have-you, I neither know nor, to be honest, care. It works for me.

BUT SAYING THAT, I have several friends who swear by HRT and I can see the difference it’s made for them. So if you are having problems, go and see your doctor and talk over ALL the options. As with periods, there is no reason in this day and age why a woman should suffer for being a woman.

Exercise has also been a huge help – especially with that damned weight and the mood swings the menopause can give. If you’ve read this, then you know how preachy I am about running, but I also do some yoga (check out Chaz Rough on YouTube) which I find really, really helps me to feel calm and more settled.

Oh, and I now keep a notebook close by. I’ve always been lost without one anyway – my last meeting at work saw the young journos with their laptops, me with a cup of tea and a pen and paper – but now I find I need to note things down as an aide-memoire (get me!) more than ever.

But the best tip to survive the menopause? Realise you’re not alone and talk about it. I’m one of an estimated 13 million women who are currently either perimenopausal or in the menopause, yet speaking about it is still like Cissie and Ada discussing “w*m*n’s tr**bl*s”.

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We have to stop doing that. The “change” isn’t a disability or something to be ashamed about any more than periods are. I’m a woman and I’m still a woman even if I’m no longer buying Always every month.

I went through puberty, when I got boobs, periods and fuzz, and now I’m going through the menopause, when I get hot flushes, hair loss, have trouble shifting weight (nothing to do with the chocolates over Christmas, gov, honest) and several other things (vag dryness, you know I’m talking about you).

One didn’t make me a woman while the other isn’t taking away my womanity. And the menopause is certainly not making me invisible – especially when I wear my cobalt blue biker jacket.

That’s why, when the hairdresser tries to tell me my hair loss and receding hairline are because of too many Croydon facelifts, I tell them plainly that no, it’s my age and my hormones and the fact I’m perimenopausal – and if they’re a hairdresser, shouldn’t they know about that connection?

With my new hairdresser, that ended up in a discussion about his mam’s symptoms and mine. Hopefully it’ll make him think about what she’s going through and how, you know, it’s NORMAL.

Oh, and go to the hairdresser – or the facialist, or the make-up specialist. Indulge in a long bath with a good book, scented candles and the door locked so no one can interrupt you. Buy those trendy jeans. Visit exhibitions, the theatre, the cinema, join the club you’ve always wanted to, speak up at meetings. Basically, look after yourself and treat yourself right because you’re only invisible if you let yourself become invisible.

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Being honest – I love being peri. Periods brought with them the most awful PMT and often left me doubled-up on the bathroom floor with pain, not to mention the horrendous time I flooded all over my friend’s white futon.

Now, I can wear white pretty much whenever I want to, Mr 50 Sense no longer has to run and take cover once every four week and I no longer curse men sitting on the Tube when I’m barely able to stand (where is the bloody Period on Board badge? Bloody being the operative word!) I can’t wait until the day I can plan a holiday and know I don’t have to check the calendar to see if it’s that time of the month or not.

Plus, all this comes with the confidence and knowledge that age gives you.

So should we feel upset that Auntie Flo is no longer with us? Damn no. We are not our wombs, so come and join me and celebrate the change.

It’s time to say it loud: I’m menopausal and I’m proud! (I’ll get me coat.)

If you want advice on menopause symptoms and treatments, as well as finding out more about how to change ideas around the menopause, check out Menopause UK.

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