It’s two in the morning and I’m awake, thinking about – deep breath – politics, Brexit, women’s rights, human rights, train fares, bus fares, that twat on Twitter, that twat on the train, global warming, summer showers, Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson, conspiracy theories, David Icke, fast fashion, couture and the demise of Tudor Gammon Crisps.
In between, there’s a little voice in my head warning: “You’ve fucked up and you’re going to lose everything.”
Come the morning and the world’s problems fade away. Sadly, the little voice hangs around, muttering away throughout the day. My hands are shaking and there’s a lump in my throat from trying not to cry at the thought that I’m going to lose everything.
Colleagues ask if I’m okay and I reply I’m just tired. “Didn’t sleep well.” While it’s not the truth, it’s not exactly a lie.
What I should really say is: “I’m menopausal.”
Until this year, I’ve felt like the poster girl of the menopause, singing the praises of dwindling periods and the absence of PMT and body-wrenching pain. Okay, I didn’t like losing my hair, but a positive mindset was all that was needed.
However, Positive Mindset seems to have buggered off with Pollyanna because the last six months have been tough. Very tough.
If you look at menopausal symptoms on the NHS’s website, it will warn you about “difficulty sleeping” that “may make you feel tired and irritable during the day”. It also mentions “low mood” and anxiety.
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem adequate enough to describe the overwhelming sense of dread that the world is going to hell in a handcart – and it’s all your fault.
It certainly doesn’t describe the all-consuming anger that has you boiling over with rage against everyone and everything – when you’re not in tears, that is. Oh God, the tears. My bladder has always been too close to my tear ducts, but now it’s moved right in, bypassed floods and gone straight to tsunami.
And the NHS list certainly does not describe the paranoia and the voice in your head convincing you you’re going to lose everything. It’s got to the stage where I’m not sure what’s worse: worrying about the mistakes I have made or worrying about the mistakes I haven’t but my brain convinces me I have.
And that’s before we get to the hot flushes, night sweats, aches and…
… what was I talking about? Oh yes, the thingy, the… em… wotsit, you know, the… the memory loss.
For a while, now, Mr 50 Sense has suggested I go to the doctors for help – and the moods I’ve been in, that has been a very brave thing to suggest some days.
But I didn’t want to do that. It felt as if I was cheating. I mean, the menopause is natural, women have gone through it for millennium. I could get through it, too. And then there were the days when I felt okay. Better than okay, in fact. And what if I was just being a hypochondriac and everyone else felt this way and managed fine? Looking around me at women my age, they all looked amazing and in control. In comparison, I’d look in the mirror and feel every one of my years – old, flabby, tired, lethargic, unimportant, irrelevant and washed out.
Eventually, one miserable Sunday spent panicking over nothing again, Mr 50 Sense sat me down and pointed out that I would be the first – that I AM usually the first – to tell others to go to the doctor when they need help and that would be the advice I would give to someone else in my situation. It didn’t mean I was letting women down. It meant I was strong enough to ask for help.
So I went and the doctor was lovely and sent me away with leaflets and websites to study and to come back in a week’s time.
Now the thing about that is, it kinda relies on you feeling okay enough to make that appointment. And I wasn’t. At first I felt fine, so why did I need to go back? And then I felt down and wasn’t worthy enough to go back.
So two months went by while I hummed and hawad and read about HRT and wanted to “just try this first” and “wait one more week to see if I feel better”. Basically I ignored how bad I truly felt until last Tuesday, when I was in front of the doctor’s receptionist and had burst into tears because there were no appointments that day, only the drop-in centre.
“But that’s for emergencies and I’m not ill enough for that,” I wailed. “It’s just my stupid hormones. I’m not properly ill.”
“Sit yourself down because you’re not leaving here until you’ve seen the doctor,” she replied.
And that, dear reader, is how I ended up on HRT.
I’m one week in so its effects have still to start, but the relief when I left the doctors was immense. I’m aware of the health risks and that HRT doesn’t work for everyone (I told you, I did a lot of reading), but it feels that I’m not alone anymore.
Mariella Frostrup called the menopause a “shameful, guilty secret” and its incredible that in the 21st century, women still feel this way.
This, in an era when men will happily regale you with tales of their farts and latest bowel movements. (Thankfully I am spared the dick pics. Yay menopause.)
That’s why I’ve written this, scary as it is. Women should be discussing their natural bodily changes – and not in a Les Dawson mouth-the-embarrassing-words way – because if we don’t discuss it openly, we’re condemning the next generation of women to suffer, too. And I don’t want anyone to go through the last six months.
As a friend who experienced the same thing (and wrote about it here) told me last week: “The more we talk, the less isolated and depressed others will feel.”
So menopausal women, it’s time to talk.
If you are suffering, I found loads of help and advice on Menopause Matters, while you also can’t go wrong checking out the boards on Mumsnet. Yes, I recommended Mumsnet.