As if women in their forties and fifties aren’t invisible enough, pieces covering the menopause and promoting wider use of HRT on all three main news programmes this morning – BBC, Sky and ITV – somehow managed to focus on women in their twenties and thirties.
The menopause isn’t fun. I remember (yes, for I still have a memory – and a mind) blogging about its impact on me in 2011 here. For me, it began slowly in my late forties around, I believe, 2008. It was mid-2014 before I could look back and confidently assess that I was through all the (not very) funny business and out the other side. (That time period, 5 years or so, is fairly typical.) In 2015 I’m at last getting my vitality back and beginning to shift the excess poundage layered on during those energy-sapping years.
The light-heartedness of that early blog post aside, I found the menopause the most physically challenging and emotionally draining time of my life. I suffered many of the usual symptoms – the ones that people are most familiar with, such as hot flushes (that’s flashes to my American friends), night-sweats and sleep disruption as well as itchy-scratchy allergies, an excess of anxiety and sometimes debilitating lack of energy. The occasional glass of wine would send my temperature spiralling out of control and once that starts to happen, it’s hard to enjoy those nights out with the girls the way you used to. I thought I’d escaped the mood swings until I boasted of the same to my mother, and she properly put me straight.
By far my worst symptom though, and the one which manifested itself early, was heart palpitations. This is less common, and is something which can be associated with all sorts of serious complaints. My hormonal anxiety ran amok. I was in and out of my GP’s surgery, pleading for help. But though I didn’t realise it at the time, my hormones were driving the problem and as a result I was a bit like a car with an intermittent fault. I would make the appointment when I had been suffering hours and hours on end of blippy, ectopic beats which both exhausted and frightened me and seemed to have no obvious trigger. Yet by the time the appointment came round, my internal engine was turning over as it should. Long story short: I got checked out. I’m fine. When my hormones settled down, so did my heartbeat.
Women in their forties and fifties en masse face years of hormonal chaos and the random arrival of a whole host of physiological and psychological nasties. When they get used to one symptom, another will emerge, their bodily chemistry playing them up, just for the hell of it. Partners and families too, must adjust to the shape-shifting monster in their midst.
Natural menopause comes upon women at a time when so much else is changing too. In their forties and fifties, if they’ve had families, they may be dealing with the empty nest; if they haven’t, they face the final curtain on their fertility, the certainty that it’s not going to happen for them. There are other things too at that time of life; careers plateau, marriages may stumble, health issues surface, wrinkles deepen, hair thins and … oh, you know, shit happens.
And, unless you look like Julianne More or Halle Berry, you become… invisible.
I certainly don’t mean to undermine in any way the experience of going through an early menopause. Particularly for those women who hoped to have children, it must be utterly devastating. However, when news programmes feature an article specifically about the menopause and every single one of them finds a pretty young woman in their twenties or thirties to interview, it makes my fifty-something post-menopausal blood boil.