Are our forties really the middle of our lives? If we live in a wealthy-ish society and are lucky enough to avoid any serious illnesses, then yes, I suppose they are. In my case, I’m hopeful that it is the case, and that I inherit the longevity of my foremothers. Touch wood. Of course, it’s entirely possible that post-Brexit, we fall into a dystopian nightmare where we are forced to eat each other after all the dried pasta has run out and none of us make it past 50. Still, I’m assured by the so-called government that it’s all going to be fantastic, so I’ll assume that right now, I am in peak middle age.
At the moment I am feeling it in a way that I haven’t thus far in my forties. Perhaps it’s an autumn thing, despite it being my favourite season. This year for the first time, autumn is causing me a melancholy mood. I admire the beauty of the trees on a cold, sunny day as much as I ever did, but I feel differently. I suspect it’s due to the menopause. Because why wouldn’t it be? Add autumnal gloom to the list of crapness associated with this period of a woman’s life.
In the last few weeks, I’ve had a spell of hormonal shit storms, with periods of anger, of tearful sadness and at other times, downright despair. As in, is this really it? Do I just get up every fucking day and go to work until I’m too old or ill to manage it? Will I have the same routine, week after week, the only joys being time spent away from this fucking treadmill? What is the fucking point? Why are so many people such dickheads? Standard mid-life crisis stuff I guess…
Except it’s not, because alongside all this emotional mess, you can add in sleeplessness, sweats, weight gain, brain fog, general aches and pains, sore tits (yup) and spots. It’s a bit like being a teenager except that instead of knowing that your most exciting years are still ahead, like a shimmering summit, you know that you’ve gone over the top and are sliding down the mountain to the valley of death. Sounds drastic? Welcome to peri meanopause.
On the plus side, we are all talking about it more. My mother’s generation of women never discussed it. It was never in the media or acknowledged as an issue in the workplace. Middle aged women disappeared quietly from television, apart from soaps and even then, those TV bastions of the matriarchy never had a menopause storyline. It was more of a hushed euphemistic thing. At least nowadays a woman should feel freer to acknowledge what is happening and get support and sympathy from friends.
Despite this change, don’t expect to get good support from your doctor. Aside from anything, more and more GPs are full of locum doctors, because the system rewards them with more pay for doing so. In the last year, I’ve seen three different doctors (including two locums) in my practice. The first time I went and talked about my symptoms and insomnia, the young locum asked if there was anything causing me worry. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask her if she’d looked in a fucking newspaper recently but I managed to restrain myself. I guess if you’re in your late twenties, earning the best part of 100k a year and holidays whenever you like, you don’t really give a shit. She subsequently went travelling and we got another locum who I had to tell everything to, all over again.
Every single one of the doctors I’ve seen has tried to sell you anti-depressants, the modern cure for all our ills. I don’t doubt that some people need to be on them for various reasons, but 70.9 million prescriptions were issued last year in England alone. They have helped many women with the symptoms of menopause but my issue is that there is very little investigation of, or recourse to other options. Doctors are handing them out like sweeties without a second thought. They might also prescribe you HRT, which could be a life saver, or it just might do nothing but increase your risk of breast cancer. My first locum gave me it before she went off to circumnavigate the globe, the second one wanted to take it away. In the end, I stopped taking it a few days ago because I ran out and am in between doctors; switching practices to one that isn’t full of strangers every time I go. There’s also been a shortage of HRT across the land, which will only get worse following Brexit: my last packet had the days of the week in Swedish. Anyway, it doesn’t seem to be helping much at the dose I’m on, so I thought I’d look into the other options.
To assist in this, I thought I’d try and get some help from our city’s dedicated menopause clinic at the sexual health service in town. When I heard about this clinic (they don’t advertise it, presumably to keep the numbers down) I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited, I phoned straight away. Only to discover the near-impossibility of getting an appointment. There’s a waiting list of about four months but not only that, you can’t get one without speaking to a consultant first on the phone. They will ring you at any point the following week. If you can’t answer the phone, then they leave no message and it’s a no call-back number. So you need to ring the clinic back and go back into the queue to wait for another phone call that could arrive at any random time.
So far, I’ve either been driving, or in a meeting, or busy and missed the call. I still have not spoken to a doctor and therefore not on the waiting list for an appointment. What a great system, eh? Never mind, it’s only hysterical women with their stupid hormones, so who gives a fuck? Just pop them some citalopram and calm the stupid bints down!
Oh, it feels good to get that out. In the last few weeks, I’ve been inside my head too much, thinking about all this stuff, unable to express myself. It’s so easy to get like that isn’t it? Button up and keep the head down, afraid that one small leak will lead to an unstoppable deluge. But sometimes you’ve just got to let it go and ride out the storms as best as you can.
In truth, my anger is mostly temporary. For example, I know that the NHS is underfunded and overstretched, and most of the people who work in it are struggling and complete heroes. Most of them. There are also many overpaid people doing bureaucratic jobs, and fucked up systems that make life difficult for people using it. But it’s not out to get me personally. Or when I get mad at the incivility and selfishness of society, I just stay in and read a book or watch something nice or funny.
There are other things to do for self-care for the menopause, like join a group, laugh about it with your pals, have a right sob when you need it. Go for a lovely long walk. Avoid watching people hate each other on Twitter. Avoid alcohol, which has been a delicious crutch for too long…a post for another time. Avoid internet dating, probably as poisonous as alcohol for the system and also a post for another time.
Underneath all this uncontrollable shit going down lurks that fear of ageing. The menopause is a change of life. It represents our loss of fertility and usefulness in traditional terms. Now, in our youth and beauty obsessed culture, we have the potential to become invisible, no longer seen as sexual creatures. It’s the last taboo of why we don’t want to admit it to other women, even if we know there are plenty of hot, older women out there. On the other hand, I suspect that this will be incredibly freeing once I come to terms with it. We can’t all be arsed to be Helen Mirren.
And in answer to my questions on my despair days, if this is all there is, every fucking day, then I am damn lucky compared to many. This next bit of life means more chance to change, to love, to be angry, sad, happy and laughing. I’ll keep a bit of my menopausal rage though. It fuels my dreams of a revolution by an army of enraged, middle-aged women who have had enough. We’re going down fighting.
Until next time,