I heard a discussion about the Menopause on Woman’s Hour recently, I was disappointed, but not surprised to hear that many women find it difficult to talk about with friends, work colleagues and family.Those of us who have already gone through it, or who are maybe right in the middle of it, know that the physical symptoms can be distressing or just downright inconvenient. Of course they vary from woman to woman; they can range from night sweats, hot flushes, tiredness and forgetfulness, to breast pain, loss of libido, vaginal discomfort, weight gain and osteoporosis. These may be only short-lived, or could continue for up to ten years and in some cases longer.
Many women experience anxiety and low self esteem, as well as depression, as a result of trying to cope with multiple symptoms. Sleep disturbance, mood swings and weight gain alone are enough to make you feel pretty miserable. Although there is a lot of information out there, on the NHS, internet and in book stores, there still seems to be conflicting evidence about the risks of HRT and the benefits of alternative medicine. As a result, women often end up feeling confused and scared and will put up with debilitating symptoms for years.
The Menopause often coincides with other life events which are difficult enough to cope with on their own, but add them to the mix and life can feel pretty strange and scary. We’ve all heard of the Empty Nest Syndrome which women can experience when teenagers leave home to go to University, or to find work, which often results in children moving away and as mums we can feel the sense of loss quite deeply. Not being needed in quite the same way, can make us re-evaluate our lives and question what we’ve achieved. It might even result in relationship breakdown, if we no longer feel we have anything in common with our partner or have simply grown apart. As a consequence, we can feel that we’re losing our identity and are not sure who we are any more.
When I have talked to other women about their experiences, the predominant message I have picked up is that “you just have to get on with it”. i.e. it’s something which has to be endured and then forgotten. However, I’m not so sure about that. After all, the menopause can last quite a few years, anything from 3 to 10. It signals the end of our fertile years and is a significant stage in the ageing process. Why are we so keen to gloss over it? Is it something to do with modern western society being obsessed with youth and looking as young as possible for as long as possible? Ageing isn’t fashionable in the 21st century. The media is not very complimentary about older women on the whole and everywhere you look, it’s always about the lengths women will go to, to stay looking young, fit and slim.
So, do we celebrate our bodies’ transition to another phase, or do we accept it as a normal part of the female ageing process? In the United States, there is a new craze “The Hot Flash Mob” where women and men get together to celebrate the Menopause by dancing in the streets. If that doesn’t catch your fancy, then perhaps spending some quiet time in a retreat might appeal? Maybe you’ve always wanted a tattoo, but never had the courage to have one done – here’s your chance to mark the menopause in a symbolic way.
One thing I am certain of is that our attitude towards the menopause influences how we experience it. In Asian cultures, women look forward to it, because it signals a rise in status and respect within their community. In Japan, the word for menopause is “konenki”, meaning “renewal years” and “energy”. That really resonates with me and so maybe the next time you’re feeling low and thinking the best years are behind you, remember that you don’t have to feel like that, it’s up to you to choose how you respond to it.