Theresa Lancing’s latest lifestyle column
(Ed: the women in the above stock photo is obvioulsy too young but there’s not much choice in the category of women falling out of helicopters…)
I haven’t seen the Vagina Monologues, which seem too feminazi for my taste. My aim is simply to demystify the menopause for everyone involved because it isn’t just women who suffer but their families as they undergo this fairly horrendous but exciting experience. This will get gory so if you are squeamish, look away now.
When I had my 30th birthday and my life was going nowhere, my brother’s girlfriend reminded me I was only 15 years from the menopause. That grated. Actually it took me 23 years to even get close and in the meantime I did get on with life and acquired a husband, two children and a business. I thought I was a tough, ballsy go-getter that nothing could stop: then my hormones got me and I became a weepy, needy fucking nightmare TBH (keep up at the back, TBH = to be honest).
You try a complete personality change and see how you feel – ‘discombobulated’ is one word. ‘Screwed up’ are two more.
It started with very heavy periods, the sort that mean you travel with newspaper to put on car seats, a change of clothes and pads substantial enough to use as a baby’s nappy. Brave is the woman who wears white trousers at this stage of the game.
So there I was, buzzing about in my little black car thinking I’m the bee’s knees while all the time my body was busy plotting how to destroy this deluded woman’s dreams of post-childrearing bliss.
My nice female gynae doctor recommended cauterising my fibroids which were causing the excess bleeding. The splendid male radiologist gave me something else to think about, when he blithely pronounced, while shoving a camera up my fanny, that “all men with menopausal wives are saints.“ I thought I was the saint in the marriage dealing with a particularly difficult husband. However I am now inclined to think the radiologist had a point.
Having established from the scan that my fibroids were indeed the villains, I was told by the registrar that it was just a little op using a red hot wand. He wasn’t English so perhaps his use of language was a little haphazard but no red hot wand was going anywhere near my insides. The upshot is I have my Mirena, a safe coil with progesterone implant to increase the progesterone levels which should decrease the periods.
But nothing happened and then more nothing happened; then, one day, a severe pain in the supermarket which led to another trip to the gynae doctor followed by one to the consultant. The consultant, a jolly old-school Englishman howled with laughter at my checkout anecdote concluding that Tescos were in quite enough trouble without me ejecting my coil in their checkout queue. Actually it was Waitrose but why spoil a good story with the truth eh?
On the net there are hundreds of stories of missing coils but it was news to me. Another coil, another day, another not so heavy period.That was that as far as I was concerned. Back to business and on with life.
My daughter does her A levels and leaves school. One down, one to go. But I am still a purposeful mother for the younger one, at school starting at a new place for his A levels. His new school is 26 miles away so I am driving over a 100 miles a day in my TT which is wearing on me and the car but I have a purpose of sorts.
Then my step Granny dies age 92 and leaves me bereft and an unexpected legacy.
The next bit might surprise you but some time beforehand I had woken up one day knowing with absolute certainty that I had to learn how to fly a helicopter. I still don’t know where this impulse came from but her legacy now made this expensive dream unexpectedly possible.
I now have a purpose other than motherhood or business.
The First Flying Lesson
“Please God don’t let me leak over these cream leather seats” It thankfully hasn’t happened yet but this fear on my first flight worries me more than falling out of the sky. It says a lot about how the menopause can take over your thought processes.
Adding to the fun and games is that apart from the daily 6am wake up to get the boy to school, I start not being able to sleep. I can go to sleep but I can’t stay asleep and this is as my heli training gets serious.
I start waking up at the oddest times in the night and being unable go back to sleep. I think and think and think about nothing at all but stay stubbornly conscious. This ends badly during one lesson when I am so zombified I barely function. I can’t tell my left from right, quite crucial in a helicopter..
My instructor thinks I have been out partying and calls me a tourist who isn’t taking it seriously. I have no idea what is happening to me. My next lesson with another instructor ends with him questioning me closely as to what is wrong. He can tell from my voice I am not happy. In the end he forces me to sort things out so I have a single instructor, him as it happens.
That is when perimenopausal hell kicks in for real. We are doing some very intense flying, two hours a day with an hour briefing for each hour of flying for two or three days a week. The effort is draining me and my sleep is worse and worse.
Each day my instructor asks if I am OK and each day I gamely lie. We fly the same route every day, so I can focus on flying not about where we’re going, and he repeats the same instructions and won’t let me speak so I can concentrate. In this way I burn through over 14 hours of flying time.
The last day I have with this instructor, I just about remember whispering as we start hovering, “Is it OK if I cry?” I don’t cry then but we when we debrief I start snivelling like a child. I can’t take the lack of sleep, the brain deadness, the feeling of not knowing who I am any more and my complete frustration with everything, husband, children, work, life – even with flying.
Flying instructors must be used to coping with a crisis but this was probably a new one for him. He reacts admirably, sending me home to “chill.”
I go straight from the airfield to my surgery and make yet another appointment with my gynae.
Here are the perimenopause symptoms as listed in Allison Pearson’s book about Kate Reddy, the indomitable working mum heroine of bestseller I Don’t know How She Does it with the sequel as she hits 50 and has to lie to get a job and faces the perimenopause:
1. Hotflushes, night sweats and/or clammy feeling – yes to hot flushes especially after over-imbibing (polite for getting pissed).
2. Palpitations – what are they?
3. Dry and itchy skin – no.
4. Irritability – in fucking spades.
5. Headaches, possibly worsening migraines – no.
6. Mood swings, sudden tears – put it like this: I once sobbed for four hours after a friend didn’t answer a text
7. Loss of confidence, feelings of low self-worth – yes.
8. Trouble sleeping through the night – oh, yes.
9. Irregular periods; shorter, heavier periods, flooding – a bloody tsunami on occasions.
10. Loss of libido – yes but that started long ago: have you seen my teletubby of a husband?
11. Vaginal dryness – can’t say I noticed (see above).
12. Crashing fatigue or in my case crushing fatigue – both of those.
13. Feelings of dread and apprehension – ummm, still an optimist, just about.
14. Difficulty concentrating, disorientation, mental confusion – so that’s why it is taking me twice as long as anybody else to learn to fly?
15. Disturbing memory lapses – thought it was the vodka.
This list just keeps on and on, doesn’t it?
16. Incontinence, especially upon sneezing or laughing – should have done those pelvic floor exercises more often.
17. Aching, sore joints, muscles and tendons –no, spared this one.
18. Gastrointestinal distress, indigestion, flatulence, nausea – I have always farted but nothing serious, unlike my mother who apparently has never farted in her life so she claims.
19. Weight gain – no but only because I eat 800 calories a day.
20. Hair loss or thinning (head, pubic or whole body); increase in facial hair – my hairdresser has sold me vastly overpriced products for the lack of hair on my head that were probably just sugar water. Lack of hair elsewhere is to be celebrated as less maintenance. Get better tweezers and increase the magnification of the mirror. Anyway, how cool was the bearded lady in the film about Ringling?
21. Depression – this is a difficult one for me as I went through a depression in my early twenties and swore I would never let that monster back into my life again. I am walking for two hours a day at the moment to stop the shaking.
After looking over my results there was only one thing to do: straight back to my gynae and onto the patches – every middle-aged woman’s heroin according to a groovy GP I know who specialises in women’s health. That’s right, we would kill for our patches.
I’m currently an Everol 50 girl but a friend of mine who paid £400 for a consultation with a top menopause doc has Everol 100. We compared patches while drunk at a party. Her patch is double the size of mine (which may or may not be important) and like me, she puts hers at the top of her thighs.
Believe me, I was back flying in a fortnight – that is how good oestrogen patches are. I am going to tell how you how fucking crazy this has made me, this is from someone who was pretty fucking crazy to start with.
I never suffered fools gladly but now it is beyond a joke. My children are mortified. The nice filter just goes and anybody in the way gets lambasted. I don’t think women’s hormones have been given enough importance in history. For all we know behind every successful man was a bloody-minded menopausal woman. Inside every middle-aged woman, certainly this one, there’s a mad witch trying to get her hands on the steering wheel.
What I would say to every woman as they approach their fifties is to think carefully about how you wreak havoc – for havoc there will be. One way this can show itself is by deciding to get rid of your tedious husband. If the havoc has already been rearing its head he may well be delighted with this arrangement. He can then go off and get a younger and less irate model and probably die before the pattern repeats itself.
This may be the right decision but one you didn’t have the oomph to make before. Now, though, you have oomph in spades and lots of helpful counsellors, divorce lawyers, friends, in-laws, all with their grubby outstretched paws (not the friends, one hopes) egging you on.
Well, hey, crack on and see what the other side holds. I’ve heard varying results from “not as great as you would think” to “best thing I’ve ever done, wished I’d done it sooner”.
Is the world kind to the middle-aged VFI (very fucking insane) menopausal woman? The job market certainly isn’t. Despite wide experience and in-depth knowledge of human behaviour having been at the coal-face of child rearing and the even more demanding business of supporting your husband or partner for nigh on three decades, you are cast aside as redundant, making way for the barely-out-of-nappies brigade of recent snowflake graduates who might have a first in binge-drinking and social-media but know nothing much about anything else. They are cheaper to run though.
One of the problems with the perimenopause is misdiagnosis. Women are being given anti-depressants instead of HRT. There is one called Xanax which is half HRT, half anti-depressant which a couple of friends take to stop them shouting or being depressed or both.
I have found the patches help with sleep but don’t stop the blistering anger that bubbles up from nowhere. Maybe there’s a patch for that, too.
Anyway, its one of those rites of passage that women go through and come out the other side feeling either completely drained or dramatically invigorated. Or maybe both.
Let’s hope it’s better on the other side. It’s certainly going to be different. See you there!