Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 3 November 2014

Altered States and the Menopause

I know that lots of you will never be where I've been for the past five years, and most of the remainder of you won’t be here for a good while yet, but that isn’t going to stop me talking about my subject for the day... In fact, it’s one of the best reasons to do it.

Have a care and spare a thought. You’re not going to understand it, and that’s OK, but you have the power to go along with it, to be kind and forbearing, and to love and respect the woman in your life, and any woman who happens to be at the sharp end.
My dark days face -
the stranger in the mirror

Fifty isn’t the new anything.

Apparently, forty is the new thirty. I don’t know, perhaps it is. I know a lot of forty year olds who look fabulous, who clearly feel fabulous, and who are at the top of their games professionally. It doesn’t matter who they are or what gender they happen to be, I know a great many people in their forties who have taken the World on and appear to be winning. Bravo! and Brava! to all of them.

For women, like it or not, fifty is still fifty, and the menopause is still a very real part of that.

Yes, we can all do things to help ourselves. Yes, we can eat well and exercise. Yes, we can, up to a point, medicate. Yes, if we were sensible in our post-adolescent, pre-menopausal years and if genetics were in our favour, we might even put off the menopause into our fifties. But, and it’s a big BUT, live long enough, and the menopause is real for ALL of us.

I’m not going to run a long list of symptoms, and I’m not complaining. 

I first learned that my hormone levels were changing in 2009, and they’re still changing. I was youngish, but not outside the normal age-range for the start of the menopause. The decline has been slow, but not outside the normal duration for the menopause.

The process is normal and natural, and it is utterly life-changing. 

Thought processes are shot. Emotional responses are off-the-scale. Physical functions are haywire. And the combination of those three things is confusing, distressing and sometimes devastating. 

I feel in control of precisely nothing.

Modern womanhood teaches us nothing so well as it teaches us control. It teaches us what we should show to the world, how and when. Feminism has been chipping away at that, but all social and political movements have their rules, too. Women have busy complex lives, often with conflicting needs: work, home, partners, children. Without control, without organisation and routine, those lives quickly devolve into chaos. 

At the very point in our lives when we have mastered control, when we really are organised, when our routines are set in stone, the menopause descends upon us, and we look in the mirror only to see a stranger staring back at us. We cease to have control of our minds, emotions and bodies, and the chaos begins.

It is terrifying.

Lots of you will never be where I am now, and most of the rest of you have got a long time to wait before you find yourselves in my shoes.

I’m not looking for any sympathy. I’m getting a grip, and I’m close to the end.

If you could find some kindness for the women in your lives who are in the midst of this chaos, I promise you it will have an impact. You won’t see that impact, because, if they are anything like I have been, menopausal women aren’t reliable. If they are anything like me, they will still be inappropriate and emotional. They will still be chaotic and frustrated and forgetful. They will still rant and rage. If you care for them, if you love them, if you respect them, you will make it all a little easier for them. If their experience is anything like mine, they do not know who they are and it is horrible for them. It is more horrible for them than it is for you dealing with them.

You won’t ever understand it, and you don’t have to. If you could just try to suck it up... If you could just let it be so much water off a duck’s back when you stumble into the firing line... If you could forgive easily and forget quickly, that’d be lovely.

I know I didn't want to be this way, and I know that when it’s over I will be somehow other. I’ll be me again, to some degree, and I’ll be someone new, too. I’m sure there’ll be painful memories of some of my behaviour. I know there’ll be pain attached to some of my emotional states. I hope I haven’t made painful memories for those I love.

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