Many of us are familiar with The Five Stages of Grief as introduced by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and we recognise that when someone we love dies we will experience some or all of the emotions associated with the long grieving process – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Not many of us realise that we can expect to react similarly in other times of crisis or loss (job, divorce, rape, illness, burglary etc). In fact, if you like, these emotions are the major themes of our lives, playing either in the background or the foreground, sometimes softly and other times at deafening levels if we could only see ourselves as others see us.
If there is a taboo in our society about talking about or dealing with death and the dying (and there is), then it is doubly so for menopause. Just as we do not publicise our periods , we are not expected or allowed to talk openly about Menopause. But we should. Because this is a life changer that destroys marriages, creates volatile home environments for children and young people and takes women to the outer edges of their sanity and their ability to cope. Depression has come out of the closet in all its guises, now it’s time for Menopause to step forward into the spotlight.
Let’s talk about the fact that women universally think that menopause happens to women over 50. They don’t know that peri-menopause starts around age 40, and earlier if you have used in vitro or fertility drugs which provoke early and often release of eggs. Peri-menopause – it sounds so harmless, so sweet, so unassuming . . . but it’s not.
Often the first symptom is an all consuming rage which is unidentified as a symptom of peri menopause and therefore directed at husband, children, employers and employees and colleagues. Families and worklife can be wrecked if the emotion isn’t correctly attributed and some sort of management commenced. Some women have hot flushes, some don’t. Some have a couple a night and some have hundreds a day. They are embarrassing, exhausting, debilitating. We have to learn how to dress differently in order to manage them, and most women will try a plethora of remedies in order to stem or stop them.
After the rage has wreaked its havoc then comes the depression (which may simply be a reaction to the unforeseen and unexpected change of life). For many women (especially those hounded by hot flushes) the depression is all consuming, a deep dark pit at the bottom of which is a desire to leave life and all we love. Undiagnosed, this can end in the ultimate tragedy.
Woven among the above is the denial ‘this can’t be happening to me now’, ‘I’m not ready’, ‘’m too young’ etc as we realise that our biological clock is ticking away our childbearing years and heralding the dawn of the demise into old age and eventual death. We are forced to contemplate our own mortality, our life purpose, our own needs and wants and desires after subjugating our souls and selves during our childrearing years. Often women feel rudderless, pointless, empty, barren and embittered as the women’s heartbeat in our womb slows and stops. Some women are beset with almost constant bleeding and are left begging for the cessation of the flow. All the physical symptoms are exhausting and the broken nights of sleeplessness add to the out of control feelings and the inability to cope.
This is a time when we need to nurture ourselves, take time out from daily stresses and reflect on our lives thus far and question ourselves deeply about what we want to feel, see, hear, achieve in the second and final half of our lives. This should be a time of deep going within, withdrawal and meditation for a woman. This is the perfect opportunity for a life changing journey or pilgrimage to seek out her soul’s longing. But instead she is often hurried and harried at work and by the frenetic pace of modern life. All too often a peri-menopausal woman is at war with a teenager in the house, a clash of hormones which is a recipe for disaster and can destroy parent-child relationships. In my case, menopause has coincided with toddlerdom for my first and apparently, only, child. I can only hope we can both forget some of our darkest days. I now fully understand the wisdom of having children in our youthful, fertile years and get them long gone from the nest so that menopause can at least be survived in the sanctity of one’s own space.
Bargaining is part of the process. Being women we reach out to complementary health professionals, herbal remedies, natural oestrogen boosters and yoga, pilates, exercise, healthier food etc which might stave off or alleviate the symptoms. We’re bargaining with Mother Nature for more time.
Finally we begin to accept that in all of life there are seasons and we begin to embrace what our autumn years can gift to us, rather than railing against the injustice of the loss of youth and elasticity. We accept that while we might have saggier skin, boobs and bellies, our hearts are purer, bigger and more open to the wonder of life. We have experienced life and now we have wisdom to share. We can devote time and energy to long cherished dreams, creative endeavours and play pursuits. Menopause is a time when women ask ‘what about me?’, ‘what makes ME happy?’ and finally have time to explore ourselves. It’s a transition from youth to maturity and we must mourn our losses as well as celebrate what we gain. Let no woman suffer in silence and may every woman better understand what will come to us all.