Our columnist reveals how her girlfriends are helping her through the menopause
I remember when I started my periods; I was quite young and there was no big talk, just a hasty discussion about keeping clean, before being handed a hideous pad which hooked into a belt.
It was the days of the gym knickers; those of you of a certain age will remember the discomfort of trying to shimmy up the pole with the equivalent of a nappy on. Like many other girls, my early periods were painful and heavy and confusing, and made all the worse by the secrecy and shame that surrounded them.
The result was a feeling of loneliness, being somehow ‘other’ for a week of every month, with a secret condition that must be hidden.
There were no open discussions, adverts were strictly euphemistic, and we just didn’t chat to each other about it, other than giggled whispers about ‘Aunt Flo’ and raised eyebrows when we got out of swimming with an excuse about the ‘curse’.
Fortunately, attitudes have changed, and as a result, girls entering puberty are properly informed. They have better choices about sanitary protection, know more about what is happening to them, and critically, are totally comfortable talking to one another openly about their experiences. As a result, entering the age of menstruation is more a rite of passage, which is how it should be.
And thankfully, three decades later, the menopause is going through the same revolution. My entry into the change was brutal. I less entered it, than crashed into it after an emergency hysterectomy. I didn’t turn to anyone. I struggled through the worst of the hormonal rollercoaster trying to bring as little attention to myself as possible, whilst feeling lost for a long time.
The menopause was considered a joke condition; red-faced older ladies becoming forgetful and drying up like crones. I didn’t identify with that image of myself and I certainly didn’t find my experiences funny.
I eventually recovered with the help of a wonderful doctor who created bio-identical hormones for me, but I so wish I’d felt comfortable enough to share my feelings with my girlfriends at the time, to lift the burden sooner and get better information when I most needed it.
That’s why I’m so thrilled by the ‘menopause revolution’ of the past few years. Since my tour last summer, when I was introduced to so many incredible women willing to share their stories, there seems to have been an explosion of sites, professionals and influencers from all industries determined to bring the shadow of the change into the light.
My generation were the ‘ladettes’ of the 90s. We were all about girl power, and third wave feminism; we made it okay to talk about periods, and when we hit perimenopause, we weren’t going to settle for a nice blue rinse and a quiet descent into old age.
We’ve spent our adult lives kicking down the doors of preconceived notions of femininity and womanhood, for the good of us all. I’m told all the time that more and more of us are having open chats about our experiences of ‘conscious puberty’.
We’re sitting with our girlfriends over a gin sour (it used to be wine for me, but it’s a trigger for the hot flushes these days), laughing about our lost memories, which takes the heat out of the fear, shoring us up with the power of community. And those chats are making us confident enough to advocate for ourselves with medical professionals, employers, family and anyone who needs to be considerate of the difficulties we might face.
I believe that’s the most powerful gift we women give each other. We can’t make our symptoms disappear, but bringing them into the open makes them less scary, somehow. Even if you’re not a social type, the conversation online, where you can be anonymous, is an incredibly empowering alternative.
Of course, the advice of our friends can’t replace medical professionals, so as your friend, my advice is that along with a great network of women, find yourself a great doctor.
You need one who doesn’t minimise your symptoms, is educated in the latest treatments, and who respects how tough menopause can be emotionally and physically. Finding that professional who just ‘gets it’ will make a world of difference to your menopause.
And when you find them, be a good friend, and share your details with impunity – that kind of knowledge is worth its weight in gold!
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