I am 44 and menopausal. I wasn’t expecting to be here until my late forties or early fifties even and it’s been almost 2 years already. I’m not sure how I feel about it, in some ways it’s OK, it is what it is. And in other ways I am fighting it and struggling with every single step! If that sounds contradictory, read on and you’ll find out why.
Does it matter to me to be entering this stage of my life early? No, not really. I’ve always rather looked forward to getting older. I attended a fantastic sexuality course ten years ago and one of the exercises we were invited to do was to write about our ‘sexy sub-personality’. Mine was 55, called Flavia and she was fabulous! I’ve always had a feeling that I’ll just get better and better with age, in every way, physically, emotionally and intellectually. And in many, many ways that’s proving true. And yet I am struggling with being menopausal and my eating is not as easy and effortless as it has been for the past 8 years.
Sometimes it feels as though I have stepped into another woman’s body. I have anything from 12 to 20 hot flushes every day. They are incredible! First I sense a wave of nausea rising in my chest and then a surge of heat radiates through my entire body, the only way I can describe it is as if I have been filled with hot water bottles! Ideally I would take all my clothes off! Of course that’s rarely possible - and anyway I know that just a few minutes later my body temperature will plummet and I’ll be feeling cold… at night these intense temperature fluctuations are accompanied by sweating and wakefulness (nice!). In the past two years my back has started aching. I have never suffered from back ache in my life, and can’t say I’d ever imagined I would. I’ve just started wearing glasses for reading and my skin - always perfectly smooth and blemish free - is sometimes blotchy and itchy.
Emotionally I feel like a teenager. And that’s where my relationship with food comes in. I had become very practiced at dealing with my vicious, critical gremlin. The one who told me that I was pathetic, a fraud, that I’d never really change, that I wasn’t doing anything well enough, that I’d never be perfect. I became incredibly skilled at catching it the second it started and shutting it up very quickly. It’s favourite: “You might as well eat this and then start tomorrow, you’ve blown it for today anyway, you can do it perfectly tomorrow” gambit just didn’t hold any sway anymore. I had my one minute mantra at the ready and rarely overate, unless I wad choosing to, with awareness. These days my gremlin has changed and learning to deal with it is a slow and gradual learning curve! It’s a rebellious, angry teenager. She’s foul mouthed and wants to stick two fingers up at the world. All she ever wants is sweet stuff (I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth, that was always Audrey’s thing!) the more sugary the better. She doesn’t care about anything or anyone at the moment and she’s damned if she’s going to listen to me!! Right now her favourite catch-phrase is "I don't CARE" (but if you listen very carefully you'll hear whispers of "I do really, I care desperately"). I’m working on a new mantra and haven’t really nailed it yet. I’m getting there, very slowly. It does mean that I’m doing more overeating these days - dipping my spoon into the marmalade I just made, for the tenth time! Having an ice cream because I f****ing can (!!). Eating yet another helping of pudding because “no one can bloody stop me!” Rebelling against everything because, because.... Oh, I don't know... just because. It’s unfamiliar and I’m curious and kind of enjoying it in a strange way. I never rebelled when I was a teenager, I was a 'good girl'. Maybe I'm making up for lost time. And now there’s part of me thinking: “At this stage in my life I can do what I damn well please” which of course is true, but why on earth would that mean overeating??? Why rebel against one of the few things in my life that I feel good about and sure about? I’m working that one out.
I’m also working out the clothes thing. Today I hate every single item of clothing in my wardrobe. I’ve decided that it’s time to say goodbye to jeans and cotton tops from Gap and the like. Not because I am too old, just that I look at myself in the mirror and I don’t like they way they look on me. I know what I would like to wear… and don’t yet have the budget to afford a full wardrobe makeover; cashmere sweaters in grey and black, white and cream linen or satin shirts, floaty soft trousers, silk underwear, soft scarves. No patterns, I hate patterns. No tight fitting clothes. No skirts and definitely no denim. And then my teenage gremlin calls me names and tells me I’m ridiculous and I look like my grandmother! What???
And yet I feel stronger, more sure of myself, more confident than ever in my life. I look in the mirror naked and I feel loving and compassionate. I love the fact that my body is soft and curvy (truly curvy, not like the so-called curvy models!). I like the fact that I speak my mind, that I no longer make myself small to avoid rejection, ridicule or disapproval. I am delighted that I am not afraid to stay true to myself and that I will willingly risk disappointing another… It feels good.
I spent most of my life fearful. Fearful of getting it wrong, of not knowing, of being hurt or left behind, fearful that I would miss out, that I wouldn’t do all the things I wanted to do, that I would spend my whole life hiding. Today I don’t hide. And when I feel myself hesitating, I take myself gently by the hand and show up, speak up, take up space. I won’t silence myself and I won’t bully myself either.
My body is telling me to slow down and my gremlin is resentful. She wants to have the energy and resilience I have always had. She doesn’t want me to need more sleep! (can you hear the petulance????). She refuses to do less. She laughs at the idea of finding more gentle ways of moving. She wants us to stay the same! And yet… I am excited by what will emerge as I decide to sit back and do less. I wonder what I will discover as I experiment with breathing more deeply (literally) whenever I remember. I breathe a sigh of relief when I think about sitting back, listening to my body and resting more.
I’m working on taking charge of this teenage gremlin who wants me to rebel against everything that’s ‘good’ for me… She needs firm boundaries and oodles of love!
OK, this is getting a bit long for a blog post. I’ll stop here. I’d love to hear any of your menopause stories. Here or by email.
Wishing you all a healthy, nourishing and fulfilling 2011.