“Nobody told me there’d be days like these...” so the song says, and when it comes to the menopause, John Lennon couldn’t have put it better. From Les Dawson dressed in drag and leaning over his garden fence, gurning and nudging his ample bosom, ‘women’s troubles’ have been played out as something batty old ladies got. It is seen as an old woman’s ‘thing’, to be chortled at over a pint by Neanderthal men in the pub.
My parents were living overseas when I began my menopause, and like my mum I was early, just 42 when the rumbling symptoms really kicked in. It started with night sweats of epic proportions, then a total loss of libido, feelings of all-encompassing anxiety, then anger, sweeping through me like an emotional tsunami. Then the sweats began to creep in during the day, arriving without warning, and normally while I was at work and needed to look my professional best.
Friends in the right places
Luckily I had my Loose Women friends to turn to, and was given a sympathetic ear and lots of advice. Everything from whether I should go on HRT and if so, which type? Or did I want to try and slug it out with diet, exercise, deep breathing and good will? The list of suggestions was, and is, endless, and making a wrong decision can feel like the end of the world, especially when your brain already feels frazzled.
No one is immune
For some strange reason, celebrities aren’t expected to go through this. It’s as if anyone in the public eye doesn’t feel pain or emotions like the rest of the world. My mum used to tell me “even the Queen goes to the loo” when I was feeling over-awed by someone or something, to remind me that everyone is human. Well I’m sure that even the Queen has had her hot flushes and moments when she’s felt the world is against her, but has carried on with the dignity and grace that the world expects of her.
Unlike some woman in the public eye, I have been fortunate enough to work in a job where I can talk about my experiences, and have been overwhelmed with support from women when I’ve done so. It wasn’t always this way though, and I didn’t plan to tell the world about my menopause and my decision to have a hysterectomy. It just happened that way. Have I had a better experience of it because I’m famous? Of course not. My body went through, and is still going through, exactly the same thing as anyone else. Has it put me under more pressure? That’s a difficult one, because all our pressures are different. I am expected to look professional and composed at all times, to work through brain fog while keeping everything effortlessly flowing in front of millions of people on live television; all while smiling and being charming while I feel anything but. However, doesn’t everyone? The menopause doesn’t care who you are or what you do for a living. It’s a physical thing, and a mental thing, not a career thing.
I totally understand why some women choose not to discuss it, or admit to it, because of its connotations of ageing, and becoming an old lady who is a figure of fun and derision rather than a capable female of the species. With respect and support from our partners in love, friends in life and colleagues at work, I’m hopeful that ‘The Change’ can become something to be embraced as a new chapter rather than the beginning of the end.