Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Pause for thought

On Sunday evening, as I was quietly reading my book, I experienced a zapping sensation in my head. A bit like when you crick your neck, but it was inside my brain. Shucks, I thought, I've got a brain tumour. Naturally, I consulted Dr. Google and it turned out I was experiencing a symptom of perimenopause. Fab. (Although, marginally better than a brain tumour, I suppose.)

Emma Clark Lam and birthday cake
In the days before I'd even heard of perimenopause!
My 43rd birthday is looming, which means ageing is on my mind at the moment. A friend of mine, Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman, is a big advocate for breaking the taboo associated with menopause and the various indignities that women face as we grow older and wiser. So in the spirit of sisterhood, I have decided to highlight the challenges of the dreaded 'change'.

To be honest, I didn't even know I was perimenopausal until I started joking about what I was feeling with Cathy a year or so ago.  She gleefully provided me with the label 'perimenopause', which refers to the transition we make as our bodies approach menopause (technical term for permanent infertility). Basically, during this interval of perimenopause, our ovaries are starting to cut back on oestrogen production. Depending on your own biological clock, this transition stage can go on for as long as 10 years, but on average it lasts about four years. You become officially menopausal when you have gone through 12 consecutive months without a period.


Where did Mummy go?


The worst perimenopausal symptom for me is the intensification of pre-menstrual syndrome, in other words, feeling like you want to wallow in a deep hole every time you get your period. It's common to feel a bit down, or highly strung, at your time of the month, but recently I have been feeling like my whole life is a failure! Once the hormones stabilise, I bounce back - the children heave a sigh of relief - and I morph into cheerful, resilient Mummy again. 

But it does feel a smidge unfair that women have to experience these emotional rollercoasters. Ageing is bad enough, without having to undergo a personality disorder once a month. On the bright side - yay! - menopause will eventually put a stop to the hormonal big dipper. Just got to deal with the trade-off then: increasing wrinkles, weight gain, hot flushes and a diminishing appetite for sex...  Oh, joy!

It amazes me that there are so many older women out there who have gone through all this with barely a whisper of complaint. We just don't talk about it - a bit like childbirth in bygone days. Personally, I feel it would be helpful to open up about these  changes to our bodies, if only to banish the suggestion that we should feel ashamed in some way.

I also take comfort from the fact that on the whole we women are terribly robust. We put up with a lot of biological s**t and yet we get dressed in the morning, apply our make-up, do our hair and put our best foot forward. In our own way, I think we're quite heroic.