I'm writing this nervously too, knowing that anyone googling my real name (potential employers, for example) could in fact find themselves here, men or women. I hope that the fact that I'm writing under a pseudonym, and that I'm writing about intimate women’s issues, will let them know this is not for them, and turn them away now. NOW! Because this is a warning of TMI (Too Much Information) for pretty much everyone. When I tell my husband what I'm about to tell you, he covers his ears and makes loud noises. So hopefully, that warning will turn anyone else away too. Though my husband isn't usually so lucky, as my response is “if I have to live it, you at least have to hear about it!” These are things women share, privately, in the kitchens during dinner parties, or in cafes, or on the driveway after lunch, or in the bathrooms at work amongst other women of or approaching a certain age. These are not things we share with men. They know it happens. But they don’t really want to know. Consider yourself warned.
I know this isn't a No Kidding related post. But I feel it sits better here, in a community that is predominantly women, that is knowledgeable about our reproductive systems, and that is accustomed to talking about things that are generally considered to be TMI.
Twelve things I wish someone had told me about the lead up to menopause:
- Men don’t understand what you’re going through. They’ll have a rough idea, based on general knowledge and bad jokes on American TV sitcoms. And the truth is, they don’t want to know what you’re going through. I try to tell my husband some of the TMI details, and he covers his ears and makes loud signs. My response is “if I have to live it, you have to hear it.” Don't get me wrong, he is sympathetic. But until it happened to me, he had no idea. And would rather not know.
- Weight will arrive. It will sneak up on you, and it is difficult to shift, even though I exercise regularly at the gym. I always thought that was a cliché. Um. No, it’s not. Don’t let it sneak up, and don’t assume you will be able to get rid of it in the way you did even a few years ago.
- Emotions will go up and down like a yo-yo. Again, because you’re feeling them, they sneak up and don't seem so unusual. I - finally - managed to recognise the mood changes, and reel them in a little. Fortunately, this aspect seems to have abated recently. All I’ll say is that my husband’s a saint. (Shh. Sometimes. Don’t tell him.)
- Our reproductive parts, having already caused many of us such grief, might just quietly go to sleep and turn out the lights without a word. But equally, as a dear friend commented to me recently, some of us might find that our parts are not dying down quietly, they're going out screaming. Loudly.
- And this is the thing no-one ever tells you. Well, no-one ever told me. I wish women were warned, because I have tolerated this for too long. I have been dealing with regular chainsaw massacre-like events. The nine hour flight to Singapore was no fun, and I was nervous for weeks in advance that on our South African safari the lions would smell blood and attack! (Fortunately, for once, timing was on my side and attacks were averted.) Having googled a little, I tolerated this because I thought it was normal. It is common. But it is not necessarily normal. And there are degrees. So talk to your doctor, because …
- There is medication that can reduce the carnage, and make your life more tolerable. Actually, this is relevant for anyone, no matter what age, who might be similarly inflicted. I am going to talk to my niece about it. I don't think she knows.
- Living in a hot climate might help. When I was in Qatar and Jordan last year, at 40-plus Celsius, I didn't even notice if I was having hot flushes. (OK, that’s not a serious one, but it was good not to notice them!) There are degrees of hot flushes too. Sometimes they're just a gentle flush of heat. Other times, it feels as if you're suddenly thrust into a sauna.
- They estimate that up to 80% of women have fibroids by the time they reach menopause. Many women have them, but as they have no symptoms, they're not even aware of it. Fibroids can cause major problems - heavy bleeding, pain, frequent urination, etc. We've all heard of the stories of people growing huge basketball-size fibroids. But what I didn't know was that even one or two can do a lot of damage. And they grow and multiply quickly in those last ten years before the Big M. That pregnant-looking belly may not just be down to mid-life weight gain.
- Most importantly, if I was back in my early 40s now, I would do things differently. In particular, I would get my FSH checked every year or two, to see where I was in the process. I would certainly get it checked if I noticed disturbing changes. Why didn't I? Because I didn't realise that it would help me know if my symptoms are normal, or whether further investigations are necessary. My gynaecologist said that my FSH indicates that everything should be over by now. Yet, up until about six months ago, I was still reasonably regular. But apparently that wasn't normal.
- Talking is good. In fact, talk to your older female friends, your mother, your aunts, older sisters. Find out what was normal for them, so you get an idea about what might or might not happen. Some of them will tell you just to wait and it will be over. Don't listen to them. Talk to your doctor instead. It might be the case that you can just wait. It might not. (Not, in my case it turns out).
- Listen to women who are going through this, understand, empathise, and learn. But please don’t compare your own sterling health/regularity with theirs, even if you want to be over it too. (I'm not sure if I did this myself or not, but I wish I'd thought about it). If you’re not having difficulties, don't be pleased with yourself. I've had a number of people do this and it makes me feel broken and judged and old before my time (even though it is not, apparently, "before my time") all over again. (One woman's comments - about how "normal" (or the implication being, exceptional) she was because everything was continuing without change at a couple of years older than me - took me right back to the dinner table conversation we had had years ago when she and her husband were asking about my ectopic pregnancy, and he said proudly, smugly even, "my wife, she has no problems.") The best reaction was from a friend who said "I want to hear it all. I'm following you in a year or two, and want to be prepared." She may not have any issues (she's not that much younger than me, and so far so good). But she listened.
- Remember that ultimately, it’s just another transition in life. One I was not looking forward to, but one I realise now is no big deal. One that will give us more freedom than we, as women, have ever had. Think about that freedom, what it means, what we've put up for months, years, decades, and what we can - when we’re ready - cast aside, both physically and emotionally. It is not an end, it is a beginning. I am now ready, and I am welcoming it. Nothing is ever simple though. Changes for me, it seems, will come surgically next month. To be honest, I can't wait.