The journey through menopause is different for everyone, but some women breeze through it. Are we forgetting that in our discussions?
The menopause may be universal, but our experiences of it are not. The recent increase in media coverage and public conversations around the menopause is long overdue, so hallelujah. But what might be being overlooked is that some women have a really positive menopause, a really easy ride.
Whilst it’s brilliant that the press is full of stories of the menopause, and women are excited to finally be able to talk about how awful the symptoms are (and rightly so!), the truth is that there are many women being left out of this conversation.
These women are the ones whose own journey through the menopause isn’t the typically tortuous one we so often hear about. There are women who sail right through this stage of life, and the lack of relatability in the public sphere can be daunting.
The ‘plain sailors’
Alison is 64, and well into her postmenopausal era. But her experience was different to the one we hear so often about, and it has definitely had an effect.
When my mother began going through the menopause, I had no idea what was wrong with her.
“I am genuinely so happy that the conversations around menopause are at an all-time high. I feel excited for the next generation of women who will have an easier time knowing what they’re going to be experiencing at some point in their life, as they were able to conduct easily-accessible research and have frank conversations with their mothers, their aunties, their friends.
“Unfortunately, I did not grow up in a time where these conversations were natural. When my mother began going through the menopause, I had no idea what was wrong with her. I know now, of course, that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with the menopause. But at the time it was so taboo and hush hush that I was terrified.
“As I grew up, I began dreading this period of my life. You hear things here and there, and it was the unknown that scared me. But then… it just happened. No side effects. No need for medication. No excruciating pain. I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but I felt a little underwhelmed. Was that it? Was that the big transformation that has been looming over me for the past 45 years?”
The media outlook
Alison felt almost alienated by the media discussions around menopause. Since it was so far from what she had gone through, it had the opposite impact.
“Once the media became more accepting of the fact that actually the menopause is a totally natural and normal aspect of life, I became almost obsessed with reading each bit of news I came across. Except I couldn’t relate. Naturally, the typical symptoms and side effects are much more physically taxing, and I am grateful for my comparatively easy experience, but it was frustrating. Where were my plain sailors?
I found that I was repeating the pattern of not talking about it, not because of the taboo status, but because I was embarrassed.
“I found that I was repeating the pattern of not talking about it, not because of the taboo status, but because I was embarrassed. How could I discuss this with my friends when my own experience was completely different? It would almost be like telling your friend who had just lost their job that you’d won the lottery. Completely tone deaf. So instead, I kept my experience to myself, which felt very un-empowering and isolating.
“There was also the question of not feeling like a ‘real woman’, as I hadn’t had the same experience that other women had. Was there something wrong with me? Should I even be feeling sad about this? Then came the guilt, for being upset about being in a situation that a lot of people would kill for!
“I’m at peace with my experience now, and I’m happy that I sailed through with relatively no fuss, but I can’t help wishing I could find more women like me, to share our experiences and receive the validation we deserve, despite fighting a different battle.”
The joys of menopause
In the same situation but with a different outlook is Briony, a 53-year-old who has welcomed the benefits of being post-menopausal with open arms.
“Luckily I grew up in a fairly communicative household. My mum was always very open about everything – albeit in hideous detail sometimes – so I felt prepared for the menopause and all the awful things that come with it.
I was sick to death of hearing about the life-transforming experience that is so vital to a women’s journey through life.
“Instead, I had a totally different experience. My friends and I tend to meet up once a month for lunch or dinner and a huge catch up. I’m sure you can guess the topic of conversation over the past few years. We all had varying degrees of suffering with our menopause journeys, and I can’t help but feel a little smug that I seem to have had such an easy go of it.
“Personally, I’m so glad it’s over and done with now. I was sick to death of hearing about the life-transforming experience that is so vital to a women’s journey through life. Yes, women are great, and yes, it’s empowering that we can go through such an experience and come out of the other side with a new lease of life. But I’m excited to finally just be a person, instead of specifically a woman. It’s refreshing to be on an even playing field for the first time ever; there’s nothing holding me back.
“There are so many advantages to the menopause, that I’m not even sure where to start. I was one of those women who always had terrible periods, so now that they’re finally over, I could dance with joy! I think I definitely paid my dues in suffering each month.”
A new lease of life
Briony is really enjoying ‘living her best life’ now, without expectations from other people. “I’m also utterly relieved to be done with the conversations around having children. My family have questioned this for years – my siblings, even my parents. Why didn’t I want kids? At least I don’t have to deal with that any more!
I can’t imagine anything worse than ending years of suffering with more suffering – but I’m so bloody grateful that my years of ‘the change’ were harmless
“I am truly empathetic to my sisters who have a hard time of the menopause. I can’t imagine anything worse than ending years of suffering with more suffering – but I’m so bloody grateful that my years of ‘the change’ were harmless. I feel young again; I have the sense of a new lease of life, like I’m 21 with a newly-obtained degree and a fresh set of eyes looking at the opportunities around me.
“And wow, the freedom from fluctuating hormones is the real cherry on top! I’m excited to embark on my ‘second life’ without anything dreadful looming in the horizon. I finally feel like the best version of me!”
Whether you’re one of the plain sailors or you’re having a rougher time with menopause and perimenopause, if you feel you need support, reach out. The Menopause Charity UK is a good place to start.
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