Saturday, 7 March 2015

The M word

When I was 50 I found out why couples who’ve been together a long time end up in separate beds. It’s not about falling out of love. It’s not about stopping having sex. It’s about night sweats.

No-one tells you about this stuff. You have to find out for yourself.

Jane Hill has written a great article in Standard Issue magazine (the mag’s worth checking out, by the way), called The Fleece of Despair. (Yeah, we’ve all got one.) And her cry of “Why had nobody told me?” is so true.

It’s about her experience of the menopause or, strictly speaking, the perimenopause. The menopause is the bit that comes afterwards when you’re officially over it. That’s the easy bit.

Actually, it’s not. It feels like downhill all the way after that.

I didn’t find the perimenopause bit too bad. The night sweats were a pain – we didn’t go as far as separate beds but we did have his-and-hers duvets for a while. The “is it just me or is it hot in here” phase wasn’t too extreme. I don’t know about mood swings, because I was going through a stressful time anyway – maybe it would have been easier without the physical changes, maybe not. And my weight’s always been up and down so no change there, either.

My periods kind of petered out so I hardly noticed. I miss them, though, which is strange but true. They were inconvenient for years but they were a way of keeping in touch with your physicality and, being the sort of person who lives in their head a lot, I needed that.

I knew when that year was up and I was officially menopausal, because I write things down. It didn’t feel like a huge milestone. I thought I’d grieve, because of not having children, but I’ve done a lot of grieving about that over the years and probably still will, so it didn’t feel any different.

It’s what comes next that I don’t like. The other things they don’t tell you about, like watching your body get old. At the moment, it’s misbehaving skin, and what they call marionette lines – those lines on each side of your mouth that make you look like your mother. (Yeah, they’ve even got a name for it. Nice, eh? Although I think ventriloquist dummy is a better analogy.)

Little changes that mean you’re not young any more and actually you might like to think about not even being middle-aged either, because how long can you get away with claiming that? It took me a long time to get used to calling myself middle-aged, but now I don’t want to let it go. Having middle-age behind me is even more scary. But, like birthdays, it’s better than the alternative.

Jane’s article talks about the “loss of potential”, and I know what she means. Coming to terms with being a sexless person is weird. Even though I am a feminist and never defined myself by my reproductive ability, deep down it feels wrong not to have it.

When Germaine Greer got to this age she started writing about crones, but I really don’t want to be one. I just want to carry on being me. Is that allowed? And is it possible – or is there a new “me” I don’t know about, that I need to find? I’d really just like to stand still for a while and get used to things, but I don’t think that’s possible.

“We don’t talk to each other enough about the menopause.” says Jane. OK. I’m doing it.

Your turn.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Book review: In Your Prime by India Knight

Have you seen those adverts that say they can tell you how not be poor when you retire? Then you read the small print, and the trick is to have £250,000 to start with.

I've just read a book that's a bit like that.

As I've mentioned before, going through middle-age sometimes feels like being in a foreign country without a map. There aren't many books around to help.

There's a new book out now that is not much help at all. For a start, it's not written by one of us. India Knight was 48 at the time of writing and not even menopausal. So why does she think she is qualified to tell us how to run our lives? She says the book is written for women "from about forty to about sixty-five". So why should a 65-year-old woman take advice from a 48-year-old? Because she writes columns for a right-wing national newspaper?

And as you'd expect from a Sunday Times writer, its all a bit jolly hockysticks. The main message seems to be: "The age thing is up to you" and we can all have a nice time if we listen to her advice.

That isn't strictly true. We can, as the subtitle has it, be "older, wiser and happier" but it helps if you have health and some money. A lot of money, actually.

Let's look at the chapter on Beauty and Maintenance. To stay looking nice, you need the following (and, yes, there is a LOT of product placement in this book):

A pedicure: the one she recommends is £125
A Marks and Spencer Foot File: at least, this one's only a fiver.
Laser eye treatment: hers cost about £10,000
Kerastase Soleil CC Creme: £15
Potion 9 by Sebastian: £18 (I've never heard of any of these things, either: I'm a Boots girl)
White Hot Hair shampoo: £12
Philips Sonicare electric toothbrush: £50
Janina whitening toothpaste: £55 (yes, that's what it said on the Amazon website)
A made-to-measure tooth bleaching tray: £250
A dental hygienist: who knows?
Regenerate toothpaste: £10
A haircut at John Frieda: they're not saying
Botox: she's given a web address for the people she goes to, but they're not saying either
Armani foundation: £39
By Terry eyeliner: £25
Armani Cheek Fabric Blush: £34
Studio 10 Contour Kit: £30
Urban Decay Eye Primer: £18
Charlotte Tilbury mascara: £22
Creme de la Mer facecream: £105 (or £350 for a large one)
Secret Camouflage concealer: £26
Alpha-H moisturiser: £29.

And that's before you get to buying clothes. Or her diet book.Or her list of essentials in the penultimate chapter, Living Well (good handbag, big TV, etc).

I'm glad I didn't pay £16.99 for the book. I got it from the library.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Bring on the New Year. I'm not afraid.

Every year for most of my adult life I've spent New Year's Eve saying: 'Well, I'm glad that's over, let's hope the next one is better.' And 365 days later, there I was again saying 'Well, that was shit, I'm glad it's over.'

I didn't do that this time. In 2014 I was unavoidably closer to 60 than 50, and I don't want to wish my life away any more.

Last night I watched Jools Holland's Hootenanny, like all the other middle-aged people too sensible (or scared) to bother going out. And I scoffed like all the others. Because we all know it's recorded in November. Because of the unimaginative, middle-of-the-road programming. And because it's fun to take the piss.

But when Wilko Johnson came on, I couldn't scoff, because no-one expected him to still be here. And when Jools asked him the usual inane questions about hopes for the new year, he said, basically: Who cares? I'm still here.

I'm still here, and I want to enjoy life because it's too short not to. I'm one of those people who have always found life a bit scary, but I think I'm getting used to it. And, as they say, it's better than the alternative.

2014 wasn't the best of years. It brought pain and struggle to some people I care about. And in the wider world, there was horrific cruelty and injustice, as there always has been and probably always will be. But I am sure that nearly everyone I know is kind, and many of them are idealistic, and I have to believe that that's what is normal.

I felt sadness and despair and anger during 2014, because anyone who notices the world has to feel those things. I also had some happiness and fun and freedom.

2014 was the year I counted my blessings. Every time I remembered I don't have a boss any more. Last year I came across this quote: 'I can’t pretend that freelancing gives you a secure future, because no job gives you that. But it will give you a chance to live life on your terms.' That's my inspiration for 2015.

I'm still scared, and probably always will be, but that's OK. I'm always one job away from being skint, and it could all fall apart any time, but so far I have survived. Life is scary, but it's a scary adventure.

There were changes in 2014. Mainly, it was the year I started feeling my age. My mother had a landmark birthday, and gathered the family together, and I felt things shift. I and my siblings are not the young ones any more. And when I caught sight of my mother's reflection, I saw my grandmother. And now I'm afraid to look at my own reflection.

2014 was the year I became aware of things I can't do any more. I've had arthritis for years. Ten years ago, they told me: come back when you're ready for a hip replacement. I think that might be this year. The alternative is admitting I'll never dance again, and I don't want that.

That's one of things that scare me about 2015. Another one is the election. There's a lot to worry about, if I let myself. I'm not going to stop being angry: there are times when that feels like a duty. But I'm not going to despair, either.  I'm trying to live life one step at a time.

In 2014, things happened to make me revisit my past. I went to a reunion, and after that I started making new friends. It was good to get to know people my own age. The experience made me look back on the person I used to be, and I realised that I've wasted too much of my life being unhappy. I'm not going to let that happen again.

Bring on 2015. It might to be easy. But if I can have some fun, and freedom, and love, that will be enough. If you're reading this, I wish that for you too.