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.

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