“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” ~ Henri Bergson
This post is going to talk about menopause. Well, more specifically about perimenopause, the period leading up to the point at which a woman’s menstrual cycle ceases permanently. Now, just hang on and read this notice before you decide to move on to another post about funny cats.
Women going through or having gone through perimenopause: Read on. I know you’ll relate.
Women yet to go through perimenopause (yes, you will): Read on or at least bookmark this post. One day you will want to know that you’re not the only one feeling the way you do.
Men: Please read. Please understand what this is like for the women in your life (there must be at least one, even if it’s the barista in your coffee shop). Be as awe-inspired and sensitive as Dylan Moran.
Hahaha, I was kidding. But I do love his acknowledgement that a woman’s body is just a bit more complicated than a man’s.
I’ve been trying to write this post for months. I add a bit, change a bit and then leave it in drafts. Do people really want to know about this stuff? Other than those of us currently going through it, that is.
Today, I was watching the Amazon Prime series Fleabag. (I know, I have ethical problems with being signed up to Amazon but I wasn’t prepared to wait for the dvd release of Good Omens (based on one of my favourite books by my favourite author (Terry Pratchett) and another author I love (Neil Gaiman) ) and then I got predictably sucked in by the cheap annual price. It was worth it for Fleabag alone.) And (I had to start a new sentence because the parenthesis discussion got a bit unwieldy) there was a fabulous speech by Kristin Scott Thomas’ character in an episode I watched today that I just had to include in this post. So, I’m sending the whole post out into the blogosphere with some tweaks here and there. Finally.
Here’s the speech from KST:
(To be honest, it’s worth watching the whole KST scene. You can find that here.)
And here’s the rest of the work-in-progress-now-hesitantly-posted post:
Here We Go
About a decade or more ago, I went to see Menopause – The Musical. I laughed because it was funny and I understood most of the references from my general understanding of menopause but I couldn’t empathise. It was a bit too early for all that.
Here I am now, however, at a far more advanced age and not only facing but experiencing The Change. It may be time to revisit the musical.
The thing is, what I most remember of the show is the jokes about the physical symptoms of perimenopause such as hot flushes. While I get the occasional warm moment during the night, I’ve not experienced them to any great extent.
What perimenopause did do to me is turn me into a lunatic. Well, you know, more of a lunatic than usual.
It took me a while to realise that I was going just a bit more crazy than usual at certain points of the month.
Psycho Me was taking hold of the wheel and in the back seat was a chorus of disapproving voices who liked to point out all my deficiencies and how much better the world would be without me.
Now, I’ve always suffered from the psychological effects of PMS but this seemed different. I felt a bit more unhinged than normal.
After a particularly troubling event in which I transitioned from making jokes on Facebook to writing and sending some pathetic poem about what a lousy friend I am in a matter of minutes with no apparent cause, I consulted Doctor Google.
I learned that those women who have suffered from PMS in the past will find those symptoms exacerbated by perimenopause. Oh joy.
Then I read this line: “The average length of perimenopause is 4 years, but for some women this stage may last only a few months or continue for 10 years.”
I burst into tears. I seriously didn’t think that I would make it four years let alone ten. I would have no friends left by then, turned away by my insanity. That was assuming I’d even live that long. Those negative voices could be nasty and I was finding myself in some dark places.
The next day I made an appointment to see my GP. I knew that I was going to need pharmacological help to get through this and I wanted to see my youngest finish school and to see all of my boys become independent productive citizens of the world.
I was about to head overseas to Nepal and since I didn’t really want to be starting new medication when I was hours away from a hospital, I made the appointment for after my return. It did mean that while I was away I had a weird day with inexplicable tears at dinner and rage eating half a block of chocolate and a bag of snacks in my tent but I had a friend by my side so I made it through intact.
At the appointment with my GP after I returned from Nepal, I was prescribed a half-dose of an anti-depressant which I was to try and take only for the 7 days prior to my next period, the time it was presumed I would be most crazy. There was a problem with this plan. I was trying to predict a cycle that was becoming increasingly unpredictable.
But I followed the plan and kept notes on when I started and stopped medication and cycles and when the Mad Days came.
And the Mad Days were most certainly mad. On one occasion, I drove home from my singing group planning to email the leader and resign from the group because I was convinced everybody in the group hated me.
On the scariest day, I was carrying such an undercurrent of intense rage, I had to fight against the urge to floor the accelerator in the car and slam it into a tree. Even scarier, I didn’t even know what I was angry about.
The most interesting discovery was that the Mad Days came not at a consistent ‘before’ date but at a consistent ‘after’ date – nearly always exactly two weeks after my period.
At my next check up with the GP, this was all discussed and it was agreed that I should take the medication every day. Once I had made my way through menopause, we would work at taking me off the medication.
At a final follow up two months later, the GP was astonished to learn that I had not had a psychotic incident since our last appointment. “But you’re on such a tiny dose!” he said. “It’s amazing that it’s had that much effect.” I could see him mentally filing away the information for the next patient that came in with similar symptoms. Lucky woman.
I’m not saying that my life is smooth and uneventful. I still struggle some days. But I no longer feel like some psycho has control of me.
I’ve reflected this week, in the wake of the arrival of a period that was some six weeks in the making, that in all likelihood my mad episode of dieting was probably hormonally influenced. Still a bit crazy then.
So. I travel on, creating myself over with each step of the journey and looking very much forward to that post-menopause stage of life when I can be a new, but probably still crazy, me.