Janice Issitt                    Life and Style

travel, interiors, photography, home, crafts, personal style

12 May 2017

The Menopause - my response to Caryn Franklin and Carol Vorderman

It pleases me greatly when any woman chooses to write about the Menopause, and while I feel both that it isn't talked about enough  and totally under-estimated in terms of lifestyle changes, I am glad to hear of any honest experiences, the more we hear the more we can support anyone going through this change.

Caryn Franklin is a woman of my generation, born the same year, but certainly a face I knew from the tv and whose opinions I respected, she crossed the bridge perfectly between intelligence and style, a breath of fresh air to balance all those page three girls who were so lauded back in the eighties.

So her article on the menopause found me, and I read it with great interest. Here’s the thing, like Caryn says, everyone has a different experience with it, mine is different from hers, although there are cross-over areas.  How the Menopause will affect you will totally depend on your genetics, somewhat on your lifestyle, and is pretty much completely out of your control, so be prepared. I want more people to write about it for this very reason, we need to hear all the stories.

I've heard that if you are slim then you might stand more chance of osteoporosis, but if you are overweight, you will probably gain more weight. These aren't scientific results by any stretch, my point being, that you just can't prepare yourself too much, there are so many different stories about how it affects people. Some have the theory that if you haven't had children it will be worse, your body getting it's revenge! 

Anyone who has had children, but not reached the Menopause, will know how your hormones gave you fluff for brains and a rollercoaster ride of emotions … well guess what, it’s all likely to happen again.  I’ve thought a bit about hormones, this invisible thing that controls us, and one which seems to leave most men completely baffled.  The problem with the gender divide on the hormone issue can also result in women having little support from the men they live with, being blamed for having mental health and mood issues, called crazy and unreasonable.  Oh I just wish we could show them one day of the torture, yes we know we are being illogical, trust me, I am one person who likes things to be logical, so to be having the argument with your own self is surely set to put anyone on the path of temporary madness, and bursting into tears at the drop of a hat isn't my idea of fun either.

Like Caryn, I too consider myself as someone who sees a problem and wants to fix it NOW.  What she says is oh so important here, you can’t get out of it, you just have to listen to it … it’s not called ‘the change’ for no reason, so get ready to change.

I would say for me, there was a long lead up, many years of peri symptoms, then wham, one (and a bit) full-on years of almost complete incapacity.  Caryn did not suffer so much from the physical affects, I however, had the complete opposite. Hot flushes, night sweats, complete lack of energy, aching joints, and depression, not surprisingly.  

While Caryn was self medicating with wine, I became completely intolerant to all alcohol, it made the night sweats worse, I felt sick, so one glass of wine just simply wasn’t worth it.  I get the impression from her article that her’s was more a mental change and that certainly has happened, although I wasn’t quite so aware of it until now.

Caryn says that ‘in menopause our body roars’ which I can relate too and that your new self after ‘the change’ is probably one, who like me, has much less tolerance.  Like Caryn I have made concerted efforts to cut the crap out of life as much as is humanly possible, this week I even hired cleaning ladies, finally! (Seriously I would rather starve myself for a day than clean the floor, my joints all ache).

The Menopause really is the time to re-assess, you are getting older love, give yourself a bloody break for god sake.  So cut back on the stress of numerous projects, quality over quantity, engage much less in unwaged work … thank you … collaborate more selectively.  Tick to all of those Caryn most definitely.

Appearance for me, like with Caryn (who not only worked in fashion but was on the t.v.) needed a review too.  A lot of older ladies are making the decision not to dye their hair, embrace the grey, but I have to say that with my skin tone that ain’t ever gonna happen, I would look like a corpse. As you probably know, I have had some cosmetic help to make me feel myself again, or at least, my new self. Not so much an attempt to look younger, but more to help with my re-invention.

As you may already know, one of my worst side effects was the weight gain around the waist, which I tackled with liposuction.  In menopause the body just decides to hold onto fat in all kinds of areas we would rather it didn’t, and there is pretty much little you can do about it. If your body shape and genetics has pre-determined that this will happen then … yeah, great.

I really like the way that Caryn explains that this withdrawal from the hormones which took us into adulthood makes the reverse from them a portal to selfhood.  It’s important to recognise this, something I didn’t, that choosing less stress, more sleep and supportive friends is crucial. Treat yourself with kindness, she says, and wait while the bio-chemical make-up of your body re-arranges itself.   Ok, my version of this was to stay in bed for a year while my other half shouted at me, not quite what I needed but I was so friggin’ tired I couldn’t do much else. Problem is that it doesn't just start and stop, it goes on and on for many years. On average 5 years for your brain to realise that your ovaries are not going to work.  

When our ovaries stop working the brain continues to send messages to get them to work, its sends a hormone that consequently produces the sweats and hot flushes. It's impossible to say how long it will take for your brain to realise they don't work. Cognitive function is impaired with insomnia, anxiety, brain fog, depression and loss of concentration.  If you need to work when this is going on then you can imagine how difficult life will become.

Coming out the other side is quite liberating, and frankly, as soon as you start to feel ok again, it’s a huge relief, however, I have found that just when I think it's drawing to an end I will get a bout of problems again, increased depression, lack of energy and hot flushes.  

I like the idea that  female tribal elders should be respected and celebrated, not sure it’s going to happen anytime soon though, as most days it’s enough to just get noticed in the outside world. Age brings invisibility for some reason, a super power I once quite fancied but now one I positively resent.  While the world wants to brush this under the carpet, there are millions of women having real problems and trying to continue as normal.

One thing I would like to point out though, Caryn still looks amazing, as some women do particularly if they have been tall slim models in their youth, great cheek bones don’t appear over night, you either have them or you don’t, if you get my drift.  I’m starting to get pretty annoyed at the moment about the pressure from these new ‘older mavens’ who all look fantastic with their long grey hair, it really is like another sort of stress “oh look at Helen Mirren, if she looks great so should you”, and while they all spout about how one can grow old gracefully and still look fabulous, it really isn’t going to be that easy for some, and not what you want to hear when you are suffering.

A few articles from other women about how great it is to grow old doesn’t change a lifetime of seeing beauty as youth; no lines or sags, no rolls of fat, no bingo wings and cellulite.  Our mental conditioning of fifty years or more that we should look like this or that doesn’t disappear over night, I only hope that the new found confidence after the menopause can balance the inner critic. Put on top of this a crippling depression and you can see how that mental state can disappear up it's own arse with unhappiness.

Pleased that I am for the advanced style women modelling after the age of 55, I hope we aren't just making another bench mark for how we are supposed to look, as there will always some people who struggle to make the adjustment after the change. 

Recently in the news Carol Vorderman has opened up about the terrible depression she has been going through. So here's a fantastic looking lady, with everything going for her, intelligence, success, money, yet it doesn't keep the depression from hitting. Depression is not about that, it's about brain chemistry. She was going about with dealing with some physical side effects and wham,  it hit her including suicidal thoughts, and here's one phrase that goes around in my head a lot that she said "I didn't see the point in carrying on, I just don't see the point in life, I don't see it"

I believe that anti-depressants can help, however this still happens even when you are on them. It can be so quick to get into the mind set of suicide and so slow to get out of. Here's the thing with depression, when you most need the help you are most likely not to ask for it, but to cocoon yourself away and hide. Unless someone close can spot the signs and knows how to react you are walking a very thin line. The attitude of your support network saying 'pull yourself together' and 'what have you got to be depressed about' just makes it worse.

Depression as a topic deserves so much more than just a mention in a blog post about the menopause, but I'm so so thankful to Carol Vorderman for airing this side of her story. Carol says she didn't have the night sweats and other physical aspects, but 20 percent of women will get the full on severe whammy of everything.

Whatever your menopause brings or takes, I hope you make it out the other side with a positive attitude, I’m not totally sure that I'm there yet, I’m still working on it and will take Caryn’s attitude on board, I shall try with all my might to rouse my inner mystic, that's if I can get out of bed after my nap.

At the moment I'm really trying to find a way to get more exercise but I can't work out how to do that, the lack of motivation has become such a big issue, and I'm stuck in finding a solution. It's a whole other topic that needs to be addressed.

Last words, please support anyone you know who is in menopause, as much as you can, and let's get more people talking about it. 

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