Beautiful Girls

Tracey Cox: Is Menopause All in the Mind?

Here I am doing some grocery shopping, and a little old lady is in front of me, dithering around and moving at a snail’s pace. I have about five minutes to do an hour’s worth of shopping. I smile patiently as she peers at a package of flour for what seems like hours, blocking my way with her cart. Finally she moves. Then stops again. The rage is instant and nuclear. I look at her tiny, vulnerable ankles protruding out of those big, clumpy shoes that old ladies wear to keep themselves grounded, and I picture ramming my cart up the back of them. I’m one breath away from following through. Welcome to my menopause experience.

I am a nice woman, not generally given to running shopping carts up the back of little old ladies’ ankles. But during menopause I was an angry, hot, frothy mess of irritability. My friends were scared of me. I was scared of me. My best friend, also perimenopausal, then menopausal, went through the whole experience without raising an eyebrow, her voice, or a sweat. The only thing she noticed was that her periods faltered, then stopped. I hated her. A part of me still does (okay, a teensy part, but still).

Menopause is a motherfucker for lots of women. For others, she’s like a slightly annoying child, pulling at your skirts when you could do without being disturbed. Everyone experiences it differently, albeit with commonalities.

Here are some of the menopause stories women told me:

“I was in a restroom in a train station and suddenly, out of the blue, had a massive panic attack. I ran out of the stall and pushed through everyone to get outside. I was so afraid and claustrophobic and didn’t have a clue what was going on. It turned out to be a symptom of menopause.”

“I hardly noticed menopause. Emotionally, perhaps, I was a little moody and sweating a bit at night. But I think mindful nutrition and not overdoing alcohol helped. And drinking lots of water.”

“Ah yes, the big M. It came and went with no real issues apart from hot flashes and night sweats for a few months. And that was it. Except, of course, since then I’m drier than the Sahara, which has caused UTIs.”

“I thought I’d escaped. I’m 60 and have had no symptoms of menopause at all. Was feeling quite smug about it all! Then I started getting urinary tract infections and the gynecologist took one look and said, ‘Wow! There’s a lot going on here.’ I had severe vaginal atrophy. Because I wasn’t experiencing anything on the outside, I didn’t think about the inside. She put me on HRT and pessaries immediately.”

“My anxiety level—which has always been high—ramped up to unbearable. I’m on antianxiety drugs now because I can’t take HRT. When I go off them, it’s a disaster. How much of it is menopause and how much of it isn’t, I don’t really know.”

That’s just a taste of the kind of experiences women have. Quite a range, from a few months of inconvenience to years of misery. Regardless of where you fall on it, it’s likely your life and sex life will be impacted in some way.

The symptoms of menopause are not universal and vary among cultures. Some think the culture we live in is the most important factor in predicting what your experience of menopause will be. The Western world idolizes youth. Other cultures respect old age. We think of menopause as an ending, almost a “disease.” Other cultures think of it as a beginning, transformative—a time of freedom and respect for women.

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