After 40-plus years of periods, 52-year-old writer Hannah Betts just wants the monthly peri combo of perma-knackeredness and teen-like angst to be over already.
“Will you write an article about menopause?” I have been asked this incessantly of late. And, I get it — truly, I do. I’m female, 52, and a journalist; what else could I possibly be required to opine about? Alas, I am forced to reply: “Sorry, I’d have loved to, but I’m not actually there yet.” The shame, the ignominy, the 40-plus years and counting of entirely useless mess and pain.
We are told to dread the Change, to fear its impact both physical and mental, and beware the prejudices it can foster. Frankly, I’ve got menopause envy. For the Big M has gone from being the hot and bothered affliction that dare not speak its name to a veritable social requirement, certainly in the meno-positive metropolitan environments in which I operate.
My inbox is crammed with invitations to get involved with themed panels, protests and empowerment parties, parliamentary meetings and product launches. I can’t seem to order a coffee without someone bending my ear about adding collagen for vaginal atrophy, or how matcha might be better for post-meno bones. Far from being taboo, menopause has become compulsory bonding banter.
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Still, it’s not even this that has made me meno-jel. I just want my periods to stop. Now. Immediately. I know menopause — officially the state following 12 bleed-free months — can be accompanied by attendant health issues. However, it is perimenopause, that pre “a clear year” phase in which hormones crash and surge, hot flushes storm, and rages rage, that presents much of the trauma. And it’s perimenopause that I presume I’m in now, that final flush of fecundity representing fertility’s last-chance saloon.
Basically, I’m on the receiving end of the worst of both worlds: the corpse-like perma-knackeredness of a woman staggering towards her mid-50s with the physical and mental angst of a teenage girl. My periods hurt. My mood plummets, my head and belly ache, my energy is on the floor. Mid-cycle is also rough, meaning I’ve just recovered from one pall when another descends.
As an extra sting in the tale, extended menstruation can also make you ill. Hit menopause much earlier than the 51-year-old average and you’ll miss the benefit of oestrogen’s protective effect on bone density and cardiovascular health. Much later, and lingering oestrogen exposure can increase the risk of breast and uterine cancer.
You may argue that I’m not far off the average. Perhaps, but no one else I know of my vintage is in the same boat, my cycle shows no sign of diminishing, and I resent every last second of its stay. My mother and sisters all stopped bleeding bang on 40. Why I continue to share a cycle as regular and active as my 18-year-old niece’s I couldn’t tell you. “Maybe you started later?” medics attempt to console me. I was 11. Forty-one years, and for what? I’ve never wanted kids. Forty-one times 12 opportunities for fainting, leaking, pain, dizziness and distraction.
Sure, I’d like the wise-woman, zero f***s, “I am at peace and all-seeing” vibe of post-period existence. But, basically, I’d settle for “not still in danger of getting knocked up”. Either way, I’ve had enough. It’s time to give up my painkillers and hot water bottle, my tampons and torpor, for freedom, liberty, calm. Mother Nature, I implore you, give this old girl a break.