Older and Wider: A Survivor’s Guide to the Menopause
Writer and performer Jenny Eclair has written a book based on her experience of menopause. ‘This is not an in-depth medical or psychological insight,’ she says in the intro, ‘ I’m not a doctor. However, I am a woman and I do know how it feels to be menopausal.’ Older and Wider is honest and funny. Here’s an extract:
The worst thing about mood swings is feeling like you’ve lost control. If like me, you struggle with your emotions, regardless of any hormonal imbalance, then this can lead to making a fool of yourself on a regular basis – arguing on the street, causing silly Twitter storms, bursting into tears on public transport and kicking inanimate objects. If we could be rational, then we know what we should do: some deep breathing, or even ten minutes of yoga. Hell, even ten minutes of colouring-in is better than going on a neighbourhood rampage because someone didn’t scoop their dog poop from outside your front door.
What we all need is to be kind to ourselves without being self-indulgent. If and when you have behaved badly, apologize and mean it, and then allow yourself a treat for being such a big girl. Treats come in all shapes and sizes, for me it’s cheese and a handful of crisps, time out with a good book and maybe a couple of rows of therapeutic knitting, followed by a quick browse through the David Austin rose catalogue (no one can be angry when they’re looking at roses).
Swimming, walking, talking to a mate, painting your toenails – there are a million ways to cheer yourself up. The trick is not to be so fucked up you won’t even help yourself.
Menopausal mood swings come in many different guises, and I for one am quite capable of running through an entire catalogue of different emotions, including:
For me, anger was one of the hardest things to control. It was also one of the most dangerous. I live in south-east London where it’s not advisable for dumpy middle-aged women to start shooting their mouths off, but God help the cab driver who stops his black cab to offload litter on to my street, only to find that I am picking it up and shoving it right back through his window. (After a brief exchange of insults, he realized what he was dealing with and drove off, but I gave chase, taking down his registration number and yelling abuse. As he sped off around the corner, I caught sight of his face in the wing mirror. He looked terrified.)
I’d say I’m an average crier…. but Call the Midwife gets me every time. Fact is, the menopause turned me into more of a weeper – mostly tears of frustration at buttons falling off coats and lost car keys. I also became incredibly sentimental. Telly ads would have me welling up, little girls holding their mother’s hands in the supermarket would trigger a huge lump in my throat and once, driving past my daughter’s old school, I had to pull over whilst I wept for twenty minutes – great, heaving, wracking sobs of nostalgia for a life that I’d once had that was now over.
Realizing your career is stalling can feel like the last menopausal straw for a lot of women and, sadly, statistics prove that whilst men of, ahem, mature years will continue to be promoted right up until retirement, women are often side-lined and end up staying put. Now I have very little experience in the world of real work, but for me in my ridiculous showbiz/writer’s bubble, I could feel a shift in the type of work I was being offered. Basically, the telly stuff dwindled – not that I’d ever been hot telly property – but after the third-place success of I’m a Celebrity in 2010, which led to a year’s stint on Loose Women, the big opportunities got smaller. By the time I was fifty-five, I had to come to the conclusion that, TV-wise, I’d peaked and from now on I’d be lucky to get offered the odd one-off appearance.
Let’s be honest here. I did feel shit about this. And I was jealous. I was jealous of all the new funny, younger women who were being discovered and promoted above my head. For me, the answer was simple. I started turning the box off. I’m lucky; my demons can at least be controlled by pressing a button on the remote control. I imagine it’s a lot harder for many other women in proper jobs…
PUT A POSITIVE SPIN ON IT
We only get one go at life, and considering the menopause can drag on for a decade of your allotted time on this planet it would be a shame to waste that time by being permanently down. So, with that in mind, let’s put a positive spin on the menopause – the most important things to remember are:
It’s not going to kill you. The menopause can be upsetting and inconvenient, but it’s not going to put you in a hospital ward for months on end. There is nothing about the menopause that should cause any real chronic physical pain, so if that’s what you’re feeling, get down to your doctors ASAP.
It’s not going to last for ever. Some days will be easier than others, but there is nothing about the menopause that should leave you with any long-term damage. Possibly the biggest hormone-related worry is osteoporosis and any woman who has a history of this condition in the family should take precautions to prevent it.
You are still young. Old age is far more fraught with danger than our middle years. As my mother says, ‘Being ninety isn’t for cissies’. But let’s get through this bit first!
Older and Wider: A Survivor’s Guide to the Menopause by Jenny Eclair is out now in hardback, ebook and audiobook, Quercus (available HERE). The Older and Wider podcast with Jenny Eclair and Grumpy Old Women producer Judith Holder is available on Acast, Spotify and iTunes.