Menopause – what I have learned so far….

Following on from my last blogpost calling for older women to step into their power especially at Halloween, I thought it might be time to share some insights into menopause; something that is not talked about as much as it should be.  And perhaps if we ‘women of a certain age’ start talking menopause we would encourage women of all ages to keep talking about all related topics (fertility, periods, childbirth etc) which until recently have been solely the preserve of ‘female conversations’.

Ok, so first off, let me say I am no expert in anything but life.  And so, these top tips are all based solely on my personal experience, thus far!

Top Tip – all women experience menopause differently.  We won’t all suffer the same symptoms so sharing our experiences and our methods of coping are very important.  So please leave a helpful comment after this post if you have something that worked for you that you would like to share.

The heat is ON…. and it’s not the immersion!

I had heard horror stories from some friends who suffered terrible night sweats, sweating so profusely that they had to change nightwear and bed sheets.  Thankfully, thus far this hasn’t been my experience but having spent at least 52 of my 56 years feeling the cold, my body now thinks it’s in the tropics most of the time.  A kind of personal global warming that means I now have a horror of woolly jumpers, even on the coldest days.  And polo necks are for the moment definitely a no no.

So, some top tips for dealing with the heat of menopause are:

  • Wear light fabrics and layers that can easily be removed. Scarves (not woolly) ones are fabulous – the disguise a multitude and also can add warmth around your shoulders should you need it, especially in summer.
  • Make sure your car has functioning air conditioning… my aircon was kaput for a few weeks and I was lucky I didn’t expire in that time. I now travel in the comfort of an ice-cold car.  Not great for passengers but in my car the driver calls it on music and ambient temperature.
  • Bedside fan – although I don’t suffer bad night sweats, during sleep I do tend to go from too hot to too cold thought the night. So, a bedside fan is wonderful for blowing some cool air when you get uncomfortable.
  • Gel Pillow – I am still trying this out but it certainly cools down a hot head. Called Your Sandman Cooling Pillow, this gel insert can be placed inside your pillowcase (on top of your regular pillow) and it is cold, icy cold.  Will help cool you down and I then turn it over if I no longer need it.  It’s a bit heavy and bulky but I am still working out how to best use it and am hoping that it will be a great help when I get my next migraine.  But if you want to try it they are available on Amazon UK.

Gone in the head and not gone in the head.

I have suffered with migraines since my mid thirties when they were usually triggered by stress and often (although not always) by my menstrual cycle.  Since I hit menopause my migraines have come back with a bit of a vengeance and can be very debilitating.  Migraine is, like menopause, something that also affects everyone differently so it is vital to try to work out your personal triggers.

As we get older our bodies ability to deal with alcohol changes too and many of us find that we just can’t tolerate the kind of drinking we may have happily indulged in in earlier decades.  Many of us will find that after drinking even a reasonably modest amount (by Irish standards) we don’t sleep well, suffer heartburn and hangovers become worse.  So many of us naturally cut down on our intake.

Me, however, well… I discovered that alcohol (all alcohol) hates me.  And even after a tiny glass of wine I will get a headache that in most cases morphs into a full-blown migraine.  So, after a year of two of experimenting with low alcohol and organic wines I have given up.  No more booze for me.  It’s a bit sad, but hey ho.  And that there is top tip number whatever this is.  Listen to your body and make changes you need to in order to feel better.

On a related note I have also found that I need to drink lots of water…  Yeah, yeah, I know we are all told that.  But I have genuinely found that having a bottle of water with me all the time means that I do drink way more and it also helps me generally feel better, less headachy and less bloated.  Another top tip…. stay hydrated.

The ‘OUCH’ Factor

As we age we naturally become stiffer and less flexible.  And for a few years I kind of accepted that this was just the way it is now.  I thought exercise might help but I hate exercise for exercise sake only.  In other words, I love a nice walk in the countryside but pounding the pavements around suburban Dublin doesn’t really do it for me.  I keep vowing I will take up swimming as I do enjoy it but the palaver of defuzzing and wet hair keeps putting me off…  and yeah, I know that that is only an excuse.  I have also toyed with idea of buying a bike.  Having spent a few days in Sweden and Denmark earlier in the year I have a vision of myself making stately progress through the burbs on my high nelly.  But would I?   Bike lanes terrify me as a car driver…. I would be too terrified to use them on a bike.  Even if I could work out how not to get a sore arse!  Regular cyclists must have bums made of steel.  Mine is made of soft cotton wool!

However, thanks to my youngest daughter I have started doing stretches, yoga moves mainly and I have definitely noticed an improvement in my ability to move without going ‘ouch’.  So, I aim to keep that up and once I am more flexible I might actually take up yoga.  Which won’t make my hair greasy!  Another top tip right there – stretch and bend

Is it bedtime yet?

One of the first symptoms I noticed and put down to menopause was the fact that there are days when I am bone tired and weary.  You know the kind of days that just getting up, showered and dressed makes you feel exhausted.  The kind of exhausted that makes you want to close your eyes and sleep immediately.  Not always possible of course.  Life gets in the way.  But – top tip alert – when I can, I am kind to myself and if I feel that I need a nap and can avail of one, I do.  Although this symptom has lessoned in the last year or so and my energy is generally returning to normal levels now.

Right, so.  These are my thoughts for the moment.  I intend to revisit this topic every so often and would love feedback from you so that we can all share what we have found works and what doesn’t.  Leave a comment if you can!

 

 

“Having it all” – response to Niamh Horan

I will say one thing for Niamh Horan, she’s brave.  Having sent Twitter into meltdown two weeks on Brendan O Connor’s The Cutting Edge on RTE One, she continued on her theme of women not ‘being able to have it all’ in the following week’s Sunday Independent.

But although she made a lot of women very cross, Horan is prompting a conversation that we really need to have and to keep having.  The kernel, the nugget of truth, which should inform this conversation is contained as an almost adjunct to a sentence when she writes that “capitalist culture doesn’t accommodate family.”  It is this culture which causes the problem which Horan interprets, along with many others, as women being able or unable to ‘have it all’.  And this is where the conversation stalls as women get cross and the conversation often becomes a heated debate, pitching the ‘stay at home moms’ against the ‘working moms’ (and I hate both those terms).  Meanwhile the men just stay quiet and continue to leave most of the childcare and domestic chores to the women.

Unlike Niamh, I have children.  I have had the experience of being a single parent, a so called working mother with two children in crèche and latterly a ‘housewife’ (another stupid term).  I surrendered, as opposed to retired, from the world of paid work when daughter number three came along and I just couldn’t juggle any more.  Our lives were mad.  Well the working bit was fine, it was the bits around the edges of the days and weeks that were mental.  Mornings rushing baby and toddler through breakfast muttering “hurry up” in a high pitched and increasingly maniacal voice.  By the time I arrived at my desk I felt like I had done a day’s work.  At the other end there was driving home having picked up the kids from crèche singing and talking incessantly in a bid to keep them awake.  Arriving into the house to be greeted by the detritus of breakfast.  It was only when I stopped that we both realised what madness it all was. And whereas I would take issue with Horan’s assertion that children suffer when women work, I do have some reservations about how some of our crèches are run.

I was very privileged that I could ‘retire’ and it was only possible because it coincided with the Celtic Tiger years and so my husband could work all the hours God sent while I kept things going at home.  We had ten glorious years and I feel very blessed and lucky, especially when as a single parent this was not a choice that was open to me.  In the aftermath of recession, most parents today do not have this choice either as they struggle to meet the cost of mortgages, childcare and all the other bills.

Equality means choice and all families should have the choice as to how they wish to live their lives.  We are now struggling to live in a world that was designed by men for men who had wives at home looking after the domestics and the children.  We need to make huge fundamental changes to how we organise the world of work.  Horan mentioned some of the measures we need to take such as better use of technology, remote working and more flexibility.  But we need way more than that.  We need compulsory paternity leave, we need care breaks, and career breaks for parents who want to park their career for a few years in order to spend time with their children when they are very young. And we need to actively facilitate the path back to paid work after that period of leave.

My big problem with Niamh’s assertions as articulated in her article is that she is framing this as a women’s issue.  This is not a women’s issue, it’s not even a family issue.  It is a society issue.  Because even those who never have children may well find themselves having to look after or support an elderly infirm loved one.

I am happy that Horan has prompted this conversation again but her focussing solely on mothers and making statements about “some women playing the system” doesn’t advance the conversation one bit and in fact steers it very deftly into a cul de sac.

I hope I will live to see real change happen so that my daughters will have all choices open to them – ones that I was just lucky to get.  What is interesting is that in order for this change to happen we must reach critical mass of women in the corridors of power – in Dail Eireann, in media and in boardrooms.  These women will drive the change if they are supported by men and women who want a better family life for all.

Meanwhile I hope that Niamh changes her mind about having a child in Ireland holding little appeal, whether she decides to have kids or not.  Because for those of us who wanted children and were lucky enough to have them it’s not only appealing but hugely rewarding.  That’s why we get so emotional when someone criticises the choices we have made, out of necessity or otherwise.

‘E’ and me!

I was at a funeral recently at which I suddenly found myself embracing very old friends from a previous life in a previous century.  The weird feeling of being whizzed back to the 1980s only lasted a few minutes – just as long as it took to get over the deep laughter lines, baldness and rather mature (yes I am being kind) look we had all acquired, along with kids, partners, ex partners and mortgages.  But once old friends start talking, they morph back to their younger selves and their faces are again the ones I was so familiar with way back when we all worked together.

One of those I was most happy to see was my old partner in crime – a girlfriend with whom I had misspent many years in dark basements on Leeson Street over wildly overpriced bottles of plonk.

I first met E (not even her real initial but I have to protect her identity as she is a very successful business woman now) in the winter of 1982/3 (or it could have been 81/82) when were both working for different holiday companies in the Canary Islands.  We hit it off immediately and I can honestly say that E was the very best of craic – one of the most ‘up for it’ mad women I have ever had the pleasure of hanging out with. And I have had quite a coterie of mad women in my life thus far, let me tell you.  After that memorable winter together we both came back to Dublin where we continued to work in the travel business.

Dublin was a dull and dingy place in the mid 1980s but the few spots of colour that did exist is where we would generally be found; from pubs on Baggot Street to the Pink Elephant and the ubiquitous Leeson Street clubs out of which we eventually fell in the predawn hours to get into different taxis as we lived on opposite sides of the city.  E is the only person I know who never (and I mean never) had an uneventful journey home in the taxi.  I would share some of the stories but I am saving them for the book!  Suffice to say that the sure knowledge that the last bit of craic occurred without me meant that after a lie on in the morning after I couldn’t wait to phone her to hear what had unfolded.

As the other last century friends fell away outside the church in the weak Spring sunshine, me and E did the usual “we must catch up over lunch or maybe dinner soon” and she looked at me with something that was a cross between shame, embarrassment and fear.  “I don’t really drink anymore” she said apologetically.  “Oh my God, neither do I” I replied and expanded that I haven’t had a drink since Christmas Eve.

“I just couldn’t deal with the hangovers anymore” E said.

“Me neither.  I could lose two days to migraine like headaches that rendered me completely unable to operate”

“Right well, we still eat, right?  We can still meet up.”

And we will.

And I can’t wait. Because it wasn’t the drink that made E funny.  The funny was all hers.  It wasn’t the just fact that we were both often drunk that made world seemed like a brighter, madder place full of all kinds of possibilities for fun.  At least I don’t think it was.

It was the expectation of the madness that was the best.  The giddy anticipation of our nights out together.  Well that and the hysterical laughter that often rendered both of us incapable of speech.  I am so proud of each of the lines around my eyes and my mouth.  Sure they make me look old – especially first thing in the morning.  But they are a reminder of all the good times, all the laughs.  Of course there were some tears too but from this distance I remember more tears of laughter than sadness.  And quite a few of those lines I acquired from hanging out with E.

Soon we will sit in a café or restaurant in town, looking I am sure like two reasonably sensible middle aged women having a chat.  The only giveaway to our real selves will be the raucous laughter.  And that will be without the wine….  Well….  probably without wine… but you never know.

 

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