Menopause changes you – well, for me it has. I remember my grandmother talking about ‘the change’ and it sounding like something I definitely did not want! Naively, I also thought that I was so ‘healthy’ that menopausal symptoms wouldn’t affect me and that the only ‘change’ I would experience was that I would no longer have a period.
Of course, reality hit with a hormonal bang and I experienced more menopausal symptoms that I even realised existed. Symptoms such as night sweats (more like night rivers), heavy bleeding, aching joints, weight gain, belly fat etc were obvious. Less tangible (though maybe more debilitating) were the physiological issues that often happen as our hormones fluctuate uncontrollably and then flatline forever.
For me, I also experienced unexpected feelings of loss as I realised that my child bearing days were over. It wasn’t that I wanted another child with 2 demanding teenagers at home but having this biological ability taken from me without my consent maybe highlighted that I was ageing, regardless of how well I took care of my health.
As my estrogen depleted, my skin changed – thinner, less elastic, more wrinkles, more sag. And, it wasn’t just on my face. My knees, my thighs, my previous quite ok bottom – everything lost its ‘pertness’ and dare I say ‘youthfulness’. No matter how many lotions, potions or scrubs I apply, the fact is that my skin just isn’t the same anymore.
Add sleep issues, pelvic floor problems (anyone else actually wet themselves in public?!), my osteoarthritic toe joint preventing me from wearing the high heels I used to love (comfort shoes only now) and my favourite clothes not fitting me the way they have for the last 20 years.
With all that joy (I’m being sarcastic!) came a severe knock to my self-esteem.
I am the first to acknowledge that in the scheme of things, I am very lucky. I have gained a little weight but managed to keep it relatively under control without doing anything extreme, I am very fit and healthy and I have dealt with most of my menopausal symptoms utilising diet and lifestyle modifications. So far I have not needed to take any hormonal treatment. Really, my self-esteem issues are minor. But they are also real. How your feel about yourself impacts your life in so many ways.
Self-esteem can be a big issue for menopausal women. I am a member of several menopause Facebook groups and I read daily posts about women struggling with how menopause has adversely affected their life and in particular, the way they feel about themselves – often that they feel like they are becoming invisible, getting ‘old’ and grieving their younger body and self. It can be really confronting and sad to see women who feel like their best life is over and they can’t do anything about it. Realistically, we could possibly have another 30-40, even 50 years to live.
For me, although I admit that I have had my moments over the last few years where I have grieved my younger self, I have also become much more accepting of the ageing process. My face and body have changed and will continue to change. I’m not always going to love the changes but I am learning to be the best version of me at the age I am right now. With the loss of fertility there are also many benefits – no more contraception, periods or hormonal fluctuations (once you hit post menopause). I have also learned to be much kinder to myself in general – something I think is imperative as we age. And, of course I always remind myself that ageing is a privilege that my own father, who died of a sudden heart attack at 47, did not get to experience.
At the same time however, I’m not giving up – on my appearance, my life aspirations or my sensuality. I will continue (as I have done for the last 30 years) to try to make movement and good nutrition a part of my everyday life. When I am fit and healthy, I feel so much better about myself and my body, regardless of my age, ability or even my weight. I believe that health is one of the keys to ageing optimally. Fashion will always be a passion of mine and although I may no longer wear ultra high heel stilettos, I have found quite a few nice ‘comfort shoe’ heels that are much more attractive than the comfort shoes that my grandmother wore at my age. I also feel that this time in history is one where women are rewriting what it means to be menopausal and ageing. We are showing the younger generation of women that life can actually get better with age.
Personally, menopause has been the catalyst for me making many positive changes to my life that have not only rebuilt my self-esteem but actually enhanced it. I now feel more freedom to express myself, more confident about my abilities and more at ease being my authentic self. Although menopause can be a really challenging time of life, it can also be a time of beautiful transformation.