Menopause? More Like Mental-Pause
I often start my blog posts by validating the content and this is no exception. It has been a challenging one to write and brow-furrowingly difficult to actually tap the ‘publish’ icon.
And only because of my ego!
I frequently struggle with justifying the publication of my writing; is it too personal or will other people think I am just self indulgent or navel gazing. However, I have decided that if it only benefits, inspires or motivates one other person then it is worth the risk of ridicule, resistance and even rejection.
After all, I have been that person who benefits from someone else’s courage to share difficult stuff more than once.
Not life threatening but threatening my life-style
So, at last I have a diagnosis; well, less of a diagnosis and more of an explanation. (Don’t panic – it’s not life threatening, more ‘life-style threatening’.)
It is hard to write about as I am not used to having ‘anything wrong with me’ and have always believed that I can keep my body and mind performing well with sheer hard work. Nor am I a girly girl with girly problems. I don’t even really understand how all that stuff works. Nor do I care.
I can strip a chainsaw and put it back together – I had to, to get my chainsaw ticket – but I would struggle to explain the purpose of estrogen, progesterone and even the process of the monthly cycle. I would struggle even more to enjoy it and yet I paid to learn how to strip a chainsaw!
You are by now probably beginning to get a hint of my ‘diagnosis’.
Those who know me and/or have read my autobiography, Barefoot and Before, will know that I am no stranger to angst, self analysis, mild depression and heavy ponderings. My mother was diagnosed with bi-polar when I was 11 years old. Ever since, I have had a healthy regard and respect for the mind and it’s motives. This has inevitably led to extensive research, self analysis, reading, questioning, wailing and wondering.
The Black Dog or is it a Wolf?
I have always felt that I am consciously keeping one step in front of the Black Dog. And that’s fine. A dog of any sort is a good companion and I actually quite enjoy my melancholy bouts – they are reassuring and creative. I actually think those who don’t get depressed now and then are insane. But that is the secret – now and then. Like a typical black Labrador, there were numerous times that my Black Dog chose to sleep whilst I went about my life. We weren’t together 24/7. Just now and then. And that was OK.
But then about 12 months ago, my Black Dog was joined by a Black Wolf. A very different character. Not content to sleep; not content to let me get on with my life. Instead, demanding, constantly nipping at my heels, purposeful, vicious and very dark.
External aspects of my life altered at about that time too, so I put my increased flux down to readjusting and learning new behaviours to accommodate new opportunities. Maybe the Black Wolf had come along to shepherd me into this new ‘field’.
But he didn’t go away; he became more aggressive and all-consuming.
Amid my preoccupation I was also becoming clumsy, forgetful, irritated – really irritated, I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t recognise my reactions to events, didn’t like the person I was becoming and I was numbingly tired.
It’s depressing not depression
Now tiredness and me are old acquaintances, we go back a long way, I know what tired looks like. But this was different; this was a hollow tiredness, the 4×4 of fatigue. Even my yawns threatened to engulf me. I was yawning like a donkey. And I was consumed by exhaustion.
I had to address it.
I worked hard to address it. I am passionate about personal accountability and I fine-tuned my already healthy diet, reviewed my exercise regime, researched more, consumed books, embraced positive thinking and micro-managed the thoughts that were left.
All my research looped back to depression. And that motivated me even more. I knew I wasn’t depressed – well not clinically depressed, climatically depressed maybe. I reluctantly accepted that I had an awful lot of symptoms associated with depression but of course I did – the whole ‘circus’ was depressing me. But I also knew there was something before the depression. I was not prepared to stop at the ‘depression bus-stop’ – the greater part of the journey lay before that particular stop. I needed to go back to the depot, the source.
Depression was a symptom of what I was experiencing, not the cause. I accepted that. I knew it. But I couldn’t get to it.
Reluctantly I went to the Doctor’s for blood tests. They tested for thyroid problems and anaemia. They came back clear. I was told my tiredness and general lack of wellbeing was due to ‘my age and my lifestyle.’ And then the ‘d’ word was mentioned; I stood up and left.
I have always worked hard, I have always known what tired feels like (and I also know what depression feels like), but I also know what being well feels like and I knew something was ‘out of sync’. With ‘depression’ flashing in neon lights, I continued the research and reviewed the facts.
‘Tried’ becomes ‘tired’
I didn’t want to get up in the morning.
I didn’t want to get up in the morning because I was still TIRED. I felt more tired than when I went to bed. How could that be? The nights were becoming more exhausting than the days. Maybe I was going mad.
I felt as though I was in a fog and ‘detached’ from people and life.
I was TIRED. T-I-R-E-D. In a fog of tiredness.
I was clumsy
Frustrated, irritated and irritable
I had become increasingly withdrawn through the winter months. I work outdoors, it had been hard. Too hard to socialise as well. I prioritised work – and paying the bills. I love where and how I live and take full responsibility for sustaining my lifestyle. It is not an extravagant lifestyle but the running costs don’t ever slow to a walk.
As I came out of the winter and the days lengthened I could no longer blame work and the harsh climatic conditions for my continued symptoms. I couldn’t cut my commitments any closer to the bone. Neither could I research any further than I had. I was going around in circles.
It’s good to talk
I admitted that I was struggling, as casually as I could, to a friend who I both trusted and respected. An intelligent, articulate, successful and self-sufficient woman, well known in the media and in her early 50’s. She responded by effortlessly reeling off a list of emotional and physical symptoms. It was the same as my list – but I hadn’t shared my list. This was her list, her experience.
“It’s the menopause,” she concluded. “You are menopausal. It’s a bastard. I know so many intelligent, successful women who have been brought to their knees by their fucking hormones.”
She is also gloriously outspoken.
So I have had more blood tests – and she’s right, I am indeed menopausal. There, I’ve said it.
I hate it. All of it. The symptoms, the admission that actually I am not super-human after all, the connotations and even the bloody word itself, which is why I used ‘mental-pausal.’
‘One of the boys’
I have never had any time for PMT or any other womanly/girly rubbish (as I deemed it) – I have been used to working on building sites and in male oriented environments. You don’t talk about girly stuff, you talk about laddish stuff – like chainsaws. It’s why I like working in that environment. I don’t do make-up, nail varnish, dresses, high heels or hormonal hysteria. Period. (Sorry, couldn’t resist it). In my world, ‘womb’ is a noise a V8 makes. Hymen is a greeting. And ovulation? I have always wanted a standing one!
I am having to accept otherwise. As a woman, I have all of the above – apart from the V8 and the standing ovation. And I have hormones. And as the ‘wise woman’ continued to reassure me, ‘hormones are responsible for far more than your womanly bits! If they’re fucked up, then so are you.’
So now at least I also have some understanding. Understanding of my mild madness, tearful tiredness and debilitating detachment. And I know what I’m dealing with. I am still not sure how exactly to deal with it but I am exploring, investigating and progressing. And that feels good. Well, better anyway.
I cannot be responsible for what happens to me but I can take responsibility for how I respond to it. I have of course chosen to take action but after a very dark 12 months, I have also chosen to ‘lighten up’ and accept that I am amid the murk and mire of the ‘mental paws’ (I obviously caught it from Yogi), but that something positive and empowering will emerge from it all. Despite all the unnerving and unfamiliar feelings, I already feel noticeably more comfortable in my own skin – there is a notion of ownership.
And as Nietzsche said, “No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
It is now a whole week since I wrote this blog without having the courage to post it. But today I have accepted that I have somehow woven a reputation of having the courage to address awkward subjects and of being authentic, therefore I have finally decided that despite already feeling discombobulated and vulnerable, I have a stronger desire to help someone unravel the mystery that is their own menopausal mayhem than to protect my ego.
I will also continue to blog the journey that ensues, so please feel free and brave enough to get in touch or comment if you want to!