by Rosie Meachin
I really didn’t see it coming that my advancing years would provide so much common
ground with the teenagers of the house. It may be nature’s sick joke to stick menopausal
women and hormone-ridden youth in the same small space and expect any kind of peace.
But in spite of the nuclear conflict, I feel for the teenagers. The end of the familiar, decades
old routine is in sight and I recognise their trepidation (and excitement) at the looming
precipice. We’re standing on the beach together, looking out at the stormy sea. I relate to
their emotional irrationality triggered by a combination of fear and hormones. Together we
rage. I rationalise that I’m teaching them how to express their anger, and that while
breaking the odd plate isn’t the end of the world, denying your demons can be.
We’re familiar with the rituals of adolescence – that it is usually tough and disorientating
but also exciting, transformative, exhilarating, fun. If men went through it, would there be a
similar narrative to the menopause?
Not to deny for one second the very real downsides – the depression, the mood swings, the
sleeplessness etc, but is there another side in there that is not all negative? When Auntie
Maggie flung that saucepan across the room, was she experiencing ‘madness’, or was she
finally expressing her years of frustration with her role? With the cooking, the caring, the
nurturing that was done out of love, out of duty but enabled by a fug of estrogen that made
it possible? With the checking herself according to society’s expectations? Now that fug is
lifting and she can see clearly that she urgently needs to reclaim herself. It’s time to howl at
the moon, with some sadness at things lost, but also with relief.
Women sometimes report a lack of self-confidence at this time, which is at odds with what I see around me. I see women coming into their own, starting to do things they were always meant to do, with work, education and relationships. I see them valuing their girlfriends more intensely - where once we went shopping, now we’re weeping down the phone behind locked doors, and I know which I find more useful. I see them caring less what people think and becoming more engaged and more interesting.
There is a refusal to“behave” and comply which can be powerful but scary to some – it threatens the order of things – as is the knowledge that we possibly don’t need men as we once did. A fearful world disqualifies the threat by calling it crazy, just as once it was called witchcraft. The frequency with which women are dismissed as crazy should raise our suspicions. It’s a problem of perception. We’re not talking about actual mental illness here (that can of course occur at this time, and that’s another story); we’re talking about the labelling of behaviour much of the world doesn’t want from women.
I can think of several examples where decisions made seemingly in the ‘madness of menopause’ have proved, in the long run, to be good ones. The leaving of steady partners and good jobs, expeditions undertaken, all appeared to be done in madness, but in retrospect could be seen more as seeing the light. They were not sensible decisions – there was no plan B, they defied convention - and they couldn’t be easily explained. Perhaps if there was a word for this? Do the Swedes have one?
The term mid-life crisis applied, as it usually is, to men conjures flirtations with fast cars and
younger women. Women of the same age are associated with insane behaviour and
Menopause isn’t just a list of medical symptoms. It’s a period of realisation that so many of
the things that have restricted us are coming to an end. It’s a banshee wail of anguish, but
also one of celebration for the freedom that crazy can bring. Time to run naked into the