Menopause changed me
It took a while but ultimately, I think for the better.
As I transitioned through menopause into post menopause, I became a different person. Initially, to be honest, I felt like a shell of my former self. I was bewildered about what had happened to me over the several years of the ups and downs of peri menopause and I emerged feeling quite confused about what was left.
However, eventually, I found myself again. In fact, not to boast, but I think I found a much kinder person, a more confident person and overall a much better person in this new me. That, in itself feels a little weird writing, when menopause initially caused so much havoc with my mind, body, self-esteem and self-perception.
I remember my very vocal nan talking about ‘the change’ and it sounding like something I definitely did not want to experience! Naively, I also thought that I was very ‘healthy’ and menopausal symptoms wouldn’t affect me. 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 so many 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 reproductive hormones fluctuate uncontrollably and then flatline forever.
For me, I 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.
I found that I was also mourning the loss of the high flying career I never really had. I had become a mostly stay at home mum by choice (one I am so grateful for) but as a 50+ year old women staring down the tunnel as a future empty nester with not enough superannuation and only working around my kids for almost 20 years, I felt quite hopeless.
As my estrogen depleted, my skin changed – thinner, less elastic, more wrinkles, more sagging. 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, my osteoarthritic toe joint preventing me from wearing the high heels I used to love and my favourite clothes not fitting my new body the way they had for the last 20 years.
With all that joy (I’m being sarcastic!) came a severe knock to my self-esteem.
I’m the first to acknowledge that in the scheme of things, I’m very lucky. I have gained a little weight but managed to keep it relatively under control without doing anything extreme, I am fit and healthy, don’t take any medications and I have dealt with most of my menopausal symptoms utilising diet and lifestyle modifications. So far, I have also not needed to utilise 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, 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 feel like their best life is over and they can’t do anything about it. Realistically, we may have another 30-40, even 50 years to live and that’s an awful long time not to be happy.
I’ve definitely had my moments over the last few years where I’ve grieved my younger self. However, 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. Beauty for me now is so much more than skin deep.
With the loss of fertility there are many benefits – no more contraception, periods or hormonal fluctuations once you hit post menopause. I think we often underestimate how great those benefits can be. 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 even 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.
I also feel that this time in history is one where women are rewriting what it means to be post menopausal and ageing. We are changing the narrative from my nan’s era. 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. I’ve achieved physical goals I once never thought possible. I’ve reinvented my career into something I’m super passionate about. And, I’ve finally gained a sense of confidence in my own abilities, while also becoming more at ease being my authentic self.
I feel that I have not only rebuilt my self-esteem but actually enhanced it.
If you are struggling like I once was, please don’t see menopause as the end – there is light at the end of the tunnel if you allow yourself to open up to it. Keep going. Seek help if you need it. Be kind to yourself.
Although menopause can be a really challenging time of life, it can also be a time of beautiful transformation.