'Menopause is power. It is freedom'
With an impending oophorectomy, Suzanne Harrington isn't worried about losing her ovaries, rather she's looking forward to a period-free life and revelling in her new-found freedom
Published 10/11/2015 | 02:30
In the coming weeks, I will be undergoing an oophorectomy - a bilateral salpingo oophorectomy, if you don't mind. I'll be having my ooph removed. What this means is that on the day of surgery, without even the slightest warning, my entire being will be plunged into full menopause. No more ovaries. No more lady hormones. By the time you read this, I will probably have grown a beard.
Obviously, while not doing cartwheels of joy, the alternative is to wait for my ovarian cysts (discovered by accident in a scan for something else) to develop into ovarian cancer, as the doctors think they might. I'd rather have a beard than be dead.
So with just weeks left before full onset menopause bears down on me overnight like a truck full of unwanted testosterone and mood swings, now might be a good time to have a look at menopausal pros and cons. I'll start with the pros, to cheer myself up.
Nervous breakdown optional
When you contemplate the full list of symptoms - sweating, hot flushes, free-floating anxiety, panic attacks, moodiness, irritability, sleep disruption, forgetfulness, irregular periods, weight gain, wrinkles, dry skin, dry hair, greying hair, thinning hair, headaches, itching, sore joints and tendons, breast ache, your sex drive falling off the cliff, vaginal dryness, unexpected allergies, unexplained insecurities, incontinence, painful urination, urinary tract infection, and feelings of purposeless and isolation - you may consider swallowing your cyanide capsule now rather than waiting for all of those to happen.
But thinking that every symptom will beset you is like reading the possible side effects on the back of an aspirin packet and assuming you will die bleeding from the eyeballs. The list above is worst case scenario. You are unlikely to suffer from all of them at once.
I'm in my 40s and have been having menopausal symptoms for two years now (they came early, as a result of a cervical cancer-induced hysterectomy when I was 37). These symptoms - mostly hot flushes and sleep disruption, with a bit of anxiety thrown in, and occasional bouts of rage - have been entirely manageable once I realised what they were.
By being my own guinea pig, I have come to realise that the hot flushes, anxiety and mood swings can be entirely minimised by some straightforward lifestyle tweaks. Avoiding processed foods, sugary foods, Frankenfoods. Eating lots of plant-based foods, wholefoods and soya. Taking a disgusting tincture of black cohosh and sage for the hot flushes, and apple cider vinegar because I read somewhere it alkalises the body. And avoiding smoking, drinking alcohol or using other recreational drugs. (Apart from caffeine, because we all need something, don't we?) Oh, and SSRIs, which can work really well on menopausal symptoms like anxiety and mood swings - why get hung up on words like 'anti-depressant' if they can make you feel normal?
Obviously, the menopause is part of ageing, which is something that need never be aesthetically medicalised, despite magazines bombarding you about saggy necks and nips and tucks. The best anti-ageing strategy? Yoga, yoga, yoga.
As well as working on your lymphatic and central nervous systems, and making your skin shiny and your eyes bright, it regulates your appetite and strengthens your bone density - astronauts do it, because being in space weakens bones - as does the menopause.
Yoga regulates mood, maintains and improves joint flexibility and is amazing for menopause-interrupted sleep patterns. (As is keeping a good book by your bedside, rather than gin and Rohypnol).
If yoga is not your thing, make another form of sweat-inducing exercise a priority - exercise for menopause is as important as good nutrition. Jill Shaw Ruddock, in her book The Second Half Of Your Life, recommends five or six times a week of vigorous exercise to manage the body's metabolic slow down.
Something you will never have to contemplate again. In fact, from now on, the words 'feminine hygiene' will be as distant as 'episiotomy'. Hurrah!
The self-esteem gained from decades of experience cannot be overstated. The wisdom of knowing exactly who you are, what you want, and more importantly, what you don't want, is worth more than the collagen of a thousand 24-year-olds. It is pure gold, this self knowledge and the power it brings. (Over yourself, I mean - not in a megalomaniacal Donald Trump kind of way).
You are no longer a barely intersecting Venn diagram of youthful beauty and raging insecurity, but are a fully installed, fully integrated woman, like an elegant and perfectly placed fridge freezer. Or as neuro-psychiatrist Dr Louann Brezendine puts it in her book The Female Brain, "The mommy brain has started to unplug."
Is loss of sex drive really a thing for every menopausal woman? Of course not. What nonsense. Instead, it's more a question of goodbye contraception (and the risk of accidentally getting knocked up aged 46), hello lubricant.
Make friends with lube - not that strawberry trifle peach schnapps jellified filth favoured by youth, but proper silicon-based stuff. Because you're worth it. Even better is coconut oil - 100pc natural, smells great, works well and has built-in anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties. It works pretty much everywhere the menopause dries out - hair and skin, as well as vaginas.
Menopause is still the female equivalent of erectile dysfunction, in that we tend not to talk about it enough. Admittedly the andropause is so untalked about that it is a barely recognised term, yet the menopause is considered as unsexy as a floppy penis.
But while floppy penises have an entire pharmacology industry erected around them in the shape of those blue diamond-shaped pills, menopause is still confined to a dusty shelf at the back of the pharmacy that stocks the evening primrose oil and incontinence pads.
This needs to change. Why don't we talk more openly about menopause? Why is it not as normalised as menstruation? It affects all of us, not just the individual desiccated old hag* in question - male partners, teenage and adult children, friends and colleagues. Half the entire population will go through it, yet it is still treated like a slightly odd specialist condition. Come on, everyone. It's not haemorrhoids. *just kidding
When Monica Belluci was announced as a 'Bond woman' appearing in the franchise's current offering, it made headlines - Belluci, at 51, is three years older than Daniel Craig.
Within the prehistoric arena of Hollywood, it is normal for a leading man's love interest to be upto several decades younger - examples are so numerous I can't be bothered to list any - while similarly aged love interests are so rare that you could be forgiven in thinking Spectre involves full-blown gerontophilia. It doesn't.
The best example yet of this brazen ageism is the Amy Schumer clip, 'Last F---able Day'. Watch it and weep - both with laughter and frustration. And total indentification, as anyone with a vagina over the age of 45 who has ever been on a dating site will attest.
Please don't bother saying 'But Helen Mirren...' One glorious post-menopausal swallow does not a feminist summer make. Nobody should have to grow old gracefully, or talk about wearing purple hats, or feel compelled to pay a man to stitch their face somewhere far above their hairline. Ageing is tricky enough, without adding cultural anxiety to cellular degeneration.
Especially when this cultural anxiety is applied only to women - where are the post-menopausal women on telly, in fashion and advertising, in the movies, in popular culture? Madonna aside, obviously - yet she is routinely castigated and ridiculed for being both sexual and menopausal simultaneously. The dominant culture message is ugh, put it away, love. We do not send this message to post-potent men - instead we prop them up with Viagra and cultural desirability.
Dr Aubrey de Grey is a biogerontology theorist who thinks ageing is a curable disease, and that menopause could, one day, be eliminated. That within the next 20 years or so, regenerative therapies could be applied to ovaries, so that they could be rejuvenated by stimulating or replenishing their stem cells.
But why, ladies, why? Why would you want to have your ovaries stimulated when what they would really prefer is a nice lie down? Who wants to be pregnant aged Helen Mirren or thereabouts?
Obviously this is not about the fertility choices of any individual woman, but the wider message is that ageing is something to be medicalised and counter-attacked. It's not.
With menopause comes a whole new lease of life and exploration, yet all we ever hear about is bloody wrinkle cream and ways of staying young. This is so short-sighted and pointless it makes me want to scream. Menopause is power. It is freedom. And for me, it will probably involve the purchase of weapons-grade facial wax to counteract my forthcoming beard. But the great thing about menopause is that I truly don't care.
Health & Living