The Change

The menopause is the best thing that’s ever happened to me

Far from being a hindrance, the menopause is actually an opportunity; there is a sort of witchy magic to it

Written by Bryony Gordon in The Telegraph on July 10th, 2023

There are certain milestones in life that you expect to be pretty brilliant: graduation; securing your first proper job; buying a property; getting married; the birth of your first child; completing some bonkers challenge like a marathon; retirement; seeing your child graduate, and so on and so on. The experience I did not expect to be one of the best of my life? Going through the menopause.

But here I am, 43 and period-free, and I have never felt better. This morning I rose at 6am, did 70, 40 kilo deadlifts in a Crossfit class, practised some pull ups, skipped home, had breakfast, and generally radiated the kind of smugness I could have only dreamt about in my 20s. Yes, I am the kind of woman who actively chooses to do exercise for fun!. Yes, I do have a stretching routine, thank you very much! Yes, I am a member of the South London Swimming Club, and I find swimming through the winter much more satisfying than swimming through the summer, actually! And yes, I do not give a rat’s behind what you think about any of this, because what you think of me is none of my business and says way more about you anyway!

Oh wow, that felt good.

Admittedly, if you had told me this two years ago, I would have laughed in your face. Actually, I wouldn’t have laughed in your face, because I was too depressed and couldn’t muster up the energy to do anything other than weep into my pillow, but you get what I’m trying to say: the prospect of actually enjoying the menopause was not on my radar. I expected it was something I was going to struggle through miserably, until I surrendered to the fact that the prime of my life was well and truly behind me. Instead, the opposite seems to have happened.

The menopause came early for me, and unexpectedly. It seems funny to say this now, when, thanks to the work of people like Davina McCall, the menopause is at the top of most women’s minds. But even as recently as 2021, I had very little idea of what it involved, other than a few hot flushes and a “disappearing”. I thought I was at least a decade off having to worry about it.

Then, at the tail end of 2021, my erratic menstrual cycle ceased entirely, at around the same time that the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder struck up, with a ferocity I had not experienced since I first suffered from it at the age of 12. It was really, really awful. I was very, very unwell with it, almost to the point of delusion. And this was worrying, because I had not expected to be reduced again to rubble by a mental illness I assumed I had left behind, thanks to sobriety and lots of therapy.

My doctor put two and two together and came up with the peri-menopause. I scoffed at this, convinced I was too young. Later, when I asked my mother what age she had gone through the menopause, she bristled.

“I never went through the menopause, Bryony. It wasn’t a thing in my day!”

“So you still get periods at the age of 7-“

She cut me off before I could remind her of her age. “If you must know, I had your brother at 40 then never had a period again. Your grandmother went through it at 43. Now can we talk about something else?”

So I started on HRT, and within days my OCD had receded. For the first few months, I felt as if the patches were sticking me together. They were all that stopped me from falling apart entirely. And while oestrogen worked like a dream for me, progesterone sent me into a deep, suicidal depression.

I learnt I was wildly intolerant to it in most forms, and that this had possibly dominated my mental health from the moment I became an adolescent. I wept at the madness of not knowing this, and the wasted years. I vowed never again to ignore what my brain had been trying to tell me for years: I had been living a kind of half life, suffocating under all the things I thought society expected of me, in a body that could barely cope.

The transformation in my life since has been extraordinary. Through necessity, so that I can tolerate the effects of progesterone, I have had to cut out everything that no longer works for me – caffeine, nicotine, toxic relationships, not least with myself. It sounds extreme, but it was that or lose my mind. Now I feel like a new woman – or, more pointedly, like the woman I was always supposed to be.

Through talking to others who have gone through it, I have come to see that far from being a hindrance, the menopause is actually an opportunity. I truly believe that there is a sort of witchy magic to it; that the menopause can be truly liberating if you are prepared to listen to what it is saying. All the grim things it brings up mentally – the lack of self esteem, the tendency to self sabotage – are the issues you need to deal with, if you want to actually enjoy the next 40 years of your life. Sort them now, and you will forever be free. It may be tough – it is! – but (wo)man oh (wo) man is it worth it.

I’m not the only one who has fallen madly in love with the menopause. The writer and comedian Bridget Christie has created The Change for Channel 4, which might just be the most uplifting and joyous bit of television to have graced our screens this decade. In it, she celebrates the brilliance of menopausal women in a way that hasn’t really been seen before. In an interview last month, she described the experience as a “return to form”. “That was the good thing about the menopause,” she said. “What gives me a hot flush? OK, eliminate those things: caffeine, alcohol, stress, Tupperware.”

“There was this middle section that was all about, whether we know it or not, ‘attractiveness’, or having relationships, and I feel that that’s gone,” she continued. “The Bridget I was when I was a child, before I had my periods – I feel more like that person now.” She’s right. The menopause doesn’t have to be an ending. Listen closely to it, learn from it, and it can be a whole new beginning.

Written by Bryony Gordon in The Telegraph on 10th July 2023.
Filed Under: The Change