But It’s Not Just When Your Period Stops
By Heather Taylor-Johnson
(These words – clipped, rearranged and formed anew – are the testimonies of ten women.
Only tenses and pronouns have been changed.)
There is this profound physical and emotional thing that happens
to all women but it’s completely ignored. I find that surprising and weird.
Girls don’t really think about what it means; they should be educated.
The big silence, I was told nothing about it. During my sex education
it was completely glossed over, if not non-existent.
I've only recently learned menopause can go on for ten years.
I am very tired, exhausted.
My body doesn't feel
like mine anymore.
It’s like the car I’d been driving since new, kept in pristine condition
and having a great many miles left on the clock, suddenly fell apart.
The handle fell off the door, lights flashed erratically, the fuel consumption
shot through the roof and the brakes grated and shrieked. I was blowing
smoke but no-one seemed concerned: a breaking body losing control.
There's more of me in places there hasn't been before.
Breasts soften and drop and I’ve learnt what jowls are.
My relationship with my body is as tense as the body
itself is loose, deep annoyance at the thick and chunky.
A physical disarray.
I am losing my body hair but growing a goatee
so you can imagine the astonishment at my discombobulation.
Strange curiosity, I need to find a new way to be with this emerging elder.
I do nothing to conceal my ageing. It’s my new iteration.
There are TV shows, memes and jokes about it but I don't
find it very humorous. I’ve lost my confidence. I’m nervous
and the anxiety I didn’t even know existed rises like fire or flood.
Then comes the insomnia, the broken sleep, broken dreams, broken energy.
I am profoundly muted and passionless, devastated to watch my sex life
diminish and waver. I’ve lost interest. No one ever told me.
My clitoris is a grain of rice, my vagina dry. Striving has lost
its grip for me, the on-switch disconnected. It’s a pretty big shock
and I’m not sure the world is that interested.
Hot flushes, a racing heart, an anxious gallop.
My brain is a little more foggy than usual (bla bla bla) –
the losses accumulate.
This is the biggest and most major overhaul in my entire life.
My gums bleed and teeth ache, my blood pressure skyrockets.
It’s bodily climate crisis.
A long goodbye.
I seem to be invisible – no, I’m tolerated. The lovely drug
of oestrogen drains from my body. Uptight and cranky,
I’ve lost the ability to string words together with ease;
the stories I’ve told myself about who I am no longer hold.
I think women are better than men, kinder, more thoughtful, more beautiful
and interesting and intelligent, but it still feels like the short straw.
I am working through the grief of loss and change every day.
It is true you stumble into it oblivious and unprepared, frantic, pole-axed.
Even doctors won’t tell you it’s ‘the change’ when so much is changing.
There is gaslighting, disengagement, assumptions and the pigeon-hole
of neurotic older woman. My voice feels shrill in the room.
Self-contempt and shame rise, but also anger. Trivialised as minor
and normal and natural, I could have used more science, fewer platitudes.
I read essays by post-menopausal women about giving up their jobs in their fifties,
just as they’d started to catch up after raising children and looked like they might be
within reach of their career goals. Retiring early because they ‘couldn’t cope’.
Depends on what you focus on, the rear-view mirror or what's in front of you.
Like I am invisible, but not invisible to other women going through this stage of life.
I feel like my body is telling me to see things differently, to understand
what else I might have to offer the world than just a socially acceptable form.
That's a nice thought.
We get to take on another figure, a new look, and I love watching
older women stepping into their own. I've let my hair go grey as well
and I don't think people care too much. No one says anything.
That's nice too.
Invisibility can afford you a strange unanticipated freedom.
I don’t miss the sexual gaze. I like the clear cool space
of my un-sex-cluttered mind. I see things in a new, sober way.
I do not miss the relentless distraction of a libidinous impulse.
I do not miss my period. But
my period has been a friend of sorts and she will be missed.
It’s not about no longer being able to make babies, it’s more
about an emotional passport my period has often afforded me.
Permission to withdraw and rest, to muse on the miracle of my body.
An evolving flowering, oceanic renewal.
A privilege reminding me of my womanness.
Have compassion, expect change, self-educate and advocate.
Talk about it. Demand that people talk about it. Step up the self-love.
Dance, celebrate and honour yourself more. Have courage. Grow large.
There is a secret comradery of older women who are wise
and will laugh with you and pour the wine, cheer with you, rage
with you, live imperfectly alongside you - you, a changeling, the crone.