I watched with great curiosity as Claire Underwood repeatedly pressed herself into an open fridge on House of Cards. Was she pausing to plot her next backroom political manoeuvre? Was she looking for her emergency stash of cigarettes? It was quite a few episodes before I clued in that Claire was having menopausal hot flashes. I was a bit embarrassed. I'm a Nurse Practitioner after all. I should know about this stuff shouldn't I? But hey... Frank didn't figure it out for almost an entire season so no biggy. I moved on.
I later realized that it's not uncommon to miss the signs and symptoms of menopause. We don't talk about it much. And why would we when most images of this life event are negative. Rarely do we see beautiful and powerful women like Claire Underwood fanning her dewy peaches and cream complexion beside a $10,000 fridge in a killer pencil skirt and stilettos. Our cultural reference point is menopausal women who are sweaty, overweight, nasty, loveless and unlovable. It's like a preview for a horror film – you watch with head turned and hands over face peeping through your fingers hoping the preview will be over soon and you won't have to actually see the full-length feature film until later. Much later.
Inevitably menopause happens to all women and each person has a very different experience. But guess what? It's not the shit show it's made out to be. If you have a healthy lifestyle and a positive outlook then you've got this. If I'm honest there are actually heap-loads of benefits to menopause.
There are the obvious things. More real estate available under your sink and in your purse previously occupied by emergency period supplies. Financial and environmental savings from the sharp drop in your heating bills because you can now warm your home and family members with your core body temperature. An ongoing willingness to skinny-dip or leap into the closest snowbank with wild abandon. Shaving your legs once weekly because there is no longer hair growing there.
There are the body changes to embrace. Yep I said that. Embrace. If you reach menopause living your best lifestyle – exercise you enjoy and healthy food in the right amounts – you come to understand that your body and how you look is, well, how you look. Jump in. You are free of self-imposed preconceived notions about size, shape, and weight and instead can focus on health and feeling great in your own skin.
Purge ill-fitting clothes. Get rid of Apps that track in mind-numbing detail how many steps you took, your carb-protein-fat ratio, or your water intake. You've been on the planet for a while now. You know what to eat and how to move in ways that feel good and please you. Do it. It's liberating and frees up time and mental energy for more important things. Like post-exercise gin and tonic in the sauna. Or adding Ms F**ckity F**k or Mr Sh**ty Sh*t to your iPhone contacts so you can use swear words in emails and text messages without spell check correcting them.
There are the brain changes. I know what you're thinking – how can episodes of rapid mood change or the occasional mental fog possibly be a good thing? But they absolutely are. Because you stumble into getting real about the habits, activities, jobs and people that do not serve you. Many women are over-worked, over-committed, and spread too thin. Usually we have done this to ourselves striving for perfection in all aspects of our personal and professional lives. The brain changes of menopause make it crystal clear in one striking moment: It's survival of the fittest sista – you gotta get out from undah. Monotony, obligation and disconnection - gone. Make way for activities and people that matter and bring energy, connection and joy (cue trumpets).
And last there's the sex. Just a cheap trick to get you to read to the end of my column? Maybe. But in truth all the other benefits I have talked about relate to this. The horror movie preview is flashing up scenes of track pants, insomnia, and tanking libido. In reality menopause can bring positive changes in body image, a balanced lifestyle, and a more relaxed attitude to life that can increase both the opportunity and the desire for intimacy. Fluctuating hormone levels can sometimes bring on surprise episodes of 'pashing' as the Australians call it. What could be sexier than that? It's true that the physical and emotional changes of menopause can demand openness and patience between partners. Seize this opportunity for communication and connection and you will be rewarded.
This article was originally published in the Trent Hills Tribune Issue No. 2 April 2017.
Gin & Tonic Recipe
ñ tall glass (or tall thermos mug for sauna)
ñ plenty of ice
ñ 2 parts tonic water
ñ 1 part gin
ñ lemon or lime wedges
Fill tall glass or mug with ice. Pull a wedge of lemon or lime around the rim. Fill glass with gin then tonic stir and add a slice of lemon or lime. Exercise joyfully with friend. Have G&T in sauna.