I’m acutely aware that I’m in a period of transition. We talk a lot these days about teenagers, their hormones, moods and worries and the allowances we should make for their behaviour. We talk endlessly about pregnancy and childbirth and the fact that our lives will never be the same again. We also talk a lot about the elderly, their often increasing isolation and frail health and whether they’re receiving appropriate care. What we don’t talk about, it seems, is the Menopause, at least not in public – it’s kind of the last taboo, yet it’s something every woman will go through and is as life changing as puberty.
Being chronically ill doesn’t stop us from going through all the same life events as healthy people. What it does do, however, is make it harder. Sometimes much harder.
Menopause can be rough – physically, psychologically and emotionally – even for healthy people. We sweat, flush, can’t sleep, are nauseous, weepy, angry, exhausted, have palpitations, never know when Aunt Flo will arrive and our brain and memory go awol. At the same time it happens at an age where we’re often looking after elderly parents or hormonal teenagers, grieving the death of our parents or facing ’empty nest syndrome’. Whichever way you look at it The Change is just that……a life changer.
I never thought in a million years I’d be sitting at the age of 48 Googling “my elderly Mum is an alcoholic”. There’s never been any kind of substance abuse in my family and it’s all new and scary. The result of my search was confirmation of something I already knew………that I can’t change her, or cure her, or particularly help her. But what I can do is help myself. And I think that’s pertinent for all of us women of ‘a certain age’. If society refuses to even acknowledge the toughest 5 years of any woman’s life, then we have to look out for ourselves instead.
We have to make sure we have hobbies and interests, particularly if we have children who are leaving home. We need the distraction, the opportunity to meet new people and to have new goals and passions. We have to make sure we have ‘down’ time, even if it’s just a soak in the bath for an hour with a good book or lunch out with a friend each week. We have to learn to say “no”. No Mum, I won’t paint your windows but I’ll gladly arrange for a decoarator to come and do it for you (which is the conversation I had with my Mum this afternoon!). And all this is doubly, triply, important when we’re sick ourselves. There are no medals for working ourselves into the ground taking care of others. We too have lives to which we’re entitled. To leisure time to which we’re entitled. To time off to which we’re entitled. And we’re also entitled to not feel guilty about any of it.
When we’re ill ourselves we simply don’t have the physical resources to be able to take care of others in the way we, or they, would like. What we are often good at, however, is employing others to help – we’ve had to do it in our own lives which places us in a good position to help others. My Mum’s cleaner quit recently and it took me all of 5 days to find a replacement. She needs some plumbing work done so the plumber is going next week. She wanted some new doors which were ordered and hung within a fortnight. And all because these are people who have done work for me in the past because I can’t do it myself. Being largely housebound I do everything online – groceries, shopping, banking. And now my parents are unable to do these things it’s been fairly easy to do their groceries, shopping and banking online. We sick people have skills we don’t even think about and which come in really handy when caring for others.
I’m finding middle age is a time to set new boundaries, both for myself and the people around me. To recognize that my life is altering, I’m facing new challenges and responsibilities, and that I need to look at how well I’m adapting. I’m finding a new maturity and re-evaluating my life and whether or not it’s meeting my needs as well as the needs of those I care for. It’s a work in progress but so far I think I’m doing OK.
Today I finally feel like a grown up. Even though I’ve lived independently since the age of 21 I’ve still always felt like someone’s daughter. I’ve always had my parents for back-up, support and advice. And it’s no longer there. Now they turn to me for back-up, support and advice and it’s taken a lot of adjusting to. But I know I’m up to the Change.