Do you have a toolkit to hand? I bet it doesn't look like mine. Sure, mine includes items that you'll find familiar, but what they represent might well be new to you. I'll describe a few for you, to see what I mean.
A Spirit Level...
We all need this tool right now, necessary to maintain some kind of equilibrium whilst all the current distractions are going on around us. Mood swings have become a noticeable feature of my peri-menopause experience. Some days can feel like the lowest lows and others can fuel a feeling of being ready to conquer the world, with no worry at all about what others might think. When a crippling lack of confidence has been a recurrent theme, seeping into my everyday, then these moments of spontaneity, confidence and self-will to attempt new things, step out of my comfort zone and do something that scares me a little, those moments have been something to value. This last week I have made myself do a couple of these, with a little moral support from friends, but I did them all the same, and feel proud to be continuing with where those small steps are leading.
Probably my biggest realisation over the last couple of years, has been that my spirit level won't always be balanced, with its bubble resting perfectly aligned in its allocated window. Acceptance of the demands upon our emotional stability is key. By accepting that there will be mood swings and confidence dips, comes a longer-term strategy to move forward and therein manage them more successfully. There's a photograph on my writing wall that draws a smile as I write this. Taken on a sunny November day in 2018, as I walked on Brighton beach with my husband - a rare, snatched couple moment, away from work and home demands. The waves are breaking onto the pebbles, an image which conjured up the thought that I have written alongside it:
"Ride the wave... allow yourself time to relax in the ripples."
Nuts, Bolts and Screws...
If I scrabble around in the bottom of my toolkit, I can probably find enough nuts, bolts and screws to fill a small pot - miscellaneous, varied and lurking in the depths of the box. It's quite apt that these are easily lost along with the issues they represent, seldom discussed but crucial for us in understanding the physiological changes that are happening to our midlife bodies, as often we have no idea. We may think we're going 'nuts' when concentration and anxiety take hold, our bodies appear to 'bolt' on every ounce that we eat and of course, we all know the importance of the last item being of good quality. Yet, I knew nothing of such issues until I found myself plonked squarely in the middle of them.
Knowledge is powerful and helps to support us when experiencing difficulties. Midlife certainly appears to have no accompanying manual and when there is information available, it often lacks key parts - just like a set of flat pack furniture instructions. Except for this we need more than a set of Allen keys and screws that don't fit the holes available!
Whenever I can, I avoid using this, for obvious reasons. Midlife mid-riff has been a definite thing for me, further exacerbated, I have to admit, by this elongated lock-down life that we have found has become the norm. Bloating and weight increase have taken hold and need me to take a determined approach to tackle them. With that, I am struggling right now. I am trying to maintain some regular physical activity and the tape measure in my toolkit can be used to measure the impact of this upon both my waistline and my well-being. For now, its just dog walks, a little time in the local parks to see the trees and sky - all valuable. I'm not ready to brave a swimsuit or the thought of joining a gym - they always seem to be full of people who have a very different shape and stamina to me. One step at a time though, and perhaps one inch of my tape measure.
"If I had a hammer..." that song takes me back to school hymn practices, but if I have to give you a use for the hammer in my toolkit, then I think it would be to smash through the taboo related to both menopause and mental health in general. So many people are doing great work in highlighting these matters, spreading a message that needs to be heard. For to know that you are not alone and that you don't have to conform to anyone else's perception of what you should be, are messages worth smashing down a wall for. Davina McCall's recent programme 'Sex, Myths and the Menopause' is but one wall smashing moment.
In a small way, I have been using my writing and author talks to tap my own little hammer, but it all helps. Some call it being a menovist - perhaps that's true, but I'm driven to spread both kindness and understanding through the pages I write, whether that's my menovist manifesto or not? I'll let you decide by ending with an excerpt from my first poetry book, in the form of a diary entry...
It appears that I have joined a secret club. Certainly I had never heard its name until now but its members call it 'The Peri-menopause.' Behind its doors are women of surprisingly differing ages, clustered together around tables, chatting and sharing their bewilderment at also having been directed to this place.
The bar is well stocked with all manner of strange cocktails. 'The Hot Flush' seems popular but there are others available from the bartender. With a knowing nod you can be served a dash of 'Dizzy Spiral,' a tall glass of 'Long Lost Libido' or a potent shot of an 'Anxiety Cluster,' to name but a few. Regularly recognisable tipples are a 'no go' lately, unless I want to feel wasted very quickly.
Even without a tipple, I am often a 'Dizzy Peri' these days. Add that to a frequent dose of crumbling confidence and I wonder if that's what is termed a midlife crisis? I don't know. They didn't teach this stuff at school did they, Diary?
Some of the women here seem to have an enthusiasm for exercise that they advocate with great passion. Some are channeling their creativity or love of nature. Many are looking lost. But they are all welcome in this club and as I navigate my way around the different tables there is something remarkable happening. There's a whisper going round, one that is gaining volume and momentum...
Change is coming.
(Diary of a Dizzy Peri - May 2020)