After years of anxiety and ill health caused by endometriosis, for Jane Jennison the menopause has brought only positives and a new zest for life
Menopause is frequently portrayed as a health problem, something to ‘go through’ rather than a natural part of ageing. Searching for the ‘positives’ of menopause can bear pretty slim pickings. Among friends who have talked about the menopause, it has generally been in terms of the negative impact rather than any benefits.But menopause has been a great liberation for me, impacting positively on my sense of self and my identity.
Endometriosis has blighted most of my adult life. Typical symptoms for me were chronic pain and fatigue, long, heavy painful periods, pain on intercourse, infertility, and raging hormones. I did not trust my own body: I had to make constant trips to the toilet to check if I was bleeding/how heavily, random bowel-movement traumas, and so on. I had irregular periods that made planning for anything very difficult. At one point, I was bleeding for three months straight, with the associated pain and inconvenience. Intimacy with my husband was painful and, because of the frequency and length of my periods, irregular. I had miscarriages, then stopped ovulating completely and became infertile.
My body shape would change dramatically during my cycle, so I would go from looking chunkily athletic to very swollen all over with water retention, and a painful and distended tummy that made me look pregnant (oh, the irony!). I would not wear pale colours on my lower half in case I bled, or sanitary protection failed.
I started the menopause at the same time as my father was diagnosed with cancer, and at first, I thought the lack of periods was a stress response. But in the tumult of dealing with dad’s ill-health, it was not unwelcome. Over the next two years, I had three periods, both very short and light. I did suffer from ‘power surges’ (hot flushes), but considered these to be a minor inconvenience. Having had them before as a side-effect of medication for endometriosis, I was perhaps more aware of them than anyone else and knew to wear layers.
I went through ‘early’ menopause (all over and done with before 50), as did several of my friends. But the difference in how we responded was marked. These were women who had had ‘conventional’ female health and had borne children. Unlike them, I was not saying goodbye to my child-bearing years, and closing the door on that chapter of my life – it had closed long ago. I was now on a level playing field with all the other post-menopausal women.
I have gone up about two dress-sizes, and am thicker in the midriff than I used to be. Previously my size fluctuated vastly over the month, so my wardrobe held ‘fat’ and ‘thin’ clothes and has been able to accommodate these changes. There are other pluses, too. I no longer need ‘period pants’, or to avoid light-coloured clothing for fear of accidents. And I’ve saved a small fortune on not needing to buy sanitary protection, and pain relief.
My confidence levels have increased. I don’t need to worry about my body limiting or restricting me, so instead can focus on what I want or need to do. No longer in pain or constantly fatigued, I have more energy and can engage more.
I am not hijacked by my body any more. I wondered whether to use a different word, but ‘hijacked’ is how it felt and what came to mind very strongly in describing it.
I’m able to make plans for the future, and strive towards achieving them, rather than lurching from one health crisis to another. I have the physical and emotional energy to engage in whatever I want to do.
I have re-trained, and am now a qualified Person Centred Art Therapist, with Level 1 Attachment Focused Family Therapy. I have a qualification in using Positive Psychology and Mindfulness in Coaching, and am completing a Master’s Degree in Positive Psychology.
Quite simply, I rock!
I am becoming the person I was before my life was consumed by endometriosis. I am much stronger and more confident.The common language of the menopause –the emotional roller-coaster; the insomnia; heavy, frequent periods; the loss of reproductive capacity and no longer ‘being a woman’ – described my pre-menopausal self. I have had a ‘reverse menopause’ and am free of all of this.
In fashioning a post-menopausal identity, it has been liberating to redefine myself as a healthy, mature woman. I have no restrictions on what I wear or why. As a parent of two adopted teenagers, I can also now model those personal strengths and help empower the next generation to create their own choices in a positive and affirming manner.