Jo Blackwell (pictured above) shares her story...
There are so many “hidden” costs to simply being a woman – the cost of tampons and pads, (including tax!), the cost to careers through taking time out to procreate and nurture the future generation – but I never dreamed that the menopause would be one of them!
If anything, I was looking forward to being free of the mess and expense of monthly periods, I never realised that I would have to go through peri-menopause – the period leading up to menopause – which can last from 4-12 years, first!
To begin, the costs were physical. My cycle became erratic and troublesome until it sometimes seemed as if I spent more time on my period than off. I started suffering from palpitations and breathlessness and my waistline seemed to have disappeared.
A visit to the doctor was unhelpful, so I started visiting complementary practitioners in nutrition, reflexology, osteopathy and other physical therapies. I also spent a fortune on supplements.
All these things helped to some extent, but I still didn’t join the dots and realise that all the niggling aches and pains and troublesome complaints could all be attributed to one thing: my hormones going haywire!
Menopause symptoms – the first signs
I had been suffering with pains in my legs for a while. It felt like toothache, only deep inside and bad enough to interrupt my sleep. Then my knees started giving way under me and became stiff and swollen. I started carrying a fold-up walking stick in my handbag in case they “went” while I was out and, ultimately, I stopped going out so much for fear of falling. I was also worried that I wouldn’t be able to drive myself home.
Finally, I was referred to a specialist. After X-rays he told me that the cartilage had worn away in the inner part of both my knee joints and explained that the reason I was in so much pain was because in places the bones were rubbing together. His attitude seemed to be that it was simply something I had to learn to live with and prescribed me stronger painkillers.
It was then that I fell into a deep depression, and that cost me far more than money. My children were all leaving home, I was unhappy at work, I felt ill and in pain all the time and now here was someone telling me I was likely to need a wheelchair by the time I was 60! I felt old, irrelevant and useless.
Menopause and anxiety – how it affected me
Along with depression came anxiety – I started to worry about the slightest thing. I couldn’t sleep, so I became more and more exhausted and unable to cope with day to day life. I was forgetful, I couldn’t concentrate on anything. My confidence hit rock bottom. I felt like a shadow of the woman I had been, a woman who, only 3 years before, had gone back to University and gained a Masters degree in International Relations!
All these things affected my relationships. With my husband, my children, my friends, but, more importantly, with myself.
After about a year of abject misery, I decided that I couldn’t simply rely on anti-depressants and painkillers to deal with the symptoms, I had to help myself. I added therapists’ fees to the growing cost of my menopause.
I started to write a blog. It was raw and honest and other women started to connect with me because of it. They told me that they had thought they were the only ones going through these things. Some, like me, had feared they were losing their minds.
I took up yoga and experimented with my diet. I found I could reduce the inflammation in my body, thus reducing the pain, through what I ate and the way I moved. I also realised that I had to change my attitude if I was to change the trajectory of my life. I started to notice whenever a negative thought about myself came out of my mouth, or even crossed my mind, and correct it.
I retrained as a photographer and became self-employed. I shut down my blog, collating the most popular posts into a book, ‘Oh Crap, I’m 50! A Journey from Fearful to Fabulous (Sometimes)’, which I self published on Amazon.
Learning all these new things, especially the technology, was challenging, but incredibly satisfying, and I began to rebuild my confidence. I also rediscovered the Jo who had got lost in the hurly burly of life and motherhood, and I realised that I quite liked myself!
I soon realised the women who come to me for portraits tend to be 40 plus. Many of them are on this journey of transition and they tell me the same stories of loss confidence and fear for the future. It made me realise that the simple thing of knowing we are not alone is very powerful and it made me want to do something to help the women coming along behind me.
I am through the menopause now, and life, generally, is good. I tell my story to give women who are in the place I was a few short years ago hope. Realising I can reach so many more women online, I set up The Midlife Movement, an online membership and resource for women who want to rediscover themselves so that they can craft the life they want, move forward and be happy.
The hidden costs of the menopause were huge for me, physically, emotionally and financially. It, quite literally, brought me to my knees. But the benefits now as I journey towards my sixties are far greater as I am happier, more confident and stronger than I have ever been. That stick is firmly consigned to the attic!