I’ve been reading Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life (don’t judge me) and it’s made me think about how consciously or not, I’ve developed a set of menopause rules that I try to follow. They’re life lessons that keep popping up, reminding me of how much menopause is a psychological change as well as a physical one.
A lot of women have contacted me this week asking for help and advice with their menopause and after the practicalities of where to go and who to ask, I’ve found I’ve quoted some of these menopause rules to them. They’ve helped me over the last few years and I hope they help you, too.
My 10 menopause rules:
Do your research
In an ideal world, we’d be able to go to our local health centre and be given all the information we need to get through menopause. Sadly, the reality is far from this, which means it’s down to us to do our research.
Knowledge is power and the more information you have, the stronger you become in making your case for a particular type of treatment (or refusing it). When we’re talking about our health, shouldn’t we naturally take responsibility and understand all that we can about it?
And I’m not talking about just doing your research when it comes to what to take – check out the people you’re taking advice from, too. What qualifications do they have? Are they a spokesperson for a brand? Do they get paid to sell a product? Why should you trust them? It’s one of the reasons Menopause Matters is one of my go-tos.
I know… after 30 years of journalism, I’m a cynical old hack. But I wouldn’t trust someone on a Facebook page with diagnosing my cat’s health, so why should I do it with my own?
Become a warrior
Several times I’ve left the GP’s office or put the phone down and burst into tears as I’ve allowed myself to be brushed off. I’ve gone home and cried the rest of the night.
But what did that get me? Red eyes and a headache, that’s what, with the occasional snotty nose thrown in.
Forget #bekind (although that’s another good menopause rule). If you know or feel something is wrong, fight for it – even if it’s your own GP you’re fighting. If you’re not happy with your diagnosis, ask for a second opinion or even a third if that’s what’s needed to put your mind at rest.
Your health is what matters so do your research, strike a Warrior Woman power pose, take a deep breath and very politely, but firmly, state your case. Don’t be personal and don’t be a victim.
After each of those crying episodes, I’ve woken up the next day and thought: “Right, we need to fix this otherwise more women are going to be going home crying.” It can be scary, I won’t lie, but the alternative is scarier.
Treat yourself as you treat others
Not only a menopause rule and yes, this is one that I find hard myself. I’m the first person to tell a colleague to go home as they’ve worked long hours, while grabbing a coffee to stay longer myself. Or to tell a friend not to be silly about their weight or appearance after spending half an hour criticising myself in the mirror.
Women are trained to look after others: to be kind all the time, or play with the person you don’t like at school; tidy up after your children so they can go out or give yourself the burnt part of a meal so your partner’s is okay.
This is especially true in midlife, when many find themselves looking after children while also caring for ageing relatives and juggling the 9-5 (which has long gone on after 5).
Add in fatigue or aches and pains or brain fog and we become overloaded – and then beat ourselves up for not being perfect.
So when you get like this, take a look in the mirror and talk to the woman looking at you as if she were your friend, or your child, or your colleague, or even the person in the bus stop passing the time of day.
But be firm
A friend once realised she wouldn’t feed her child a yoghurt she was having because it wasn’t good for her, so why was she tucking into it? Because it tasted good and it was her “treat” for a bad day, even though she knew it was loaded with sugar. It was a real eye-opener for her.
Taking care of yourself and being kind to yourself also means being firm with yourself, just as you do to take care and be kind to those you love.
It’s fine to have the odd indulgence – your favourite cake or some wine, or a PJ day watching Call My Agent – but we need to be aware that they have consequences. I’ve written before about how I know alcohol isn’t great for menopause symptoms, but I like to have a drink with friends and family so I’m prepared to accept that. Self-care means every aspect of caring for yourself and that includes eating well, exercising and looking after your health and wellbeing every day.
Honesty isn’t just about telling the truth; it’s about being true to yourself and to others about who you are and what you want. It’s about – woke word alert – living a real, authentic life that is better for everyone.
When it comes to menopause, being honest means being truthful to yourself and honest about what you could do better, such as changing your diet rather than relying on supplements, or admitting you need to write things down now because of brain fog.
It is also acknowledging what is happening to you and what you’re going through – good and bad. For many years, I wouldn’t admit how low menopause had taken me. I felt I had to put a happy face on and be a positive example. But the truth is, being honest about the darkness has given me strength and confidence. It has enabled me to get the help I need, strengthened my relationships and allowed me to support others and that has been wonderful.
This is one menopause rule for now and the future, that’s for sure.
Start each day anew
Each day is a fresh start and the chance to reset your life. If we carry the past around, we get burdened by “what if” and “I wish”, which do little but weigh us down.
We have to learn from the past and then leave it behind. If you’ve had a bad menopause day, try and think why and what could you do differently. Usually, I’m able to pinpoint it down to hormones but in truth, sometimes its just been me (which is where honest comes back in). I look back to learn from it and then try to move forward.
Similarly, if you haven’t eaten well or not done your exercise, acknowledge the reasons why and move on, with the will to do better.
That’s all we can do each day – try to be better than the day before.
Don’t allow yourself to become invisible
We often hear that women become invisible with midlife. I’m not so sure that’s true. I never felt I was attractive when I was younger but now… There have been several times when I’ve gone out – usually when I’ve just gone to have a good time and haven’t bothered getting dressed up – when I’ve been chatted up by men that my 20-year-old self would have been blown away by.
As I’ve grown older, my self-confidence has grown, too. I’m able to talk to strangers and often go to events on my own. And confidence is always attractive. We’re at an age where we’ve lived and have experiences and lives to talk about. That is something we should be proud of and shout about. So be confident in who you are – you’ve worked hard to become her.
This goes for clothes, too. “Age-appropriate” = boring. It’s a way of telling women to be quiet as they get older, to fade away, and that’s a menopause rule I’m never going to allow to exist.
What should you wear when you’re over 40? Anything you damn well want. If you want to wear bright colours, then wear them (check out image consultant Olwen Shaw’s guide to this season’s trends for tips on how), forget the stretch marks and wear a bikini, dye your hair pink and get a nose ring (just remember to take any rings off when you wash your face – painful memories).
To paraphrase Dylan Thomas: Do not go gentle into that midlife…
Banish your fears
It’s one of my favourite lines in Strictly Ballroom: “Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medias.” It means: a life lived in fear is a life half-lived.
Fear can hold us back so much – it pulls us away from doing what we really want and stops us living life to the full. But fear is a bully and facing up to it makes it lose its power over us.
Falling oestrogen levels can add to our fears in midlife, but there are ways to overcome this. Obviously make sure you’re looking after yourself and getting all the nutrition your body needs, including drinking plenty of water. But meditation and CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) can help, too. I often turn to my CBT training when I feel the fear coming over me.
Of course, if it gets so bad that it is affecting your life, then see your GP.
But remember Fran in Strictly Ballroom and don’t let fear stop you living a full life.
Stand up tall
I had to have a menopause rule that is something your mam used to tell you – and she was right, as she probably was about many things.
Stand up tall: it’ll not only help your posture as you get older, but it’ll make you look and feel more confident.
Lobby your MP for change
Ah, I had to get this one in! This is one menopause rule everyone can do. Much of what we go through could be made better if we had the people in charge on our side. So please, lobby your MP when your GP won’t prescribe HRT, or you’re waiting months for an appointment with a specialist, or you can’t get any help. Make them aware of what’s going through because that’s the only way we can make life better for the next group.
They’re my menopause rules. What are yours? Let me know in the comments below. And please join the growing band of 50Sensers by subscribing – not only will you receive regular updates, but you can download my free 20-page guide to a happy and healthy menopause and midlife.