Hello! Long time, no see! I know, I know, it’s my fault. But life took a nasty turn this time last year and some things drifted away.
Firstly, I went on holiday – the first since Covid! – and it was wonderful. That’s about the only good thing. A couple of weeks later, I was in bed and basically barely left it for a month. I have no idea what that was about, but I was hit with just the most horrific fatigue and ended up working with my laptop in the bed. I’d have a couple of days of feeling okay and then bam!
But worse than that, my mam’s decline started getting more pronounced and every 4-6 weeks I was travelling back up to Newcastle to see her. On Christmas Day, as I was about to leave for the service at the cathedral, I called up to be bluntly told she’d been put on end-of-life care. (Any nurses reading, I think you do an amazing job, but please don’t ever tell anyone that news as bluntly as I was told – Christmas Day or not.)
She took her last breath at 5.07pm on New Year’s Eve and I am so thankful to have been there and to have had my sister with me.
I knew she was going – “Ah cannit live forever, wor Elizabeth,” she’d say – and dementia had snuck in so in a way, Mam had gone a few years before. I’d shed many a tear after a visit so I thought I’d said my goodbyes because the woman there at the end, 99% of the time she wasn’t Mam.
Never did I think I’d miss her so much. Life suddenly seemed empty. The routine I’d had – weekly phone calls, regular journeys from Canterbury to Newcastle, daily messages from my sister – stopped with her last breath and I didn’t know what to do with myself.
It struck me particularly hard in May, when – hold on to your hats – I was elected to the local council. One of the last things Mam said to me, when I told her I was standing, was: “My bairn, on the council!” and I hadn’t realised how much her pride meant to me until I was being congratulated.
There’s a lovely woman in our party called Pip and for some reason, when she gave me a hug to say well done, I welled up and had to run outside. She’s doesn’t look like Mam or anything, but for some reason that hug just made me think of her. I was followed outside by one of the young girls in the party, saying: “Liz, you won! Why are you crying?”
I’ve spent my time since then learning and trying to be the councillor that would make Mam proud.
As for menopause – least said, soonest mended, as my mam would have advised (and not followed).
To say I’ve become disillusioned over the last 18 months is an understatement. Some of it is going to sound childish, I know (two events in parliament with “big menopause pioneers” and no invite for Pausitivity), but that is a large part of it.
Grassroots campaigners made all the sound in the first place and while I may have issues with some of them, I know they deserve to be recognised for their work. Instead, I was told people like Pausitivity and the others are “the goddesses on whose shoulders we’re now standing”.
Well, that’s lovely – but all we’ve ended up with are bootprints all over our bloody shoulders while the work that was done, our posters and the various petitions, has been brushed aside.
And feeling like crying.
Okay, make that actually crying for 24 hours.
My big problem (and I’m aware the first one makes me sound like I’m throwing teddy out the pram, but I’ve always vowed to be honest here) is that now, with well-kent faces shouting about menopause, we’re going backwards. In my opinion.
Politicians get their photos taken with a celeb and think: “Job done – my voters back home will be well pleased with that when it appears.”
Or they know they can attack a celeb in a way they can’t Josephine Bloggs, so calls for menopause legislation are blithely dismissed or called “left-wing” or end up in Twitter spats with people blocking each other.
In the meantime, HRT shortages continue, waits for NHS menopause specialists grow and women don’t recognise symptoms.
“But everyone’s talking about menopause now,” I hear you shout.
Trust me, they’re not. For your average woman on the street, nothing has changed. They’re still going into work when they are exhausted and tired, still feeling that their world has gone to hell in a handcart, still barely holding it together.
And they’re still having to fork out a fortune for private help or turn to social media for advice, which while well-meaning, can be dangerous.
Putting stories in a book won’t change that – and anyway, it was already done with the fabulous Menopause Monologues – and neither will stage-managed rallies. We need everyday women to be able to speak out – to tell their own experiences, not have someone else emote for them – and shame the Government once more.
I’m aware this won’t make me popular in some circles (and any future invites to Westminster will continue to be missing in the post), but if Mam taught me anything, it is when to “tell ’em to bugger off”.
I’m still here.
*With apologies to Stephen Sondheim