kick menopause into touch and live like an O R C A

I always go on about the fact that the orca whale, like us, goes through menopause. It’s only them, us and the short finned pilot whale by the way who do. But I love in particular that orcas become respected and revered when they get to this point in their lives.

I have therefore decided to use the word ORCA as an acronym to help us to live like orcas so that we can make a difference to our menopause, not by expecting people to change, but by leading by our own example.

As they say, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ and I don’t expect things to change tomorrow, next week or even next year, but if we hold our heads up high and let the world around know what we are going through, then maybe, just maybe, they might start to understand and support might start to come our way. After all women represent 50% of the world’s population and in the UK alone there are around 15million of us going through menopause right this very minute. This cannot be ignored. It can’t be swept under the carpet because it’s a little uncomfortable for people. It can be incredibly uncomfortable for us!

In the UK alone there are 15m women going through menopause right this very minute

Rather than simply talking about it, I believe some action is needed. And the word ORCA very neatly and rather helpfully fits into four perfect letters which have real purpose for us.

So, here is my suggestion to help us to live like orcas, so we too can in time be revered for reaching this life milestone by those around us.

o – open up about how you’re feeling

Bottling things up as we all know doesn’t help anyone or anything. If we share what is happening to us, the difficulties some of the symptoms are giving us, the agonies and frustrations we are experiencing, or the societal bias we are encountering, then maybe it won’t fall on completely deaf ears.  Doctors, friends, family, spouse – they can all help. According to the Samaritans, it is no coincidence that the highest rate of suicide in women is between the ages of 45-54 (right at the heart of menopause time) and it has risen 6% in the past 20 years even though rates of suicide in women overall have declined. It is also the biggest time for divorce.

The physical symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes, chills and insomnia are easy to spot, but it’s the ones affecting mental health which are the more discrete yet more damaging. I have seen people roll their eyes and mock a menopausal woman as being silly, or over dramatic. I’m sure this isn’t always justified. We need to reprogramme ourselves to look out for changes in behaviour, be they erratic, emotional or out of character. They are potentially the warning signs that the person might need some support. Gone are the days that we should have to suffer alone. Menopause is not a weakness or a shameful secret. It is a fact of life and a rite of passage. Like child birth, it can be a difficult journey, but once out the other side, life is great. We just need to let others in on what we are going through. We are all loved, someone will support us.

If you or someone you know is struggling, the Samaritans are there to help – call them confidentially on 116123

R – Respect yourself

At this time of life, I hope we can respect ourselves for the people we have become. From the decades of experience and life learnings, the knowledge we have built up and the perspective of a long life lived. We have been through incredible changes even in their most basic sense: the invention of the computer to one in our pockets; seeing the first man on the moon; from black and white TV to colour; from snail mail to email; from 8 track tapes to cassettes to LP’s to CDs to streaming; waiting a week for the next episode of Dallas or Top of the Pops to immediate streaming; and a raft of different fashions to make anyone blush at remembering! All of these bring us experience and perspective. So even when we may find it hard to respect ourselves for our achievements, realising what we have been through in this very basic sense, brings a new perspective to those who have not ad the privilege of experiencing them.

It makes me so frustrated the way older women are perceived by society. Grey hair and wrinkles are frowned upon. We are considered to no longer be pretty, in fact, it’s more than that, we are invisible. And how on earth could we be considered sexy? I remember when the film ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ came out and Renee Russo was a mature, sexy woman completely in control and having sex with Pierce Brosnan all over the place. The media at the time had a real crack at them – ‘who wants to see old people having sex?!’ Well I imagine it was more experienced and better sex actually! This is a hard one to change. Society will always love the young, the fresh faced and the beautiful, but that doesn’t have to mean that we in our 50s are not beautiful. I can give you a list as long as my arm of people in their 50s who are elegant, with self respect, poise, knowledge, sex appeal and sass. We need to start by ignoring society and respect ourselves. We need to look in the mirror and see greatness, not discarded and valueless. Once we learn to believe in ourselves and respect the incredible women we are, then they will have to take notice.

C – Confidence

One of the biggest symptoms I found of my menopause was my lack of confidence. I had been in business for decades and menopause suddenly made me question myself and my abilities. In the past I often had more confidence than ability and was definitely up for ‘winging it’, but this new found lack of confidence in all aspects of my life destabilised me.  I feared I wasn’t a decent person, a good parent, a loving partner, good at my job. There were no grounds for this on reflection, but it was very hard to stomach when I was in the eye of a storm of my own making. Men are famous for their confidence levels. Apparently when applying for a job, if they have two of the ten criteria, they will go for it. But women feel they must have at least eight. We seem to have an inert lack of confidence which is kept in place by a fragile membrane which can be broken very easily. How do we build ourselves up so that we start to believe in ourselves and our abilities again? Decades of life experience must surely count for something? It is this fact that I have latched on to. Whenever my confidence levels wobble, I think of this and recall times in my life when I have had more confidence than ability. A friend of mine introduced me to the Circle of Excellence as a coping mechanism – actually a transformation of thinking and perception. Check it out:

A – Attitude

Now this I think many of us have by the bucketload. ‘tude as my husband likes to call it. With age comes a slightly shorter fuse and a ‘don’t mess with me’ approach to life. I’m right aren’t I? I love that but I also think there is a fine line. To me, attitude is not about being as the kids of today call us ‘a Karen’ – a grumpy, middle aged, woman who insists on seeing the manager when the coffee she is served is cold. Come on! Loosen up a bit. You were that young waiter once. To me it’s about self belief, feeling young, having a fresh and positive outlook, feeling sexy, feeling alive. Now the whole thing about feeling sexy is a big area in menopause. For many, lack of libido is a huge menopause symptom and it leads down a very dark road. It is cited as one of the biggest reasons for divorce in marriages of in their 40s, 50s and 60s and those divorces are on the increase.

If more people around us, knew, understood and appreciated what we are going through, things like divorce and worse wouldn’t happen as much. Women are known to be incredible communicators. Why are we not talking about this more? Why aren’t we sharing all this with people close to us wo can help and support us?

It is a two way street. As a woman we too can reach out to our friends and ask questions, share stories and offer support. Let’s pull this conversation from out of the darkness and bring it out into the open. There is nothing to be embarrassed about – no one says you have to tell everyone about your private and personal symptoms, but just a headline should be enough to get the conversation started and the hugs flowing.

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