Having been through the menopause and emerged to find the sun still shining on the other side, I can assure you it is not the inescapable black hole I originally assumed.
Instead, equipped with knowledge and the right tools, menopause can be an ultimately enriching passage, culminating in a more confident, happier life.
I think I’m probably healthier, happier and fitter than I’ve ever been. I know I am bolder, more enterprising and less insecure than before. And the evidence points to many women in their 50s becoming equally fearless, ditching bad relationships, embarking on new careers and reinventing themselves both socially and biologically by adopting healthier lifestyles and emotional resilience for the second phase of their lives.
The journey won’t always be pleasant but emerging the other side of menopause, as I have, can be cause for euphoria.
Perked up by HRT implants: Jilly Johnson
In the past few years, there has been a cacophony of positivity. We’re finally celebrating this liberating time of life. The menopause, having come in from the cold, is now the hottest of topics.
With enormous satisfaction, I would like to confirm that the times are changing. We need to adapt too; and stop scuttling around in shame, trying to hide the evidence that we are no longer available for procreative purposes. Evolution has designated us far more valuable than the sum of our eggs, and it’s high time we embraced that accolade and stopped being apologetic for reaching our perceived sell-by date.
Think of your menopause as a Second Spring — with all the bursting shoots of inspiration and exciting activity this vision conjures up — rather than seeing your periods stopping as the first nail in the coffin lid.
I believe the menopause might just have been the best thing to happen to me, that we should all redefine it as a fresh start and the gateway to an exciting future. And I am over the moon that so many more women, like the ones here, are standing up to be counted as loud, proud and menopausal. . .
My brain fog was so terrible, I had to stop driving
By Patsy Kensit, 53, actress and mother of two
Nothing prepared me at all for the menopause. Aged 45, I was whisked into hospital for an emergency hysterectomy with suspected ovarian cancer. There was no time for anyone to explain about the aftermath. I was in the ICU for two days and fell instantly into full menopause.
The first sign was terrible brain fog, which developed into anxiety. My job as an actress is about learning words and getting it right in two takes; but my photographic memory started failing me. I developed a slight stutter and once found myself in the supermarket unaware of why I’d gone in.
I left with a cabbage and a pair of tights, which were neither eaten nor worn. I had to stop driving. I honestly thought I might have dementia: my train of thought would just go, mid-conversation.
I was put on compounded bioidentical hormones in the form of a lozenge containing oestrogen and progesterone, which work for me; and I have a testosterone cream, which gives me energy but also a full beard, which I have to have threaded off. If things are stressful, I know symptoms can flare up again and I have to remind myself to breathe sometimes. I often wake at 3am but these days I meditate and it helps. Most of the time, I feel myself again.
Give it up? No! I’m far happier on HRT: Sandra Howard
My doctor gave me an HRT implant and then I felt amazing
By Jilly Johnson, 67, model, author and mother of one
Aged 46, I stopped sleeping well. I started to notice rivers of sweat overnight and I was puffed out the whole time. This was after years of chronic gynaecological issues plus pelvic inflammatory disease, which led to me having a hysterical (my term for hysterectomy).
When I woke up, my doctor told me he’d inserted an HRT implant under the skin of my stomach. It was only after that operation that I realised how awful I’d felt for years. The relief was immeasurable. I felt amazing! In my prime.
Every six months or so I start to slow down, as if my battery is running out, and I know it’s time for a new implant.
My stomach is a bit of a patchwork quilt, as they have to make a new incision each time — but I don’t do bikini modelling any more so it doesn’t matter now. There’s no way I’d ever stop using it.
I hate wrinkles that arrive when you’re low on oestrogen
By Jennie Bond, 71, presenter and mother of one
My menopause, at 49, was a bit of a non-event — just a few hot flushes and a sense of grief to be no longer fertile. But life in my 50s and 60s has been brilliant.
At 53, I gave up my job at the BBC and a whole new world of opportunities came along, including I’m A Celebrity and Cash In The Attic. I’m still really busy but I also have more leisure time and the freedom to arrange my own work schedule, so we go to Antigua for a couple of months each winter.
I also take time to enjoy my beautiful South Devon home overlooking the sea; and to hang out with my daughter and grandchildren.
I rather like the fact I used to be dashing around as royal correspondent, trying to catch up with the Queen or Princess Diana, and now I’m so much more relaxed because I know any event I’m attending probably won’t start without me — and even if it does, I have no boss to worry about!
I don’t like the fact that I have gone quite wrinkly, which is one of those ghastly things that happens when you run low on oestrogen. I didn’t take HRT because breast cancer runs in the family but I’m rather envious of the friends who did, who have far better skin.
But overall, I love the confidence which comes with age. I always now feel that my opinion is valid; I have plenty of experience and the courage to say what I think.
My brain fog was so terrible, I had to stop driving: Patsy Kensit
I never considered my chronic anxiety was menopause
By Susannah Constantine, 59, author and mother of three
I lost all my confidence and self-esteem in my early 50s. My chronic anxiety intensified and I didn’t think it might be the menopause.
The icing on the cake came when I did a photoshoot for the publication of my first novel. It was a bit of a lifelong ambition and I should have felt amazing. Instead, I looked at the pictures and just thought, ‘Who is this woman?’ I was frumpy and middle-aged, I’d let myself go and was the sort of woman Trinny and I used to help in our programme What Not To Wear. It was tempting to give in and say, ‘OK, I’ve had my time, don’t worry, it’s not about how I look.’ But I chose to fight ageing.
I’ve always loved running but I ran more. I competed in Strictly Come Dancing and I’ve taken up cold-water swimming. Slowly, I’ve started to regain my confidence.
Now, I look in the mirror and see someone who has had a full life. It’s not about looks; it’s about feeling fit and well, bounding up the stairs without being out of breath. I look at my wrinkles and accept them. I’m grateful that those photos gave me a kick and now I project joy and self-confidence and happiness. That’s far more appealing.
I only realised when we tried for a fifth baby
By Pearl Lowe, 51, designer and mother of four
I only realised I was entering the menopause when I was 42 and we were trying for a fifth baby. That revelation was followed by five years of heavy bleeding, insomnia and horrible fatigue. I was very angry and very down. I didn’t cope well at all. Aged 47, I went to see a doctor in London and she suggested HRT ‘to keep your collagen and stay happy’. What a difference it made!
Now, post-menopause, I am happy most of the time. I take things in my stride, things bother me less and apparently I don’t shout as much.
Life is bright and optimistic and it is such a relief to have all of that over with.
My depression was linked to the menopause
Marian Keyes, 57, author
It was never confirmed that the terrible depression I suffered for four years from the age of 45 was linked to menopause, but in retrospect it makes sense. At the time no one suggested my problems could be hormonal.
When you’re younger, you have this idea that looks are everything — but I feel more attractive now than I did in my 20s. I suppose I was probably much more objectively attractive then, but I hated myself so much and self-sabotaged all the time.
I can be far kinder about my looks now. I’m more confident, better able to stand up for myself and carve out my place in a conversation.
That said, I take a huge amount of care of my appearance and I know I scrub up well. I’m not ashamed to say I have Botox and fillers. I care about my skin and I have extensions in my hair. It matters to me.
But I finally believe my mother when she says that beauty is on the inside. That’s important too.
I never considered my chronic anxiety was menopause: Susannah Constantine
Give it up? No! I’m far happier on HRT
Sandra Howard, 81, author and mother of two
I HAD an early menopause aged about 44, which was a disappointment, as I longed to have another child. But I went straight on HRT and am still on it.
One or two doctors have tried to suggest that I do without, which I did try for six months.
But I feel far happier on it, generally more bright-eyed, and my hair and nails are in better condition.
Now I’m on a very low dose and I fully intend to stay on it. I have always felt far more comfortable having HRT than not. I’m a doctor’s daughter twice over and I don’t believe in scare stories.
I had a bleak time in my 50s, feeling rather depressed and aware that the final downward slope of life was in sight. Then someone suggested I try to write a novel.
The first one did very well, and I have just finished my seventh.
Funnily enough, that downward slope tipped back up again. You finally realise that age is just a number and what the hell.
Adapted by LOUISE ATKINSON from Cracking The Menopause, by Mariella Frostrup and Alice Smellie (£20, Bluebird), out on September 16. © Mariella Frostrup and Alice Smellie 2021. To order a copy for £18 (offer valid to 14/9/21; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visitmailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193.
Bosses wake up! We refuse to be sidelined
As I headed towards 50, attitudes towards me started to change. Even with my skill set unquestionably improving with maturity, I stopped being considered for the coveted presenting positions that came up.
Where once I was a name on the lists for Desert Island Discs, Start The Week or Saturday Live, I found that just hanging onto my regular book show was a challenge.
It was increasingly obvious that those in a position to promote me were wondering instead when I might gracefully accept retirement and remove myself as an obstacle to their pursuit of a younger listenership. Your 50s, it became clear, were just not the right age for advancement, especially if you were a woman.
When I wrote in exasperation to my then boss, his response was to ask in frustration why I wasn’t simply grateful for my book show. The idea that I might have larger ambitions or want to work on a more full-time and challenging basis was clearly absurd. It is hard enough being an older working woman in an ageist society with a youth obsession.
But if menopause robs you of your confidence and saps your energy (as it so often can), it’s even harder to stop yourself being crushed by the tsunami of society’s expectations.
In her prime: Mariella
At work, in a blur of sleep deprivation and assailed by mysterious symptoms of stress unrelated to the actual pressure I was under, there were moments when I was desperate to take a sick day. But what was my ailment? And had I known it was menopause-related, would I have dared to highlight my condition? Back then, I wasn’t sure any woman had ever claimed a day off for menopause.
I still suspect that a key reaction to a woman who has the temerity to be openly suffering from menopausal symptoms is sniggering and nudging. That’s why so many women find themselves paralysed at the prospect of public humiliation, when hot flushes might turn them briefly into the crimson, sweating victims of hormonal imbalance.
I believe workplaces need to accommodate us better. We need a nationwide masterplan to provide the same protection for women in menopause as we receive during pregnancy and in periods of ill health. This lies at the heart of why I embarked on this book. Menopause needs to be acknowledged, accepted and mitigated for.
And the value of mature, professional women in the workforce, eager to throw themselves into new challenges, needs to be recognised, celebrated and embraced.
We are not a bunch of tragic harpies who can be shoved aside to allow for new blood. We are a force to be reckoned with, for which there is compelling economic evidence. And until society fully recognises us, we need to be proud, strong and use our voices to demand change.