This month is world Menopause Awareness Month and I have had the good fortune of speaking to lots of women about their experiences. 
 
One of the things I've heard the most is "I just don't feel myself". It's not surprising really, when you think of the many symptoms that occur as a result of the perimenopause and menopause. Many women, in their forties, start to have symptoms but fail to connect the dots. We think the menopause is something that happens to older women, in their fifties and beyond. The thing is, we start having changes in hormones several years before the actual menopause. Many of the symptoms we wrestle with happen whilst our periods are still happening. Why is it such a shock and why did our mothers never warn us about the perimenopause? Honestly, I don't think they knew about it either. They taught us to suffer in silence and 'just get on with it'. Most of us are doing just that. 
 
It's a strange, and sometimes scary, time in a woman's life when we stroll into the Valley of Dropping Hormones. We feel physically out of sorts - have itchy skin, excessive bleeding, hot flushes, aching bones and joints, to name a few of the many symptoms. What is even harder to deal with is the mental fallout of this time. Many women suffer with anxiety, depression, mood swings and crashingly low confidence. We can be overwhelmed by something that was once a walk in the park and have memory issues, meaning we feel unable to tackle the challenges life throws at us. Many of us suffer in silence as we fear it's only us. We are alone. If our boss finds out, we'll be accused of being a low performer, and will be replaced by a younger, more efficient model. These fears can grow and paralyse us. Because we don't talk, it impacts us further and we feel isolated and lost. 
 
Whatever your experience of the menopause, midlife is a strange time. It's a time of identity change. We are the queens of the sandwich generation - some of us still have small children or teenagers at home, busy careers, elderly parents to care for and even grandkids. We are at peak load in terms of the responsibilities we have to deal with and yet the menopause tsunami is heading our way. We can either try to out run it or let it take us under. Neither are appealing options and our ultimate goal is to keep our heads above water. 
 
Maybe we don't feel ourselves because a new self is just around the corner 
 
Maybe there is a new way to look at this time in our lives. This could be the time when we grow and learn the most, if we are open to it. This could be the time when we reflect on our lives and decide what we want for our next chapter? 
 
As people we often expect the same from ourselves whatever our age or stage. Why is that? We evolve through life and make choices. If we are behaving the same way in our forties and fifties as we did when we were in our twenties I would worry that we haven't adapted, progressed or learnt from our mistakes. Most of us have greater self-awareness in midlife and have realised what matters to us. On a good day, we know that we have skills, experience and wisdom that help those around us. We are needed in the workforce, by our families and the communities we serve. We make a critical contribution to society. 
 
If you are struggling to feel this right now, consider the following: 
 
1) What support network do I have? 
Some women have very small support networks when it comes to sharing how they feel.  
If you are a woman who cannot share how you are feeling with your partner, ask "why is that? and "why is that acceptable?" If our partners don't want to understand what we are going through that is an issue. How can we help them understand? 
If you a struggling to share with your boss, ask "Would they want me to suffer alone?" "How would that make them feel?" If you don't share, it's really hard to expect any help, as they may not be aware.  
Who can you speak to at home or at work who makes you feel safe and supported? If you don't have anyone, who do you know who you can approach? 
Sharing your experience may initially make you feel vulnerable but it will help you process how you feel and explain what support you need. You deserve to feel supported and trusted. Perhaps your employer has a confidential employee assistance phoneline that you can call if there is no-one else.  
 
2) What do I need? 
Getting clear about what you want and need is very important, so take some time out to reflect on how you feel and what support you require. It's ok to be clear about what you want. This helps other people know how they can help you. You are not being demanding. You are being clear. 
 
3) How do I Create the Next Compelling Chapter? 
I've heard a few women tell me that the menopause feels like the end of something. In some cases, the end of them. I understand this but it's a feeling we need to challenge. The average life expectancy for women in the UK is currently 83 but many of us may hit our century. What legacy do we want to leave behind? I recently turned 50 and I see that as my halfway point. I'm only just getting started and I have so much more to achieve and give. What do you want to achieve in the next twenty years that excites, terrifies or energises you? How would you need to adapt your life to make it happen?  
 
4) What is My Identity Now?  
As we get older we can be guilty of focusing on the negatives rather than the positives. We choose our identity and how we behave. We have to own it. If we believe that we are 'old' then that's how we'll behave. If we believe that we are capable, powerful and active, then we'll step up and behave as such. We have more power then we care to admit. 
 
We have to own our menopause and our lives. It's not easy and there will be some dark days ahead. Let's help each other through and cheer each other on. It might not feel like it now, but you are in charge and the choices you make today will set your course for the next chapter. I'm excited for you! Are you ready? 
 
 
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