‘What temperature would you like it?’ purrs the receptionist.
’17ºC? Are you sure because that’s pretty chilly.’
It’s minus zero outside. There’s snow on the ground. I can see why they are surprised. I’m walking around without a coat on half the time.
I’m going to write about the excellent food and the exhilarating travel and all that stuff don’t you worry. But what I really want to write about is my menopause.
Nobody ever talks about the menopause. Except me. I talk about it literally all the time. I just spent a week in New York telling EVERYONE I’m menopausal, to my daughter’s eye-rolling embarrassment.
Now I’m travelling through Canada… on the face of it to report on maple syrup… but really to talk about being menopausal. Last week I went to a famous Montreal bagel place and I talked to a guy who works there.
I’m fanning myself…
‘I’m menopausal,’ I explain to him.
He nods. ‘Hot flash, huh?’ (That’s what North Americans call hot flushes.)
‘My wife has that.’
‘How old is she?’
‘Sixty five?’ I groan. ‘I keep hearing that it goes on for years.’
‘Yeah, she’s had it ten years.’
I’m so tired. I didn’t sleep last night because I’m so hot and I’m on the 14th floor and you can’t open a window. In Halifax I had to ask to change room because of the heat. ‘All the heating is centrally regulated,’ said that receptionist. They moved me to the cold wing. It was damp and grey. It suited me perfectly.
On the train from Halifax to Quebec City I’d sit on the top deck, the coolest place on the train.
I spoke to other passengers about how overheated the houses and hotels are in winter over here. My lips are chapped and my nose is full of crusty sores. On the inside.
One man said, ‘I grew up in a house where it was 16ºC all winter. If we were cold my parents would tell me to put a sweater on.’
‘That’s what my parents would say too,’ joined in another guy. We were all middle aged.
My parents were of the put-on-a-jumper school of ecology. I loathed it. Somehow my daughter has also turned into that person. A recent visitor said, ‘you’ve got the coldest house I’ve ever been to’.
Let me describe a hot flush. It starts from the collarbones, up the neck, to the face. You feel slightly desperate, claustrophobic, like you want to rip your clothes off. A film of sweat forms upon your face. Sometimes it is accompanied by nausea. It lasts maybe five minutes. With me it happens hourly. It’s exhausting.
I’m not on HRT. I’m trying to white knuckle it through because I’ve been told that when you stop taking HRT, the menopause starts up again. Last year the doctor gave me anti-depressants, saying it would help control the hot flushes. And it did, for about three months. Plus it cheered me up. My daughter said she’d never seen me so positive. But the flushes started again and with a vengeance. I’m wearing super strength deodorant because all that sweating…. it makes you smelly. But it comes to something when doctors put you on psychiatric medicine (which is effectively what anti-depressants are) in order to deal with the physical effects of ageing.
Sleep is another thing that is disturbed during the menopause. I never sleep a night through nowadays. You wake several times every night and always between 3 and 4am.
I never minded light either but now need total darkness (and in fact that is good for your fertility). I’ve become photophobic. Is this another menopausal thing?
There are so many aspects of the female experience that come as a shock when it happens to you. Miscarriages for instance. You think you just lose a baby and that’s it. Nobody mentions that it’s a three month bleedathon. It’s horrendous, even physically, not mentioning the grief.
The menopause makes you age fast. I feel I’ve aged ten years in the last year. My hair is dry. I wake up looking like I’ve had an electric shock, two rough matted red brillo pads either side of my head. You know old lady hair? I used to look at old ladies and think their hair looked so shit because they’d been perming it. (Old ladies in my time always had a white bubble perm.) I can now inform you, from my own experience, it’s because of the menopause. It’s as if you lose the elasticity in your hair and skin. I’ve always had greasy hair. I’ve never used moisturiser. What is happening?
I’ve just arrived at my hotel in Toronto. At the front desk I ask, ‘can you turn the heating down in my room?’ I haven’t even got in there yet. It’s at 18ºC and that feels nicely fresh now.
Why do we live past the menopause? Anthropologists have developed the grandma theory; that older women are needed to help raise children. Societies whose families stay with their matrilineal grandmothers have better outcomes when it comes to the health of their children.
Is it my imagination that nobody talks about the menopause? Or have I just tuned out when they were?