Personal Summer

Earlier this year I was sitting in a writing class in Sydney. It was winter, the room was not over-heated but comfortable, say 19 – 20oC. I was trying to listen to the presenter but the woman next to me was a festival of distraction. She had a very slight build and was well rugged up. I watched as she repeatedly followed a sequence of moves

  • Fingerless gloves off
  • Socks off
  • Jumper off
  • Long sleeve T-shirt off
  • Pull out remaining T-shirt at neckline and fan vigorously with a paper fan for 2 minutes
  • Sit quietly for 10 minutes then
  • Long sleeve T-shirt on
  • Jumper on
  • Socks on
  • Fingerless gloves on
  • Wait and repeat!

All friggen day! Jeez! She was driving me crazy!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Invisible woman: Taken in New York in 2009

I looked on with a condescending smile which masked the burning desire to shout, “Would you just stop fidgeting!”

My impatient self was smacked down when I belatedly realised the poor woman was obviously suffering from frequent and acute temperature fluctuations – she was ‘going through the change.’

As an Old Chook, I am in peak menopause territory. I have been fortunate to sail through these potentially rough waters; smoothly, with very few issues. I can only remember having one full-blown “hot flush” and that was in Officeworks about 4 years ago. I had just picked up some photos, opened the packet to have a peek and the smell of the ink wafted up and made me gag. Simultaneously, I felt like I was about to explode as the rising tide of heat travelled from my belly up to my head. I was sweating, I felt faint. I thought I had been poisoned by the ink. I drove home in a panic and laid down. It dawned on me about 2 hours later that this was, perhaps, a hot flush and the ink smell trigger just a co-incidence. Who knows, I am just pleased I have never had a repeat. Sure, I have had some sweaty nights but nothing major. I had a strategy for smooth sailing, to stay on the Pill for as long a possible. My GP was sceptical and finally talked me into giving it a break. “It’s no fountain of youth,” she said. So I quit. I didn’t fall apart.

After some quick research on the interwebs, it appears that I am one of the lucky 20% of women who do not experience menopausal symptoms. Namely, vasomotor changes that lead to hot flushes, night sweats and a general inability to regulate temperature and vaginal dryness. Then there are the mood swings, depression and anxiety which some women experience.  After menopause, the rate of somatic (cell) ageing increases. Women will become less healthy after menopause compared to before menopause.  Not to mention the fact that we live in a culture where older women tend to become invisible. Something to look forward to heh, younger sisters?

P1650768
Taken in Ottawa – the original work by Daphne Odjig.

The age of onset of menopause is on average 45 – 55. Back in the days of Ugg the Cave Woman, you didn’t usually make it this far. You had likely already died during childbirth or had been eaten by a sabre tooth before the big 4-0.  Early humans, therefore, probably never experienced menopause because they died of acute causes before its onset. For those women who did survive, it is posited that menopause inferred some evolutionary advantage, not to themselves per se, but through the grandmother effect[1]. By having females who were no longer reproductively active themselves but able to assist younger women in childbirth and lactation, an advantage was conferred to the whole group. Childbearing uses a lot of energy; post-menopausal women could use their energy for the benefit of the group rather than making babies. Even so, Grandma probably didn’t make it past 60.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Hungry lions and tigers: Taken in 2009 in New York

Did Grandma Ugg have her own personal summer happening? Maybe – maybe not. Studies have shown that menopausal symptoms are greatly reduced in women who are very physically active[2]. Grandma Ugg was very active. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle was not a sedentary one, so perhaps these older Palaeolithic women were not too bothered by menopause.

Our genome evolved a long, long time ago. In modern times, cultural evolution moves at a pace that outstrips any possible changes to our genome.  Our genes can’t keep up with changes in our culture and lifestyle and therefore the age of onset of menopause has not changed significantly. Average life expectancy, has, however, increased dramatically – at least in the developed world. The average life expectancy for women in Australia is 82. This means we now live for 30 years beyond menopause. It’s unlikely that our genes know how to deal with this.

The symptoms of menopause are very real and for some women, debilitating. Our attitudes to menopause play a big role in how we manage and cope with it and our attitude towards “women’s problems” have a lot to do with Big Pharma.

Is menopause a disease?

In the developed world, we[3] have medicalised women’s biology to the extent that menopause is seen as a deficiency DISEASE that needs to be treated with hormone replacement therapy rather than something that just happens naturally, as is the case in other cultures, such as in India.  (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15981376)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
I have always thought Indian sculptors were much better at breasts than those from Italy and Greece

So, what point am I trying to make here? I think there is a lot more to say about this topic so I plan to do some more research over the next few months and re-post. So for the time being, I will leave it here:  Our genetic makeup has not prepared us for living this long beyond menopause. To reduce the symptoms of menopause you should maintain a healthy weight and be physically active. But most of all you should keep in mind that menopause is a natural event that is not a disease,  it may bring health issues but you’re not abnormal.

As to the photos,  I didn’t really know what to post, what photos depict menopause?  These are just some random ones I liked from my collection. So I will have to work on that too. Perhaps it’s good inspiration for some portraits of post-menopausal women being fantabulous?

[1]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3433273/

[2] another good reason for being a Tough Grandmudder!

[3] definitely using the royal ‘we’ here! The ‘we’ of course means the THEY who control everything. The ones with the money, power and penises.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s