I had my first bout of menophobia a couple of months ago ...
...fear of menopause, that is. I don't know if this is a recognised anxiety, but it should be. Just like childbirth or new motherhood, there's a lot of nebulous, free-floating cultural horror around about menopause but as you get closer to it and try to pick out the details, there's little to go on. At least, that's my experience.
I mean, did you know (addressing myself to pre-menopausal women here, which is a rather large group) that during menopause you can have 'false periods'? That is, you have all the symptoms of PMT, including sore breasts and uterine cramps - but nothing eventuates. I had a weekend of that last weekend. It wasn't particularly intense, just a run-of-the-mill beginning of a period, except that no period arrived. I happened to see my GP this week and mentioned that in passing - she's in her late 50s and said, "Oh yes, that happens - all the hormones go through the motions but there's nothing to work with". It's disconcerting, because for the past 35 years you've had an internal eye on your internal body clock (pimples? must be that time of the cycle; irritable? must be that time of the cycle; ravenously hungry? must be that time of the cycle) and suddenly none of that makes sense any more. Which isn't in itself cause for menophobia as most of the time, nothing much is happening (at least, that's my experience) - my body goes along in quite a pleasantly stable state.
But then, in late February, I had an episode of something that was quite scary. (I'd had one or two milder versions of this happen last year.) We'd gone to the beach early one Sunday morning, where I was extremely emotionally volatile and short tempered and thought to myself that a period was imminent. (For the past 30 years, I haven't had bad temper as a premenstrual symptom, so it's like returning to adolescence - that's unpleasant.) We came home at 11am and I was changing in my room and felt an overwhelming urge to lie down - I not only felt tired but like I just couldn't cope with being upright. So I lay down in bed and fell asleep. Three hours later, I was woken by the doorbell and got up and went downstairs. Co-parent later told me that I looked awful as I descended the stairs - incredibly pale. I felt terribly drained - but I knew it wasn't a physical illness. It felt hormonal, in a way that's hard to describe.
I later looked up a book I bought a couple of years ago and hadn't read (as I hadn't needed to yet) - Menopause and Osteoporosis: A Guide to Wellbeing for Australian Women by Nancy Beckham. From that, I figured out that the pituitary and hypothalamus can go into overdrive, sending out high and then higher levels of the hormones that kickstart ovulation because they pick up on the low levels of oestrogen in the bloodstream. I'm pretty sure that's what was going on on my weird day.
A few days later I was at a social event and got talking to some other women in their 50s. One had been through the menopause and felt so bad at one point that she went on HRT, even though she's quite an 'alternative' kind of woman. She spoke vividly about her mood swings and bad temper before going on HRT - the 'murderous rage' kind of feeling.
During the conversation I felt as if I was in a stoned paranoia - I felt a creeping anxiety that I was stuck in an overwhelming and unknown process that was going to shake me up and spit me out the other end a weakened and unattractive, paler version of myself. An old woman.
I read the whole Nancy Beckham book and got out some of the old Diet for a Small Planet soybean recipes (haven't cooked with whole soybeans for 30 years.) I already eat an approximation of the usual recommended healthy diet anyway - I'm a fish-eating vegetarian and we eat a lot of tofu, beans, lentils, etc. Still, according to Beckham, upping the phytoestrogens is the way to go. So that's what I've been doing.
My menophobia has diminished and I'm hoping I can keep it at bay.
Last year I well and truly entered peri-menopause, having just seven periods all year. This year I had three periods in the first three months - but nothing for the past five weeks and I think the 'false' period' of last weekend is a signal that nothing will happen now for a few/several more weeks (though it's hard to tell and that's one of the slightly unsettling factors of this process.)
I've never read Germaine Greer's book about menopause but have that on my list. She turns 70 this year and clearly wasn't shrivelled up by menopause
Here's a recent little picture of me as a mood-swinging menopausal woman :-)