By: Mary Senzig
As an intern at Hands Inc, I have had the privilege to have a wonderful insight into the menopause and how it affects women. Being a 20-year-old university student, I would not normally have this exposure into the menopause! However, as an intern, I have not only collected personal survey data from women, but listened to their experiences as well. I transcribed audio from focus group sessions on the menopause where women were free to discuss their experiences openly, as well as gain insight from knowledgeable peers. This was a great way to hear what real women have to say about what they are going through.
Listening to transcriptions of the menopause group was so insightful. Here were woman going through the same menopausal issues, issues which are often repressed into silence by society, opening up to each other and providing each other with the safe space each of them needed. The woman in this focus group described what they were experiencing so honestly. They didn’t shy away from how this change was making them feel. In fact, one woman said she felt like a monster. Hearing women feel this way about themselves was heartbreaking. No woman should ever feel as if she is ‘a monster’. A woman should have a place to express herself, no matter what she is going through- and especially if she is going through something so difficult as the menopause.
Mental health was a topic that came up often in this menopause session. The women felt that their mental health was greatly impacted by their menopause. A large part was due to their mood swings related to their menopause, which is understandable. As a young woman in my early twenties who has yet to experience the menopause, going through these mood swings seems horrible; so horrible that another woman described her mood swings as making her feel insane. More than half the world’s population go through the menopause and experience the awful mood swings and change in mental health and yet it shocks me that there is so little support for women. I think one of the women said it best when she said women are supposed to always be strong. Women are strong, but I think accepting help and guidance on these issues is crucial to keeping the wellbeing of women healthy, which is why I think projects, like Reclaim the Menopause are so important. They give women the space to be themselves, but to receive the assistance they need to not only survive the menopause, but to thrive in the menopause.
However, the session I listened to was definitely not all terrible and sad things about the menopause. Something that surprised me was the amount of positivity the women expressed surrounding the menopause. The women expressed how confident they felt, how they felt confident choosing aspects of their life. They felt confident choosing what they did, an example being the choice to wear less make-up than they did when they were pre-menopausal. I hope that when I reach the stage of my life where these women are, that I am that confident and that articulate about expressing my experiences with the menopause. Coinciding with this hope is a hope that menopausal services improve, and more women are able to express themselves as these women have done so brilliantly.
The overwhelming lesson I learned from listening to these women’s experiences was the fact that each woman experiences menopause in their own way. No two women experience menopause in the same way. Each woman in the session had her own stories, her own feelings, her own relationship with menopause. To know that despite the changes in physicality and emotion expression menopause brings about, women are able to find, and be, a version of themselves unlike anyone else. Women are uniquely themselves, including their menopause experience.
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