Up until a few years ago, I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t have any acquaintances either. I don’t tell you either of those things for sympathy. My lack of social connectedness was a conscious decision. I didn’t think I needed other people. I’m autistic – a fact that wasn’t known to me until the age of 48. My neurodiversity means I don’t always pick up on social cues or conventions, I will often misspeak, I can be overly blunt, rather awkward, and my brain often enters a ‘holding-pattern’ at crucial moments.
Menopause has a habit of focusing on and magnifying anything in our lives that has been left unresolved. Whether that’s the long-term impact of adverse childhood experiences, unhealthy adult relationships, or indeed the relationships we have with ourselves. How many of us take time to reflect on the relationship we have to ourselves? What are we doing to support both our bodies and our minds, on an emotional as well as spiritual level?
In the aftermath of my surgical menopause at the age of 41, the life I had built gradually began to crumble. And little by little I became more withdrawn until I was only leaving the house once every fortnight or so. However, there’s a reason why solitary confinement is a punishment. As humans, we are social creatures, we need to spend time with those we feel attuned with. In fancy terms, it’s all about co-regulation. Healthy relationships buffer stress, and they help foster resilience.
My experience of menopause has been incredibly challenging, but it has also been a positive, life-enhancing and life-affirming adventure. I’ve purposefully used the word ‘adventure’ there because it would be all too easy to merely focus on the difficult stuff. However, to quote Katherine MacKenett, “mountains do not rise without earthquakes”. I wasn’t aware of how strong my spirit was, or how resourceful I would become.
My initial struggles have given me a better appreciation of what exactly is important in my life. What matters to me above all else is leading a life that best honours my core values. A life that allows me to be my authentic self, to be compassionate, honest and caring.
There are so many positives to surgical menopause, in addition to the very obvious for me, no more heavy, painful and life-disrupting periods. I also now mind less about what other people think of me, and gee whizz that is wonderfully liberating. So, I have a lot to thank my surgical menopause for. I am grateful for how it challenged me to be a kinder, more thoughtful person. For how it laid bare my insecurities. And for how it taught me the value of friendships. I truly have much to be grateful for.
And now as I am about to turn 50, I feel tremendously fortunate to have a tiny circle of friends, like-minded women, who totally get me. They understand and accept me for exactly who I am. They encourage me, and we encourage and empower each other. I don’t think there is anything more beautiful than women supporting women. Alongside Sarah Williams, I am now part of a virtual book club – The Compassionate Curios – and the first book on the reading list was ‘Quiet Disruptors’ by Sue Heatherington. There’s a quote by Seth Godin in the book that resonated deeply with me… “tribes build sideways”. Yes, they do.
Helen works as an independent consultant, advising and writing on autism, menopause, and post-traumatic growth. She describes herself as a gentle, compassionate encourager, and quiet disruptor. Helen is dyslexic and autistic, both of which make her life exciting and perplexing in equal measure. She likes LEGO, Chinook helicopters, and kind, authentic people. Dismayed by the lack of information at the time of her own menopause, Helen published ‘Surgical Menopause – Not Your Typical Menopause’ to help prepare those who follow behind.
Find Compassionate Curio book club on Twitter: @CompassCurios
- Menopause Cafe (How Helen and I met)
- FROM MY BLOG: Women can be fierce competitors or powerful collaborators.
Buy Now: Surgical Menopause ~ Not Your Typical Menopause [ Paperback ] [ Kindle ]
Real stories from real women sharing the truth that surgical menopause is indeed difficult and intense, but with time, we can move from feeling fragile and vulnerable to capable and confident.
Buy Now: Quiet Disruptors: Creating Change Without Shouting [ Paperback ]