Elizabeth Joseph Finding Joy In Perimenopause
I’m back. I hope you missed me. I missed you. I am still stumbling around in the ‘joy’ that is perimenopause, but I am learning more and more about myself as I journey through.
One thing I have learned is that I can write and I love writing. It makes me feel serene. It brings me joy. The book is finished and I have sent it off to a publisher. Just the one. So fingers crossed please.
I joke about the ‘joy’ that is perimenopause but joy is exactly what I want to talk about in this month’s column.
As you know, many of us are nestled in the ‘sandwich generation’, where we are looking after elderly parents and children, and holding down jobs. Whether some or all of this is true for you, I suspect you rarely, if ever, put yourself first. I suspect you rarely, if ever, seek out joy and excitement. The kind of joy you felt as child. Pure, unadulterated joy. For you.
I decided to do just that. To reclaim some joy.
After years of stumbling around in the Hell Gorge that is perimenopause, clueless as to why I was suffering from brain fog, sleepless nights, itchy skin, mood swings, epic wind, anxiety and aching joints, I felt it was time I started seeking joy rather than handing in the towel, sitting back and waiting for old age.
Let me tell you where I went looking.
It started dramatically.
Amateur Dramatically to be exact.
I must confess that I had dabbled with thespianism in my younger days. I had always wanted to be an actress. Being on stage was my happy place. So joy-wise, I thought a return to the stage was just what I needed.
Alas, it was not to be.
I joined The People’s Theatre, the North East’s leading non-professional theatre company and a truly magnificent, extremely well-run place. I was cast in a play, a nice part. Not too big, not too small. I was nervous at the first rehearsal, which was a read through of the play, but it was so refreshing to be out of the house meeting and interacting with interesting and passionate people. It was, however, all downhill from there.
I found it extremely difficult to learn my lines, had lost a great deal of confidence, did not take direction well, was ready for bed about an hour into rehearsals and did not like being out of the house after dark.
I spent every rehearsal day dreading what was coming and trying to think up excuses not to go. I desperately wanted to climb into my loungewear and settle down in front of a box set with my husband, rather than venture out to the theatre to rehearse. At one point I asked him, in all seriousness, if he could see his way to running me over, ‘just a little bit’, with the car.
I stuck it out. I wasn’t great but I wasn’t dreadful. For a few moments on stage, each night, I felt close to the joy I had felt in the past. But they were, unfortunately, merely fleeting moments.
So. No joy. What next?
I had always rather liked the idea of tennis. Occasionally, when I dropped the kids off at school, I would see smiling carefree ladies of a certain age heading to the local tennis club. I fancied me a bit of that. I found an extremely reasonably priced class for rusty or beginner tennis players. I donned a tracksuit, borrowed my daughter’s tennis racquet and decided to give it a go.
Unfortunately, I only lasted three weeks. I spent the majority of my time saying sorry and collecting my balls from the car park. I excused myself halfway through the last lesson saying I felt poorly, and cried all the way home. A middle-aged woman, in an ill fitting tracksuit, carrying a bright pink tennis racquet, sobbing her way down the high street.
So, so far, not much joy. Next?
Maybe I was playing it too safe. Maybe I had to really push myself out of my comfort zone. Maybe I had to take a leap of faith. It was this kind of crazy thinking that had me stepping off a platform 30 feet in the air, speeding down a zip wire and questioning my sanity.
Go Ape can be found near the charming village of Matfen. Built in the grounds of an impressive country house hotel, alongside a gorgeous golf course, high up in a wood full of deciduous trees. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty. This is a place to quietly and calmly take in the stunning and unspoilt scenery. Maybe to take a stroll around the picturesque village, to admire the village green with its meandering stream, to stop for a slice of apple pie at the delightful Dulcissima coffee house and delicatessen.
Certainly behaviour more fitting for a woman about to turn fifty? Surely? Apparently not.
This midlife warrior was there to undertake the treetop challenge: high platforms, tricky obstacles, super speedy zip wires, including one on a skateboard, a half trapeze and free-falling, stomach churning tarzan swings.
As a kid, I had always loved climbing and had absolutely no fear of heights. However, just listening to the demonstration and safety briefing made me feel queasy and once I got started I can say in all honesty that I have never been so scared in my entire life. The course is made up of five different sites and at the first sight of the first site I wanted to stop. Were it not for a deep discomfort at the idea of making a fuss, I would have asked someone to come and get me down from the first platform. Only deep breathing, not looking down, and not wanting to make a show of myself, kept me going onwards and indeed upwards and across-wards and zipping downwards.
It was in fact social embarrassment that kept me going around most of the course. I was so slow and shaky that a group of young lads caught up with me fairly quickly. They were lovely about it but it was clear I was slowing them down. Which speeded me right up. Which had me concentrating on just getting on with it. Which was exactly what I needed.
By the time I had made it to site five, I am delighted to say I was having the time of my life. I’d asked the lads to give me a five-minute head start and I was finally experiencing pure, unadulterated joy. And I was proud. I was proud of myself for not giving up, for conquering my fear, for literally stepping out of my comfort zone. I felt exhilarated.
And really, really pleased it was over.
Obviously, I am not advocating that you immediately take up acting or tennis or treetop challenges. But I would encourage you to seek joy in midlife. Find something that makes you feel wonderful. And don’t be put off if your initial attempts don’t quite work!
Anhedonia, a decreased ability to feel pleasure or joy, can affect some women during perimenopause as a result of levels of oestrogen dropping off. Once we have emerged from Hell Gorge, with its hormonal turmoil, that ability will return but whilst we are here it makes sense to seek ways to find or rediscover that joy. Even if that does mean dropping off a platform 30 feet up in the air, screaming like a happy kid.