2020: ‘I could not help considering what strange stuff all our little stories are made of’

When Dickens received a letter from his youthful flame, Maria Beadnell, some three or four and twenty years after his romantic pursuit of her was thwarted, he wrote, in his reply to her, about the ‘changeless Past’ and observed that he could not help considering what strange stuff all our little stories are made of. It seems like an apt observation as I consider what a whirlwind year this has been, not only on a global scale as the pandemic has raged, but right down to the minutiae of my own life.

I started the year with such optimism, finally freeing myself from the dying embers of a marriage that had long since proven to be toxic, reclaiming my own name, deciding to move back to the North. All of those accomplished. Boxes ticked. I also embarked on a wellness and health journey, knowing that I could not look to food and alcohol for comfort without my health and weight taking a hit.

With that in mind, I headed to Yeotown, an idyllic retreat in the beautiful North Devon countryside, for their five day program. But this one was different. It had a focus on menopause, led by Mariella Frostrup. As she said when she spoke to us on our first evening, it is a subject that women are far too uncomfortable talking about, but one that really needs to be more openly discussed. I had been to Yeotown once before so I knew what to expect, but this program was more gentle, and more tailored to the issues that women face as they transition to a life following our fertile years.

Yeotown hike. March this yea – before the tsunami that was Covid hit the UK

I often wonder why it is women are so afraid to talk about menopause. Is it because we see ourselves as ‘spent’, somehow lesser because we can no longer reproduce? Is it because we somehow internalise the mythological maiden-mother-crone model? Or maybe, we worry that men will be disappointed in us as we age, much as Dickens was when he met up with Maria in later life. Whatever the reason, as I spent the week in the company of these amazing and powerful women, it became clear that we are not voiceless. We can share our experiences, pool our knowledge and take comfort that we do not walk on this journey alone.

My 5 days at Yeotown were bliss, over far too soon, and I found myself back at home, back to normal life, and the rumblings of something disastrous happening in Italy starting to intrude in our own world, as we all gradually started to realise it was coming here. Just a week later, I woke up with a high temperature, and I started to cough. It was a cough of the like I had never experienced before, dry, with a tightness in my chest that felt as though the airways in my lungs were closing in on themselves. I immediately went into self-isolation with my family. One week later, the entire nation was locked down.

I recovered from Covid quite quickly, but some months later it became clear that there were some issues that were not shifting. My joints ached, to the point that I could not even push an empty trolley without a shock of pain coursing through my wrists. Tests followed, which revealed I had an elevated rheumatoid factor in my body, which I have now largely managed to control through a combination of diet and exercise. There is nothing like pain to focus the mind.

But something still wasn’t right. It soon occurred to me what that was. I simply hadn’t had a period since having had Covid. I had been peri-menopausal before I came down with Covid. But since Covid – nothing. I started doing some reading on menopause and women’s health boards online, and realised that I wasn’t the only woman to experience this. Despite the fact that you cannot go in and see a doctor in person thanks to Covid safe measures, I was able to speak to a doctor over the phone to discuss my options.

The result: from today I am about to embark on HRT. It wasn’t something that I had ever really thought about. But I am young to be in full menopause, and given my talent for breaking bones, there are many reasons why I feel that this is the right path for me. Which brings me to the point of this blogpost. We don’t talk about menopause enough. We should. I have the experience of other women to draw on, but I would love to know more. I plan on writing again, in a month or so, and I will consider what being on HRT is like. At the moment, I don’t know if it is the right decision. It might not be. But whatever the outcome, I am happy to share my experience if it helps open up a discussion that too many women are afraid to have.

In the meantime, 2021 beckons. Despite how awful 2020 has been at times, I have to believe that it will get better I will greet the new year with hope and optimism.

Published by Deborah Siddoway

Dickens enthusiast, book lover, wine drinker, writer, lover of all things Victorian, and happily divorced mother of two lovely (and very tall) boys.

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