The Change and why middle age is about more than menopause

Are we in danger of reducing older women only to the menopause and, by focusing on the most difficult cases which must, of course, be highlighted, are we scaring younger women?


I watched the first episode of The Change the other day on Channel 4. I’d been putting it off to be honest as I wasn’t convinced about the premise. It was presented as a menopause comedy – a woman in her 50s chucks in her life, inspired by the menopause, and goes to live in the woods. It didn’t sound promising. I feel like almost everything I read at the moment is about the menopause. While it’s good to raise awareness, I wonder if we are in danger of reducing older women only to the menopause and that the focus on the most difficult cases, while important, may be scaring younger women.

I’ve been through the menopause. It wasn’t great – hot flushes or flashes are exhausting, brain fog undermines your confidence and makes you think like you personally are failing or going crazy [except we now know it’s menopause] and I felt slightly more depressed than normal, but then maybe I had more to be depressed about. But it was manageable. I know it isn’t for some and access to the right treatment is vital. Research suggests 25% will have severe symptoms. 50% will have some symptoms and 25% will have none.

HR is very much trend-driven so now there is a lot of focus on the menopause, which is needed, but older women face a lot of other challenges, many of them overlapping – for one, the cumulation of all the issues they faced earlier on in life, from childhood onwards, the results of which are evidenced in their pay packets as they approach retirement, the care deficit – middle aged [and older] women are basically holding up the planet, negative depictions of older women generally in a world that is more obsessed than ever with looks, adjusting to the kids leaving home, difficulty getting or changing jobs and so on. If only HRT could sort all of that.

So I settled down to watch The Change reluctantly “for work”. It got me from the first scene where the mum is sitting next to her teenager who is complaining about the noise she makes when swallowing. I’m pretty sure my kids have videoed me swallowing. Teenagers are merciless and now they have phones and other devices which they can use to share with their friends. It’s not really a confidence booster, even if it is meant affectionately.

The scene with the daughter took place at the mum’s 50th birthday party, which she had basically arranged and ended up doing the tidying up for. She was told that she was “well fit for your age and a great mum”, which on the surface seem to be compliments, but really aren’t. Her husband got back ache and she was called upon to deal with that. We have Ralgex on emergency stand-by in our house.

The mum kept a diary of all the chores she did in a day and how long she did them for. My life is a series of lists. She went to the GP. The GP said she could only talk about one symptom per consultation. It is way more efficient to do them all in one go than try to ring the GP for every single thing. It takes a week to get through in any event. She listed all her symptoms, all of them basically key menopause symptoms. The GP asked if she felt more emotional or angry. She replied that she did feel rage, but “nothing unjustified”. Is rage a menopause symptom or is it just the expression of years of repressed anger? Discuss.

The GP talked about sex drive – clearly an issue for him, but not for her. She’s got way too much else to do and anyway, it is just another thing on her list. So she decides to take some of the time spent on chores back and head off to the forest where she climbed trees as a girl – to reconnect with her childhood before the chores took over. Getting on a motorbike and citing the Incredible Hulk as the only menopausal role model in the history of film, she hits the road, leaving her family to manage.

So The Change, at least that first episode, is about the menopause, but the menopause is just the start – it’s really more about the life of a middle aged woman. Unfortunately, we can’t all head off for the hills. It feels everything and everyone is overstretched at the moment, but middle aged women are more so than most. Menopause is one part of being a middle aged woman, but it’s not everything we are. It is, however, a transition period and, as such, an important moment for much-needed reflection, if we can only carve out the time.

*Picture courtesy of Channel 4’s The Change.

Comments [1]

  • Jane says:

    I am fed up with the recent focus on the menopause. I thought we spent years claiming we were NOT irrational females subject to our hormonal moods and were just as good and reliable as men despite having periods. But now we want all sorts of concessions because those periods are stopping. I am in the majority who did not have a “bad menopause”. But I am prepared to jump on the minority bandwagon because that is what has to be done these days. Yawn.

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