menopause (can contain TMI)

Sleepless in Sheffield #2

It was my birthday last week. I am now 49. I feel 89.

insomnia

Up to last Sunday night, I hadn’t slept for six months. Well, of course I’d slept (or I’d be dead), but I hadn’t slept well. Not at all.

Because my nervous system – sent completely whacko by the drop in female hormones – had apparently  gone into free fall, flooding my system with adrenaline and cortisol. Yup, that’s ADRENALINE AND CORTISOL, the fight-or-flight hormones that your body usually releases at times of stress or DANGER and which – rightly – send your blood pumping and your heart racing, so you’re ready to react quickly to, say, a saber-toothed tiger chasing you, or a runaway train heading your way. It’s not really for sleeping, unless your usual place of rest is on the edge of a cliff or inside a bear’s cave.

Fluctuating cortisol levels cause hot flushes – plus panic attacks, anxiety etc. My hot flushes had become more and more intense; making me feel like I’m going to faint and puke at the same time. Also, making my heart race and giving me scary palpitations (and sending my previously healthy blood pressure soaring). The sauna-level heat is almost secondary (I actually steam car windows up) – it’s the sickening feeling like YOU’RE GONNA DIE bit that really got to me. Yeah, that’s a nice feeling.

And, sleeping with cortisol whizzing around your body? “Whiz” is about right: not a chance in hell. I wake up half an hour after I’ve gone to sleep, then every hour, virtually on the hour. Horrific. I was a serious and chronic insomniac for many years and I was terrified I was going back to the bad time.

Being proactive and trying to manage my irksome insomnolence, I took off the week leading up to my birthday in order to bank some sleep (to at least attempt to enjoy my birthday celebrations), and also to do some writing. I did neither. Instead, I sat around like a stoned, tearful zombie incapable of any real thought apart from the vacant notion that this menopause will be the death of me.

Eight weeks before, I was three months into the hot flushes/insomnia/brain fudge and – wanting to embrace my menopause naturally and accept it as part of my journey as a woman (!) – I decided to manage my menopause symptoms with 1. some herbs and plants and 2. a fanny magnet. Yup, you heard right. The herbs didn’t do much (though they turned my wee a nice radioactive yellow) so I figured I had nothing to lose by trying out the fanny magnet (otherwise known as Lady Care). Quite frankly, the idea that a magnet can re-balance your body’s nervous system sounded like crazy talk, but I was willing to try anything by this point. It My good friend Jennifer Denys bequeathed me hers (after a good scrub, obviously) – it hadn’t worked for her, but we had high – desperate – hopes for me. So, did it work? Well, something did stir after I first stuffed it down my knickers, but it didn’t last, sadly. The story of my life.

So. Fast forward to the week before my birthday and I’m sat in my new doctor’s office, a teary wobbly puddle of off-the-scale tired/wiredness and practically begging him for HRT. Bollocks to embracing my menopause naturally – GIVE ME THE FREAKIN’ DRUGS.

My new doc came good and, thankfully agreeing that my high blood pressure would see me off far sooner than any other associated hormonal health risks, hit me up. Whoop! It took four more tortuous days to kick in but deep, blessed, WONDERFUL sleep finally came – fittingly – on Sunday, the day of rest. Praise be. And welcome back sore tits, crippling stomach cramps and “stuck pig”-level bleeding – I may feel like someone’s removing my hitherto withered womb via my fanjita with a crochet hook but MY GOD, how glad am I to see you.

taking-drugs-legitimate-medical-reasons-happy-birthday-ecards-someecards

I’ve been wondering why nature got this so bloody wrong. Why do so many women have to suffer so terribly as their poor bewildered bodies go into a blind panic at the ending of fertility, and often never come out? And then it hit me: we were never supposed to live past menopause. Of course. D’oh. It’s only relatively recently (in the evolutionary scheme of things) that our average lifespan has gone past 40 years. There was no need to design us with a physiological, post-hormonal coping mechanism. So, there is no fall-back plan, no “what do we do after?”, no plan B. Just hot, sleepless, brain-melting misery. Or drugs. And I know I can’t have them forever, but for now I’m taking the drugs – I’ll deal with my particular after if and when it comes.

Happy birthday to me. Welcome back, me.

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Writing Icky Stuff (and other sticky matters)

As a new writer I’m always on the lookout for advice about writing, particularly around “tricky” or intimate subjects. I personally have no qualms about dipping into the squeamish but I appreciate that I’m approaching it from my own particular angle and not everyone has my stomach for the earthier side of life. So I have to be mindful ’cause, hey – I’m here to turn heads, not stomachs. So I’m really chuffed to introduce my good friend Jennifer Denys, who has kindly written a guest post for Menopausal Me about just this icky, sticky subject.


Jennifer Denys Jen new blog pic

How far can a writer get away with writing real life stuff like the menopause, periods, illnesses, disabilities, etc, and not turn the reader off?

I am a writer of erotic romances and readers of this type of story have certain expectations. I had great fun writing Friendly Seduction where I totally took the piss out of writing my own genre. Here’s an excerpt from that book as the heroine explains to the hero exactly what women want from their erotic romances:

“He never shows negative attributes like cruelty, laziness, picking his nose, having a hairy back, and so on. Those are reserved for the bad guys.” (Need I say more?!)

Readers of this genre (who are predominantly women) like to put themselves in the shoes of the heroine. Therefore, they want the hero to be tall, handsome and hunky. However, being the rebel that I am, every now and then I batter down this restriction. Here’s an excerpt from The Sub Who Switched. Suffice to say, the heroine did end up with Nick despite being taller than him. (I even had a lovely review on Amazon where they stated how refreshing it was to read a story about everyday people who happen to be unusually erotic!)

She shivered at the thought of a strong man, preferably one taller than her, unlike Nick, who was a few inches shorter.

But what about things that could turn off a reader. Sex or intimacy is such a personal thing – what one person likes, another doesn’t, such as this line from Friendly Seduction, “The only thing I loathe reading about is sucking toes.”

You can’t please everyone so I tend to throw in things that are personal likes or dislikes (yep, sucking toes is a real turn off for me!) – but my characters can’t be the same every time so I will have to have one hero hunkering down at the heroine’s feet in one book. (Maybe when I am at death’s door!)

Since we are talking about sex, how often have you read stories where the heroine is a virgin and the hero has no problem giving her the time of her life? (Get real!). I deliberately made the taking of Brianna’s virginity a harrowing experience for both hero and heroine in Wife for Three as it helped shape their relationship:jd-d-wifethree-full

The yelp of pain that came from Brianna stopped him in his tracks. He didn’t remember the woman he’d had at the brothel all those years ago being this small, this tight. But that woman hadn’t been a virgin. That was the difference, surely. And now Brianna wasn’t anymore. It should get better, shouldn’t it? That thought left him as he felt her body tense considerably beneath him, her hands leaving his body to fall back clutching the pillow instead, her face averted. He could see she was biting her lip and her eyes were clenched tightly closed. His body shook with unreleased need, but at the same time, he didn’t want to cause any more pain to the tiny woman underneath him.

As he started to retreat, she whimpered. It wasn’t a good whimper but one he had heard from animals in pain. It struck him to his core. Damn, I’ve fucked this one up soundly.

But what about other ‘icky matters’ that the readers generally don’t want to be reminded off? Well, in Kink After Dinner I had a heroine in her fifties, so I referred to hot flushes and her midlife spread – although in both cases it was positive (see below if you don’t believe me!)

kad-jd-fullBeth felt herself flush as he looked intently at her with his brown eyes. Her high colour was something that had annoyed her all her life. At least she could put it down to having a hot flush these days.

And then further on:

She giggled. Her breasts were bulging over the top as it was. She used to be quite skinny, but in the last ten years, her midlife spread had hit. Some women, particularly short women like her, hated their bulges, but hers worked to her advantage as her breast-cup size had increased from A to C, making her look nicely voluptuous for once in her life.

I don’t recall any of my characters having had a cold yet – clearly I will have to remedy that!

And none of my characters have any disabilities – possibly because I have no idea what it is like for someone with a missing limb, for instance, and I wouldn’t want to get it wrong. However, I do have a work-in-progress that has a heroine, badly injured in a car accident, going to a BDSM club and watching from a dark corner to get her kicks until the hero spies her there and gradually seduces her into taking part. (Watch this space for further info on that story…) I can’t find any references to the heroine having her period – although I have a vague recollection that I had a line in one book about being glad it wasn’t time for her period. Having had sex myself during a period it really is icky to experience and I wouldn’t want to inflict it on the poor reader! (Ed: speak for yourself ;))

So, in conclusion, will it put the reader off to read things they may rather not read? Possibly—but if you want them to be real life people and not cardboard cutouts, then go for it. On the other hand, readers who are older, shorter, poorer, less-than-beautiful, or whatever, might just want the fantasy!

 

Jennifer Denys is in her mid-fifties and has written nearly 20 erotic romance novellas and short stories. She draws on her real life experiences ‒ including the dreaded menopause ‒ for her stories. To find out more about her and her books head to her blog site: http://jennifer-denys.blogspot.com/ where she posts three times per week.

Sleepless in Sheffield

“I’m a woman of a certain age and I love an open window!”

These are the words that, these days, greet bemused colleagues and kick off any meeting I’m ever in – usually accompanied by an unseemly dive for the chair nearest said window. You see, I’ve always known I was hot. ;). But now I’m red-hot. And not in a good way. I’m talking about hot flushes (flashes, for my American cousins :)). Potatoes have got nothing on me – my hot flushes are so goddamn NUCLEAR you could run Blackpool Illuminations with my emissions. The heat fair radiates off me like I’m some kind of organic convector heater. I could wire myself up to the National Grid in times of critical power shortage. I might too, I’m that civic-minded.

potato clock

My hot flushes are so violent, so sudden, so HOT that I can be totally fine one second, and the next resemble a drenched sunburn victim with sweat literally trickling down my face and rolling off my chin. Not a great look on the beach, never mind in an important stakeholder meeting. And a look that has my colleagues staring in a kind of disgusted fascination as I go into full-on meltdown. Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do but sit tight and hope it passes quickly.

But I don’t suffer in silence – oh no, everyone knows about it. Why keep it in, I say. It’s uncomfortable, and unpleasant but entirely natural and I refuse to be embarrassed – so I demand as much sympathy as I can get. Particularly from men, the jammy gets. They don’t have to go through it, so I don’t spare them any of the detail. It’s a fair tradeoff, don’t you think?

And don’t get me started on the sleepless nights. I usually know as soon as I lay down when I’m not going to sleep; and if the heat’s not bad enough my racing heartbeat will put the kibosh on anything resembling restful slumber. Toss, turn, swear, cry. Covers off, covers on, covers, off, covers off. Rinse and repeat.

The joys of menopause, eh – it’s the gift that just keeps on giving. Brilliant.