There’s not a lot to laugh about these days. For example: Aleppo, Trump, Duterte, ice-melt, Great Barrier Reef, Brexit, etc etc etc. I haven’t had the heart to write about any of it and have fled into my book research. Today I’ve been reading about blood donation in the early days of World War II, when people were expecting mass bombs and nothing happened, so they called it the “bore war.” Sometimes I wonder whether we are in an equally deceptively calm period, and that the storm is coming.
But I didn’t finally come back on here to write that. I wanted to write about the menopause, again. This morning, I saw that the Guardian had published one of its auto-complete series on the menopause. The point of the series is for writers to answers questions commonly put to Google. Today, it was “am I menopausal?” I’ve written a couple of pieces in this series, on periods and puberty. I like it and I think it can be useful. But I am baffled as to why the Guardian’s commissioning editors decided the best way to address the menopause was with this piece. It sent me into a fury. Not because the tone is humorous. You can write about serious things with humour:I should know, having chosen to write a book about diarrhoea, death and shit. I had to use humour, but I used it carefully, I hope. I didn’t want to be facetious.
That piece, by Cari Rosen, was horribly facetious. Go onto any forum where women are discussing the perimenopause or menopause and you will find countless accounts of despair and fear and terror. Women who suddenly can’t tell left from right or where things are or how things work, when before they could, and who are secretly convinced they have dementia: these could be perimenopausal women (oestrogen dips affect the brain and cognition). Women who have powerful and painkiller-resistant headaches for days on end: these could be perimenopausal women. Women who suddenly have lost all desire for their partner or sex with anyone, and are terrified by this, and that it could destroy their relationship: these could be perimenopausal women. Women who are trying to function with insomnia that they never had before: these could be perimenopausal women. Do we get any sense of that from the Guardian’s stupid piece? No, only the old jokes about hot flushes and night sweats. I’d love anyone who has ever joked about night sweats to have them for several nights in a row. They sound so benign, don’t they? You sweat and it’s night and that’s all. Here is what night sweats are really like: you are drenched with sweat, and so hot that you can’t bear to be anywhere near fabric or another human being, until after five minutes you are colder than you can ever remember, and your clothes are freezing with cooling sweat. And you get to sleep only to wake up half an hour later for the same procedure. You change your clothes at least once a night. The only people who have more laundry than menopausal women are runners. I could go on about the horrifying, terrifying depression, but I’ve done that before. Cari’s piece tried to mix humour and wisdom, and it got the balance spectacularly wrong.