I used to start the year off with a list. Goals, intentions, dreams both big and small. I never think of them as resolutions as that word can have a negative connotation – aren’t resolutions just promises to yourself that you’ll likely break and then feel bad about? Somehow, intention setting feels different even if it is exactly the same. Putting the ideas that live in my mind onto the page usually helps to crystalise them and take them from thought to action. Scroll back far enough into the archives of this blog and you’ll probably find me waxing lyrical about the benefits of a list. And I definitely talk about my list and notebook writing practices here – it’s something that got me through the tedium and uncertainty of 2020’s lockdowns.
But this year I feel different. Not only has the list of goals and intentions not been written, I’m not sure it even exists in my mind. Have I run out of ideas? Sometimes it certainly feels that way and I have to assure myself (convince really) that with time more ideas will come. But no, it’s not that. Perhaps it’s that last year I actually achieved some of my long held goals and now that I can cross them off the list I’m not sure what to do? I wrote my fifth book, I bought a house by the sea and I achieved the financial freedom I had sought when I decided to leave London. Could it be that I’ve reached that mythical place of achieving my dreams and now… what next? I do think it’s partially that and how lucky am I. But no, there’s more. Because I’ve always been able to conjure up a new set of dreams. So what then?
I wrote on here earlier in 2021 about discovering that I was peri-menopausal and I signed off the post saying that I had decided to go on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). I did and it was transformative. Although the night sweats had been the least of my concerns, they ceased almost immediately. But it was the almost immediate disappearance of the emotional symptoms I described in that post that brought me back to life. For about six months I was feeling more like my old self, not 100% by any means, but dramatically improved to the point where I was able to handle a very busy and stressful year of living through house renovations while writing a new book and working on a lot of commercial shoots.
I’d been warned that it might take a while to find the combination that suited me – there are pills, patches, gels, sprays, the coil – but I got lucky and it worked straight away. Until about a month ago when things started to slide again. As in 2020 and 2021 when it was hard to unpick the roots of my feelings, I thought I was feeling bad again because we had builders in the house every day, all our stuff was piled up in a few rooms, we had no kitchen, then the builder quit and it was all really stressful while also both working from home and being on top of each other. Christmas was coming up and I really wanted to have a home that was at least liveable enough so that my kids could come and stay, but the reality was we were living in a building site with no end in sight. But when I took away those stresses (we found a new builder who got us in a good place for the holidays) I realised that the symptoms were still there – heart palpitations, complete lack of focus, exhaustion, forgetfulness, my periods all over the place (bleeding every other week), anxiety and very low mood and some new ones (acne and mouth ulcers – yay) and – coming back to the beginning of this post – no joy, no motivation, no excitement for life. And definitely no desire to write a list of any sort, let alone one with goals for the year ahead.
Today I had a doctor’s appointment to address these issues and see if perhaps the HRT dosage could be tweaked. The appointment went comically bad. And by that I mean so bad that if I didn’t laugh, I’d scream. I can’t even describe the conversation because it was so nonsensical that I left baffled by what just happened. I’ve heard many stories of women being spoken down to by doctors when it comes to menopause and I had experienced it last year in a more subtle way, but this! This was next level. His combined incompetence/arrogance (a dangerous duo) was shocking. He didn’t listen properly and so he kept getting things wrong. He went into total scare-mongering mode and spoke to me as though anything new I’ve read on the topic is probably wrong and HRT can cause cancer in some women. Oh and he referred to a woman’s genitals as “down below” as you might to a very young child. If a doctor can’t say the word vagina to a full grown woman who is there to talk about menopause then we’re in trouble! Luckily one of the benefits of getting older is that I’ve become quite comfortable with confrontation, so with steady eye contact I calmly and directly asked him why he was being rude and hostile, at which point he self-corrected and repeated the same information in what he deemed to be a less condescending manner. Still I was none the wiser. I can’t stand the idea that others might not have had the confidence to push for more answers and might have walked away feeling shamed.
It’s easy to settle for the narrative that has persisted for so long around menopause and peri-menopause: “it’s not that bad” (yes it is), “it will pass”, (eventually, but you may lose your mind/job/life/relationships in the process), “it’s a natural process” (So is childbirth but it can also be brutal, traumatic and life threatening). The fact that women are still having to fight to be listened to and believed and to get the help they deserve is so wrong yet so common. What I know about myself is that I always have a set of goals. Since I was a young woman I’ve been driven, focused and hard working and I always get up when I get knocked over (except when I did actually get knocked over by a bike and didn’t get up until the ambulance reached the hospital but that’s another story). Figuratively I always get up! So having a gaping hole where my motivation and drive used to be feels awful and I know it’s not the real me. As silly as this may sound, that’s how I know I’m not myself right now. Me not having a list of goals at the beginning of the year is a sure sign that something’s not right.
I’m writing this here, on what used to be a blog only about interiors, because I believe we can only help each other by being honest. So whatever your job or what people know you for don’t be afraid to share your story. Whether you’re a CEO or a teacher or a carer or a bus driver or a chef, if you’re a woman going through something similar, talk about it. We can learn from each other. And if you haven’t read my earlier piece on my experience with peri-menopause, you can find it here. Whether you have a set of goals or not, I’m sending you my best wishes for your health and happiness in the year ahead x