“I can’t – I just can’t do this anymore!”
Jo, age 54
“I lean back against the shelves, drop my bags & start to sob.
It’s May 2013, I’m 48 and in Tesco’s with my sons, then 16 & 12. I’m crying in the biscuit aisle, looking at the chocolate hob nobs and wondering how my life has come to this.
Anxious and overwhelmed, I’m desperate for a good night’s sleep. Both my parents are going through chemotherapy & as a single working Mum I am holding on by my fingertips.
With hindsight, I realise I was experiencing the perimenopause, something I knew absolutely nothing about at the time.
I share the story with a friend who asks how much exercise I do. The answer is very little: holiday swimming, the odd aerobics class. She generously gives me an old rowing machine she no longer needs.
Within a couple of weeks of rowing in my kitchen, I am sleeping. Immediately I feel better & brighter. I join a gym, I no longer cry in supermarkets.
A few months later my Mum dies of lymphoma 4 days before Christmas. Our world is shattered. Curiously I find I’m still going to the gym, finding solace in the rowing machine whilst my heart breaks & breaks again.
A few months later, with no planning, I decide I’m going to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support by rowing a million metres & marathon on the ergo. I row 10,000 m every other night for 8 months & on the 1st anniversary of Mum’s death & 5 days before my 50th birthday, I row a marathon (26.2 miles).
By now I’ve been learning about the perimenopause & I realise that moving joyfully & regularly has a hugely beneficial effect on my wellbeing – physical, emotional & mental.
Having done barely any exercise for decades before that fateful day in 2013, I have returned to things I loved as a little girl. Bodyboarding, swimming in the sea, going for bike rides in the hills. I did Couch to 5k for the first time aged 52 & learned to surf at 53.
In August of this year, aged 54, I became the first woman to stand up paddleboard 162 miles coast to coast across the north, picking up litter & fundraising for The Wave Project & 2MinuteBeachClean community.
So what has the perimenopause given me?
- It forced me to start looking after myself after years of only looking after everyone else: early to bed, fresh air, moving joyfully, strength training, saying “no” more & being careful how I spend my energy & time.
- My tiny adventures in the sea & hills have helped me develop a much kinder relationship with my body & more positive body image.
- It’s given me renewed purpose – fundraising for charity and picking up litter every day and on my PaddleboardTheNorth challenge.
- It’s given me a voice. I am honoured to have been invited to share my story recently at Jane Dowling’s Meno & Me menopause event about how exercise has helped me navigate the perimenopause. I hope I can show other women that they are not alone, they are not going crazy and there is hope ahead.
Passing on a message of hope & encouragement is perhaps the most special gift the menopause has given me. It makes all the times I cried in supermarkets worth it.”