Around my mid-40s I began to notice that from the toenails up I seemed to be turning into an armadillo.
I acquired a small, round shape; grew the kind of hide that Bill Bryson described as perfect body armour and developed an inconvenient tendency to curl myself up into an obstinate ball whenever I was faced with anything out of my comfort zone.
I found this especially alarming considering my family history of inappropriate behaviour towards armadillos. In Mexico my mother had an actual handbag made from one of these poor creatures, its tail curled around and stitched into its mouth to act as a handle.
This dreadful object came back with us to England where it lived in the cupboard under the stairs and every now and again I’d hook it over my arm and totter about like Little Edie, minus the turban and Kennedy relatives.
Despite my youthful obsession with this hideously tortured creature, I never actually aspired to become an armadillo but as time moved me towards my middle years, I felt helpless to do anything about it. I thought it was normal ageing and that all women had to endure the sound effects made by aching joints after yet another night of playing push-me pull-me with the duvet and a bodily thermostat set permanently to summer in the tropics.
I had some expectation that I’d come out the other side, better and brighter, so I wasted far too much time building up a hormone-challenged head of steam instead of doing something far more constructive like sorting it out. When (yet another) printer malfunctioned, causing such irrational rage that it was escorted outside and taught a lesson with a hammer, and I developed social anxiety to the point of becoming a hermit (probably for the best, considering I was spending most of my time carrying on like a lunatic), I realised that things were not right. I took myself off to the GP, much to the relief of my patient husband, told her I was practically howling at the moon of a night and could I please have some HRT before my face and neck boils to death and no, I don’t really care about the increased risk of other ways of dying if I took it because nothing, NOTHING could be worse than this living hell. She didn’t argue with me. (Looking back I think she had adopted that state of watchful awareness a person displays when they realise there’s a rabid animal in the room.)
A month or so into treatment and I suddenly realised I was back, although most of the anxiety took a little longer to fade. I am profoundly grateful to no longer be frozen in terror every time I get into a car for that was the last and worst manifestation of it. For a while I was convinced I was about to die in a fireball during the Death Race 2000 that the A14 at rush hour can be, and it took all my mental focus to monitor the hedges and roadsides for errant pheasants, hedgehogs, and even rats, because I also became obsessed with the fear that we would run over some small creature of the woods.
This is not a symptom you will find listed in those ‘are you in menopause’ articles in any more specific a form than ‘anxiety’ but for me it was the worst symptom of all, and when we did run over a rat in a country lane I agonised over it for weeks. As a kid I used to love Anglia TV’s ‘Survival’ but nature programmes are off the table now although I can live with this after-effect because having raised a clutch of children, I’ve had my fill of nature red in tooth and claw.
HRT won’t change your essential self but it does help many women to regain their sense of equilibrium, and in the years since I have met many who have benefited from it although it is not a universal panacea (I am still hermit-like) and many women do manage to get through menopause without requiring it.
It is not a miracle worker and deep down I know that I remain blessed with the talents necessary for a successful career as a hermit although reluctantly, I have given up on my dream because it is rather an impractical one.
Bury St Edmunds would have to do without my hermit services it would seem, along with my (formerly spectacular) temper.