Hotel flings, zip-lines and getting naked on TV… The menopause made us do it!

With the menopause a hotly debated topic right now, it was only a matter of time before the TV gods got in on the act.

Cue Channel 4’s latest offering ‘The Change’ which has been described as ‘Shirley Valentine meets Deliverance with pigs’.

The comedy darama follows the adventures of Linda, a 50-year-old mother who is convinced she has early onset dementia after forgetting what a shoe is called.

When a visit to her GP reveals she is actually going through the menopause, feeling newly invigorated, she rides off into the Forest of Dean on a motorbike in search of adventure.

But how much of a reflection is Linda’s experience true to the women going through the change in the real world? spoke to three women whose own lives went through metamorphosis with the menopause, to find out. 

I gave up my happy marriage, fell in love with a woman and moved into a boat

Sarah Burghard, 55, from Bristol, says:

I can’t believe how different my life is now compared to seven years ago when my marriage disintegrated. I had become overwhelmed by a sense of restlessness which, looking back, was probably peri-menopause. I had this sense of wanderlust – that there was more to life – and I didn’t know what that was.

I wasn’t unhappy, but I went careering off into the unknown. I became wayward and selfish. Communication broke down and we called it a day.I was very sad that my wonderful marriage was over because of me, but also optimistic. 

I went on Bumble and did a bit of dating. It was soulless. After a few dates, one man invited me to a beautiful Cotswolds hotel and we had a nice liaison – although I didn’t see him again. 

A few months later, I went to a party in Devon and met my subsequent girlfriend. It wasn’t an extraordinary shock to be with a woman because I’m quite open minded. It was a full blown love affair; and it changed me forever. I told my sons after six months and they were wonderfully un-phased. We were together for four years, but I’m happily single now. 

After I’d left the family home, I decided on a fresh start so I moved to Bristol and bought a narrow boat. I didn’t want a one-bedroom flat that would make me feel depressed that I’d moved backwards.

Then the pandemic hit. I was isolated. There was a lot of reflection and I couldn’t see where I was going at all. I did not expect to be on my own, on a houseboat in Bristol, in a pandemic with no security.

Even so, I was happy, as it was was my cocoon. I sold it after two years, got a mortgage, and a flat and now I’m redesigning my life.

My values have shifted and I’ve learnt some profound lessons: That you really just have yourself – and that you really don’t need stuff.

That’s the wisdom of age; you de-clutter your entire existence. I am now self-employed designing hospitality interiors and have set up the Burghard Design Assemblage. I’ve built myself and now I’m building a business.

I had been feeling blooming, but then about six months ago I became very hormonal; like I was pregnant. I was crying at kittens on TV. I had a foggy brain, lethargy, a sense of being befuddled. The doctor told me it was because I was in full menopause, so I went on HRT and my energy, enthusiasm, optimism and drive came back.

Now, I have a lovely flat and a very simple life. I am loved, and the people who love me have seen me go through extraordinary change. They know that I’ve done it in the best way I could manage. This is like a second life for me, and I feel so grateful. Because ultimately, I did choose this; this was of my making.’

I took up stand up comedy in my 50s and starred on Channel 4’s Naked Education in my pants

Maura Jackson, 52, lives in Bolton and is CEO at a homeless charity. She says:

‘Over the past few years I’ve been getting migraines, restless legs and itchy skin on the arms, legs and back of my neck. I thought I had head lice. I didn’t know these could be menopause symptoms.

I had mood swings, but I thought it was just stress and the lockdowns. And I had massive anxiety too. It was horrific, debilitating, because I am a very confident and outgoing person. It’s left me feeling isolated. I’ll make jokes about being menopausal at work, but as leader of that organisation, you can’t present yourself to a staff team of 90 people with: “I feel a bit anxious today.” They need to feel safe and secure. On the tough days, when I’m bleeding, feeling dirty, jittery and like I might cry; I can’t say that out loud. 

When the periods got really heavy, I realised it was the menopause. In March 2019, I was hosting a gala dinner and I started to bleed when I was onstage talking on a microphone. I had the only hot flush I ever had, and water was rolling down the back of my neck. It was ridiculous. I thought – this is going to turn into a horror movie. It undermines your confidence. You spend your life building up your position and your reputation and then all of a sudden you don’t feel like you can handle life.

I’ve also become reckless. Last August, I saw a Facebook call out for people to do five-minute comedy slots. I clicked on the link and registered. I don’t know why. When I got an email confirming my slot I thought: “What on earth have I done that for?”

Before I went on stage, I felt sick. I wanted to back out and run away, but I loved it. It was a competition – there were ten of us – and I won. Two weeks later I won another one. So I decided to make something of it and I set my own comedy night up in Bolton – all three sold out – and I am preparing for my one-woman show.

Now, I feel like I’m thriving and making people happy is a special feeling. I did a comedy night in May and afterwards, a 72-year-old woman came up to me. I thought I’d offended her with the swearing. But she said: “There are 11 of us in this group, and every one of us has got reason to just give up. We are all struggling. But you gave us belly laughs all night. We really needed that.”  

I’m also more liberated and even went on the Channel 4 programme Naked Education, which was about body positivity as I want to change the status quo.

I’m leading an organisation that accommodates hundreds of young people every year 50% of whom are young women. And we are seeing situations where they are prioritising lip fillers, acrylic nails, and hair extensions over food and electricity. There is so much peer pressure and this idea that image is king. So I thought I might as well put my money where my mouth is and do it. I thought: I look like this. I’m 20 stone. I might as well just own it. 

I wasn’t naked: I wore my underwear. I am the chief executive of a charity. You can’t have my vajazzle on Channel 4. But it was a fab experience. I talked about female baldness. A cruel reward for being on the menopause is that I have the same amount of hair on my head as I have growing on my chin.

When the show aired I got lots of great feedback – I don’t give a f*** about the trolls. If someone’s picking on me on Twitter then they’re not picking on someone else.

Something is changing in my life now. I’m selling out and writing a one-woman show. I just think – what the f***! What is going on here? And God it feels good. I’m loving it.’ 

I was burnt-out and managing a busy labour ward when a trip to Vegas turned my life upside down

Maria Anderson, 55, says:

I realised things weren’t right when I wrote my book ‘Tales of a Midwife’ in 2012. It was really successful and suddenly I had loads of publicity, but I didn’t know what was going on with me. Being in charge of a labour suite, I was used to doing presentations and being under pressure, but all I felt was anxiety and nervousness.

I got my hair cut really short with a fringe and I started wearing clothes that I would never normally wear. Formal things, tweed jackets. It was strange behaviour for me, but I now realise, it was all a mask.

I felt like I had lost a part of myself. There I was, with so many labels on me; a mother, a daughter, a Sunday Times bestseller and actually, I didn’t know who I was anymore. I just wanted to run away. I remember doing a signing in Waterstones in 2012 and people were queuing up. I was outside watching and I couldn’t understand why I was so nervous. At that point, I suddenly realised I would have to pull myself together. I went in and really enjoyed myself, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.

A few months later I was sitting at my desk and thinking I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a period. I’d just looked after someone who had a baby at 49 so I went straight to Tescos to get a pregnancy kit. I didn’t for a moment think that it might be menopause. And that’s me! As a midwife. It’s shocking. I was so relieved when the test was negative. 

Then my eyebrows started to fall out and I started to worry. Could it be alopecia or a serious illness? I did a bit of reading and realised everything was hormonal; it was the peri-menopause. It took a while – but I joined the dots.

I noticed how stressed I was and I started to read all about cortisol and the impact it has on the body. I hadn’t been able to sleep properly and I had a lot of physical injuries and ailments I couldn’t shake. And I’d stopped doing the things I loved. I’d stopped going out. I was too busy, too tired, too stressed.  

When a friend asked me to go to Vegas for her 40th, I jumped at the chance. I was 49 and I never did anything for myself. I waited until my husband was watching football to tell him. And he said “Oh yeah, right okay.” Later, he had no recollection. He said: “When did you tell us that?” I told him it was when he was watching the Aberdeen match.  

It was a life-changing trip; we did zip-lining, went to a pool party and took a helicopter ride. I needed to do something extreme. When I came back, I started to review my life, did a bit of an MOT and started looking after myself better. 

When I turned 50 I started coaching women who were in the same boat, helping them manage their own stress. I retired from the NHS after 37 years, and last year, I used my experiences and, my training in hormones to start specialising in supporting women through the menopause. I now run coaching sessions and have a podcast.

I’ve got two teenage daughters and a busy life; but I don’t feel stressed at all any more. I live five minutes away from the beach near Inverness. I feel absolutely amazing and have so much energy. I see menopause as an opportunity. It’s like nature’s way of showing you that this is that pause in your life to stop and take a look and really start improving your health.’ 

The Change can be streamed on Channel 4.

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