On the day I drive to Fiona Whitfield's house to interview her about her online menopause programme, I notice that my hair is turning grey. Not just a few random strands anymore, but I see a real salt and pepper look occurring right there in the rear view mirror. Is it because I've pulled my hair up into a bun? Or is it the broad daylight - my eyes have got worse recently too and I don't spot the grey in dimmer lighting? Or is it just that I'm 48 and rapidly ageing?
I know the answer. And driving up the hill I ask myself, what to do? If I dye it it'll grow out and I'll have to keep 'doing the roots' - what a drag! If I don't, my days passing as a woman are numbered and I'll soon become the wild old witch I know I am on the inside. But I like to keep her hidden. Damn!
I'm of a certain age, and so is Fiona - she's 52. She calls it 'The Middle Finger Age', because as she puts it "Oestrogen reduces and you're less likely to be nurturing and accepting, and more inclined towards looking after yourself and, well, being lairy." In my mind this translates as a wild old witch sticking her finger up to the world at large.
Fiona and I flip the bird for each other, and laugh at the idea of us nice women going around being selfish, impatient and rude. We're both cackling now at how much fun it is to stick our middle fingers up. This is reminding me of putting on lipstick and high heels around the house with my friends at 13 - yes, round about menarche - (then being out in public like that next year). I wonder, happily, if I'll be sticking my middle finger up to all and sundry soon.
Girls, around 11, are often told what to expect at menarche. Mums, Aunts, carers, friends, older sisters, will often forewarn them, and then be there to help with the practicalities, and sympathise with the emotional and physical challenges. Fiona makes the point that many women don't know what to expect with menopause, or rather with peri-menopause (the 10-12 years leading up to menopause). "Menopause itself", Fiona explains, "is the cessation of periods, the final bleed, only confirmed a year later when there hasn't been another." At 52 Fiona wishes someone had told her 10 years ago about peri-menopause "because I thought I was completely losing the plot".
She tells me that in her early forties she went through a series of major life events, as many women do, and put the changing moods down to stress. "I forgot words, had brain fog, I couldn't sleep, had night sweats and emotional swings - I felt I was going completely crazy!'
The penny dropped when Fiona went on a 3rd Age Course (the 3rd Age being defined as Peri-menopause and beyond) aged 48, and although the worst of it was over by then, she finally understood that she had been experiencing peri-menopause, and, contrary to what she had been led to believe, the menopause itself and her 50's weren't when it was all going to happen.
Fiona picked up advice on lifestyle and nutrition and hormones, and learnt a lot about the previously unnamed elephant in the room, the Peri-menopause. She started to speak up about it, and for herself, much more, as the lack of information out there for women was dismal.
Already a qualified Pilates teacher, and having studied nutritional therapy, Fiona felt a calling to help other women who may be going through the same kind of unspoken, misunderstood distress that she experienced in her 40's. So she started to offer Menopause Workshops and developed a 12 week online programme called "The Rebalance Plan".
With Fiona's guidance women can take charge of their own health, as she facilitates each person to create a bespoke package that will work for them. She offers a virtual hand to hold whilst you change your lifestyle, diet and re-think all the different components of your peri-menopausal life.
"I encourage people to change one little thing at a time she says", presumably whilst sticking a middle finger up and saying, in my case, "It's not my job to look good any more, sod you and sod the hair dye"?
"Well" she says, "My main tips are eat more protein, put your life jacket on first, and Find Things That You Love To Do And Do Them".
Cool, I think. More swimming for me then! Does chocolate cake have protein in it?
Fiona tells me "Healthy means nothing unless it's tailored, so lots of advice you can ignore. There's a lot of 'diet snobbery' she says, and whatever is the opposite of that, that's me!"
I like Fiona and her devil-may-care ways.
As I drive home I decide to use some kind of temporary dye to buy time - sod perfection and trying to get it right - and hope it won't leave trails through the swimming pool.
Karen Dobres, Chief Freedom Fighter