AT first I thought I had a brain tumour. Then, as the forgetfulness increased, I wondered if I was suffering with early-onset Alzheimer’s aged 47.
The day I got into the car and couldn’t remember which side of the road to drive on was a low point. I had to go back into the house and ask my husband.
At the time, my two teenage daughters, now 17 and 18, thought this was hilarious. “Silly old Mum,” they giggled, “so daft she can’t even work out how to drive.”
In their opinion, this was another reason they should be wearing “I’m With Stupid” T-shirts every time they appeared in public with me.
I was a busy working mother with four kids, aged five to 15. and I was losing my marbles, unravelling in a cloud of inexplicable midlife rage.
My life was a blur of school runs, sports days, packed lunches and epic piles of laundry alongside a hectic work schedule.
I didn’t have time to forget things — but I was. I was also wrestling with two adolescent girls who had become strangers to me overnight. They no longer worshipped me — instead I was belittled as Mum the Moron.
My daughters’ metamorphosis from small, cuddly, giggly, well-behaved and affectionate, Mum-loving girls into chaotic, illogical, fire-breathing dragons was heartbreaking. They no longer adored me — instead they looked at me with fury.
I feared they would rip my head off if I asked them not to trail a dripping tea bag across the kitchen to the bin. Again.
If I gently questioned them on any aspect of their increasingly inde-pendent lives — “What time will you be home from that party?”, for example — they would just react like I was crazy.
“Mum, what’s wrong with you?” they would say crossly, before stomping off to their messy bed-rooms and burgeoning collection of filthy mugs and wet towels — mobile phones glued to their hands and ponytails swinging aggressively at me as they went.
This new stage of parenting was all such a shock, and much harder than the days of taming toddlers. I felt completely alone.
Our home had become a hormonal hothouse. My hormones were draining away as I went through the mental and physical changes of peri-menopause and theirs were flooding into their bodies as newly forming young women.
The unfortunate timing of these female transitions seemed a cruel trick on Mother Nature’s part. The rest of our household — my husband, two younger children and Pixel the perplexed terrier — stood on the sidelines as these opposite stages of womanhood collided.
It was the perfect storm for domestic unrest and I was caught in the eye of it because I had no idea it was coming and no warning about exactly what was going on, either for them or for me.
There are no classes for the mums of teens, like there are for mums of babies. So I decided to find out — I am a journalist, after all. I asked the experts.
First, I found out what was going on with my own mental and physical health. I’m 52 now and these baffling memory lapses had started during my mid-forties.
LIFE WAS A BLUR
I could cope with my new wrinkles but could not deal with the night sweats, overwhelming exhaustion, surprise panic attacks, dizziness, and the red-hot temper I had suddenly developed.
I found out most women start to experience these things after the age of 40, as their hormones — oestrogen, progesterone and test-osterone — fluctuate.
These hormones are our “petrol” and lubricate almost all our func- tions including our brains.
Menopause itself doesn’t happen until after your last period as a woman, the average age for which is 51 in the UK.
Sadly, doctors are woefully undereducated about supporting women through this transition, even though 13million of us are going through it now.
GPs will often mistakenly prescribe antidepressants when instead they should offer body-identical Hormone Replacement Therapy, according to the NHS’s Nice guidelines.
Within two weeks of being prescribed HRT, I was more or less back to me again. I was happier, sleeping better and could also remember words.
The relief of knowing I had solved my hormone deficiency symptoms streng- thened my emotional armour when it came to dealing with my teens — whose behaviour, I found out, was mostly due to physiological changes they were enduring.
The difficult times at home were not really anyone’s fault, and knowing the facts about this took the lid off the pressure cooker.
I began to develop a new-found patience with my girls, Sky and Grace. And I understood their behaviour better because I now knew their brains were undergoing a complete rebuild.
This rebuild means teenagers may not understand risks as clearly as adults do, so they may make bad decisions that infuriate us.
It also means their feelings might be much stronger than those we feel, and their emotions deeper and often more troubling, which may make their reactions and behaviour seem illogical to adults.
All this is a lot for teenage girls to deal with at the same time as their bodies are changing dramatically. So when you tell them to bring their dirty clothes out of their room they may not take it in. Their judgment is impaired.
It helps to know about this in the heat of the moment or on those days when you are clearing up their mess and wondering why the people you love most in the world are being so ungrateful.
I also discovered from interviewing therapists working in adolescent mental health that when a teenage girl is building her new identity — the time when she is defining the woman she will be — she may have to pull away from you and reject your identity as a mum.
Her weapon of choice, as she kicks you into the kerb, seems to me to be a sort of self-righteous put-down. My children will tell me I know nothing about fashion, despite my 30 years of editing fashion magazines.
And they guffawed with laughter when I was asked to speak at their school sixth form about careers in fashion. “They may as well ask Dad,” they said, while high-fiving each other.
But they are rejecting me and everything I stand for, so that when they eventually leave home it is not as painful as it could be.
This is the beginning of their journey down the path to independence and adulthood and it calls for a great level of understanding on your part, which is why you need to sort out your own midlife mental health too.
It’s impossible to be patient if you have spent the night swathed in sweat, put your car keys in the bin and forgotten your own surname.
Now that I know more about what’s going on with me, and my teenagers’ hormones, I have the patience to walk away from testing moments — and I can even make a quicker getaway now I know which side of the road to drive on.
- Mum, What’s Wrong With You? 101 Things Only The Mothers Of Teenage Girls Know, by Lorraine Candy, is out on Thursday, published by 4th Estate. The podcast Postcards From Mid-life is co-hosted by Lorraine Candy and Trish Halpin.
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