I am not well. Days that should be full of happiness and joy, fun and laughter, are poisoned by periodic outbursts of tears and rage. Sometimes I just lie in silence for hours, the helplessness and self-hate whirlpooling round my brain and seeping out through pores to infect everything around me.
I don’t expect other people to understand. A loving husband, nice house and good job should be enough, right? So what if I’m losing my hair and have gained two stone? It’s just perimenopause. Middle age happens to us all, it’s a part of life. Why can’t I just accept it like other people do?
I just can’t. Having no control over my body, my appearance, makes it impossible to like myself, and the sheer abject loneliness that comes with being childfree when everyone I used to know has peeled off to have kids means I lack the positive-reinforcing popularity to make me feel likeable. I liked my life before. No, I loved it. An endless social whirl of pubs, parties and nightclubs, picnics in the day and fancy dress at night – always something to celebrate, always people around to celebrate with. And my body. Something I could be proud of. Not perfect, but certainly good enough. No stressful dieting or calorie counting-staying out til the early hours every weekend meant I could eat whatever I liked. I didn’t take it for granted though. I’d been a fat teenager-horrifically bullied at school and at home, constantly told how vile and disgusting I looked, how no one would ever love me. I revelled in finally having a body I wasn’t ashamed of, spoiled it with stylish designer garb. Now my beautiful embroidered Pringle coat, sleek Vivienne Westwood jacket and figure-hugging Alexander Wang dresses have sat untouched for over five years. The knowledge I’ll never wear them again pierces me with disgust at myself. No necklaces that sit at the collarbone-mine is invisible now, hidden beneath layers of fat. My cleavage is crepe paper and pinchable wadges emerge against each bra strap. My chin wobbles gently, my thighs reverberate. Rolls of thick stomach make wearing this season’s cut-out styles impossible. Every scroll through clothing sites reminds me of every outfit I’ll never pull off again.
I was never one for beauty routines, always a wash-n-go kinda girl. Now I spend an hour a day on low-intensity cardio, like putting a really time-consuming plaster on a wound. Instead of reading books I enjoy or watching interesting films, I spend hours researching the difference between squalene and hemi-squalene, hyaluric acid versus collagen, the best creams for fine lines, the best serums for hair loss. The minoxidil isn’t working. The bald patches now cover most of my scalp yet the thin film of remaining hair continues to frizz and puff in the heat. Irony doesn’t even begin to cover it. Of course I no longer have the luxury of hair straighteners, as heat only exacerbates hair-fall. My resemblance to Christopher Lloyd in Back To The Future would be funny if it was in a film, but it isn’t. Apparently minoxidil can take up to a year to work, if it chooses to, and must be applied forever to retain effectiveness. A life sentence.
I miss being admired. Yes, I am vain. I won’t apologise for it-having spent my formative years being tormented for my unfortunate appearance, I understand all too well the value, the social capital, that attractiveness grants you in our society. It’s not fair or right, and I don’t agree with it or judge or value others by it, knowing all too well the pain it causes, yet I’m still trapped in the Stockholm Syndrome desperation of seeking that approval. Having been denied it for so long, I treasured every moment of finally getting it right. At my thinnest, a model scout approached me in Selfridges. I was prouder than when I got into Oxford. I don’t condone the way our society privileges those we deem worthy by virtue of their looks but I can’t change that on my own. It’s the one thing I have even less power over than my body. It’s absurdly contradictory that I’m able to rationalise the ridiculous unfairness of the expectations placed on me yet completely unable to change the way they affect me emotionally. I can see beauty in people of all shapes and sizes everywhere but in myself.
At 42, I could already be near the end of my life, or I could be less than half way. The thought of that, of living another 42 years being bald and fat, tolerated but not wanted, is more than I can bear. Seeing other women, my age and older, who have been fortunate enough to retain their hair and figures makes me unhinged with envy. I understand when my husband says I look good, not just fine but beautiful. I understand but I find it impossible to believe him because it’s just not what I’m seeing. I know how I was and I know how I am now and the two are so far removed I feel I’m drowning in that chasm.
My weight and hair loss issues are hereditary and I despise my parents constantly for passing on such wretched genes, and for failing to prepare me for a life without the social acceptance I crave so deeply, in part due to growing up without a loving home. I feel tremendous guilt for my first-world-problems when I know so many people in this world are fighting just to survive, and yet I cannot shake off my self-loathing when every time I look in the mirror I see a monster I didn’t choose to be and can’t do anything about. Dieting periodically shifts a few pounds but they always come back. Since my seizure I get faint and shaky if I skip meals, and yes I could eat more healthily but nice food is one of the few pleasures I have left. I drink less than I used to and try to swap out IPAs for lagers, beer for white spirits, but in five years, since this shitshow began, nothing has made a major difference. I used to blame my father’s side of the family, hoping that not having children would somehow shield me from the weight-gain genes I knew were lying in wait. Then I remembered how my mother basically starved herself and exercised constantly. I’m more like her than I thought – yet without the willpower to indulge the vanity. She’d lost most of her hair by her 50s and told me it was because our family had a curse on us, so you can see why I’m not so well-equipped at dealing with this. Ten year old me was trusting enough to believe her. Even as I grew up and knew better, I never quite lost the sense of being cursed.
I am not well. I don’t know if I can ever be well again. Perimenopause only heads in one direction which will make all this worse not better. I feel I’m now existing in survival mode, and the me that used to flit through life as a glowing social butterfly, maybe she never existed at all and this is who I always really was, the ugly squirming caterpillar underneath.