This girl is on fire
Some people just have that electric energy that surrounds them. An infectious positivity that makes you turn your head and know they’re in a room. With a wonderful full smile that twinkles in her eyes, Andrea is a joy to be with and with a face that beams into many of our homes from a comfortable, safe space of Loose Women she seems instantly familiar!
But don’t underestimate this delightfully effervescent lady, she is fierce and on a mission to change the way we talk about going through one of the most significant moments in our lives. The menopause.
Andrea, I’m assuming it wasn’t your intention to become a poster-girl for positivity in the menopause?!
Good grief no! It has somewhat unraveled as I’ve navigated my way through my own experiences and has been born out of a sense of necessity to create a dialogue.
I always knew that an early menopause was likely as my Mum went through it at 40. I started having some early symptoms at 37 and I was horrified! I couldn’t believe that it was happening. Things started in earnest in my early 40s and I just knew that I wasn’t me.
Then in 2016 I was put into immediate, full post-surgical menopause following a hysterectomy due to endometriosis. I was not in a great place before the op. I was short-tempered, tearful, withdrawn … just not me.
My dear friend Linda Robson, from Loose Women, was the one who pushed me to realise that I was going to have to talk about this very private experience with, well millions of viewers! Because, as she pointed out, I would be absent from Loose Women for some time and I almost had a duty of honesty to our audience. So I told everyone on the show … the very next day I had the op.
Why were you afraid to talk about the reality you were facing?
Well, I was concerned for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I didn’t think anyone would want or need to know and to be brutally honest I felt it wasn’t anyone else’s business! My body, my journey … but I am part of a show that shares, so to keep it under wraps and be secretive, looking back, just wasn’t an option.
The second reason was because I know that I work in an industry that has very linear views on age and talent. Once you reach a certain age, admit a certain private fact about your life stage, you fear being overlooked, typecast and rendered irrelevant – passed over for younger women, irrespective of your talent, experience, wit and professionalism.
What changed your mind to become so vocal about the experience?
Within a day of sharing what I was about to face on Loose Women, the show was contacted by 10,000 women, all asking after me, sharing their stories, fears and so on. It started a chain reaction within me that gave me a really positive focus post-operatively. I got up and wrote everyday … about everything. Nothing off limits, all the gritty, very personal details. Because it struck me that one of the things that you can’t know until you know, is how you will feel. You know the physical effects of what are likely to occur - hot flushes, night sweats, thinning hair, thickening waistline, negativity … but for me, the most crushing was the anxiety.
I just wanted to document it, in a way that gave women a reference to draw on. I engaged with the people who had got in touch after my operation and asked them what they would want to know and I wrote it down. All of it.
You’ve been very open about your personal life through this period of change in your life.
Nick and I met while I was starting the early signs of the menopause. In fact, I got pregnant while in the peri-menopausal stage, which I didn’t think was possible – so watch out! The hormonal surges can bring all sorts of surprises!
So because Nick has only ever known me in this stage of life – this is his “normal”! I guess that sets the balance on a more even keel. I think one of the most important things I would advise women is to talk about it with their partner and children. With your partner, it has to be open, frank and no holds barred. Not easy – but it will help them support you, adjust their expectations and accept. Because it’s going to change … things will be different, physically, so they have to get on board with that.
How do you deal with the changes in your body and being in the public eye?
Spanx, botox and a push up bra!
In all seriousness, I have had a little botox between my eyes to soften my frown lines so I don’t look like I’m frowning all the time, I wear shape control undies to help the thickening to my waistline and a push up bra.
It isn’t because I want to look half my age, or lie about my shape or anything like that. It’s for me. I want to look good; I want to feel positive about me looking back at me from the mirror and feeling confident.
You are in good shape though, do you diet and exercise a lot?
I don’t advise anyone to diet exactly, not count calories anyway. The anxiety is such a strong force going through this experience, I feel it is just another target that you are trying to measure yourself against, another possibility for perceived failure, another thing to berate yourself for. My goodness, life is too short for more self-induced negativity about body shape. I am mindful of my diet; I know what makes me feel better, healthier and more equipped to deal with the challenges in my body and mind through this whole process. I now believe in nourishing my body, mind and skin as it copes with the transition, being mindful of the shifts in metabolism etc.
I love yoga and find it incredibly positive for my body and my mind. It has given me techniques to cope with anxiety and it helps my body feel more supple, re-energised … I feel more connected and centred to my body.
When you have a hysterectomy, or go through the menopause naturally – it is essentially like your engine has been removed. I think that is why yoga is so popular with women our age, its good for the core, its good for mental health, a sense of general wellbeing and connectedness.
Why did you create This Girl Is On Fire?
The idea for the site came about after writing my book 'Confessions of a Menopausal Woman'. I wanted to keep that conversation going after the book was published and a website seemed the most natural way to do that.
The site has evolved to be a place where ALL women can come, talk about their experiences and learn from others. I think of it as a kitchen table where no subject is off limits, where stories and information is passed around and you can have a roaring laugh and a good old cry with your closest mates.
What is one of your biggest take-outs from your experience?
Communication and acceptance. Communication I have spoken about, it is vital. Simple as that.
Acceptance – because that brings more peace. You can’t change it – you can’t stop the march of time, but you can tame it. You can make it fit your life better, rather than be swallowed up by it. I accepted that things would even out, balance would return in some form but I would always be different. I am. But I’m also more empowered, happy and content.
I am not totally defined by being a menopausal woman – that’s just a small part of me. I am still a woman in every other way; I am a wife, a mum, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a colleague … I wear all these hats and I have a thousand interests that have nothing to do with what stage my body is at.