Being menopausal is an exciting journey of self-discovery and of constant reflection and self-monitoring, says the writer.
Being menopausal is an exciting journey of self-discovery and of constant reflection and self-monitoring, says the writer.

Sanctions make menopause so much harder

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 13, 2020

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By Reneva Fourie

I am now in my fifties. All the reading in the world could not have prepared me for menopause.

A strict cocktail of supplements consumed daily for the past few years had assisted in retaining a youthful zeal and in delaying the onset of the inevitable. I had been assured by my specialist that the delay could be sustained indefinitely for as long as I stuck to the regiment. Being in Damascus, Syria, which has been sanctioned illegally by the USA, however made these products inaccessible. And due to the past few months’ deprivation of medication, I went from energetic and bright, to dull and grey, overnight as menopause hit me like a train.

Being “hot” took on a new meaning. Sitting in an air-conditioned room with a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius, failed to temper my in-built sauna. Anti-perspirant had lost its meaning because no matter where it was placed, my body remained sweaty. Not even baby powder is able absorb the stream of water that pours from my pores. Every part of my body is wet except the part that matters.

The ‘learned’ recommend drinking lots of water and exercise. It is supposed to detoxify the system; uplift the spirits and self-esteem; and result in a glowing skin. Besides failing to regulate my body temperature; my skin has never been this dull. Consuming loads of liquids to try and quench my endless thirst is like pouring a glass of water into the desert - zero impact. I remain thirsty. And my usually silky, soft skin is now grey and tough.

Menopause spells disaster for hair. My former glorious, shiny curls, that could become miraculously smooth and straight with the application of just a bit of heat and a good brush have become drier than Gauteng’s winter-land or the Karoo desert. My hair is so unmanageable, not even Tresemme can save it.

Then of course, there is the memory loss. My poor Arabic teacher has become completely confused by my rapid decline from being an “A” student, to now being totally dense. I forget to close the taps and accuse the supernatural when the water comes streaming out. I forget to turn off the lights and close the blinds; and even to lock the door (thank goodness I’m in Syria where the crime rate is low). The list of things misplaced are too many to mention.

It is impossible to anticipate the extent to which menopause amplifies the intensity of emotions. I am known for being a calm and quiet person. No matter how big the crisis, I could usually be counted on to be level-headed. But I have of late started to question whether my sanity is indeed sane. Being naturally tough, it is no longer possible to discern whether the situation warranted the degree of toughness being applied.

Likewise, being naturally compassionate, it has become difficult to distinguish whether an act of cruelty or kindness justifies the tears that ever so often gush from my eyes. I become annoyed with the most mundane of errors and tardiness; and go to the extreme in defending those who are quite capable of defending themselves.

Being menopausal is an exciting journey of self-discovery and of constant reflection and self-monitoring. There is comfort in knowing that menopause is simply a transition to another level of maturity. And while the ride is exciting to me, despite it being slightly traumatic for those around me; it is frustrating to know that the anxieties that come with being menopausal, need not be. Treatment exists for all these menopausal symptoms. But I cannot access it because of sanctions.

While sanctions have always had a debilitating effect on the Syrian economy, these past few months of the application of the Caesar Act have resulted in a cruelty that is unimaginable. Food prices are now five times more than they were last year. Access to fuel has become difficult as spare parts for oil refineries are unobtainable and the importation of oil is being blocked.

Trade has effectively been halted as contracts for things as basic as clothing have been cancelled. But most importantly, sanctions deny access to critical medical equipment such as incubators and oxygen tanks and medication like antibiotics, anaesthetics, and my much-needed vitamins.

The impact of sanctions on women’s health goes unnoticed because speaking of menopause is often regarded as a taboo subject.

Menopause is a wonderful experience that all women should enjoy as we prepare to enter a new phase in our lives and therefore the rights of women to access proper healthcare should not be suppressed.

Sanctions against Syria should be lifted for many reasons, and one of the reasons includes ensuring that women have access to relief as we go through menopause.

* Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security and currently lives in Damascus, Syria.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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