Can women really have it all, especially when faced with the middle ground between the wine vs exercise tug ‘o war? Of course we can.

Last Friday night I was invited, spur-of-the-moment, out for a drink by a group of newish friends from my recently joined in-an-attempt-to-be-social book club. 

We sat outside and I quickly noticed the mood was high – not the book club mood that is, rather the table of jolly 30 somethings next to us, drinking espresso martinis and clinking glasses in joyous abandon. It was 8pm – the five of us looked on in wonder…

‘I wish I could drink those… but I’d be up all night,’ one of the book clubbers observed.

‘Gives me terrible headaches,’ added another.

‘I shouldn’t be drinking at all, I’ve put on 5kg this year alone,’ offered a third.

In my head, I was ticking off the list ‘me too, me too, me too.’

Then we laughed – slightly hysterically – and I put on my glasses to read the wine list, ordering a civilised pinot instead. When menopausal symptoms began to hit me at around age 45, I was knocked sideways and truly wondered for a good while if I was having a kind of breakdown.

Permanently exhausted, I knew I should get out for a run after work but the pull towards unwinding with a glass of wine was too strong.

On the other hand, that relaxing glass of merlot whilst making the weekly spag bol’ suddenly felt like a whole bottle.

It seemed too soon that I’d transitioned – from capable friend, being able to drink a cheeky espresso martini at 9pm, slide into work mode the next morning, and then head off to the gym for a boxing class with barely a hint of consequence – to cheap drunk, tossing and turning with night sweats and nursing an inevitable migraine the next day. 

I’d been raising three daughters through puberty, crushing it I thought, in my role as conductor on the train to hormone town. Yet somehow, I’d missed the memo that I had my own train to catch. Certainly, my mother had never hinted that feeling unhinged was normal, and there was no middle-aged equivalent of Dear Doctor in any women’s mags to consult.

So, I did what every girl does when going through a major life transition. I took a quick poll of my intelligent, independent middle-aged friends beginning with, ‘wine vs exercise – which team do we choose?!’ When one girlfriend replied, ‘Oh honey, they do say to give up wine during menopause but giving up exercise is so much easier,’ I realised most of us were in the same boat. Albeit a leaky one at that.

Just as we were learning to embrace the growing old like a fine wine adage – following Instagram accounts of trailblazing women who espouse the freedoms of letting their hair grey and listening to Brené Brown podcasts – we found ourselves in the throes of perimenopause, wondering quizzically how we didn’t join the dots and realise that fine wine firstly requires the systematic squeezing and crushing of the grape. 

The thing about menopause is that it happens at a terribly inconvenient time in one’s life. Fatigue and a foggy brain don’t couple well with busy schedules, work, families and time constraints, and easily leads us to a lack of motivation. Finding a moderate balance feels well near impossible. And geez, after finally reaching an age of freedom, it seems rather an unfair requirement that we forgo the odd cheeky margarita!

It’s a bit of work to get there, but with a little conscious effort the middle ground between the wine vs exercise tug ‘o war can be found.

In relearning how to live in this transitioning body I’m finding new things that fill my soul. A daily beach walk and weekly yoga class are hitting the spot and I’ve limited drinking to a Friday and Saturday night where a vodka, lime and soda seems to keep my head in check a little better than wine… although, the occasional pinot still brings me joy.

I’m learning to breathe through the chaos and take pleasure in slowing things down. I’m savouring my morning coffee and finding comfort in the solidarity of my friends who help me laugh at chin hair, and plot ways of disposing of the bodies of those who vex us each day. 

And finally, I take heart at one little piece of advice from a sage friend who’s already been through her menopause journey. To my poll she replied, ‘Darling, I exercise so I can drink wine (in my case champagne!) – there’s no ‘versus’, they each compliment the other. We can have it all.’

Perhaps we can find balance after all.


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