On The Edge
A short story about the menopause and how it can affect some women
Photo by Soheb Zaidi on Unsplash
Hello and welcome to Rosy’s Reading Room. Today’s short story is about the effects of menopause on women’s mental health. In this post, the story deals with how Amanda is battling her demons and how she struggled until she reached rock bottom. As a woman of a certain age myself, I wanted to write about the struggles of menopause: hot flashes, depression and brain fog. Here’s a link to an excellent programme called Sex, Myths and the Menopause by Davina McCall who experienced symptoms aged 44 in which she talks candidly about her experience and the devastating effects that the menopause has had on some women’s lives.
Every time Amanda drove past the row of reserved parking spaces at the golf club, she had an overwhelming urge to pull into one of them and today the urge was stronger than ever. As she struggled with her inner self she spotted Loretta’s brand-new Tesla parked up ahead and could see her friend pulling out various bits of golfing paraphernalia and readying herself for their game.
The club was busy today and she had to drive around to the back end of the car park where she was loathe to park because wayward balls from the ninth tee had been known to smash into cars parked there and she winced at the thought of anything happening to her beloved sports car.
Tugging her Cube trolley from the passenger footwell, she proceeded to disentangle it from its carrying case and assembled it. Then she heaved her golf bag from the car boot, the clubs clattering as she did so, and seated it on the trolley before snapping the elasticated fasteners securely into place. Then she changed out of her boat shoes and into her golf shoes, put her mobile phone on silent, slipped it into the valuables pocket of her golf bag, locked the car and was ready to go.
“Do you have a scorecard?” Loretta asked, striding towards her and pushing her smart trolley in front of her, reminding Amanda of a proud grandmother pushing a pram. She was immaculately turned out in the latest designer golfing gear and today the colour theme was lime green and grey with a co-ordinated visor.
“Yes, thanks. I always keep a few spares. Do you have one?”
Loretta hadn’t heard her because she was rummaging around in the numerous pockets of her smart new Ping golf bag for looking for something. Amanda smiled and waited patiently while her friend finished sorting herself out before Loretta suddenly strode off briskly saying, “Come on, we’ll be late!”
Amanda trotted along behind hurriedly, unzipping one of the long compartments on her bag and fishing out a navy blue visor which she plonked on her head and tried to tuck in stray wisps of hair as she went, but eventually stopped and put it on properly, before walking briskly to catch up with her friend, who was already half-way to the ladies tee. They were strict at the Fernleigh Golf Club; if you were late or missed your tee time, you were in danger of creating a bottleneck, which never went down well, especially with the more mature members of the Club, and your card was marked. Metaphorically, of course, but Loretta and Amanda’s scorecards had gone missing before so now they made sure to capture them on their iPhones before handing them in and always played as fast as they could.
Loretta parked her trolley, snapped on the break, pulled out a tee, a brand-new Callaway ball and slid her Ping big bertha from her bag and walked confidently up to the red markers before she bent down and stuck her tee into the soft earth. Settling her ball neatly in place she stood back, stuck her bottom out, gripped her club firmly and whacked the ball, whipping round beautifully, sending it rocketing into the sky and halfway down the fairway.
“Good shot!” Amanda complimented.
“Yes, I’m pleased with that,” she responded matter-of-factly before reclaiming her tee and replacing the cover on her big bertha before stashing it neatly back into its compartment in her bag.
Amanda placed her tee between the two red markers, making sure it didn’t go beyond them and thus break the rules. Then she settled her Srixon lake ball in place on top of the bright pink tee and went through a similar routine as Loretta: bottom out, boobs together, head down and eyes on the ball. She too had a good swing and sent the ball straight and true, finishing in the classic golfing position with her right foot on its toe and her club behind her back, having gone full circle. She watched as the ball bounced and bobbed along eventually rolling to a stop about ten meters further on than Loretta’s, except that hers was in the centre of the fairway and Loretta’s had bobbled into some rough grass to the right. Her friend didn’t say a word but just strode off in the direction of her ball, eager to get on with the game.
Amanda had met Loretta quite by chance: Loretta had gravitated to the club after she had sold her recruitment company and needed something to fill up her days. Amanda had been referred by her GP through a programme called, Keep Fit and Active: Fight Mental Health and for her, golf was her lifeline. She had been battling demons for some years but recently, things had got a lot worse, and she had been so low that Graham had insisted that she go to see her GP. She had told Loretta when they first met in the group lessons that she had always fancied taking up golf but had never got around to it. Now that she was part-time, having cut down to three days a week, it seemed the perfect time to take it up, she had lied.
“Which club would you use?” Loretta shouted over her shoulder as she was striding purposefully along, nearing her ball in the rough.
“I would use a seven iron but it depends on how the ball is sitting,” Amanda suggested, feeling a complete fraud for offering the advice because she had only been playing the game for just over a year, the same as her friend.
“Mm. Good call,” her companion said, drawing a golf club from her bag and eyeing up the ball as if trying to magic it out of the tuft of grass that it was deeply nestled in. A few practice shots later, one air shot, which Amanda chose not to see, and the ball was thwacked out and back on the fairway a few meters down, slightly ahead of Amanda’s tee shot. It wasn’t a particularly good shot but Amanda said, “Good recovery” all the same.
Parking her trolly well to the left of her ball, Amanda drew out her No. 4 iron and lined herself up to take her shot. It was still a good two hundred-plus yards to the pin so she went through the drill that Ben had taught them in their group lessons way back last autumn: arm straight, eye on the ball, whip the hip round and smack! She hit the ball cleanly and with a satisfying chink it went sailing through the air as straight as a dye before bouncing and bobbling along the centre of the fairway a good hundred and fifty meters plus.
Loretta remained tight-lipped and was heading towards her ball a short distance away.
“What club did you use for that shot?” she asked, sounding slightly miffed.
“That was my four iron,” Amanda replied.
“I don’t have a four iron. I think I’ll use my hybrid.”
“Go for it.”
After going through the usual setup procedure: bottom out, boobs together, arm straight, head down, eye on the ball, Loretta swung back, left knee bent, nice arc and dink. She topped the ball which rolled a few feet and stopped.
Amanda flicked the stroke counter on her trolley forward by one. They were marking their cards today to try and get their handicaps down and although she had not counted the air shot earlier, there was no way she was going to overlook that mis-hit.
Steely-eyed and poker-faced, Loretta took up her stance once more and addressed the ball. This time, she sliced it and it ended up under a gorse bush ten yards or so down the fairway.
Amanda felt sorry for her. They had both worked so hard to master the game but it was an ongoing battle and although Amanda had whittled her handicap down from 54 to 37 after handing in a few cards, Loretta was yet to get off the blocks. Amanda was a kind person and did everything she could to encourage her friend and she knew that once she started to chip away at that huge number, it would come down. It had to. They played twice a week without fail in the winter and three or four times a week during the summer.
Amanda was self-employed, having gone freelance when the pandemic hit. It wasn’t out of choice: the small firm of solicitors that she worked for had furloughed some staff and gave her the choice of going freelance ‘to enable her to take on other work if she so wished.’ Amanda had taken that to mean that she was being side-lined and thought it was due to her age. She wasn’t ready to be put out to grass just yet. Besides, she loved her work as a Legal Secretary and was convinced that her career was over and she had lost all her confidence. That was when the sleepless nights had begun and she could hear voices in her head. Hot flashes, anxiety attacks and the listlessness had kicked in and she just couldn’t settle to do anything. Not even watch the TV. She didn’t know what to do with herself and was in a terrible state.
“I suppose I’ll have to drop a shot,” Loretta announced after fishing her ball out from the base of the bush with a club, measuring the club’s length from where it had landed and then dropping it from knee height. Amanda clicked the stroke counter forward by one again. This was not turning out to be a good hole for Loretta. Thankfully, this time, she hit the ball square on with a satisfying ‘chink’ and it flew off in the general direction of the pin and she seemed pleased with her shot.
The two friends chatted amicably in snatched pockets as they made their way around the course and by the time they reached the fourth hole, they seemed to have settled down and scores of 9, 8 and 7 were pencilled in on the scorecard for Loretta and 7, 6 and 5 for Amanda.
As they approached the tee for the fourth hole, they both tensed. This was the worst hole on the course. An asphalt path led to a sunken hollow beyond which was the green. It was only 141 yards but with broom and gorse to the left and right of the path, unless you hit a good long, straight tee shot, you were inevitably in trouble with either a lost ball (meaning the addition of two strokes onto your score) or a very tricky shot out of the rough. To cap it all there was a nasty bunker just before the green on the right.
Neither of them was keen to tee off first and since they had been taking turns to tee off, Amanda manned up and squared her shoulders. Over the course of the year or so they had been playing, they had tried various clubs, but she had reverted to her big bertha and prayed that she hit it as well as her last three shots. You would have thought by now that muscle memory would have kicked in and sometimes, miraculously, it did but whenever she was nervous or anxious about a shot, it always went disastrously wrong. She addressed the ball and completely cleared her mind of all thoughts. Wriggling into her position and settling down, she swung her club back, keeping her head down and as still as she could, she hit the ball squarely and cleanly. Hardly daring to look up to follow it, amazingly it was flying through the air, fairly straight, and landed with a thud on the bank at the far end of the hollow and bounced up, up and onto the green. She was ecstatic and relieved in equal measures.
“Well done,” Loretta muttered, no doubt wishing she had teed off first because now she had her work cut out. After much consternation, checking her tee height and settling into position, she took a swipe with her big bertha and her ball sailed through the air, landed on the path and then bounced down into the hollow.
“High five!” she said with glee, offering her non-gloved hand to Amanda who happily slapped it mid-air, American style. “Well done!” she said, “I think we’ve finally cracked it.”
The two women set off pushing their trolleys jauntily, both relieved that they didn’t have to go rooting around in the spikey broom and gorse, as they had so often in the past, but could get on and play their balls. As usual, Loretta shot off ahead and as Amanda followed behind, she suddenly felt a black cloud settle over her and her heart felt heavy inside her chest like a lead weight. What on earth would she do when she got home? Graham would have his head buried in The Sunday Times, reading it from cover-to-cover, along with all the supplements which he devoured hungrily. She admired the way he could lose himself for hours on end simply reading; she couldn’t settle to read a book or watch a film; she just got all agitated. It was a Sunday so if she tried ringing the boys they wouldn’t answer. Tom was probably running an ultra-marathon somewhere and Will was more than likely cycling to the top of Ben Nevis or participating in what she thought were unattainable and completely pointless challenges. But they were both fit and healthy and they never seemed to stop doing crazy things. She wished they would stop sometimes, just for a minute or two, and ring their Mum. She loved to hear their voices.
Loretta brought her back to the present when she shouted from down in the grassy hollow, “Can you believe that?! It’s in a rabbit hole!” She picked her ball up and placed it to the side on a flat mossy surface and started to line herself up to pitch the ball up onto the green. She did a pretty good job, hitting it a little too heartily and sending it skipping along to the back of the green where it sat tantalisingly on the brim before rolling down and off the back into the rough.
The round progressed pleasantly and the ladies had good holes and not-so-good holes but that was the nature of golf. Unpredictable, exhilarating, and frustrating in equal measures. It was just gone three when they got back to the car park and reversed the procedure they had carried out on arriving: folding trolleys and packing them away before stowing them in their cars, hoisting their golf bags into the boots of their cars and changing back into their everyday shoes.
“Have you got time for a coffee?” Amanda asked Loretta hopefully. She never seemed to have time to do anything except be a slave to her three Cocker Spaniels.
Checking her watch she said, “Okay. Just a quick one,” and off they set to the recently refurbished Club House where small groups of golfers sat chatting over beer, coffee, or wine and there was a general ambiance of bonhomie which Amanda liked, although nobody ever came over to them for a chat. She assumed it was because they were still fairly new to the Club and wished she were more outgoing. She used to be so happy-go-lucky but since hitting the menopause, it was as if her spirit had hidden away somewhere deep inside of her. Sometimes she felt like her heart had stopped beating and she was only a shell of her former self.
“I’ll get these,” Loretta insisted, waving her membership card at the young lad behind the bar and a wonderful smell of roast Sunday lunch permeated the bar area. Amanda found a seat and they settled down with their latte’s dissecting the game and berating the fact that they didn’t think they would ever get a decent handicap.
“Are you alright,” Loretta asked her friend, scrutinising her from the chair opposite.
“Not really. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, to be honest. I just feel down all the time.”
“Have you been to the doctor’s?” Loretta asked in her no-nonsense tone of voice.
“Yes. My GP said I was menopausal but I’m past all that. Anyway, she recommended CBT and something called the Silver Cloud programme. Waste of time if you ask me. All meditation and mindfulness nonsense.”
“Well, it might be worth taking it more seriously. If it’s a specifically tailored programme then it must have benefits for some people. If ever you need to talk, you know I’m here for you.”
“Thanks.” Amanda smiled and didn’t feel as though she could open up to her golfing buddy. Besides, what would she say? I’m sad. I’m not happy. I feel isolated and alone but yet she was surrounded by kind, loving family and friends. But none of them seemed to notice her. Not really notice her. Except for one. Her friend, Diane, sent her a text every so often asking how she was doing and they would meet up for coffee in Fernleigh, a lovely old market town, and would wander around the shops after their coffee and she had felt much better as if during that brief period of time she was able to leave her demons behind.
“Well, best be off before the dogs wreak havoc. They’ll be needing a walk and that’s the last thing I want to do now, if I’m honest, but I’ll have to take them.”
Loretta had never married and didn’t have children but she had lived a full and interesting life, starting up her own company and travelling the world recruiting staff for high-net-worth individuals. It all sounded very glamorous to Amanda in comparison to her dull and boring life.
When Loretta got home she Googled ‘menopause’ and was astounded at the things she found out about it and how deeply it can affect some women. She was one of the lucky ones, as she had sailed through hers and out the other side without even realising it. She knew that it was a long shot but she felt as though she wanted to do something to help, something meaningful. Once a businesswoman, always a businesswoman, so she set about looking into setting up a foundation and she knew just the person to ask for advice. For the following few days, she researched as much as she could and her plan was beginning to come to fruition.
“Amanda? Are you alright? Where are you? You sound half asleep.” Amanda sounded strange when Loretta called her.
“Amanda! Where are you?!” Loretta demanded in her headmistress’s voice.
“On the coast,” came the cryptic reply.
“Where, on the coast?”
“Erm. Somewhere near Barmouth. I think.”
“Amanda, what’s going on?” her golfing buddy asked.
“I just needed some space, that’s all. Some fresh air.”
“Have you forgotten we were playing today? I thought it was odd when you hadn’t turned up. Listen, I’m going to drive up to wherever it is you are and you can tell me all about it. I’ll head for Barmouth and then call you again when I’m getting close. Okay?”
“Sure,” Amanda replied, suddenly snapping out of her stupor.
“Right. I’m on my way.”
After Loretta cut the call, she sensed that something was very wrong and she did what any friend would do and drove as fast as she could to get to Amanda.
In the meantime, Amanda opened her car windows fully and let the fresh sea air fill the car. As she opened the window on her side of the car, the garden hose she had fixed in place fell away and it was as if Loretta had smacked her around the face. ‘What in God’s name was she thinking?’ She threw open the car door and reeled the short length of hose up, removing the other end from the exhaust pipe. She was about to turn the key in the ignition when Loretta’s calls had come through, one after the other until Amanda had had no choice but to answer. She stashed the pipe in her boot and hid it under her golf shoe bag as if by hiding it would erase from her memory what she was going to do with it.
She got back into her car and drove from the remote location she had chosen and made her way down into the town of Barmouth, pulling up in a pub car park. She went inside The Ship Inn and ordered herself a large brandy and went outside to find a table. It was a beautiful summer’s day; kids were running around on the beach, dogs were yapping as they chased frisbies and young mums cradled babies wearing floppy sunhats.
She managed to find a small table that had just become vacant. A young couple smiled at her and offered her the table as they left. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” the young man said. “Yes, lovely,” was all she could muster in response. Her legs felt weak and her stomach was churning. As she sat down and took a sip of the brandy, her phone rang. It was Tom, her eldest.
“Hey, Mum! How are you?”
“Oh, you know. I’m okay. How about you?”
She wiped the tears that were streaming from her eyes with the back of her hand, desperate to hide the fact that she was crying, but Tom knew better.
“Mum? What’s up? Are you okay? What is it? Is it Dad? Talk to me, Mum,” he pleaded.
“Honestly, Tom. Erm, I can’t really talk now but I’m okay. Really. I have to go. A friend of mine is meeting me for lunch,’ she lied, “And she’s trying to get through. We’ll talk later. I promise,” and she ended the call.
Loretta located her friend on the pub terrace and strode straight over to her. Amanda stood up and the two women hugged and she crumpled against her friend and Loretta almost had to hold her up as she folded into her embrace, tears streaming down her face. Wiping her eyes with a tissue Loretta produced from her pocket, Amanda talked and talked while her friend listened. Another double brandy later and she was starting to feel half-human again.
“I’m taking you home to Graham and we’ll sort your car out later. I’ll speak to the barman to make sure we can leave it there overnight if need be.” It was clear why Loretta had been so successful; she took control of the situation and left no stone unturned.
“Come on. Let’s get you home and from now on, if you want to talk, call me. Do you hear?”
Amanda nodded and allowed herself to be taken control of because she wasn’t capable of thinking clearly herself.
Over the course of the next few months, the two women became firm friends and met regularly in Loretta’s uber-smart kitchen, discussing the best way forward with their new business venture. Amanda had found a new lease of life and felt like she had a purpose. Her journey wasn’t over but she was making good progress with the help and support of family and friends and she was slowly getting back on track. She had finished the Silver Cloud programme and had taken up meditation and yoga. Out on the golf course, she was making good progress with her handicap too.
“Did you know that if a ball sits on the lip of the cup, you can wait ten seconds and if it falls in before the ten seconds is up, it counts?” Loretta announced when they were on the sixth green. Amanda smiled. That is exactly how she had felt all those months ago; teetering on the edge wanting to fall but desperately trying to hold on and not topple into the abyss.
“Come on”, Loretta said, “Those old duffers behind are catching us up,” and she strode off purposefully towards her trolley as Amanda trotted along behind trying to catch her up.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organisations, places, events and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.