Loose Women"s Lisa Maxwell: I won"t let the menopause defeat me


I won't let the menopause defeat me: Loose Women's Lisa Maxwell on rages at her partner and how she's terrified she's losing her sex appeal

We'd just got into bed when I started shivering, convinced the temperature in the bedroom had dropped dramatically. Hardly a big deal, but that’s not how I saw it. ‘What the hell’s wrong with the heating’ I demanded. My partner, Paul, shrugged: ‘Since when have I been a plumber’

This was a red rag to a bull. ‘Don’t be facetious,’ I snarled. ‘I want to know what’s wrong.’

‘Maybe you turned the radiator off,’ said Paul.

‘I didn’t. Did you’ I snapped. ‘What going on’

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Denial: Lisa Maxwell, pictured left with TV cook Mary Berry, spent almost two years refusing to consider that she might be entering the menopause – despite terrible symptoms which suggested just that

The awful thing is that, even while I was ranting and raging, I knew I was acting like a woman possessed — but there was nothing poor Paul could say or do to calm me down.

At the age of 48, I am in the grip of something over which I have absolutely no control — the perimenopause.

Technically, the menopause refers to your last-ever period. Hot flushes, mood swings and other typical ‘menopausal’ symptoms are actually part of the perimenopause, which can begin up to ten years before a woman’s periods (finally) stop.

Until a few months ago, I didn’t even know the perimenopause existed. And I wouldn’t have wanted to know, because admitting to being perimenopausal was admitting that I am officially getting old.

Even now, if you dare to suggest my behaviour is down to hormonal blips, I will, in my madder moments, rage at you for being sexist and patronising.

The menopause is something that happens to old women, not to women like me — women in our prime who have always been lauded for our glamour and still feel sophisticated, sexy and vibrant.

If you admit to being menopausal, it seems to me you become the butt of jokes about batty old women having hot flushes and growing beards. That is why it has taken every drop of my courage to talk about this publicly.

I’m only writing about something so personal now because I can see that I have been in denial.

Happy at work: Lisa, pictured presenting ITV's Loose Women alongside Andrea McLean, Sherrie Hewson and Jane McDonald (left to right), describes her job as 'wonderful', but admits she hid her mood swings from colleagues

Happy at work: Lisa, pictured presenting ITV's Loose Women alongside Andrea McLean, Sherrie Hewson and Jane McDonald (left to right), describes her job as 'wonderful', but admits she hid her mood swings from colleagues

For almost two years now, I have suffered horrifying mood swings, flying off the handle at the slightest provocation, crying, and making excuses not to go out, because I have felt so exhausted.

Paul has been asking me for months to get help and finally, aware that I have been putting our relationship under strain, I have listened to him and visited my doctor, who confirmed that I am approaching the change of life.

I’m hoping that, if I can be open about what’s happening to me, other women might recognise what’s going on in their own bodies.

It’s hard to be precise, but I think my symptoms started about two years ago when, suddenly, I felt as if I was inhabiting the wrong body.

I’ve always prided myself on being cheerful and even-tempered. I work hard at being chirpy and funny, and never bring my problems to work as a panellist on the television show Loose Women.

I think I’ve managed to hide my mood swings from everyone there, but it has to come out somewhere and poor Paul took the full brunt of them when I started lashing out at him for the slightest thing.

Shopping in New York on a family holiday two years ago, Paul wandered off in a department store with our 12-year-old daughter, Beau. I couldn’t see him anywhere, and went mad. When I finally found him, I tore a strip off him then stormed off.

Back at our hotel, the argument became so heated that I ended up throwing a slipper at him. Beau stood there, trying to make sense of her usually sane mother’s appalling behaviour.

Paul was horrified: I knew I was behaving badly, that I was being unreasonable and destructive, but I couldn’t stop myself.

I was angry most of the time, and increasingly tearful.

Fatigue became another major problem. Even after 14 hours of sleep, I felt tired.

For months and months, I blamed my volatile behaviour on everything from lack of sleep, to stress. But, deep down, I knew that wasn’t it.

Fair cop: Lisa played DI Samantha Nixon on award-winning police drama The Bill for eight years, before leaving in 2009 to join Loose Women

Fair cop: Lisa played DI Samantha Nixon on award-winning police drama The Bill for eight years, before leaving in 2009 to join Loose Women

I live in a beautiful home in the Cotswolds with a man I adore and a daughter we cherish. I have a wonderful job, and I’ve never suffered from the adverse effects of stress.

I have been in showbusiness for more than 30 years, after landing my first acting role when I was 11. Even when I was working on The Bill — I played DI Sam Nixon for eight years until I left in 2009 to join Loose Women — I’d often turn up, be given pages of new dialogue to learn in 30 minutes, and still be on set without batting an eyelid.

But by last year, my moods were getting considerably worse, and it was Paul who finally forced me to face what was going on.

He couldn’t understand why someone he loved, and who loved him, would behave in such an unreasonable way, so he decided to do some research.

In the summer, he looked up my symptoms on the internet, then told me he thought I might be going through the change of life.

Predictably, I was furious. ‘I’m far too young,’ I snapped. He was only trying to help: why couldn’t I be grateful, instead of raging at him

I was in a planning meeting for Loose Women in September when the subject of the menopause came up. Someone — I think it was Carol Vorderman — mentioned the perimenopause as a possible programme idea.

My ears pricked up and as everyone started talking about the symptoms, I ticked them off in my head. Mood swings, exhaustion, forgetfulness — I had them all.

I’ve never liked going to the doctor, so instead I started to keep a diary of my unstable behaviour, writing it down every time I acted out of character.

Still glamorous: Having always been known as a sexy actress, Lisa has struggled to come to terms with the oncoming menopause, saying she doesn't want to feel her husband is 'shackled to an old granny'

Still glamorous: Having always been known as a sexy actress, Lisa has struggled to come to terms with the oncoming menopause, saying she doesn't want to feel her husband is 'shackled to an old granny'

I realised that the moods seemed to be at their worst a few days before my period, and also immediately after it. Since I’ve never suffered from pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), it came as a shock to realise that my hormones could be causing me so many problems.

In the past, when other menopausal women talked about lying in bed all day with a hot water bottle and crying, I would roll my eyes impatiently because I didn’t understand what they were going through.

Even now I struggle to accept being associated with a condition which to me has such grim connotations as the menopause.

So this week I took a deep breath as I walked into my GP’s surgery. I knew I had to do it, if for no other reason than I felt I owed it to Paul to seek help.

My doctor has confirmed that my symptoms — which include mood swings, insomnia, painful periods for the first time in my life and tearfulness — are almost certainly likely to be caused by the perimenopause.

I am now awaiting the results of blood tests which will assess my hormone levels. I have an appointment with a gynaecologist next week, then I’ll need to weigh up all my options.

I may need a course of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which obviously has its downsides, but at this stage, I’m willing to consider anything.

Meanwhile, I am trying to come to terms with the emotional consequences of entering the next stage of life. I am sure most older women will have found it difficult to say goodbye to their younger, more fertile selves. The thought of never again being able to bear a child is painful, even if your own family is complete.

Mother and daughter: Lisa and daughter Beau, pictured at the UK premiere of Disney Pixar's 'Up' in 2009

Mother and daughter: Lisa and daughter Beau, pictured at the UK premiere of Disney Pixar's 'Up' in 2009

Don’t get me wrong, I feel incredibly lucky to have Beau, but though Paul and I would have dearly loved more children, it wasn’t to be.

We met at a party in London when I was 32 and at one of the lowest points in my life. I’d just come back from a disastrous three years in Los Angeles where I’d been offered the role of Daphne Moon in Frasier but then lost it over a daft misunderstanding with the producers. I was struggling with all that when I met Paul, who is tall and blond and like a young Robert Redford. We talked all night, and I knew straight away that he was The One.

I’d never wanted children before meeting him, but he quickly convinced me we would make great parents. I fell pregnant with Beau with great ease and being a mother to her has been utterly joyful. But sadly, even though we dearly wanted to give her a sibling, it never happened.

I fell pregnant twice, in 2008, when I was in The Bill, but I miscarried both babies. That was a heartbreaking time and I felt like a terrible failure. I thought I’d dealt with the fact I would never have more children, but only last week I had a strange dream about being forced to have a termination, and woke up sobbing. I can only think that facing this next phase of my life has forced me to address this all over again as it now seems more official that I won’t have any more children.

So, one element of my emotional struggle is about me as a mother; the other is about me as a woman. Admitting that I’m perimenopausal means admitting that I am not as sexy as I once was.

At 43, Paul, a sculptor, is five years younger than me and still a fantastically sexy, attractive man. Other women check him out all the time, and I don’t want him to feel he’s shackled to an old granny.

When you’ve prided yourself on being fancied by your partner and he’s always saying you’re fantastic and that he has no reason to play away from home, you want to try to maintain that.

All this has made me realise that life can be dreadfully unfair to women. We spend our best years beating ourselves up about jobs, children and relationships, then finally we reach a stage where we’re happy in our own skins.

Once we have reached our 40s we are confident and very aware of what we want out of life. Then, out of nowhere, we get thwacked by the dreaded menopause, and in my case, start behaving like a madwoman.

Well, I for one, am not going down without a fight. But I do wish I’d faced reality earlier. I’ve put Paul, Beau and all the other people I love through hell because I couldn’t acknowledge what was happening or get medical help.

The menopause comes to us all, but for a lot of women it’s a secret we don’t talk about. We’re scared of ageing. We’re terrified our partners won’t fancy us, and that our workmates won’t take us seriously.

I can’t say that I’ve finally embraced the ageing process, but I’m determined to prove that the perimenopause will not get the better of me or damage the people I hold dear.