diary · family · History · Menopause · Teaching · women

Nan’s Diary: Teaching through the menopause

I was looking at which part of my Nan’s memoir to focus on next and because I am teacher training in my forties with family life to juggle, and my nan also did this, I thought it would be interesting to compare the experiences. Although the circumstances that led us onto this path were different – me due to the effects of a global pandemic and her because of the premature death of my grandad in his early forties – they both come as the result of traumatic times.

I am also going through the menopause, and as I read through her notes, I discovered that this too was happening to her at exactly the same age:

“Well, I started college in September 1967 as a mature student and was surprised how many mature students there were at that time. Some were like me – had to earn a living – some were retired from other jobs (police, post office etc.) and wished to pursue another career, other women were feeling their feet with women’s lib and the like; I think a good half of our year’s intake were mature students (over 25 that is).” That’s probably the same in my cohort too.

“We had to choose our ‘main’ subject (mine was Geography, then there were education categories (philosophy, curriculum, social) and a subsidiary subject(s) – mine were Maths and PE.” I’m not sure what happens now as I’m doing a PGCE, which means I’m topping up my original three-year degree (which is in Writing and Publishing) with a post-graduate qualification; Nan started from scratch, doing a three-year course.

She gave me some marvellous pills, which did the trick in no time; in fact, they made me feel very high and garrulous – the lecturer couldn’t make out what I had been up to and no wonder, as they contained purple heart mixture!

“Eastbourne Training College (this site is now part of Brighton University) was split up into various ‘houses’ and much time was spent going from one venue to another. The main place was Queenswood, then there was Aldro and Robert Dodd, which housed the canteen, but we made use of them all at one time or another. The medical room was in Aldro – probably why I remember it – and at that time, I was starting the menopause and got quite a lot of pain. The girls who ‘lived in’ suggested I went to matron, which I did. She gave me some marvellous pills, which did the trick in no time; in fact, they made me feel very high and garrulous – the lecturer couldn’t make out what I had been up to and no wonder, as they contained purple heart mixture! No wonder the girls recommended the medical centre to me. Anyway, I took them occasionally to get me through, but at least I knew what to expect.” Family discussion has thrown up the possibility that Nan may have been given paracetamol and be embellishing this bit, but I’ve looked this up and there is a compound mixture of amphetamine and cyclobarbitone, known as purple heart, which doctors gave out, and the description states that ‘psychic energy is increased, drowsiness is reduced and the human subject, if he resembles the rat, probably becomes less inhibited in social situations’ so anything is possible!

“Meanwhile, on the home front, things were pretty hectic, as cooking, housework, decorating, gardening all had to be done on a regular basis and it is a good job that Neil and Martin (my dad and his younger brother) did all sorts of chores, as I have said before. During this time, I was having a lot of trouble with the menopause; when I was at college, all the flooding and headaches and black depressions were all part of it. I tried to keep on an even keel for the sake of the boys, but they often suffered because ‘it was the time of the month’ as I often heard them say. A well-trodden path was worn to the doctor’s surgery where various things were tried to alleviate the problem – iron pills was one to counteract the loss of blood every month, D&Cs at fairly regular intervals (I had three in about 5 years). I also had the beginnings of the heart condition I was to have later (breathlessness and angina).” This would have been due to oestrogen levels depleting as part of the menopause (oestrogen protects the heart), but the connection would not have been made back then, and is still not very well diagnosed as a menopausal symptom today. Nan eventually went on to to die of heart failure in her early 80s.

More to come on Nan’s teacher training experiences, but isn’t it fascinating how interconnected our experiences can really be? Parallel lives in different ages...

Main image credit: ha11ok from Pixabay

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