• Former magazine editor Lorraine Candy's book What's Wrong With Me? provides advice and alternatives, including therapy, for women entering midlife and menopause

  • We have therapists who see women about menopause and midlife problems – find them here

Having been the editor of Cosmopolitan, Elle and the Sunday Times Style section while also rearing a family of four, journalist Lorraine Candy felt she was pretty capable until suddenly she wasn’t. “I kept saying 'What’s wrong with me?' I felt I had unravelled. I’d gone from four children, a big career, being able to keep a long mental list in my head, balancing it all out, to not knowing what was going on in my life. I started having panic attacks, I couldn’t remember what side of the road to drive my car on. At one point, I felt like the floor was moving beneath me, and I was covered in sweat."

Candy’s perimenopause meant she was dealing with an array of physical and psychological symptoms that affect many women at this point, and during menopause. She felt unprepared, and overwhelmed by the way her body and mind were reacting, and even feared she might be seriously ill.

Now, about to turn 55, she feels in control again, though her life has definitely changed. As a member of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1981) she wanted to reach out to other women and let them now what was happening, and how they might want to negotiate these changes more effectively. Her book What’s Wrong With Me? 101 Things Midlife Women Need to Know is the result.

There is the requisite chapter on HRT, and plenty on exercise, relaxation, and sleep. But there are also less predictable subjects, such as finding new friends where one least expected them; trying hobbies and pastimes that had once seemed woo-woo or hippy-ish. She writes honestly about how it feels to no longer have the identity of her glossy magazine editorships. "Every time I met someone new I had to explain who I was, when previously my career had been so defined it came before me when I entered a room. I was bewildered by it all .. and though I knew that no-one was indispensable in my industry, I had hoped I was the exception to that rule. I think everyone does, don't they?"

Candy also opens up about the realities of working motherhood, many of which she had kept hidden over the years. She rejects feeling guilty, but she does look squarely at failings, and is determined to take things at a different speed, willingly, without feeling that she must always, and forever, 'do it all'.

Therapy played its part in her struggle to find a new identity, and is, she believes, "worth trying if you can afford it. It is good on rupture and repair, good on ways to reconnect on your own terms, good on grief and letting go. And it’s helpful in navigating our new roles in midlife. I have tried it twice and found it extremely useful. It takes the lid off the anger pot too. You could consider it in the same way you consider MoT for the car.”

There are lots of transitions in life — from adolescent to adult, from independent living to parenting, and from young and promising to middle-aged. Everyone who comes upon these discombobulating changes in their lives is, to some extent, surprised to see their old lives being disrupted. 

The past couple of years have seen a growing number of women in their 50s and early 60s such as Davina McCall, Mariella Frostrup, Miranda Sawyer, and Davinia Taylor writing and talking about menopause and midlife in a way that has been viewed by some as commercialisation, with a focus on hormones and anti-ageing procedures.  

Deborah Jermyn from the University of Roehampton, is researching the topic and identifies a recent “menopausal turn” in the culture, underpinned by celebrities sharing personal stories. As reported in the FT “this is partly driven by a desire by women not wanting 'to fade out of the public eye as many of their ageing predecessors would have done and having a platform to agitate for change'."

Older women are an increasing and affluent demographic and wrote the FT’s Emma Jacobs earlier this year, some argue that encouraging women to work on themselves misses wider issues. "A 2020 report by Standard Chartered bank found it was not only the physical and mental symptoms of menopause that were hampering the careers of women over 50, but also ageism.”

Whatever your take on celebrities stories of hot flushes and calls for greater support from bosses and government, there is no ignoring the fact that midlife is a time of great change for women, and Lorraine Candy’s book is a useful, candid, and supportive tool if you too are wondering what’s wrong with you.

Lorraine Candy's What’s Wrong With Me? 101 Things Midlife Women Need to Know is out now

Further reading

6 tips for a strong mind and body post-menopause

How therapy helped me through middle age

The menopause and letting go of old identities

What stops us from changing?

How therapy helped me recover after an affair