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What is the Sandwich Effect and How did it Affect Me?

We all try to be the perfect mums, don’t we?

We try our best to make sure our homes are as comfortable as possible for our children. We try to be there for them as much as possible. Give them all the support we can. We try to do the same for our parents too. We try to be the best daughters, the best wives, the best person as can be. But what happens when it all becomes too much? The sandwich effect is the period in our lives when we find ourselves sandwiched between our parents, who have started to get older and need more and more support. While our children also require our attention. It can sometimes feel like the whole world is on top of your shoulders. It can feel like it’s only up to you to ensure the family keeps running. For a lot of us, this period also happens to coincide with the menopause.

The sandwich effect started for me when I was still perimenopausal. At this time I was still blissfully unaware of what the menopause was and all those horrid symptoms that came along with it. I had only started beginning to feel the stints of anxiety and low moods. It was also at this time that my mother passed away. This was a very difficult time in our family. It was especially difficult for my dad. I needed to be there for him more than I have ever had to. My daughter was going through her GCSE’s during this period, so had to be there for her as well.

Before I knew that I was going through the menopause, I didn’t understand my moods. Why some days I just wouldn’t be able to cope. Why some days I felt completely flat, like a car running on empty.

Honestly, I thought it was just all my rock and roll years finally catching up to me.

During this time, I tried to hide what I was feeling as much as I could. It felt like I was putting on a mask everyday. I would wake-up in the mornings to get my daughter sorted for school and as soon as she would leave the house, I would immediately get back into bed and deal with my low moods myself. I could remember being my daughters age. How important this time is for her. I didn’t want to burden her with my own problems. So, I tried really hard to make the house as homey for her as possible. Give her as much support as I could, while trying to push my own issues aside. My daughter is the most important person in my life. Our relationship is my number one priority and I did not want her to suffer with me. My biggest concern at this time was how I was meant to build a good foundation for her when I’m going through this?

It felt like the whole world was on my shoulders. I was feeling very overwhelmed by life. That if I couldn’t cope, the whole family would fall apart. With my mother being gone, my father relied on me more. I had to support him through his grief. It felt like there was no room for me anymore, or any of my problems to be addressed. Looking back, I think a lot of the problems that I encountered were made worse by my overthinking. What I realised is things are often much worse in our heads than in reality. For instance, your family can cope with a cheese sandwich and soup for a night if you cannot handle cooking a full meal. Your family will understand if you cannot give 100% all of the time. It’s ok for you to take a break and give yourself some space to relax. 

The changing point for me was when I finally opened up about my symptoms and explained to my family everything I was going through.

This was the time when I finally found out what the menopause was and that I was actually going through it. After seeing my GP and taking home pamphlets and pages of research about the menopause, I sat my family down and literally laid it all out on the table. I talked them through every symptom I was going through and any symptoms I could potentially go through. I explained to them that these next few years are going to be hard for me. That I might not always be myself and I might have good days and bad days. What I found out at the end of it, is that it wasn’t a big deal. We talked, we laughed, even joked. My family understood completely. Despite all my previous feelings of isolation before, I didn’t have to go through this alone. 

Anxiety comes in all forms and it’s different for everyone. For me, I find it very hard to even leave my house. I’ll get a little bit of agoraphobia. During this time, I tend to retract. I become a little bit like a hermit retreating into my shell. Believe me when I say that during this time, all I need is to feel safe and secure. I’ve tried forcing myself to go out, to exercise more. Forcing it never works. What I have come to learn is that putting pressure on ourselves to get better, never really works. I know in my head, I want to be able to give my family all the love and support they deserve. In my head, I have the perfect image of what I have to do and all the different tasks that need doing. But when my anxiety is high, doing ‘big things’ become very hard. You don’t always have to give every task 100% of your effort, what you might have to realise is that sometimes 20% is enough. If you don’t have the energy to go for a run in the mornings, take a ten minute walk around your neighbourhood. If you don’t want to cook a full meal, heat up some soup. If you can’t handle being on the phone to your parents, send a nice text instead. Honestly, it’s better than doing nothing and eventually this low mood will pass. 

I’m quite proud to say I’m finally at a place now, where I feel like Meg again.

I still get my periods of anxiety which last for ten days or so, but I find they’re becoming less and less. When I feel good, I’m quite grateful. When I am feeling good I tend to squeeze in as much as possible to get the most out of it. I find making a list of goals to accomplish helps this. It can even be a simple to-do list with things like “call dad” or “go out for dinner with your daughter.” It’s important to remember that I couldn’t have gotten to this point in my life, if I hadn’t reached out for help earlier. Talking to your family and friends does help. If your one of the women who feels like this, who feel like life is constantly smothering you, allow people in to help you. Be kind to yourself and enjoy those happy moments with your family. 

Meg Mathews Interviewed by Erica Fraser


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