How can I possibly be at this point in my life. Menopause. Maybe perimenopause. Whichever it technically is, I'm in it.
Up until a few years ago I hadn't given much through to menopause. I was too busy raising kids and building a business. Menopause was not even on the map.
Except now, it's not only on my map, I'm actually well on my way through 'the change' journey. And I sit here and I am having a hard time believing I'm at this point in my life. Part of me is sad because it's a reminder of the years behind me and it also has me wondering about the years to come.
Part of me is also excited because I'm believing what Dr. Christiane Northrup, MD, author of The Wisdom of Menopause, says:
"Although women have been taught to dread menopause, this life stage ushers in the springtime of the second half of life and is often accompanied by surges in creativity, vitality, newfound ambition, and the need to be of meaningful service to the community in a larger way. During perimenopause and beyond, our goals and behavior become more motivated by the demands of our souls, not just those of society. We quite naturally seek answers from deep within instead of looking for approval from the outside."
If I'm honest, I also have some fear about going through this time because as Dr. Northrup also shares,
"The menopausal transition is actually a profound developmental stage in which unfinished business from the past comes up once again for resolution and healing, so that we can free ourselves from the outmoded beliefs and behaviors of our past. All the issues that weren’t resolved during puberty and early adulthood—such as body image, relationships, vocation, fear of aging, and self-esteem issues—now arise once more to be healed and completed. While menopause itself is a normal life stage that does not cause health problems, the menopausal transition is marked by a statistically increased risk for breast cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease, arthritis, depression, and memory loss—all of which can be prevented if a woman heeds the wisdom of menopause and opens to her increased intuitive capacities. There are also a wide variety of options available for addressing and relieving the most common symptoms that arise during the menopausal transition."
Menopause is this opportunity for renewal and a rebirthing of ourselves, but it's not without its share of potential emotional, mental and physical struggles, especially if we go into and through it without being in tune to our bodies and to our intuition.
Given that so many women I know, along with myself, live for decades not being in tune to our bodies and not trusting our intuition, I can understand why we dread this whole experience - that can last 10 or more years from start to finish by the way!
So many women have completely cut themselves off from experiencing their body's natural rhythm at all, in part because of all the birth control options that are now available and even being prescribed to teen girls to control their PMS. There's so little support for girls and women to learn how to tune into and listen to our bodies and our spirits and to honor our own cyclical wisdom.
What I wish I had understood years ago is that as a woman, I was on the menopause journey from Day One. That my experience of menopause would be highly influenced by my whole hormonal experience. That the health of my hormones when I was 16 and 25 and 38 and all the years in between, would be intimately tied to my experience of menopause.
And let's just be clear that I had a lot of years of hormonal havoc instead of hormonal harmony.
Not long after starting my period when I was about 13, PMS kicked in. There were months I'd have debilitating cramps and backaches. Acne would flare up. My breasts would change size - so noticeably that I once had a male boss ask me about it (which is a whole other post because I didn't even know how to respond to him, let alone have the courage to tell him off). I had heavy bleeding, sometimes going through 10 pads in a day. I could add more details, but you get the picture. I often felt like I was a prisoner to my mood changes, not understanding that this was my body's brilliant way of asking for attention and for self-care and acceptance.
This was my experience of my cycle for over 15 years. I was never diagnosed with anything in particular, probably because I never really talked to my doctor - or anyone - much about my symptoms. I thought they were normal and all women shared my experience.
Then, I started to change my diet and lifestyle. Just a little at first. Cutting out sugar and some processed foods. Adding in more vegetables and Friendly Fat. I cut out pop. I worked on self love and acceptance. I started to learn how to honor my voice more and speak up for myself. I don't really remember all the early changes I made, but what I noticed is that over time my cycle started to smooth out a little bit. The cramps didn't show up every month. My breasts ached less. The bleeding wasn't as heavy. It was another one of those lightbulb moments on my journey of understanding that what I put in my body (and on my skin) impacts my hormones. Hmmm.
I haven't been symptom free since then, but I can say that for much of the next 16 or 17 years, 90+% of my symptoms went away. There were months that I was even surprised to start my period because I literally had no symptoms the few days prior and hadn't been paying attention to the calendar. Or, I'd get a day or two of fatigue just beforehand and that would be my cue that I would be starting my period in a day or two.
So, when I started experiencing the symptoms of perimenopause a few years ago, with really long days of bleeding between months of not, I felt a bit betrayed by my own body. The hot flashes were kind of interesting...until I was getting them during speaking engagements! Some days I could barely keep my eyes open and I just sat with a lot of sadness. I felt like I was back in my early 20s dealing with that same hormonal havoc again. I also started to experience a lot of emotional stuff that felt really uncomfortable and I was angry because I thought I was done dealing with all this 'garbage' - which I actually see with compassion as unresolved experiences that need to be healed -- but at times it still feels like garbage. My frustration with all this stems from feeling like I had been taking really good care of myself for a long time, so I was expecting this transition to be smoother. I was forgetting that it's always a journey.
And here I am heading to my doctor today to talk with her about how I can not only smooth out some of the ups and downs of this journey, but to discuss how I can optimize my health. And even though during those early years of my cycle I didn't honor my body in a way that would have made this transition smoother, I want to learn how to minimize some of the downsides of menopause that Dr. Northrup talks about. I also know I have more healing work to do when it comes to self-esteem, honoring my voice and learning to trust my intuition. Bottom line: I don't want to sit in the passenger seat on this journey, feeling like I have no control over how smooth or bumpy it is or where it takes me. Instead I want to be in the driver's seat the whole way.
My invitation to you, no matter where you are on your journey of being a woman, is to tune into your own experience of your cycle - physically, emotionally and mentally - and all the wisdom that goes along with it. Despite what our culture tells us, it truly is a gift to us as women. Be careful of how you describe your experience, especially in front of young women. Language is powerful. Learn about your cycle and how you can increase your hormonal harmony. If you choose to be on oral birth control, research how it can impact your body in ways you may not be aware of. Here are two of my favorite resources if you too want to be more in the driver's seat of your experience with your hormones:
Dr. Northrup, MD. - be sure to pick up her books Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause
Flo Living - make sure to read Alisa's healing story and the articles about the impact on your body of birth control
Here's to creating more Hormonal Harmony at whatever age and stage you are as a woman and to honoring your feminine rhythm and wisdom.