Do you dare stop fighting your menopause as an unnatural state and embrace "the change" instead?
'According to the Western model, pregnancy is a disease, menopause is a disease, and even getting pregnant is a disease. Dangerous drugs and devices are given to women, but not to men- just for birth control. I've reached the conclusion that to many doctors BEING A WOMAN IS A DISEASE.’ ~ Barbara Seaman
There is nothing than raises my ire more than the belief that normal, natural life processes such as menopause need to be treated as disease states. When I stumbled onto this quote by Barbara Seaman, I found someone who shares my sentiments!
It seems like this belief is rooted deeply in our history as women, being treated for all sorts of mental illness surrounding the change. And it appears, that we women are still feeding into this model, as often, it is the easier way out.
Did you know that the term 'hysteria' comes from the Latin root of the word, 'hyster-,' which means womb? The term hysteria got coined from the ancient observation that certain women at certain times in their lives were prone to anxiety, mental problems and bizarre behavior. Early physicians thought this emotional illness was due to the traveling of the womb inside the body, causing illness and distress wherever the womb landed!! Hence, the traveling 'hyster' or hysteria! In fact, the diagnosis of 'female hysteria' was very popular up to and including the Victorian era!
Is it any wonder that the collective psyche of women is so damaged after being told by the male world that our emotional issues are a disease of the womb! Hundreds of years of this belief has damaged the collective female consciousness to a point where we continue to believe that feminine transitions are diseases that need to be ignored, suppressed and even worse TREATED.
We as women have really bought into the disease model of our normal, natural processes of life that we are so conditioned to fight it at every step of the journey. We even go so far as to succumb to the image of a more 'natural menopause' by running to a physician who will compound natural, bio-identical hormones to 'fight' our symptoms. Nothing is worse than fighting to maintain control of something that we believe is not or should not be normal!
Sisters, it is time to wake up and learn to define what feminine normalcy really is! Let us not be swayed by traditional medicine, the media, drug advertisers or celebrities! Let us create our own divine path! Check out this illustrious quote from Stevie Nicks: 'Rock and menopause do not mix. It is not good, it sucks and every day I fight it to the death, or, at the very least, not let it take me over.'
I do so hope that after reading this article, if you are in the swells of 'the change' that you will learn to treat your perimenopause as a sacred rite of passage instead of something that you need to fight against!
In order to clarify the intent of this article, I am not saying that disturbing symptoms should not be treated and that great suffering is required to go through menopause. What I am saying is that optimum health can be achieved despite the struggle. Optimum health requires a holistic health that means working on all aspects of your self that require care, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. To treat only your body during perimenopause would be missing two-thirds of yourself!
You CAN combine natural, holistic and complementary medicine as well as traditional medicine to aid you through your changes, as long as you are in the process to truly heal your entire being. To truly heal you must surrender to the process of the change, the journey towards a new you, a you with less estrogen and more wisdom!
I also need to clarify my use of the word 'perimenopause.' This term defines the events preceding, during and after the cessation of menstrual cycles. The reason term perimenopause is used, is because you will really never know when you have actually attained menopause until after the fact. Symptoms always precede the actual cessation of periods, which is an important note.
The perimenopausal time can be many, many years. It is important to note that the changes in your hormones are gradual over time. Menopause just doesn't happen one day. The physical symptoms will wax and wane along with your levels of estrogen. There will be ups and downs on this journey. This was what surprised me the most, I think. I had no patience for the process. I thought I needed to speed it up because I just wanted to get it over with, that is, once I accepted that menopause was actually happening to me!
The standard accepted definition of menopause is the cessation of all menstrual cycles for at least 12 months.
The most enlightened, integrated and holistic physician that I know, regarding the process of menopause is Dr. Christiane Northrup. She has written the most wonderful books on the subject. She has personally helped me through my own changes and I can say that because of her wisdom that it was an easier process for me.
Dr. Northrup dared brave shame from the medical community and leave a well-established OB/GYN practice to strike out on her own as a holistic, integrative healthcare practitioner. As a result of her bravado and determination she has changed the practice of women's services forever. If you have never heard her speak, you need to search PBS to find her next engagement. Here are a few excerpts from her book:
"In perimenopause our brains are being rewired to live with more inner wisdom, to adapt to a more direct current (intuition); and we may experience insomnia, forgetfulness and depression. It takes a great deal of courage and faith to go through this change, and some women go through painful breakdowns before they are ready to relinquish the struggle for control." ~ The Wisdom of Menopause, ~ Dr. Christiane Northrup.
"All the emotional and psychological change of the perimenopausal years are to the entire life cycle as the week before one’s period is to the monthly cycle. All the issues that have been occurring pre-menstrually and which perhaps had been avoided till now – should I quit my job? Should I stay in this relationship – now come up and hit us between the eyes rather relentlessly, demanding that they be dealt with at this time." ~ The Wisdom of Menopause, ~ Dr. Christiane Northrup.
The wisdom of these few words are profound. The years of nurturing others and ignoring ourselves that our hormones have pre-wired in us, no longer serve us as we approach menopause. Those same hormones, which we had learned to deal with, are no longer present to us in the same way. Now our own lives instead of the lives of others demand our attention.
I love Dr Northrup’s metaphor of our hormones as currents, or as I like to see it, as energy; alternating current vs. direct current. The alternating current describes the ebb and flow of the estrogen versus progesterone, which occurs in our normal menstrual cycles.
Every three weeks or so, our estrogen wanes and our 'direct current' or intuition takes over. This week of pre-menstrual tension is what is so amorously describe as PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome). It is a more inwardly looking time, when our estrogen is leaving us and we are forced to go into more self-care modes. It is the time when the world looks bleak, nothing goes right and we are just 'off.' But it is easy to get through, and when our periods break through, we are more at peace, and are able to return to our normal.
When the comparison is made to perimenopause and the waning estrogen over a longer period of time, you can easily see the connection. Now the ebb and flow is becoming more permanent as the symptoms of 'the change' begin. I have often heard the question, "How will I know I am in perimenopause?" The answer is always, "If you are asking the question, most likely you are!"
As your estrogen levels decrease, along comes the warning symptoms of menopause that some of us are all too familiar: changes in the menstrual cycle, night sweats, hot flashes, decreased libido, mood swings, insomnia, depression, and on and on.
Most of us, in typical fashion, begin first by ignoring these symptoms of impending menopause, as long as they are mild. We stay 'in control.' As they become stronger and stronger, because we fail to attend to them, we can no longer ignore them. Our bodies just shout louder at us! This is our Body Window at work, like it does in all things!
The next step is that we swing into full fight mode to maintain control and maintain the status quo. We read everything in sight on menopause, go to the doctor begging for pills and look to every type of natural remedy to just make the symptoms go away so that we can go on normally with our lives. I know. Been there done that!
I assure you that if you approach 'the change' with these types of behaviors that you will have a more difficult time with perimenopause than if you view menopause and everything around it as a sacred time for gaining more self-awareness. It is a time given to you to listen to your body, listen to messages of distress that it is using to get your attention. The direct current of intuition and wisdom that is now available to you is trying to get your attention to examine your life and make the changes that you have been ignoring.
If we believe Dr Northrup, and I certainly do, then this additional intuition that we have in perimenopause will empower us to learn who we really are! It is a time of emotional upheaval because it often comes at the most inconvenient time in our life!
I remember very well my first signs of 'the change' and how I refused to believe it. I was very young, in my late 30’s when my periods began to change. I had my last period at the age of 47. I was very young – too young. I believe in my heart that the uterine fibroid that I had removed barely a year before my last period was because I ignored the symptoms that had built up in me the prior years.
It wasn't until I acknowledged and accepted that I was in perimenopause that I invited traditional medicine via a wonderful young female surgeon, to 'roto rooter' out my fibroid, so that I could finally heal. (The medical term for the removal of an endometrial fibroid is called a myomectomy. Mine was essentially a glorified D&C.) My periods were so heavy prior to the fibroid removal that I would suddenly gush blood anywhere, anytime that would pour down my legs. I was literally 'bleeding for all the world to see.' Amazing, isn’t it? My denial was that strong. I think it was because I was so young, that I just could not and would not accept the change.
Most fibroid tumors are harmless. Some, like mine are problematic depending on where they are located in the uterus. If you read anything about problematic uterine fibroids, you will discover that most surgeons are unwilling to perform a myomectomy, because they prefer a total hysterectomy.
I was totally unwilling to have my uterus removed. I wanted all my pieces/parts for as long I could. Medicine still does not understand the full implications of the loss of the uterus and I was NOT going to part with mine. (I had learned my lesson with my thyroid gland – see my story on thyroid cancer.) I was fortunate to find an open, holistic female surgeon who worked with me and did what we both decided was best for me with a procedure that required minimal invasion!
Accepting change is very, very difficult before menopause, and if you fight it, it will only become much, much worse during your perimenopause. Your Body Window will scream in a rage at you if you fail to attend to your body-mind-soul needs during this time.
Instead, I encourage you to embrace 'the change!' That means that instead of running away and fighting the hot flashes, your change in periods and night sweats that you move into them and really feel them. If you acknowledge them and feel them, you can heal them much quicker. If you understand what you need to hear from your body, the process will be much easier.
I was very, very lucky in that I have a loving and supportive husband who has continued to be so throughout our transitions through mid-life. I did not have to face the challenge of feeling that I no longer had a person with whom I could be totally transparent. I did not fear that the 'new me' would no longer be loved and appreciated. We had some rockiness for a while as a result of the raw emotions that led to misunderstandings, for sure. Having gotten through it, our relationship is now stronger than it has ever been.
Perimenopause is a time, more than ever to bless your body with love. (See my body blessing prayer for a place to start). Feed yourself nurturing foods. Lovingly listen to all the messages that your body is giving you. Strong emotions of denial and fear will make your hot flashes, your night sweats and mood swings only more severe.
Do not judge your body’s messages, your symptoms as either good or bad. Just acknowledge them as information that you need to attend to. Again, thank your body for the change and the transition to a new level of physical, emotional and spiritual understanding. Embrace the change. Welcome this time to move to a more independent and self-nurturing person that you were meant to be. This is the time of your life to step out as never before!
Spending time in meditation and meditative bodywork will bring self-awareness, self-healing and self-love that will nurture your soul. You may have a spiritual awakening as well. It happened to me and if you invite it in, it can happen to you as well.
I can proudly say that I am currently on no hormones whatsoever, either natural or synthetic, nor have I been for over 5 years. I have minimal symptoms of perimenopause. I have an occasional hot flash or night sweat. I am intimate enough with myself to understand that these occasions are almost always tied to emotions that I am currently dealing with. Through the daily sitting and listening to my body and the bodywork that I do, I am able to easily let go of the emotions and release the physical symptoms before they can build up. You can do it too. Your ride may be less bumpy than mine, if you face your perimenopause with the courage, faith and acknowledgment that it requires.
Don’t wait until you are almost dead to embrace the changes that are there right now for you. It is indeed a joyous time if you make it so. Listen to the nagging from your heart to slow down and take the time you need for yourself. A new world is evolving and I hope you are not left behind. Join the contemporary Wise Women that embrace their bodies and the changes that are normal and natural!
Some very enlightening parting thoughts on menopause and life changes that I love:
"In this culture we are told to set
goals. We are supposed to know where we are going and then take specific
steps to get there. But this is not always possible, or even wise. It
is the male model of linear, rational thinking. But the life process of
women…is more chaotic and disorderly, more circular and intuitive.
Sometimes we can’t see the next horizon until we step out of the old
life. We don’t yet know where we are going. We may not know the place
until we arrive." ~ A Woman's Journey to God: Finding the Feminine Path,
~ Joan Borysenko.
"Do not become alarmed when
you experience yourself in totally new ways," sighs Grandmother Growth
tenderly. "You are changing, getting ready to be initiated into the
third stage of your life. ARE YOU READY FOR THE RIDE OF YOUR LIFE?"
~ New Menopausal Years: The Wise Woman Way, ~ Susan Weed.