Yesterday, without knowing it, I posted my 1,000th blog post! I can’t believe it. Thank you so much to everyone who has been on this journey with me. Here’s to 1,000 more!
The Heroine’s Menopausal Journey
Menopause is tough. There is no question at all: it’s a statement of fact. It’s tough physically, mentally and even spiritually. And it’s something that I’m going through right now.
Back in full lockdown of 2020, I had to have a hysterectomy. I was left with one ovary, which stopped working about a year later. In my family, menopause happens early anyway, and so I had already been perimenopausal for some years before. Since 2022, I have been going through full menopause, with all its symptoms and challenges. I joined an online community called HysterSisters on the advice of a friend who had already gone through this, and which gave me the information I needed pre and post surgery. Stuff that the doctors and nurses don’t tell you, stuff that only now is actually being talked about openly. In fact, my own GP in my little cluster of villages has now been giving menopause clinics online for the very first time, open to women and men and anyone interested in learning more. But it’s still something that affects everyone differently, much like the huge hormonal shift in adolescence, only now you’ve got a lifetime of experience, pain, trauma and joy to deal with on top of it all.
The physical symptoms can be hard to deal with. The hot flushes are exhausting, to say the least. Imagine being as hot as you’ve ever been, sweating all over your body while doing nothing but sitting at you keyboard. You feel the heat rising from your heart to your head, and then down all over your body in a fiery wave of energy. If you’re lucky, it’s a short one that only lasts for a minute or two, and you may not have to change your clothes. If it’s a bigger one, you’ll soak your clothing and either have to deal with the discomfort of being in sweaty clothes and the possible smell that will follow, or bring a change of clothing with you wherever you go. Either way, once the heat has passed you are left with the cold, which sometimes can be even worse than the heat, especially in winter. It’s like stepping out from a nice, warm house and into freezing cold, horrible weather. The shock of the temperature change just gets into your muscles and bones, which by the way may already ache with the loss of estrogen. You might be cold for around 20 minutes, sometimes even until your next hot flush. It’s tiring, stressful and just shitty to deal with, in all honesty.
I’ve gone through periods of having several hot flushes every hour, about one every 20 minutes over the winter holiday period. It settled down for a month, and now it’s back but not as bad, a short two minute one maybe one every hour. There’s also the hot flush that follows about a minute after you wake up, which is usually a big one which you should get out of bed for, otherwise you’ll have to change the sheets. There’s another big one that follows any hot drink you have, or a meal. It’s hard on the body, which makes it hard on the mind too.
The sleeplessness is another symptom that I am currently trying to work through. I’ve never had sleeping problems, but now when I wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I just can’t get back to sleep. I have the usual hot flush while I’m in the bathroom, and then when I get back to bed my brain has woken up fully after that fiery energy, and thoughts just keep whirling around in my head with no respite. It can be three to four hours before I can fall back asleep. I then wake up exhausted each morning, with very low energy levels throughout the day. Sometimes I need a nap after lunch (thank all the gods I work from home) just because I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. These naps are pure heaven, because I am so tired that I just fall into oblivion for an hour. It’s bliss: no thoughts, no dreams, just completely leaving reality for a short time and giving my body and brain a break. And then I wake up, have another hot flash, and get on with my day.
So why not just take HRT, some may ask? Well, I don’t do well with chemical supplements that affect my hormones, and as I had a serious fibroid and ovarian cyst problem, as well as breast cancer running in the family, taking estrogen for me is a definite no go. I’ve found some herbal supplements that have helped with my physical and mental symptoms which have kept me out of a deep, dark hole (Mulier’s Menopause Formula) but I still have to carry on through the majority of the challenge that menopause is throwing at me.
So, I’m tired all the time, usually achy and having sweats throughout the day. My body is going through the ringer. As mind and body are one, this also affects my mental health. I’m a pretty resilient person mentally, but menopause-related depression has been a new experience for me. Thankfully I know how to deal with it when it comes on (herbal teas and getting out of doors) but the fact remains that just getting out of bed some days is a huge deal. There is still the trauma of the surgery that I feel I haven’t fully dealt with (just having to have the surgery all alone in lockdown, when no one was allowed with you inside the hospital was terrifying enough), alongside the new phase of my life as a woman that I am emotionally and spiritually entering.
My religion and spirituality thankfully provide me with a framework for entering different stages in my life as a woman, for which I am eternally grateful. My goddess knows what I am going through. She’s been there, done that, gone through it every solar year, and every lunar cycle. She’s an example of resilience and strength that I can turn to, alongside my sisters on this same path who are/have gone through the same things that I have in my menopausal journey.
As women, we know that we physically, mentally and spiritually have many challenges to face in our lifetimes, for most of us on a monthly basis. And we know that today’s society just expects us to “get on with it”, though thankfully that is starting to change with some trials in the workplace for menopausal women to have a space to retreat to, or days off when it just is too much to bear while working. I can only hope that this shift will extend to all women who, wherever they are in their cycles, can find the time and space to help themselves through it with support and understanding, instead of ignoring the issue and putting on a front that everything is fine because we can’t leave the imaginary competition that patriarchal systems have put into place. When I was in the workplace and having a monthly bleeding cycle, I used up so many “sick days” because I physically couldn’t get into work, either due to pain or flow or usually, both. If I ran out of sick days, then I would have to take unpaid leave, even though in my eyes my condition should have been classed as a short medical leave of absence. And gods forbid I actually get a cold or the flu and not have any sick days left. Even back in high school, I missed days of classes while I lay down in a dark room clutching my belly in the nurse’s office until it was time to go home, and hoping that the hour-long bus ride wouldn’t be too horrific.
It’s been a tough 30 years for me physically and mentally with my monthly cycles, and now the final journey through menopause is one that I am trying to ride with dignity and grace. But some days are just harder than others, some weeks tougher than others, and experiencing all the physical and emotional changes is both interesting and extremely challenging. I feel like I am coming home to myself, after a long and arduous quest. There are still monsters to slay, mountains to climb and my own heroine’s journey to complete, but I feel that even though my body is exhausted and my psyche gone through the ringer, I have enough strength to get me through. At least most of the time I can feel that.
The other times I am fanning myself, wondering when this will all end, face red and tired eyes closed as I ride another wave of experience.
Is Nature Indifferent to Us?
I love this Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, by Bill Watterson. It speaks to me on so many different levels, not least of all as a Mother of Cats. But it’s mostly the first part that I’ll be pondering over in this blog post today.
Is nature indifferent to us? Well, perhaps on the whole, yes. Nature could be indifferent to everything. The entirety of nature is such a vast concept, to me it’s like pondering deity, for in my own religious and spiritual view, nature is deity.
However, in my own personal practice, I feel that the gods are not indifferent to us, so where does that leave me with regards to the above? I’m just not sure. Could it be a paradox, that the deities care and don’t care at the same time? That would make them truly similar to cats…
It’s hard to come to terms with the darker aspects of nature, the pain and suffering that exists. Just yesterday there as a fox in the garden, and it looked like s/he had been hit by a car. One of their back legs wasn’t working, and there was definitely trauma to the back leg and hip. The fox had worried all the fur off of the back leg, hip and tail. It was taking respite from the wind in our garden, sheltered as it is by hedges. It also had a nice long drink from our pond.
After a while I went out to see just how badly it was injured. It couldn’t hear me above the wind, and I didn’t want to startle it so I called softly out to it. It turned its head and then quickly stood up. I gave it a quiet wave and it ran on its three legs back through the hole in the hedge and was gone.
I put some food out for it later that day, and will be doing so each night. I fear that the chances that this fox will survive are pretty slim, but at least it won’t die on an empty stomach.
I meditated that night on the suffering that goes on all around us, every second of every day. That poor fox was in lot of pain, but there was nothing I could do about it. Even had I called the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, chances are that by the time they got here the fox would be long gone anyway. I wondered at how such a thing could happen, could be “allowed” to happen to a beautiful creature as this fox. Tears flowed as I struggled with the suffering of so many lives right now.
People are in the hospital, wars are going on, wild animals are being hit by cars, the oceans and rivers are full of raw sewage and plastic – I could go on and on. It sure seems like the majority of humans today are indifferent to nature, so why shouldn’t nature be indifferent to us?
But nature hasn’t been indifferent to me. I have had wonderful experiences of true connection. I understand how we are all part of this one, great whole. I just wish that others could understand this, in order to save ourselves from our own self-destruction, and the widespread destruction of nature all around us.
But nature is also indifferent. The wind blows whether we like it or not. We have no say in earthquakes, sunshine or rain. Perhaps this is not indifference, but our own inability to see the bigger picture, the whole.
I am not offended by the seeming indifference nature has for us. Rather, I see it as an opportunity to show nature how much I really care. I aim to live in this world as best I can, with as much sympathy, empathy and compassion as I am able to give. I seek to be a contributing, functioning member of my own local ecosystem, and thereby a part of the wider world too.
Maybe nature really is like a cat. Sometimes it appears indifferent, and other times we can feel the genuine affection that it has for us, if only we are sensitive enough to feel it and open enough to accept it.
I have a new course: An Introduction to Freya
I am offering a new course! An Introduction to Freya: Goddess of Life, Sovereignty and Magic.
For more information, please visit my website at joannavanderhoeven.com.
If you are interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
Well, happy new year! 2022 was a very busy year, and things don’t look like they’re slowing down anytime soon. Sadly, we ended the year with the loss of a very dear family member on the Winter Solstice, which was utterly heartbreaking. It really brought into focus the time of year, and how the seeming “death” all around us in the heart of winter here in the UK is not just an abstract concept, but something very real, very visceral and which changes lives forever.
Yet the cycle continues, and even in these dark days I can notice the longer daylight hours, the difference in the birds’ song in the mornings, the buds slumbering on the tree branches and the beginnings of snowdrops. There is always hope, if we just know where to look.
This year will be a year of writing for me. I already have this blog, and I write for my community at Patreon, but I am also starting my new book: a follow-up to The Path of the Hedge Witch, which came out in October 2022. I’m excited about writing again, after over a year of editing, fine tuning, marketing and all the other bits and pieces that come with releasing a book. It’s nice to get stuck into a new project!
I’ve still also got my YouTube channel, however I think I will only be posting about one video a month there, as my time will be devoted first and foremost to my writing this year. It’s been a wonderful experience working with the medium of video, and I thoroughly enjoy it.
My own personal practice continues, both as a Druid and a Hedge Witch. With regards to teaching, we had a great time at the Introduction to Wicca and Witchcraft sessions in Woodbridge, Suffolk last autumn. It was nice to teach in-person again, locally too! The Introduction to Druidry online course is going well, and I also offered an Introduction to the Goddess, Freya on my Patreon community last autumn, which was well received. I may make that course more widely available this year, so keep an eye out for it here and on my website.
This year for me, personally, I am focusing on deepening my relationship even further with the gods, and also my connection to the land where I live. I’ve always felt like my heart has been in two places at once, having grown up in Canada but moved to the UK in the late 90’s. I need to carve out more time from my busy schedule to commune with the land and its inhabitants. I also need to re-establish a daily meditation practice, as that slipped away bit by bit last year. A daily practice of communion with the gods through prayer and meditation is always a good thing. I’ve also made a little space for my house wight next to the hearth, and hope that they like it – I’ll keep you posted!
Our garden still has its regular visitors, day and night. The muntjac deer always come round late afternoon for tea (bird seed and peanuts), the magpies tagging along as well as the ubiquitous pigeons. We also have collared doves, the occasional small group of fallow deer, jackdaws, crows, hedgehogs, pheasants, owls, badgers and various neighbouring cats each day. Yesterday I even spied a falcon, most likely a young kestrel, sitting deep in the branches of a massive ash tree on a neighbouring property behind my hedge. Wonderful!
I spent the winter holiday period with my family in Canada, and it was so good to see and be in the snow again. It’s been five years since I’ve experienced snow like that, and the colours, the sounds, the smells were all just such a joy. I adore snow, but we don’t get much, if any at all, here on the Suffolk coast, and so I was delighted when the plane landed in a blizzard. We had several feet of snow over the holidays, and when I left we were flying through yet another snowstorm. Great for outdoor lovers of winter activities in Quebec!
I hope that this year brings you joy and abundance, peace and lots of good will. May your words be kind, your thoughts be clear and your voice be strong. Blessings to you!
New Video: The Longest Night
Enjoy! Happy holidays to you all, and all the best for the new year. xoxo
Beauty Companies’ Dirty Little Secret
Since 2017, when plastic microbeads came under the spotlight, there was much commotion to get this “ingredient” banned from cosmetic and skincare products. Great, you might think, because they succeeded. But did you know that there are tons of other microplastics out there that are still perfectly legal, and have been since the 1960’s?
Some of the main culprits are:
These legal microplastics show up in shampoos, facial cleansers, moisturisers and lots of other products. Often they are used as thickening agents. Seems like good old corn starch isn’t really good enough anymore. There are other microplastics out there – look out for anything that has acrylic or acrylate in the word, or a polymer of any kind.
Some beauty brands, like Avon, have been against animal testing for over 30 years. Great, you might say. But I recently found out that around 80% of the products I looked at have microplastics. Many of these products used to have their ingredients listed on the website, so you knew what you were buying before you actually made the purchase. However, I have noticed that since the increased use of microplastics in their products, they have stopped listing ingredients for many of their skincare and beauty products on the website, and all of those with unlisted ingredients contained microplastics. It seems Avon is cottoning on to the fact that we are becoming more aware of what is and isn’t acceptable.
Even companies like The Body Shop are still using microplastics. There is Acrylate Crosspolymer is their Microdermabrasion Vit C facial scrub, for instance. It was also in their Satsuma Body Scrub, which is now no longer available.
There are some good websites that go into detail about the legal microplastics still available for companies to use in their products. There is also a petition to get the EU to ban ALL microplastics. As the companies refuse to take responsibility for their actions, it’s up to the consumer to be informed on every purchase. Which is, I know, a right pain the arse. But if we care enough about what kind of world we are leaving to our descendants, and to all life, then we must take the extra few seconds to read that ingredients list, read up on the latest information, and stay aware.
Some articles to help you get started on microplastics are:
Get to Know Your Microplastics
Get to Know Your Microplastics Part II
For a wonderful company in the UK that is totally plastic-free, has 100% recylable packaging, offers refills through the post and also student and NHS Key Workers discounts, see UpCircle for their great skincare products. This is a personal recommendation, not a paid promotion 🙂
Been out filming…
New video to drop soon on my YouTube channel!
After the Rain
There was a break in the towering clouds, and I had finished work early. I grabbed my camera and headed out on to the heath. About half and hour in, and the heavens opened again. I sheltered under some old oaks, their guardian presence peaceful and comforting. As the rain passed, a rainbow came out, shining bright across the heath. I came upon the deer, with the deer rut having now started and the stags proudly strutting their stuff. This is magic.