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.

Riding the Tides of Perimenopause

Re-blogged from my channel at SageWoman:

SistersRiding the tides of perimenopause, I find that my sense of self, ideas and concepts that I held about myself are shifting like pebbles on a shingle beach, never in the same place twice, forming new solid banks and spits jutting out into the vastness of the ocean.  I live right on the coast of the North Sea, and am finding inspiration and a sense of kinship with the ocean that I have never felt before.

Swells and surges of emotion run through me as hormones find their way to the balance point in the dance of change and impermanence.  My body is changing, the elasticity in my skin fading, laughter lines showing, cellulite appearing in new places.  The curves in my body are becoming softer, gently changing over time.  My breasts sometimes ache as my body tries to find a new way of being.  Periods are nearer to each other, sometimes only two weeks apart, sometimes light, other times so heavy I cannot leave the house.  Sometimes I feel like I did in my teenage years, without the skin breakouts!

It’s not only my body changing – emotions run deeper than ever before.  Awareness of the emotions keeps them in check, allowing myself to truly feel them without too much attachment.  They are sometimes like a knife, cutting through the dross to reveal the jewel beneath; instinct and empathy allowing me to connect with the world on a much deeper level than previously imagined.

My attachments to my body are also becoming less and less.  I am ever thankful for this healthy body, that can dance and run and sing with abandon.  Thoughts about how others relate to me are changing as my body changes. I notice people interacting with me differently – or is it that I am the one who is different?  In our dance troupe, when we are performing, I notice that the attention is gently shifting away from myself to younger ladies in the troupe.  I smile to myself as I notice this, seeing how this makes me feel.  There is a tinge of sadness, as I release the undercurrents of vanity, as well as the newer notes of joy in not being wrapped up in the notions of youth that our culture is so focused upon. My heart goes out to the beautiful young dancers in our troupe, who have to deal with the extra attention.  My soul connects with the beautiful older women in our troupe, whose sense of self pervades a solidity that wholly and utterly inspires me.  I am seeing beauty where I never saw beauty before – it is truly remarkable.

I don’t crave attention in the same way as I used to.  What others think matters a lot less than before.  What does matter is how my life is lived, inspired by the world around me and walked on a path of honour and integrity. I see this reflected in the older women in my life, how comfortable they now appear.  I wouldn’t want to be young again – in looks or age.  I am at home in my body.  Some women are blessed with this from an earlier age, others like me perhaps find it during the hormonal shift. What is important is that we find that stillness within, like a pool of water that becomes clear when all our doubts and worries about our self finally settle, allowing us to mirror the wonder of the heavens.

One beauty is not better or worth more than any other form of beauty – all forms of beauty are simply that- beautiful.  Our soul takes form in our bodies, an impermanent expression of our being.  Learning to love the impermanence allows us to see the beauty in all stages of life and death, growth and decay.  It can allow us to be comfortable with who we are, no matter our age, what condition our bodies are in, what life throws at us.

This latest journey has just begun, and I have to say, I am loving the steps along the way. I breathe with mindfulness and take each step with love and joy even as I feel sadness and release. Life is precious, and impermanent, and in our awareness of impermanence lies our ability to truly live.