Musings of a Menopausal Woman
Menopause – a Milestone to Be Celebrated, Not Diagnosed
As women, our lives are filled with cycles, rhythms, and rituals. Personally, I think we need more ceremonies and celebrations of our milestones instead of enduring them alone or with incorrect or lacking information. For much of our youth, we rant against the cycles of womanhood because they're inconvenient, messy, and painful; and yes they can be, but really we are absolutely amazing! We've been told that it’s normal to live with pain and just deal with it. As women, we are more than our cycles, and cycles are a normal part of being a woman. I get so tired of being told, over and over, that basically being a woman isn’t a good thing. There's something wrong with us - that we need to be fixed, or we should be this way or that way. Well, I for one reject that kind of thinking. I am the most perfect me there is. There’s no one else like me. I am unique, and I like it that way.
Believe me, I haven't always felt this way, but now that I've been on the other side of menopause for a while I have more clarity and confidence. Menopause is a natural part of growing older, and I like the perspective from here. I do not like that peri-menopause and menopause are viewed as a disease to be fixed and hormonized (my word). Our hormones are supposed to change and lessen as we get older, that’s a NORMAL process. Women have been going through these cyclical changes for eons, thank you very much. I really don't need mansplaining as to why I need this or that chemical hormone to make me "better". I am a perfectly fine human as I am. What has changed over the last hundred or so years is our exposure to toxins and chemicals, especially since the 1970s in the United States. We are inundated by chemicals, but more of that later.
Over the past few years, I’ve come to embrace the cycles and seasons of my life, and I consider my life blessed. I have a partner who’s been through all the stages of my womanhood with me (maiden, mother, wise-ass woman), and let me tell you it has not been a calm ride for either of us. He stood by me (sometimes scratching his head), while I was trying to figure out who I was as a “grown-up”, dealt with my mood swings and cravings during pregnancy, co-parented raising our children, put up with the roller coaster of emotions during perimenopause, and now that I’m well on the other side of menopause he's still with me.
I remember being in my thirties when I first started experiencing peri-menopause. I didn’t know it at the time, and peri-menopause wasn’t even in my vocabulary or on my radar. It was much later when I heard the term - peri-menopause. So, this was my experience: I would cry for no reason, and much of the time I couldn’t carry on a conversation without getting emotional. Who gets emotional talking about their kids' sports practice schedule? And it didn’t really matter what the topic was, my eyes would tear up, followed by a constriction in my throat. I associate the Mike Meyers skit from Saturday Night Live with this feeling of verklempt. I know I'm showing my age, but hey I am in menopause. Eventually, the episode would pass, but it was extremely frustrating. What else? Oh yeah, I had serious mood swings and my period changed – a lot. Even with all that, I consider myself lucky. I didn’t have a lot of pain, and my periods went to the lighter, spotting way of things; but the emotional rollercoaster! Well, that was just nuts! Later, in my forties, I began having hot flashes. I’d think something sad and BAM a hot flash. I’d get scared or happy watching a movie – hot flash. What the heck? These seemed to be emotionally driven and happened periodically throughout the day. It was later that I began correlating what I was eating with some of these episodes, and even later figured out that chemicals in various products were part of the equation.
Thankfully, I’ve never had much of a problem with night sweats, but the stories I’ve heard! By the time I was edging closer to full menopause, I’d made significant changes to my lifestyle. I started with foods. I added in more organic foods, took specific supplements, and began getting rid of products that were irritants or triggers. I got rid of smells and reduced the amount of packaged foods in the house. I got certified as an Integrative Health Coach and learned how processed foods negatively affected my body. I took a course on toxins and how prevalent they are in the foods we eat, the cosmetics we wear, and the household products we use daily. I reduced my toxic load even further. When I go on a trip now my bathroom is practically bare because I use very limited and specific products. When it comes to toxic loads, minimalism works best for me.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not perfect, but I am better. I don’t have the debilitating migraines that plagued me throughout my 30s and 40s. That alone is amazing! They happened so often that I kept a bucket in the car in case I got sick driving the kids to school. I had to pull over on more than one (or 10) occasion(s). Not a good way to live. As I learned more, I realized my migraines were tension related (from multiple head injuries) and hormonal from the overwhelming chemicals I was exposed to daily combined with the fact that I had a leaky gut caused by the head injuries. When you have a concussion, or brain injury, your brain immediately releases a cascade of hormones and chemicals into the gut causing a leaky gut. Let’s just say I’ve had way more than my fair share of head traumas.
As for the exposure to chemicals, well, if you’re not sure what I mean, let me ask you this. Do you have any products anywhere in your home that contain fragrance? Perhaps laundry detergent, body wash, shampoo, lotion, and dryer sheets? The average woman applies between 9-14 products daily to her body before leaving the house. Typically, these products have a long list of ingredients that are not very recognizable. Not pronounceable usually means - not natural. When your body doesn’t know what something is and how to process it, it does what it’s meant to do. It protects itself. It does this by recruiting osteocytes (bone cells) and converting them into fat cells to surround the toxin. Guess where those fat cells get stored? Bet you guessed it – around our bellies, hips, and thighs. Now add peri-menopause into the mix. Yikes! Not really a party one wants to join, right?
Many of the chemicals in our everyday products are xenoestrogens. Fake estrogens that are accumulating in our bodies and having negative effects on our hormones. Some ways these present in the body are irregular, painful, heavy, missed or stopped periods, mood swings, insulin resistance, sleep disruption, and brain fog. There are so many many more, but those are the big ones. You wouldn’t know anyone experiencing any of these would you? My body was trying to go through the natural process of reducing sex hormones, but I was adding in fake stuff every day. It’s no wonder I was having a time of it. Nothing like conflicting information to keep the body in turmoil.
Now let’s talk about M E N O P A U S E…women have been going through this stage of life for thousands of years; however, now it seems like it is something to be cured or at the least “fixed”. It doesn’t need fixing. It’s a natural part of a woman’s life, and I sometimes feel that it has become vilified in our culture. I recently went to the doctor because I had some unexplained weight gain over a three-month period. Her response was, “You’re in menopause, right? That happens when you’re in menopause.” I felt like she was saying “You’re broken, case closed, get used to it”. My response was, yes, I am in menopause and have been for the past SEVEN years. So, what explains the weight gain? Her response is, “Hmm, we may need to put you on estrogen.” Here's a fun fact for you. When the ovaries stop producing estrogen our adrenal glands pick up that function and produce estradiol. That’s the estrogen produced by our bodies when we're no longer procreating. Seems like a good deal, right? Well, how many of you have heard, or even used, the term adrenal fatigue? Not exactly an accurate term, but it has become a common phrase.
Anyway, when we have stress in our lives, the adrenal glands excrete hormones and neurotransmitters to move us into fight, flight, or freeze. It’s an unfortunate fact, that so many people live in a daily state of stress. So now the adrenal glands, in addition to regulating stress, are responsible for our estrogen load. Is it really surprising that they don't do a good job of it? I'm not surprised. Asking more of an overly taxed organ doesn’t usually help it perform better.
Again, women have been experiencing this milestone for longer than we’ve had “health care”. I think it’s time to take a look at what’s different now. Figuring out how outside factors are affecting our health rather than blaming a natural function of womanhood. It's time we celebrate this time of womanhood and become wisdom warriors for our daughters, nieces, cousins, and friends.
We are wise women. We can do this!