'We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.' — Maya Angelou
To jumpstart my creative juices for this essay I did a quick search on the web.
First, I researched the etymology of the words menopause and perimenopause.
The word 'menopause' comes from the Greek words 'menos', meaning month, and 'pause', meaning to cease. So, menopause literally means the “monthly (aka: the period) stops”.
Perimenopause, 'peri' comes from the Greek word for “around”, so “around the monthly stop”.
Then I typed “menopause” into the search engine and this is what it rendered:
Menopause is the time that marks the end of your menstrual cycles. It's diagnosed after you've gone 12 months without a menstrual period. Menopause can happen in your 40s or 50s, but the average age is 51 in the United States. Menopause is a natural biological process.
Followed by one sentence that read:
“Symptoms: Hot Flash”.
Thankfully there was a link to the Mayo Clinic for more. But at first glance, that was the only information displayed regarding symptoms.
Next to this definition -of sorts- was a picture of a middle aged woman kind of smiling, but not really, with an image of her ovaries pasted on top of her picture and an arrow pointing to them that read “Ovaries stop producing hormones” - and the supporting text for the picture started off with “A natural decline in reproductive hormones when a woman reaches her 40s or 50s.” …
Then another series of images, one after the other, a cartoon like image of a very disheveled woman, with a very sad expression surrounded by images of hot flashes, weight gain, mood changes, sleep disturbances, etc.
Honestly the search results were depressing.
I continued to pursue inspiration, so I typed “positive menopause quotes”… that was a bust. Funny and sarcastic – yes, lots. Uplifting and inspiring…maybe one or two, and no more.
I’m 47 and do not identify in the least with feeling old or terminated. I’m definitely going through perimenopause, yes, but refuse to see it as a negative. I don’t want to add an extra layer of emotional stress to this transition, which is a normal and healthy stage in the life of every woman.
The question is, can we reframed the perception of menopause being all bad and scary? Can we move away from the negative labels of termination, finale, ending? If we are all inevitably going to go through this, isn’t there a better way to navigate it? And if so, how can this be done?
The only solution that comes to mind is information and empowerment.
The more we educate ourselves, and understand this important phase of our lives, the more we will be able to sit at the driver’s seat during this process; and the better decisions we will be able to take in advocating for our own health and wellbeing.
Objectively speaking we can all agree that the symptoms are not very pleasant (ok - maybe really unpleasant!). I did a search on how many symptoms there are and got everything from 10 to 100! Seems to be that the most agreed upon number is 34 symptoms, which is also what Uxi Hirsch, our latest speaker, shared with us during our last salon.
The following is a list of these 34 symptoms grouped into 4 categories (1) :
1. Hot Flashes
2. Night Sweats
3. Loss of Libido
4. Vaginal Dryness
5. Irregular Periods
7. Hair Loss
8. Trouble Sleeping
10. Weight Gain
12. Allergies/skin rashes
13. Brittle Nails
15. Irregular Heartbeat
16. Body Odor
17. Bladder Problems
20. Panic Disorders
21. Difficulty Concentrating/memory issues
22. Mood Swings
23. Foggy Brain
25. Breast Pain
27. Joint Pain
28. Burning Mouth
29. Electric Shocks
30. Nausea & Digestive Troubles
31. Dental Problems
32. Muscle Tension
33. Dry & Itchy Skin
34. Tingling Extremities
My initial reaction to this seemingly endless list, is fret. As in, “oh my God…it literally encompasses everything under the sun”…
But by closer inspection, what jumps to me as I read in between the lines of the possible symptomatology is reverence and kindness towards my own body. It is clearly a significant life passage. One in which we can experience a myriad of changes, and that alone speaks to the importance and transcendence of this transition.
Before I continue writing, it’s important to remind ourselves that we are all different, therefore every women will experience a different menopausal journey. It goes without saying that not everyone will necessarily experience all 34 symptoms. Your combination may be very different than mine, hence your experience may be very different as well. What remains constant is that we will eventually all stop menstruating and a new stage, in terms of our biology, will begin.
In this new stage of our bodies there is an invitation to reflect. If we accept this invitation, we can then use perimenopause/menopause to our advantage as a catalyst for change. We can choose to and learn to listen to our bodies closer, to be more aware of how we react, feel, change, overcome. In other words, we can be in a more intimate and, hopefully, kinder relationship with ourselves. This in turn may encourage to proactively prioritize ourselves. Learning what triggers vs. what resolves, what affects us and how we can bounce back is a privilege that comes with aging. This accumulation of wisdom is by far one of the biggest outcomes of experiencing menopause.
As social animals, we’re not meant to do this alone. Meaning, the changes are real and as they affect us, we affect those closest to us as well. In that sense, it is important to educate your support system, communicate with your partner, family and close friends. Asking for help when needed will allow not only for you to receive the support and love you deserve, but will also give an opportunity for those that care around you to show their love and support back. At the end of the day, we all want to be there for the people we love, especially when the journey gets a little bumpier than usual.
Another important aspect of understanding and respecting our bodies as we change, is that these symptoms touch upon many different aspects of our overall health, therefore ignoring changes in our body and dismissing or chalking them up immediately to peri/menopause without further inquiry may not be the most effective way to take care of ourselves. We are blessed to live in a time where science and medical knowledge and assistance is incredibly advanced. Make sure to talk to your doctor at all times to clear any questions or concerns. Once you are medically cleared, then finding ways either through traditional medicine or alternative, will support you in better managing the impact these symptoms may have on your quality of life. Always seek professional support if and as needed.
That being said, there are numerous natural and alternative palliative measures that we can learn and apply to help us ameliorate the journey. Uxi Hirsch, our last speaker, shared a depth of information regarding this topic. Because all 34 symptoms couldn’t be covered in a one-hour conversation, we chose to discuss five in depth. Five that we thought might not be readily linked to menopause in our minds if and as we are experiencing them, these were: memory loss/brain fog, acne, gum problems, sleep issues and joint aches and pains. During our conversation Uxi gave us an overview of why these symptoms occur, all primarily linked to the decrease in our levels of estrogen (which I found eye-opening) and shared extensive advice on how to better manage each symptom. These “tips for finding relief”, as she labeled them, included a mix of targeted supplements and recommendations on nutrition, sleep, exercise and stress management strategies. I have attached below her presentation where you can find all the details on what we discussed that evening. There is a lot of helpful information in this document, easily summarized and presented. I would also encourage you to check out her website, www.fortyplusandwell.com and/or follow her on Instagram @fortyplusandwell, where she does a great job at researching and curating the vast amount of information related to this topic into easy and applicable nuggets of wisdom.
As with any other stage in our lives, I want to be present for it. Learn as much as I can from it. I personally will continue to further develop the skill of respectfully listening to my body and being kind with myself as I go through these changes. For now, I’m going to end my writing here because my lower back is killing me from sitting on my bed typing and I need to stretch – joint aches anyone? WELCOME PERIMENOPAUSE!!
For more on Uxi Hirsch work you may visit her website @ www.fortyplusandwell.com or follow her on IG @ fortyplusandwell