Hot flushes, sweats, mood swings and anxiety?
Sshhh! Don't mention the menopause...
Menopause brings us many changes - both mental and physical, which can differ from one woman to the next. Most menopausal women experience hot flushes and sweats during the night, or sometimes the day, and notice feeling anxious or having mood swings. These can range from anything between feeling elated with life, happy with your whole world and seeing everything as peace, love and flowers, to raging-bull-mad-flying-off-the-handle-red-faced-angry-shouty-screaming episodes.
However it may affect you, one thing is for certain. It's not nice. What you're not told beforehand is there are many other changes which can occur. Less well known, or openly discussed, are the common symptoms of heart palpitations*, muscular or joint aches and pains, dryness of mentionable and unmentionable parts, a feeling of total fatigue most of the time and an utter lack of motivation. Yes! Where did that go? So, as you are putting on the dreaded fat around the middle - yes, yes, due to 'oestrogen depletion' - you realise the best thing to do is to get moving and try to burn it off - only to discover that you no longer have that drive or energy to exercise, even if you used to have an abundance of it! Why didn't they tell you it was like this? You're now newly and frustratingly tired ALL THE TIME. Oh yes - and to top it all off - you just don't feel sexy anymore.
Photo credit: Annie Spratt
In my experience, a lot of these natural symptoms are only found out about by 'googling' and searching forums on the subject. It's all a bit hush-hush. These changes may add up to a feeling of low self-esteem, a lack of confidence or a feeling that you are no longer likeable or a nice person to be around. Not helped of course, if you also have teenage children at home - who are at the other end of the hormonal scale.
The toughest part of this transition in a woman's life, but the most crucial, is ACCEPTANCE. Menopause is a natural part of ageing. That doesn't make it any easier to bare, I know, but perhaps it could; perhaps it should. Accepting that we are growing older is something that society seems to frown upon and many hugely successful companies have benefitted from the stigma surrounding this natural process, making it harder for us to accept it ourselves. How can we be ok with menopause when the rest of the world around us isn't? Couples struggle to talk about it (because quite frankly, it is awkward) and only the most understanding and forward thinking partners are willing to even try to understand what the hell is going on. So, we have become accustomed to trying to pretend it is NOT happening - thank you very much - and that we are all just FINE.
Taking synthetic hormones to slow down or cover up the symptoms has become the norm in modern western cultures and it seems to have become more acceptable to take some form of hormone replacement therapy than not. Friends are surprised when told that you don't take anything for your menopause. Newsflash - it is not a disease! In fact, whilst writing this, I am questioning whether I should be using the word 'symptom' at all when referring to the natural changes that take place during this testing time of life.
One of the most challenging parts of it is the not knowing (or maybe dreading), where it is heading. When we go through puberty, we know what's on the other side - womanhood - and all the exciting possibilities that it brings. With menopause though, what is there at the end of that dark and lonely tunnel? What are we looking forward to? Old age. Low libido. Greying hair and the realisation that we are no longer able (naturally) to bear children. Some cultures I have experienced consider a women no longer 'useful' once the child bearing years are over. The only hope for them is their role as a grandmother.
But let's look at it this way - we are now living longer. Many of our fore-sisters probably didn't reach the ripe old age of fifty and so never had to go through this delightful transition. But the truth is that we (thankfully), do. So what can we do to make it easier? First of all we can change our attitude towards it and see it for what it is...a natural transition into another rich and rewarding phase of our lives. We can let society know that ageing should be revered, respected and even celebrated - not hidden away as if it were shameful. We can stop trying to mask our symptoms with unnatural and more alarmingly, harmful medications. We can talk about it with our friends, our daughters, our family and older ladies who have been through it and are out the other side. We can ask them what its like and what the benefits are.
We can also explore the natural alternatives that may facilitate a smoother transition. There are many out there. Yes, traditional Chinese acupuncture is one of them but it is not the only one. (Although acupuncture may have a good success rate with enabling a smoother transition through the menopause - but I am slightly biased!) There are many different ways to support yourself and facilitate your transition, from a natural health approach - diet and nutrition, exercise and lifestyle and even some pop up menopause chat groups around the UK. Find what works for you and share it with your friends. But most of all, please join me and start talking about it from a different perspective to anyone who will listen.
It's not ok to have to hide it away.
*Please note - if you are experiencing heart palpitations it is advisable to seek medical attention before trying alternative therapies. This article does not intend to suggest ignoring medical advice. Always check recommended doses for any supplements or medications and if in doubt, always consult with a pharmacist or your GP.