Updated: Nov 4
The wisdom of menopause... Finding the strength to change the stigma
More people are now beginning to talk openly about the menopause although there is still not enough information readily available to us. This transitional time of life is a natural process but one which is still viewed as an illness by many. Menopause brings all sorts of changes - both mental and physical, which can differ from one woman to the next. Most menopausal women experience hot and cold flushes, sweats during the night, or sometimes the day, and may also notice feeling anxious and/or having mood swings.
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 also 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 piling on the dreaded fat around the middle - 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! And then we you do manage to do some form of exercise, the joint pain and muscle aches can be much worse than ever before. 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. Until now we haven’t been encouraged to talk about menopause at all. All of these new and unexpected 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 scale and are riding their own hormonal rollercoaster.
ACCEPTANCE is key
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 benefit 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? How can we be ok with ageing when we are bombarded with messages from the media telling us we mustn't have wrinkles, or grey hair; or be out of shape - or just basically get OLD. How crazy is that? Our society has created a stigma linked to growing old and menopause is a big part of that. 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 - and that we are all just FINE.
Whilst at the same time getting together with our friends and comparing symptoms, which is the only thing that makes us feel a bit more ‘normal’ - whatever that is.
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.
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?
Wisdom, knowledge, experience
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...One that brings a certain level of wisdom and knowledge, which we can pass down to our children or grandchildren. Maybe we should be considering becoming the pioneers of educating and informing the next generation so as to change the current stigma surrounding menopause, instead of trying to shy away from it all. We can let society know that ageing should be revered, respected and even celebrated - not hidden away as if it were shameful. 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, either alongside hormone replacement therapy or on its own. There are many out there. Yes, traditional Chinese acupuncture is one of them but it is not the only one. 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.
*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.