Friday, May 23, 2008

Emotional Turbulence and Menopause

More than the night sweats and hot flashes, what really changed for me at menopause is my emotional landscape.

I'm not sure what the cause is, but I am becoming hyper-sensitive. I cry easily at movies, can't stand to watch car crashes or violence on screen, flinch or jump at loud noises, and am generally more anxious than I remember being, especially while driving.

I would never have related this to hormone imbalance or menopause, if I hadn't read the following on the website.

Here's an excerpt from what I found there:

"Let’s start by looking at the root cause of anxiety — the destructive effect of stress on hormone balance.

It now seems the norm for women to be “maxed out” in all directions. Most of us work, and the workplace has gotten more demanding. Most of us raise children and help care for aging parents. We often have relationship issues that create stress too. And we are conditioned to put ourselves in last place on the list of priorities.

The type of stress is just as important as the amount. So much of the stress we experience is constant — it never goes away. The human body simply isn’t designed for constant stress. When that occurs, our ability to cope with stress can be overwhelmed. If you inventory the stress in your life you may realize that much of it is unremitting. This can give rise to a serious condition known as adrenal fatigue. It is also a cause of chronic anxiety that is often diagnosed as an anxiety disorder.

The estrogen dominance common to perimenopause probably adds to this “anxiety response.” In a normal menstrual cycle, estrogen dominates at the beginning of the cycle, and progesterone rises in the second half. The progesterone has a calming, relaxing effect. But in perimenopause we have more cycles in which we don’t ovulate, so the progesterone level stays low. (Also see our article on irregular periods.) For some women, anxiety attacks are their major symptom of perimenopause."

Add to all this the bad habits we have of jumpstarting our bodies with caffeine and eating poorly when stressed, and you have the recipe for higher levels of anxiety.

I know many women in the same boat, with aging parents and teen-agers, full-time or part-time jobs, or sick family members that need care-taking, and very little time to care for themselves, let alone eat a healthy meal and get to bed early every night.

So don't be surprised if you feel a little raw, or as if your nerves are exposed. Susun Weed, in her book The Menopausal years The Wise Woman Way says this is also because of neglect.

"You may think your feelings are out of proportion, too sharp, quite irrational, possibly insane. But, I assure you, they are only raw from neglect. Receive them without judgment, nourish them, and your 'uncontrollable' feelings during the menopausal years will lead you to the deepest heart of your own secrets.

If you cannot tolerate those about you, leave. Go to the sheltering space of your cave. Claim your Crone's Year Away."

Something else you can do: write about your feelings in your journal, get in touch with your buried feelings (anger, grief, loss); Sing the blues or dance it out with some salsa music. Get more sunshine - not too hard in spring and summer. Move your body out into nature and take a long, healing walk. Get a massage - you'll be surprised what emotions well up sometimes while you are lying on a massage table. If tears come, let them. Find a homeopath to help you find a remedy. There are several for emotional upset, overwhelm, feelings of depression or wanting to be left alone.

And finally, go on a retreat - you may not be able to take a year off (!) from your life, but you can certainly take one or two days. Find a woman's retreat by googling it, or look in your local health food store or yoga centre.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sanctuary & Self-Nurturing

How do you replenish yourself and find a centering calm? hiking, yoga, naps, reading, music, gardening?

How do you come home again to your body?

"Each major life passage entails emptying and refilling." The Silent Passage, Gail Sheehy

The transformation of menopause can leave you feeling exhausted, until you discover what fills you up again.

For me, yoga and meditation are great for grounding me in the body and breath. They keep me feeling alive in the present moment and provide an anchor for my galloping sails.

Take this 'pause' as an excuse to start a new life. Turn over a new leaf. Dare to be the You you've always wanted to be. Welcome the tumult as Gail Sheehy calls it, and discover what positive aspects of this Change may be hiding under the symptoms of dis-ease.

I have been finding the most relief in creating mini-retreats for myself- a deliberate time-out when no-one else can disturb me, a time alone, time off, and time to go inside, be with me.

I light a candle, do some yoga on the floor, listen to soothing music, then write in my journal or use my cards to uncover some wisdom I need to hear.

Usually, it's about trusting myself, trusting that I can give myself what I need. To find balance, to ground myself in the stillness before running off into busyness. To rejoice in the simplicity of one breath in, one breath out.

I learn to pay attention to the unseen, to new ways of knowing, and be aware of what I need to feel whole, to feel myself.

I learn to embrace my need for this emptying and refilling, this sanctuary, this peace of mind.

Do something to nurture your self today, something simple, something to feed the inner self.

What are you hungry for?


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Biology as Destiny?

The old 'new' way of thinking about women's cycles is that it's a nonevent. Puberty, pregnancy, menopause - just breeze through it, keep working, keep your chin up and all will be well.

However, many of us are flumoxed at the raging hormones surging through us, affecting our emotional stability, our moods, our performance at work, our sleep, our relationships. Our spouses are afraid to come near us at the PMS time, and during pre-menopause, my PMS lasted up to 2 weeks some months.

"Menopause isn't an event at all, but a process that takes place over five to seven years and as as many profound metaphysical, social and sexual layers of meaning as the passage of menarche, which ushers in a woman's fertility....The polemicists ....are often women frozen in an outdated era of feminism. Ignoring a host of new data that demonstrate some clear gender differences stemming, at least in part, from variations in male/female biology..." from The Silent Passage, Gail Sheehy

We are different, and stuffing our mood swings into the closet will not help us 'deal with it'. What I think we're missing is an understanding of the huge transition this end of our period brings up for us. We need to mourn certain things, grieve a little for what is dying, let ourselves lay low in the cocoon while we are changing, and celebrate the new self that is being born. It is a time to come to terms with past traumas and hurts, to make peace with our ghosts, with our selves. We learn to treat ourselves with compassion and kindness, as we would treat others. We learn to move more slowly because multi-tasking is no longer working for us.

Mostly, we learn to listen within. The needs of the inner being can no longer be ignored. A woman's cycle is something to get to know. Your inner workings are something to get close to. The ancient rituals and ceremonies surrounding Demeter and the Eleusinian mysteries were connected to the cycles of Mother earth, and of women. Our bleeding was once sacred. Our need for alone time was once respected and valued. Journalling, keeping track of your cycle, watching the moon's cycle to see how aligned you are, are just a few ways you can do this.

So don't get conned into thinking because we have equality in working status (in most areas), and parity on a salarial level, that we should just shut up about our bodies' needs at this transitional time, and keep on keeping on. If you are feeling exhausted, wired, overwhelmed, irrational and emotional, give yourself a break. Find out more about this peri-menopausal shift, this journey towards the self. There are many good books listed on this blog, but a very good overview is Joan Borysenko's A woman's book of life, or Dr. Christiane Northrup's Wisdom of Menopause. A little information and a lot of inspiration will make you feel less 'insane'. You are not insane, you are just finding a new balance. The old one won't work anymore.

Right now I am reading, The Change by Germaine Greer and The Silent Passage by Gail Sheehy. A new book, just arrived today, is Marianne Williamson's The Age of Miracles, Embracing the New Mid-Life - more about these in a future blog.

Let yourself breathe a little today. Just for today, accept how you feel, and breathe into it.

Embrace the power of doing nothing, if that's what it takes to make you feel better.
That's where I'm at this week, making little sabbaticals as I go,



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