Journey Through Menopause
I started writing this article in July 2020, just shortly after my perimenopause journey began. I put it down because the pain was too much, and I wasn’t ready to face what my body was inevitably going to experience. This is my story.
I’ll never forget that first hot flash. It was one of those perfect Bay Area days and I was sitting in the living room by myself when all of a sudden someone turned up the temperature. Only, there was no other person in the room and the thermostat was off. The only heat that got turned up was my own inner furnace. It was like I went from a breezy 70 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit in less than one minute.
I fidgeted, moved around, and opened the door in an attempt to get some air. Once the heat wave was over, I dismissed the experience and moved on. Two days later when it happened again, I sat back and exclaimed, “Oh shit! Was that a hot flash?” I stared forward, completely perplexed. I looked around the room awaiting validation from someone who wasn’t there.
My initial feelings were of disbelief, “This can’t be it,” I’m only 49, that’s too young!” As I thought back to my last period, I realized it had been a few months. My cycle worked like clockwork from the time I was 15 until I became pregnant. Even after giving birth at 35, I bled monthly and it lasted 5–7 days, light-medium-light flow. But now, it was gone and with the pandemic stressors, I hadn’t noticed.
I thought of every reason this couldn’t be happening to me. I was a gymnast and started my cycle later than most, I just knew the end of that cycle was much farther away. But it wasn’t, the journey had just begun.
My first task was to address the hot flashes. I had already spent 10 years researching and developing hormonal friendly herbal blends for womb wellness, the hot flashes gave me an incentive to create one to relieve my personal increase in temperature.
It took me two weeks of researching herbs individually and in combinations to develop a blend that brought relief from the internal fire that tormented me. It worked, the heat diminished, and I believed that all “those” problems went away as well.
Once I got rid of the hot flashes, my initial thoughts were, “Yes, no more monthly bleeding.” Until a few more months passed, and I bled so profusely I thought something was wrong. When that heavy period stopped I thought okay, now this time it’s over. Until I had another hot flash a year later.
This time I looked at my eating habits and realized, the commonality had to do with my cheat day. I had begun eating gluten more, and since it’s an endocrine disrupter* that I removed from my life years prior, I figured it was the culprit. I cut out the gluten, drank a couple cups of my menopause blend, and went on about my cool way, mild temperature stable. Until…
Believing relief from hot flashes was the only menopause-related issue that would exist in my body, I didn’t anticipate the rise in anxiety. I went through an unwanted ride on a literal emotional roller coaster of emotional ups and downs. Yet, I still refused to acknowledge the reality.
We were in and out of Covid restrictions, my Grandfather was going through severe dementia and my Grandmother was getting depressed. I went back and forth, just to stand outside their house so my Grandmother could look at my son and me for comfort. “Please, just come in. I want my kiss.” She would say.
“Grandma, I can’t, Covid.”
“We’ll I don’t have it and I don’t care, just give me a hug.”
“Soon, Grandma, soon”
Soon came sooner than later when they both needed additional support and trying to get services was more complicated than it needed to be. So, with mask on, I was going back and forth 45 minutes to their city. Naturally, when I started experiencing anxiety, I dismissed it as stress.
Between my son home in in distance learning, caregiving, looking for work, trying to save my business, and irregular cycles that came at random, feeling anxious seemed like a reasonable response. I took an adaptogen blend tincture to calm the anxiety, and kept going.
After my Grandfather passed, I put anxiety to the side so that I could hold space for my Grandmother’s grief while helping to care for her. Seven months later my aunt, her daughter passed, then a week later my Grandmother, all in one year. Adding a broken heart to the hormonal fluctuations, life became overwhelming.
I did what I’d become accustomed to doing, I took charge. I checked in with myself to see if after 11 years of freedom from depression, was it time to get back on antidepressants. I started a new job which offered a nice distraction, began acupuncture treatment for the anxiety, and felt relief. It was in that moment that I decided to face the facts, even though I was grieving, my body was preparing for menopause. A new level of grief began.
Nurturing Through Grief
I allowed myself the space to cry. I began to hike twice a week and spend time with other people. I filled up journal after journal with feelings, and the existential crisis of why am I here, what’s my true purpose.
I started working with a coach who had a Doctorate in Psychology. She not only supported me through career decisions, she held space for me to work through my tears and brain fog. I had a plan and was putting it into action with a concrete support system. Life seemed to move on beautifully.
Just when I thought I had mastered all the symptoms, I noticed that my hair was thinning. After each hair wash day, I had a handful of hair. My labs were normal, so it wasn’t my thyroid. Perimenopause rides again. I also realized that in all the stress, I had stopped taking the supplements that were crucial to my physical and emotional health. Exhausted, I compelled myself to make healthier choices.
I started taking my supplements again, I have a tea business, so I drink plenty of nourishing herbal blends. I journal regularly, allowing my words to express grief’s hollow flow. I allow myself to cry, pick myself up, and either go hiking or spend time at the beach. I go to brunch regularly with others. I also talk to women who are willing to have the menopause conversation, the ones who can share their stories and hold space for mine. It’s made a huge difference.
As I look back, I realize that I had been preparing my body for menopause since my late 30’s when I started developing womb friendly tea blends. I had gone gluten-free for health reasons and took most common endocrine disrupters* out of my life. Until I turned 49, I felt hormonally balanced and in excellent health.
I’ve had four hot flashes in three years. I haven’t had a cycle in 11 months. For some this is a time to prepare for an initiation into my next phase of life. But I’m not, I’m still grieving the thought of not being able to birth another child through my body, with my eggs. That meant something to me.
One thing that is most certain, if you’ve had a period, whether monthly or irregularly, it will stop. When and how that happens, is unique to you. What symptoms you may or may not experience depends on your body. Some women experience hot flashes and night sweats, some don’t. Some feel sensitive and don’t want to be touched, others crave being held. Many report a decrease in sex drive, others report an increase.
Menopause is not a one size fits all diagnosis where every woman will go through every single symptom at the same period of time. Our body’s are uniquely designed to have our individual experiences and although many of them can be similar, they may not be exactly the same. Some women may begin in their 40’s, others 50’s, for some it may be earlier, others later. What prompts the symptoms vary.
For me the trigger is gluten, for others it may be something different. I would offer find out what’s the trigger for you. Whether that be through an “Elimination Diet” where you remove common triggers at different intervals to find what could be the culprit, hormonal testing, or working closely with a competent healthcare/nutrition professional. It may be worth it to you to try something that will offer some relief. There are options.
These recommendations are based on my 13 years as a Nutrition Educator who has studied herbalism for 19 years, and from a woman going through menopause right now.
1. Look at what you put in and on your body with no judgment or shame. What are you eating that could be disruptive to your hormones? What skin/hair products are you using? What cleaning products are in your environment. Depending on what you are using, they could be contributing to hormonal imbalance.
2. Talk to a competent healthcare professional. This could be a doctor, nurse, psychologist, and/or a nutrition professional. I previously saw a Naturopathic Doctor and was amazed at the positive impact on my body and mind. I am honestly a big fan of Functional Medicine, it does cost, but their lab panels are way more comprehensive than any I’ve had with mainstream medicine.
3. Seek out a nurturing community of women who will offer support, and empower you in your unique experience. Compassionate conversations with other women who can say, “I’ve been there,” truly makes a difference.
4. Be mindful of people who tell you what your symptoms will be, and only offer one path to relief. We are all different and what works for one, may not work for another.
Own Your Story
What I would offer is that you own your experience. Remember, you are a unique individual with your own body chemistry. Your body will change at a different time in a different way. Whether you’re in your 30’s, 40’s, 50’s or beyond, whether you’re in the peri phase, or in menopause, do not allow any other person narrate your experience. That’s their body, not yours. I would like to empower you to take charge of your body, do what you can to alleviate any symptoms you may have, and control your own narrative. You have options.
I pray this serves you well.
You can learn more about me at http://tarachristina.com/ and https://www.instagram.com/1tarachristina/
*Endocrine disruptors are natural or human made chemicals that disrupt a persons hormonal system. Some endocrine disrupters are soy and gluten, some can be found in laundry detergent, fabric softener, makeup, lotions, fragrances, BPA, etc. you can find a full list in the resources below.