It’s only Tuesday, it’s only the second week of the school holidays and it’s only 7am. Already I can feel my body aching and a feeling of acute stress, as I lie in bed trying to summon the motivation to get out of it. Eventually, I persuade myself to move — just to make a cup of tea. And then when I’ve made the tea, I find the energy to make some breakfast, sort the kitchen and put the washing on. But then I need a rest, whilst I work out how best to get through the rest of the day, when all I really want to do is go back to bed and stay there, pretty much forever, or so it feels.
And so, I retreat to my writing room, with coffee and my laptop — to steal an hour or so before I have to re-enter a world, I am finding it increasingly difficult to engage in. The menopause is a very different challenge now to what it was. In the early days, it was difficult simply because I felt too physically ill to get off the sofa and too depressed to really care about it. The depth of exhaustion and despair, in its own perverse way, was actually quite liberating — quite frankly, there was no part of my mental or physical state that had enough capacity left to care about anything other than myself.
But now, 2 years in, with the on-going support of a private endocrinologist, a caring GP, a bespoke treatment plan including HRT and medication to address my previously undiagnosed insulin resistance and a significantly revamped lifestyle, I am able to get off the sofa and I do feel my emotions once again. In fact, I feel them so acutely, it can be completely overwhelming. They fluctuate without rhyme or reason, from contentment, joy, hope, to rage, grief, irritability, anxiety and hyper-sensitivity. The brain fog and loss of memory are constant companions, whilst the exhaustion comes and goes, as it pleases without any warning but sadly, the simplest of tasks still remain enormous mountains to climb on a daily basis, further exacerbating the exhaustion.
And I have come to realise that the menopause is about so much more than a biological change and if I simply address it from only that angle, I will continue to swim against her tide and eventually I will simply run out of energy.
I’m a problem solver by nature, I’m naturally curious, a high energy extrovert, self-motivated, blessed with a decent intellect and lots of ambition. The menopause has slowly but surely, shook every building block that I thought I consisted of and made me question it.
It took my energy at first, then my motivation for life, followed by my self-esteem, my rationale, my memory, my physical fitness and of course, my body. And it brought dark thoughts from the abyss into my conscious mind, it made me neurotic, paranoid, grief stricken and planted an ache so deep I thought I would never be able to reach it, for silence and time to myself. It is not merely a medical condition or a transitional phase of life — it’s a complete and utter transformation of your very being. And I am learning that there is no quick fix or one-dimensional approach to make this go away, to return to who I was before. The menopause is a one-way journey, not a finite destination. You cannot turn back, you can only go forward. You have to let go of who you were, before she reveals who you will be. And you cannot swim against her tide, else I do believe I will drown. But if you can face her with curiosity and a willingness to hear what she is really trying to tell you, then there is a real chance to finally be all that you can be. So, for better or worse, I am listening intently, trying to be a good student and learning to swim with the tide of the menopause,
My medication, changes to my diet and lifestyle, mean that I can operate at around 70% of my prior capacity, for around 70% of the time. After pretty much stopping being able to operate at all for weeks on end, the medical intervention has been lifesaving. But the remaining 30% of the time, brings with it symptoms and feelings that over-shadow everything and as such create a disproportionate memory in your mind — it’s a bit like when there are 15 headlines and only one is negative, it is the 1 bad, not the 14 good headlines that will fill your head. So that 30% matters, a lot and is not to be ignored or even worse, invalidated as unimportant.
Because I believe that it is the feelings we are left after the medical intervention, which require the most attention and work on our part. The physical balancing of my hormones is achieved via supplementing my oestrogen, testosterone, managing my insulin and supporting my vitamin B12, D and folic acid and then having regular blood tests, along with a timeline of my fluctuating symptoms, which my endocrinologist and I anayse in great depth. At periodic intervals we update the dosages and frequency and agree our contingency plan should my symptoms worsen due dropping levels in-between our sessions (roughly every 5 months). So, I am confident that all that is possible with modern day medicine and research in this area, is being done. What is left is something far more nebulous and intimate that my physical biology.
My natural curiosity has meant that I am open to different views and approaches to the menopause — I do not think any are right or wrong, it’s simply not that binary and there is no one size fits all. I truly believe that each woman has her own journey and part of that journey is to understand your own needs and the solutions that best fit your natural inclinations. For me, that’s a mixed approach — I combine modern day medicine, with spirituality and ancient wisdom and a deep level of self-awareness and openness to exploring the root causes of what I feel.
And I have come to conclude that sometimes, I actually need to sit in the discomfort, to invite all of the feelings in, but not to necessarily take them at face value — but to prod them, peel back the layers and truly understand what my body, in spite of the medical intervention, is still desperately trying to tell me. And so far, this is what I have learnt:
- Grief — I am grieving for all that I was and was not, for my perceived unfulfilled potential, for the beauty of youth now fading into something else, for the things I did and did not do. It is a natural part of life’s path to grieve for that which you have loved and cared for deeply over the years. It’s so important to give grief a voice, to recognise it and to let the tears flow, as a release of the sadness and loss we all have to endure. It is only then I can be truly honest with myself, about what has really mattered to me and why and most importantly, what can I learn from my past, in order to live my future to it’s full potential.
- Rage and anger — There is much I experienced and witnessed that has made my angry and rightly so. Rage and anger in itself does not harm me, but resisting it and letting it fester inside of me will. There is a ferocious energy that comes with these feelings and I believe I need to allow it to flow, to be channelled with wisdom and care, to create change for the better and ultimately to allow my wounds to heal, my trauma to be heard and my humanity to grow.
- Sensitivity — I have always been labelled as ‘over-sensitive’, but I now realise this is to be embraced and celebrated, not diluted and hidden. It gives me the courage, the passion, the motivation, to want to make things better, to seek the truth, because my sensitivity means I will not, I cannot, accept a slovenly and unfair world. Just because something has been, does not mean it should be, just because others follow a path, does not make it the right path. Sensitivity is my souls way of telling me it has been compromised and that I must find a way back to my values. Humanity cannot grow if we do not challenge that which needs to be challenged and have the courage of our convictions. Sensitivity is the early warning system that brings my attention to focus on where it needs to be.
- Irritability — Sometimes, the noise, the distractions and the demands are just too much. I am a human being, in order to reach my potential, to give value to this world, to help others, I also need to be able to help myself and to stop myself from breaking. And that means I have boundaries that need to be set, communicated and adhered to. My irritability serves to remind me, that they are being crossed and my value to this world and myself, will be diluted if I do not re-establish them and quickly.
- Anxiety -At it’s heart, this is really fear. Some real and some perceived, but all of it needs to be heard in order to understand the root causes. Many experiences I thought were long dead and buried, have actually continued to play a part in my life, every time something has hit one of their triggers, resulting in a fear based response, intricately woven into the fabric of my being. My anxiety is a map, helping me to find the root causes of those fears and to finally lay them to rest, with peace. So invite the fear in, let it walk by your side and take you to it’s place of birth so you can truly understand what it is telling you.
- Exhaustion and an aching body — Rest is for the weak, a narrative we see played out in the modern day world, day in, day out. And so we stop resting from an early age, we stop listening to the physical needs of our body and then wonder why they become broken. Our body is a wonderfully beautiful and clever system, but it’s also delicately balanced and fragile. It needs to be nourished and cared for. My exhaustion tells me I am neglecting my body, I am doing more than it can cope with and I need to simplify and prioritise — and do you know what, it’s amazing how much less than we actually think really needs doing. We are surrounded by distractions, meaningless tasks and comparison based activities, exhaustion can actually be a good tool to cut through all of that bullsh*t and help me focus on what really matters.
Menopause in many ways is a game of 2 halves — meeting our physical and biological needs with the help of the medical community and also understanding the wider psychological and for me, spiritual needs, as the menopause awakens parts of me that have laid dormant and other parts of me, that are only just coming into being, as I finally start to learn what it really means to be a whole woman, both with and without fertility.
And in conclusion, I would like to leave you with 5 key things that have helped me on the dark days, ignited hope about what is yet to come and allowed me to get to know myself a little better, because of, not in spite of the menopause:
- Never underestimate the impact of the menopause on your life — do not be brushed off or silenced by anyone. You know your body better than anyone else, keep banging on the door of your GP, keep pushing for help from people in the medical community, who truly understand the sophisticated nature and interaction of our hormones and do not allow a world still playing catch up to understand how best to support women in this area, to invalidate the very real transformation you are going through. You do not have to shut up and put up, find your voice, ask for help and please keep asking until you get it.
- There is no wrong or right way, just your way. Every woman is different, both biologically, physically, psychologically and emotionally. Many will tell you what is wrong or right, my experience is not to constrain myself with such binary views, but to be curious, read, research, journal about your own experiences, talk to and understand others — but most of all, allow your body to be heard and follow your instincts when deciding what path of treatment and support to follow.
- It will pass. No matter how dark some days have been, it does pass. Sometimes I have sobbed myself to sleep, sometimes I have retreated so far into myself, I wondered if I could ever find my way out again, but always it passes. Hold on during the storm, have faith in yourself, be kind to yourself and know that it will pass and calmer waters will follow.
- Do not be afraid to be honest, do not hide your menopause with shame and do not be forced into putting things down to the menopause, when in fact all the menopause has down has lifted the lid on some very real feelings and trauma, that badly need your love and attention. The menopause is a critical part of a woman’s life. For the sake of the generations yet to walk this path and helping society as a whole, support women through this phase much better, then we must bring this subject out into the light, talk about it, be honest about it and embrace it. We must go with, not against the tide.
- Learn to love yourself enough to listen to your body, just as you would do if a young child came to you asking for advice, for effectively that is what our body is doing. Do not be afraid of the discomfort or the uncertainty, your body knows how to get you through this and it is trying to tell you so.
These are my thoughts 2 years into my menopause. I have no doubt they will change over time, as I continue on this difficult but liberating journey. I sincerely hope they can be of help to others, for you to know that you are not alone and that the difficult days will pass.
A bit about me: I aspire to inspire people to be themselves, to embrace all of themselves, warts and all. To re-define our reality, to be more honest and sustainable. To re-define success, to be more diverse and focus on the stuff that really matters, not the shiny sh•t, that you cannot take with you anyway.
No-one will remember what car you drove, but my goodness, they will remember if you made them smile, feel good about themselves and accepted them for who they are. It is the gifts of kindness and understanding that will last beyond your lifetime, not the gifts of gold.
I’m a mum, writer, transformation consultant and all round eccentric, doing my own thing, in my own way, in the hope I can make others smile and love themselves a little bit more.
My blog, library of curiosity, daily inspiration and lots of other things, can be found on my website www.nikdavis.com.
My alternative and eclectic approach to fashion and design can be found at www.lillyisabella.co.uk.
I love people, I love life and I love to talk, so please feel free to reach out and let’s have a conversation.