As mentioned in my previous post, I have finally put two and two together and realised that what I have been experiencing is the onset of menopause. Ding ding ding Raphaëlle! Age is a funny thing. Despite the fact that I love celebrating my birthdays, I never think about my age. I consider that a good thing, until I get to this type of milestones and it takes me a minute to catch up to the fact that I am aging :D Before I understood my symptoms could be the result of perimenopause, I actually thought that, after 30 years of mostly smooth sailing periods, maybe I was experiencing some bad PMS hahaha (this gal still thinks she is seventeen). Moving on, I am now embracing that I am entering a new cycle in my feminine life; and I am intent on transitioning into it as gracefully as I can. The best way to do that is to educate myself as much as I can on what is actually going on in my body right now.
I was surprised to learn that perimenopause can start as early as the age of 35. I wrongly imagined that I would not have to think about menopause for another ten years :) yeah, ok then. Actually, I am not completely wrong about that. Perimenopause and menopause describe two different steps: perimenopause refers to the time leading to menopause (and this can take anywhere between two to ten years), while menopause is the absence of a menstrual cycle over a 12 months period. After that, a woman is considered postmenopausal. No more periods, dunzo with the bleeding and the symptoms of perimenopause. I think I'll throw myself a motherfucking party when I get to that point. In the meantime, I see this as an opportunity to refresh and tweak some things in my lifestyle. Feeling off has not been a pleasant experience, but it is part of the process: noticing, listening to the symptoms and go from there.
Although the symptoms are many, the first symptom I personally experienced (and this is only in hindsight; again, I did not think about perimenopause at all then) is night sweats. I haven't had them in a long time, and the first time I had one I was going through a challenging time in my life, therefore I assumed they were a manifestation of the stress I was trying to manage – I still think it had to do with that, but it was not the only factor. I have not experienced the daytime hot flushes, so I have no idea what that feels like, but night sweats are enough as it is. I love the heat (scorching summers, saunas, steam rooms, bikram yoga, you name it), I know what it is like to sweat... or so I thought. Night sweats are a very different ball game. I would wake up absolutely drenched, having-to-change-the-bedding-in-the-middle-of-the-night drenched! It's an insane feeling, an intense overheating; but because I am asleep, I wake up cold and shivering. Not a pleasant sensation, at all. They were a recurring occurrence for a few months, then stopped for months on end, then one or two from time to time. Right now, I can't remember the last time I had one, I think it was about a year ago. This is also why I didn't think too much about it, they were an inconvenience when they did happen, but they were quite irregular. Some people say that they are the result of hormonal changes, specifically the levels of oestrogen dropping drastically.
The other noticeable symptom – and I am only sharing my own experience here – was extreme fatigue. I have to be vigilant that I take enough iron rich foods, because I am prone to anemia. I once had to do an iron supplement cure for several weeks to bring my iron level back to liveable standard (I literally fell asleep in any vehicle in motion and anytime I stopped moving, not good). So, again, I didn't think that the feeling of tiredness here and there could be linked to perimenopause. The thing is, I don't necessarily think that it is always a matter of identifying symptoms and having a magic answer straightaway. Symptoms from different disorders can overlap, often overlap. Before the concept of perimenopause even entered my consciousness, I actually looked into adrenal fatigue as being a possible cause to my feeling off, tired and cranky. Adrenal fatigue syndrome is often included in the conversation around menopause, although some people believe that it is not a thing at all. The reason it is brought up is because perimenopause is basically a long ass goodbye party in honour of our ovaries as we move into the non reproductive stage of our life. When this happens, our sex hormones (oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone) fluctuate and recalibrate (in a way) to adapt to this change and our adrenal glands take over the jobs of our sex hormones; a takeover of sorts. People who recognise adrenal fatigue syndrome as legit believe that the fatigue is a consequence of living a stressful lifestyle for many years (adrenal glands are responsible for producing hormones which manage our stress levels), leaving our adrenal glands essentially drained and unable to deal with the takeover when we reach menopause season. And, surprise surprise, the symptoms of AFS are very similar to the ones associated with perimenopause. I'm still not completely sure I don't have AFS. The past year (if not the past five years altogether) has been pretty stressful for me, and still is to be honest. The other fun part is that it is quite possible to suffer from perimenopause only, AFS only, for the two to overlap or – did you say two for one?! – to have both at the same time. I'm very much in the process of figuring things out right now, so only time will tell which one I am blessed with.
What makes me lean towards perimenopause is the changes in my menstrual cycles. Up untill the end of last year, I was a straight up 28 days- 4 days menstruation cycle kinda gal, with minimum drama. This started to change slowly at the end of last year. My cycles gradually became a little bit shorter, then some were longer; they slowly but surely became noticeably irregular, considering my personal history. So, it makes sense at my age that the primary culprit for my night sweats, fatigue and irregular cycles would be perimenopause.
More recently, I have also noticed that my emotional state is very fragile – more than usual. Again, I attributed that to more acute bouts of PMS at first. However, even in the midst of heavy emotional turmoil, it became clear that this was some next level type of depressive state – even for me :D. I began to track my emotional state around the time of my periods, only to become aware that I suffered some episodes of deep despair, uncontrollable crying and overall hopelessness regardless of it being my period or not. This realisation was actually worrying to begin with, because even though I felt there was something going on deep inside myself (something I felt overwhelmed by and without control over), I could not pinpoint what and why it was happening to me. Every time I felt myself being overcome by deep sadness and incredibly dark thoughts, I had the sensation of being two people experiencing one situation. I had the intellectual awareness to understand that my crying, mood swings and feelings of hopelessness were a result of thoughts generated by something going on within me, while feeling like whatever was going on inside me was a stronger force than my rational. I knew that what I was feeling was the consequence of some imbalances inside me, yet I completely felt submerged by the physical expression of my despair. I speak of this in the past tense, because I did not understand the root of it all then, but I am still struggling with the process. It is all very new to me.
Hormonal Rollecoaster Ride
As I pointed out before, oestrogen is not the only hormone fluctuating during perimenopause: the levels of progesterone and testosterone are also getting out of whack and causing havoc physically and mentally. When I first read about perimenopause and hormones, a lot of articles suggested that it was a lack of oestrogen, or too much progesterone which caused the symptoms associated with perimenopause. And while there is some truth to that, there is a little bit more to it: the symptoms occur because the hormonal levels keep on rising and dropping. That's what causes the body and the mind to be all over the place, because hormones are all over the place while a woman goes through the onset of menopause. So now I have a better idea of what I am dealing with, even though I knew intuitively that it was linked to my cycle and my hormones being out of whack. Our physical bodies are so intelligent, they constantly communicate with us to try to let us know what is going on. It's not always a language easy to understand and decipher – because we are often out of touch with ourselves –, but it is there. I'm extremely grateful for my yoga practice and my daily pranayama and meditation routine; they keep me grounded and connected to my body and soul and enable me to notice patterns, and changes in those patterns, as they happen. This allows me to adapt to situations as fluidly and easefully as possible by taking the appropriate steps.
Natural Remedies For Perimenopause Symptoms
While I have been researching adrenal fatigue syndrome, perimenopause and the menstrual cycle in more details, I have inevitably researched ways to naturally alleviate my symptoms. If you have read other posts of mine, I think it is pretty clear that I believe everything I need is to be found in nature, the foods I nourish my body with, and the way I live my life on a daily basis. Thankfully, I am already doing a lot of the things which are recommended to make perimenopause an enjoyable experience – because, yes, it does not have to suck :D. However, I love to learn new tricks and change my ways when it is necessary. Below are some of the things I have decided to implement/add/change in my lifestyle. Everybody is unique, so I'm not saying this is what every woman going through menopause should do, but if it can provide a little clarity or support, then all the better for it.
First, some of the things I already do (I dread to imagine what this would be like if I wasn't already doing them :D) and which are recommended by all the different sources I used for research:
Moving/exercise - No big surprise here. Our bodies are meant to move, contract and relax, close and open, expand in all directions. I have been missing swimming a lot lately, and I am going to find a pool and get back into it. I just love water, and swimming is one of the best activity to stimulate the entire body, as well as being amazing to improve the respiratory system.
Phytotherapy & aromatherapy - I have been using plant medicine for years, I love it. It is actually the first thing I looked into when I understood something was up with my menstrual cycle and my mental and physical health. I already use lavender, geranium, lemon and eucalyptus essential oils daily, and I added clary sage and basil essential oils to help alleviate a variety of symptoms attached to PMS, perimenopause and menopause. Ylang Ylang is also great, I use it every so often, because I just love the smell. In addition, I drink teas and infusions daily – i love making my own blends. I drink green tea daily, rosemary and sage infusion for my muscles, nettle is another favourite, peppermint and hibiscus as well. There are so many to choose from and blend. I started drinking fennel and hibiscus infusion when I thought I had some bad PMS. Hibiscus infusion is so yummy and a beautiful colour. The latest additions are meadowsweet and artichoke leaf.
Self-care - One of the most important things to cultivate. I make sure I create space and time strictly for me; self-care has always been a priority, as far back as I can remember. For me, it takes the form of breathing and meditating every morning, spend as much time as possible contemplating nature, surround myself with people who enrich my life, nourishing my soul with interesting reads, educative podcasts, good movies and documentaries.
Nutrition - I love cooking and eating. I believe that food is the best medicine. I follow a mostly plant-based (I find this term annoying for some reason, I think it's become this trendy word to throw in conversation :D) diet, but I eat eggs, cheese and some fish from time to time. As a rule, I eat mostly a lot of veggies and fruits while I also listen to my cravings. If I crave something specific, then I will have it.
Now, for the things I am re-discovering, adding to my lifestyle:
Supplementing - I used to supplement when I was in my 20's because I was vegetarian, very active and health conscious (that hasn't changed), and I wanted to make sure I was getting enough minerals and vitamins. I used a variety of things (vitamin C, Kelp, B complex, Iron) to support my alimentation, then I stopped because I wanted to focus more on getting what I needed mainly from the foods I was eating. But life is about being open, adapt and change when necessary, therefore I starting to take acerola for vitamin C to boost my energy levels, magnesium and B6 vitamin to help with my moods and my muscle recovery and a plant complex to support the health of my bones and joints. Menopausal women are more susceptible to develop osteoporosis because of the decrease in oestrogen.
Intermittent fasting - Ok, I've been into fasting for years, but IF has not been my main form of fasting. However, I always notice that I feel very light physically and mentally when I do it. Mainly, I am interested in incorporating IF as a daily routine, because it has the potential to regulate hormonal changes, specifically with insulin levels. So now, onn top of my regular fasting routine, I have now started to intermittent fast daily at a ratio of 16:8. That means I eat during an hour window (I decided on 11am til 7pm) and fast the rest of the time. As expected, I feel very good. I've actually been doing one meal a day quite a bit, which works for me, I have to say. Sometimes I eat twice a day, within that 8 hours window. It's been almost two weeks and I can feel the benefits. To be honest, I already knew it would improve my overall well-being.
So, for now, this is what I am doing. I'll see how it evolves, but so far so good.