Conversations on a train: Menopause

There are some topics that are taboo for public discussion. Some are sensible taboos, others are not, and some are changing their status. Menopause being one of the latter. Coming home on the train the other afternoon I managed to embarrass my teenager (yay!) by having a conversation about the symptoms and treatments of menopause. I find it interesting, given what teenagers post on social media, that a normal function could cause her to want to curl up and die. But that is a topic for another day.

How it happened: I was sitting on the train when I began having a rather warm, and importantly, not hot, flush (the Chinese Medicine is starting to work!!) and grabbed the fan from my handbag. I started fanning, only to have my teenager nudge me and sotto voce tell me that it was disturbing the woman I was sitting next to. I turned to look at the woman, who had clearly heard, and she said, “I just stopped doing what you are doing.” I was quite taken aback as she looked the same age as me. I am convinced I am too young, 48, to be undergoing menopuase. I asked her how long it had lasted and she said seven years. She had finally given in and taken HRT. Her symptoms were so severe that I felt a twinge of guilt about my whingeing and whining of late. My sister, who is similar in appearance to the woman, also suffers greatly and I jokingly said it must be a blond haired blue eyed curse to suffer so much. At this point another woman leaned into the conversation and said, in a friendly manner, “I can assure you it isn’t.”

With dark olive skin and brown eyes she was no doubt correct. The three of us all smiled at each other and it was as though an instant bond formed. The type of bond that can only exist amongst people who have experienced the same thing. I asked if she was still having menopause symptoms and how long they had been going for. Like the woman next to me she didn’t look “old” or “menopausal”. I was really surprised to learn that she had started before she was 50 and now in her 60s was still experiencing symptoms. I said a quick prayer to any god that might be lurking around that I wouldn’t experience them for that long.

It was interesting to note the amount of women surreptitiously listening in to our conversation but too shy to participate. Clearly we three women are pioneers of public discussion. We discussed different complementary medicines, the pros and cons of HRT, Doctors opinions on complementary treatments (overwhelmingly negative, despite medical disasters like HRT with its proven links to ovarian cancer), and finally we discussed the impact on careers. One of the women experienced such a huge level of fatigue that she, like me, had requested a part time role, and her work place would not accommodate it and so, like me, she had no alternative than to resign. Such limited thinking.

It was a really refreshing conversation, and I learnt a lot. I was disappointed when my station arrived that it had to end. I regret not giving my contact details to the women so we might share some more. I would really love to start a group, physical or virtual, for women that provides a safe space to learn and laugh about symptoms, share experiences, celebrate or lament  the support or lack of support offered by family and friends, and what treatments have cured, or minimised, or provided some relief.

If anyone is interested I would be happy to be an admin for a closed Facebook group. Or I might just start a page and try my hand at developing some dedicated menopause memes to add some humour to our day. Feel free to comment here or contact me via my Facebook page if you are interested in a group or a page, or have a bit of artistic meme flair…Or some funny and not so funny stories to share, or links that helped you.


Vipassana + Menopause = Fail

I’m back! Yes, I realise I wasn’t gone for long. You probably didn’t have time to notice I was missing. The retreat is amazing. It is serious bootcamp for meditation. 4.30am start to 9.30pm finish, with meal and rest breaks. But mostly solid meditation practice and absolute silence, not even gestures between practitioners is allowed. Great nourishing food too. But for me it wasn’t a success.

I left the retreat 51 hours after I arrived. It appears that serious meditation and menopause don’t go together. Part of meditation is learning to set aside pain. This does not mean ignoring it, it means seeing it and acknowledging it and then letting it pass. It does too. Except hot flushes!

I was really determined to nail meditation when I arrived at the Vipassana Retreat. Probably a bit too much ego when you think about what meditation is meant to achieve, but I was really looking forward to taking my meditation to the next level. I had taken a hand fan with me to help me through the worst moments of the flushes, as I do at home. Regrettably, the assistant teacher decided that I could not use the fan as this would disrupt my awareness of my breathing. In Vipassana you maintain awareness of the soft natural breath in and out at the tip of the nose. If I was waving a fan how could I feel the breath. I was able to continue to feel the breath despite the fanning. But that wasn’t acceptable, I just had to work through the flush as I would for pain. This was said with all the arrogance and condescension of a woman who never had menopause symptoms! After my first meeting with her, and feeling especially belittled, I tried: I really tried to meditate through the flushes. I got up at 4.30am and stayed meditating in my room. 2 solid hours and minimal success, noting that this is part of the peak time for my flushes. I had breakfast and a break and then meditated for another 3 hours. I stopped for lunch and then meditated for a further 1.5 hours.

Now I have to remind you that my flushes go both ways. Freezing cold to burning hot. The TCM that I have commenced taking has taken the edges off but not enough yet for me to leave my layers on. When I am cold I need an extra layer and when I am hot I need to remove a layer (or ten). The retreat is in the mountains, and even in the middle of the day you need gloves, scarf and beanie outside and to a lesser extent inside (to keep costs down). So there I am, in my room adding a coat, removing the coat, removing a jumper, adding my beanie and scarf, removing my beanie and scarf. You get the picture. It was far more disruptive than picking up the fan and fanning lightly for a couple of minutes. Or worse, standing up and walking outside into the cold mountain air for a rapid cool down.

After all the meditation dedicated to moving past the flushes I realised that I could not maintain my focus as I would for pain, because at least once you acknowledge the pain you move beyond it. Flushes aren’t like that. Pain is constant so you can put it aside. Flushes are new each and every time. So you have to address each one as you would a new pain arising in your body. Regardless of your focus on your breathing you can feel the rapid heating of your body, skin burning and perspiration dripping all over your body. Taking off clothes brought me completely out of the meditative state and I would then need to start again from the beginning each time. With a fan I could still maintain a reasonable level of focus/awareness and not come completely out of the state, kind of like how you go to the bathroom in the night without really waking up.

So it was, with a heavy heart and great sadness that I stopped the female manager and asked permission to leave. Fortunately I do not feel a sense of failure. Only a deep sense of frustration that in a place dedicated to enhancing students practice of the Vipassana method I could not find the support to allow me to use a fan occassionally while meditating. So here’s hoping I find a natural therapy to control the flushes and can do a Vipassana retreat sometime soon.

If you are interested in a meditation retreat, the link below is to a worldwide organisation that runs on donations. It is not affiliated with any religion. It is purely designed to provide you with ten days of silence to practice your meditation skills and help you to purify your mind.

Menopausal Madness & the Working Woman

I always wondered why women would take Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) especially when all the news linking it to the development of cancers started arising (see link below). That is until changing my bed linen became a daily occurrence and the slightly strange moods morphed into feelings of being overwhelmed or disengaged and unmotivated, we won’t even discuss the bizarre feelings of anxiety! I have always prided myself on being a strong woman that will always step up to the plate when needed. I am the person who makes the hard decisions. I’m the person the family calls on for answering questions like “should we turn off the life support”. Serious. That’s me. I’m the Aunty people call when there is a problem that needs a person who can act sensibly and responsibly under pressure. Not to mention being the super-organised one at work who just rolls up her sleeves and gets on with it. Now I find myself with eye leakage at cute puppy and kitten memes. As I dragged my jumper off for the nth time yesterday, I wondered how professional me would be coping.

Currently I have the luxury of working from home and videoing in for meetings. During my last face to face meeting I was only having slightly warm flushes of an evening. Now the most recent ones are noticeable. So, how does the professional woman manage, in a room full of clients, peers and subordinates to not rip off her shirt and madly fan herself with the most recent financial report? How do you deal with brain fog? What are the alternatives to HRT? Because, I have to say that a couple of days ago if I was working in a corporate environment I would have considered it.

When I went to the TCM Dr she commented that “I’ve caught it early”. This means in terms of treatment my menopausal symptoms will respond better. I now have 15 little black ball shaped pills to take twice a day and acupuncture once a week till I get some balance back. Given I am a holistic health coach myself, I understand that unlike harsh Western medicine, I will not see immediate results. I am also a firm believer in not trying multiple therapies at once, so I am not trying any essential oil or homeopathic treatments; as yet. But I can assure you that at 3am, with zero sleep and another flaming hot wave sweeping through my body I could easily set aside my do no harm principals and eat the heart of a frog, or drink the urine of the endangered long-eared bat! And, and this is an important AND, I am NOT having severe symptoms, not only am I in the early stages, my  plant-based (mostly organic) eating habits mean that I am less exposed to hormones and chemicals in the food chain.

I have been doing a bit of research. By this I mean I activated the female friendship tree and got some tips. I have heard that I should wear waterproof makeup that allows you to sweat, no ladylike glow here, or where no makeup at all, or get your eyebrows and eyelashes tinted (something I already did until my recent accidental conversion to plant-based eating). Put a bundle of tissues in each armpit and leave your jacket on during meetings. Keep a diary to see if you can time the flushes and only schedule meetings when you think you won’t have one (can you imagine what that notation would like it in your diary? 9am Meeting with CFO, 9.45am Hot flush …). Drink as much water as possible. Avoid eating foods that cause your body to smell when it is sweating. In fact, try and avoid altogether because apparently you can just get smelly. Oh, and one last one, always wear at least a panty liner, because minor incontinence is also on the cards. Menopause Australia list 34 symptoms of menopause and peri-menopause. If you weren’t depressed at the thought of menopause, read the list, I promise you will be at least sad and apprehensive. On the upside, you will be informed and better able to manage and make tough decisions.

On a professional note, I recommend being open, whilst you don’t have to discuss each and every symptom, which would also be tactless, you can do what I do, drag out my trusty fan and fan myself. I say nothing unless someone looks at me questioningly, at which point I simply say “that time of life” and move on. You will also be surprised at how accommodating men of your age group and older are. It appears that as we get older there are less and less social taboos. I had a man at the airport the other night regaling me with stories about his wife’s flushes and how he often ended up on the couch!

On a further professional note, it is worth your while to be familiar with these symptoms as we all manage or work with a diversely aged population. To date I have worked with: women going through IVF and men whose partners were; colleagues with children and with children facing difficulties; women going through “the change”; and people my age and older dealing with becoming grandparents (sometimes very unexpectedly) and often at the same time becoming the carer for an elderly parent. All these outside engagements can affect performance. To keep employees productive we need to be understanding and able to provide a flexible and harmonious workplace. Who knows, it might be you who needs a special consideration one day!

After my meditation retreat I will be recommencing my martial arts training. I am hoping that meditation and the discipline of martial arts will assist me in regaining and retaining my focus and sharp thinking.

Some further reading on menopause…

Menopause Centre Australia:

Cancer Research UK

A little happy note from me…

I wish that all of you whose meanderings in the Red Dust have brought you to the menopausal stage of your journey are able to embrace it as the next big adventure. I personally am looking forward to seeing how the way I view and respond to the world changes. And while I probably can’t dance like I used to (in fact, after my nieces 21st recently, I know I can’t), there is always a dance to be found! So I will continue wandering my Red Dust Way and hope I can bring you some wisdom from my menopausal journey.

Menopause? Now!? Really!?!

Yes, Really! At the ripe young age of 48 I am heading into menopause. Don’t ask if it is peri-menopause or menopause. I have been too paralysed with fear to do any intelligible research. I didn’t even know there was more than one stage. I did try to do research. Really. I googled “symptoms of menopause” and in the search results was an article on “38 symptoms…” At that point I truly wished I drank alcohol so I could drown my fears, sorrows and anything else. I refused to read further. The symptoms I have include random memory loss, fuzzy thinking and a huge, almost crippling inability to focus. And, as if that isn’t enough, I am spending the entire night on a rolling wave of hot AND cold flushes. My mother has some serious explaining to do. This part of my life was left out of the “Talk” we had when I had meno-start.

Now I must say I was relieved to discover that the brain fugue is part of menopause. Even if it was delivered via the oh-so-not hilarious taunts of a friend on Facebook. Well, okay, they were funny taunts but that is not the point. I had been starting to think I might have an early onset of Alzheimer’s so I was glad to know that I would stop forgetting important stuff, of course I can also continue to remember dancing on pianos when I was younger. Perhaps I can organise a selective forgetfulness? I was also pretty okay with the flushes. Although my sleep was disturbed, I was waking feeling rested. The flushes started of as mildly warm and stayed that way until about a week ago. Now it is total strip off time. This is all fine and good until you are a guest on a bed in the lounge room and wake to find yourself with blankets kicked off and no t-shirt! My son assures me he doesn’t have to burn his eyes out!!

And again, all that I could have coped with, until I started getting more than one or two mild flushes through the day. Now I get several through the day and they require me to strip off my outer layers. And I have many layers as just before hand I would have had teeth-chattering cold and bundled up. Fortunately, being a born and bred Melbourne girl I am used to dressing for 26 seasons in one day, but I have to tell you on my recent flight back from Sydney on a tiny plane there wasn’t much room for on again off again clothes. Well, not unless I wanted to elbow my fellow passengers, which I confess is something I have thought about on previous flights but these fellow travelers were nice people.

Anyway, after the son nearly burning his eyes out incident, I had decided I needed a Plan. I find things work better when you have a Plan. Even if you can’t stick to it, you still have an idea of where you are meant to be heading and what you are meant to be doing. My plan – always wear a t-shirt and jacket instead of sweaters. Simple! I thought I was so clever. Well the weather was not conducive to the t-shirt and jacket so I had to wear a sweater. On one occasion, Sydney got a lovely eyeful of my middle-aged pale midriff as I ripped my sweater off. My daughter-in-law at least had a vague idea of what I was going through so did not die of embarrassment at the feral stripping off on the busiest thoroughfare in the city.

Time to change tactics. This was when I decided that a fan would be a lovely complement to my plan. Do you have any idea how stupid you look fanning yourself in freezing cold weather? I do. Especially when all the trendy young hipsters surrounding you have no clue as to why you would be fanning yourself. I suddenly felt awkward and gauche. Not something that is foreign to me, but it has certainly not been something that has caused me concern for decades. I rarely give a toss what strangers in crowded restaurants think about me. I dress for me and behave for me and choose to have the friends I have. And quite frankly I can’t be bothered with people making vapid judgements. So why the insecurity? Or rather, anxiety? Ah, yet another symptom. Something I also know nothing about. I actually had some anxiety two weeks ago and had to phone a friend to ask what was wrong with me. When she told me I laughed and told her I didn’t get anxiety. Guess I was wrong on that count.

So, where does that leave me? Well, I wasn’t planning on going through menopause until I was 55. Guess that schedule needs reviewing. So I thought, oh well, no biggy, I’ll just suck it up and get through it. I mentioned to a friend how uncomfortable the symptoms were. She told me she has a friend who has been having the symptoms for 10 years. 10 years!!! Another woman I spoke to mentioned that her Aunty has been having symptoms for over 15 years. So NOT A HAPPY CAMPER people. What next? I have decided I need to do some research and I went to see the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Dr. I have had a treatment of acupuncture and started taking a herbal remedy. I’ll let you know how it works out. And any interesting tidbits from my research. Hopefully I’ll have my happy dancing feet back on in no time at all.