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Rethinking menopause

Embark on a path toward true and meaningful growth and self-care
rethinking menopause

Are you over the age of 40 and feel like your body has gone completely haywire? Do you lose your keys only to find them in the freezer, or find your body suddenly drenched in sweat just standing at the checkout line? Are you falling asleep before your head hits the pillow only to be awake at 4 am feeling like monkeys are dancing in your skull? What about your mood? Have you started raging at inanimate objects or crying because you broke a shoelace? If this sounds familiar, you, my friend, may be entering menopause.

Menopause, although confusing and frustrating for most, is a completely normal and natural part of a woman’s* aging process. Unfortunately, the most predictable thing about this whole transition is how consistently unpredictable it is from one person to the next.

Most women will experience the above symptoms in some form or another, but the severity and timeline are completely varied. Because of the individuality of experiences, menopause becomes almost a cautionary tale, where we are taught to hope for the best but expect the worst.

This is unfortunate because menopause doesn’t have to be a devastating experience. With the right help and education, it can be a time of growth and learning, and maybe even a time of rejuvenation.

Menopause is often called a second puberty because it is a reversal, of sorts, of the hormone surge that we experience as teens, except instead of a hormone flood, we get a hormone trickle.

Menopause starts with perimenopause, which is typically first detected through a change in menstrual cycle, frequency and intensity. Other symptoms include night sweats, a change in vasomotor functions, vaginal discomfort, changes in body composition and fat distribution, loss of muscle, changes on the scale, et cetera. Some less obvious signs include changes in mood, brain fog, sleep disruptions and generally feeling low, out of sorts, anxious, angry or sad.

If you noticed that a lot of these symptoms are rather vague, you’re right. Changes in body composition, mood and even menstrual cycles can happen frequently for women, especially when you consider that we are all heavily dependent on the cycles of, well, life. Mood changes, body composition shifts, energy levels, even menstrual cycle shifts can vary drastically depending on situations like birth control, lifestyle and stress.

As a result, many women are in perimenopause for years before realizing that these confusing symptoms are due to a shift in hormones.

Lock her up!

It is the irregular nature of these symptoms that led to the brutal treatment of menopausal women in the past. During the Victorian era, for example, it was assumed that the onset of menopause would eventually lead to insanity; therefore, women could find themselves incarcerated in asylums at the mere mention of menopausal symptoms.

If a woman were to express sexual desire, particularly during menopausal years, it was often considered a sign of insanity and a pathway to evil, which could lead to mental disorders, such as nymphomania and hysteria. The response to this, alongside institutionalization, was the surgical removal of ovaries and even the occasional clitoridectomy. It’s no wonder women are afraid of aging.

Eventually, however, medical science crept out from under the patriarchy, just far enough to make the connection between menopause and hormones. The current advancements in medicine, endocrinology and women’s health/rights have led to more effective treatments than incarceration and organ removal.

Unfortunately, the residual fear and misinformation that cloud menopause in medicine and society have perpetuated an overwhelming lack of information and investigation into women’s health. As a result, and in combination with the irregular and often deeply personal symptoms of peri/menopause, women generally delay seeking out treatment—even though they will, on average, spend half of their lives in peri/menopause. Frankly, our system needs to be better.

A focus on health

Dr. Stephanie Bayliss is a naturopathic doctor, menopause practitioner (through the  North American Menopause Society) and co-founder of Menoverse. And she is working to change the narrative around how women experience menopause. She thinks that instead of it being a time to fear and avoid, we can use the menopause transition as an opportunity to have a conversation about previously neglected areas in a woman’s physical and mental health.

She says, “What if this time is instead an opportunity for women to focus on their health, sometimes for the first time in their lives?”

There is a perpetual idea that women are the martyrs of their family. Whether intentional or not, the role of caregiver and nurturer often falls to women. Unfortunately, this can occur at the expense of their own health and wellbeing.

Menopause symbolically and biologically means the end of childbearing and while this can be a time of mourning for some, it doesn’t have to be. Instead, it can be a time of rebirth and growth. Women can take this time to transition their nurturing and caregiving onto focussing on caring for themselves.   

Harnessing menopause for proactivity

Take the time to find an evidence-informed practitioner because, as Dr. Bayliss says, “Everyone deserves a lengthy conversation about their health, at any stage.”

There is so much misinformation and marketing around menopause, it is especially important to build an arsenal of knowledge and find a trusted advisor to help protect you from poor advice. Many practitioners are simply prescribing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) without first attaining a baseline risk assessment for cardiovascular and bone health, stroke risk, et cetera.

HRT on its own is not the only treatment for menopausal symptoms, and while it can certainly be very effective, there are many complementary ways to engage in health-promoting activities.

Bayliss encourages women to be proactive about peri/menopause. First, find a qualified practitioner by looking to the Menopause Society of Canada listings. You can also ask your friends for referrals or join a menopause group and simply start sharing your experiences. Join online communities or even form your own menopause support group. You may decide to take on the role of being a “safe person” to discuss menopause in your friend group or work.

Start advocating for better support from your employer or create positive change in your own business. A great resource for this is via the Menopause Foundation of Canada’s “Menopause Works Here” campaign.

Want to dive deeper? An excellent place to start is through exceptional books like The Menopause Manifesto, by Dr. Jen Gunter, a Canadian OB/GYN.

The LGBTQIA+-centred take on menopause, What Fresh Hell is This, by Heather Corinna, is both inclusive and hilarious. For athletes or the movement enthusiast, Next Level, by Stacy Sims, is full of excellent advocacy, research and support. If you’re more of a podcast person, try Women’s Health Unplugged, with naturopathic doctor Jordan Robertson. Here, you’ll find many great peri/menopause episodes on everything from sleep to libido and beyond.

The authors of these books and the presenters and specialists of these podcasts are all brilliant advocates for providing excellence in women’s health, which is exactly what we should be receiving.

Let’s step up and create a better community by challenging the negative stigma that surrounds the peri/menopause transition. Let’s promote this transition as a path toward true and meaningful growth and self-care for women everywhere.

*Note: The term “woman” is used throughout this article but it is important to recognize that this experience is shared by every person who has experienced menstruation, or has a womb/a uterus regardless of their gender.