The long and winding road to peri-menopause – a reader’s story
Author: Amanda Wilkes
I’d like to share my personal experience with peri-menopause symptoms and my long journey to peri-menopause. In July last year, at the age of 46, I had an emergency blood transfusion to treat severe anaemia after a heavy, prolonged period. Looking back now I had been anaemic for months, I was tired and looked terrible, but my mum had recently died of cancer and I put it down to grief. It was the end of a long journey of living with menorrhagia (abnormally heavy bleeding) and the start of a journey of surrender and tentative acceptance.
I don’t remember my first ever period. I don’t even remember exactly how old I was. I do remember, however, that from early on they were heavy, uncomfortable and embarrassing. By the time I reached my 40s, the time when women’s bodies start preparing for peri-menopause, often becoming less regular and predictable they were worse than ever, most months I bled for more days than I didn’t and some days I couldn’t leave the house for fear of soaking through an extra large tampon and sanitary pad in 20 minutes. My GP ran blood tests but couldn’t say for sure if it was the peri-menopause. I felt unsettled and confused.
Further tests and scans revealed a fibroid and I was given three options – a Mirena coil; I’d had one when my son was little and I didn’t get on with it – think axe murderer on crystal meth; an endometrial ablation to burn away the lining of the uterus, removing the fibroid and potentially reducing or stopping my monthly flow (or making no difference at all), or a hysterectomy.
A friend recommended I go see a naturopathic doctor specialising in hormonal issues. Together we embarked on a protocol of supplements and nutrition to balance my hormones and shrink the fibroid.
Browsing the internet one day I stumbled across Arvigo Abdominal Therapy, an ancient Mayan massage technique that seeks to stimulate and gently reposition the pelvic organs so they function in an optimal way. I started monthly sessions, which provided me with daily self-massage techniques and recommendations of castor oil packs to amplify the healing process.
Both therapies encouraged me to think of the menstrual cycle like the seasons of the year – when we’re menstruating we are effectively in winter, and to best serve our bodies at this time we should hunker down, take it easy and ‘go with the flow’ rather than trying to be superwoman when we actually feel like sluggish woman! This was without question the hardest part of the regime – like all women I was used to pressing on through the pain and fatigue, but once I surrendered to it, it was probably the most beneficial part of the whole regime.
The arrival of the peri-menopause
Over the course of about a year I followed the programme religiously and saw an improvement in the regularity, duration and heaviness of my periods. Further scans revealed the fibroid had gone and I was delighted with my progress. Then I lost my mum and my periods stopped altogether for three months. I optimistically assumed this was it – I was finally peri-menopausal, my periods were stopping and I expectantly awaited the arrival of the hot flushes! They didn’t come, but a bleed so heavy that I had to cut short my family holiday to come home for a blood transfusion did.
I can’t quite put into words how frightening it was to learn that my HB levels were so low they could have been fatal. It was a particularly low point for me, I felt like all the hard work (and significant financial commitment) of trying to heal myself naturally was all for nothing. I was on medication to stop the bleeding, high doses of iron to replenish my depleted reserves and facing understandable pressure from my loved ones to accept the medical intervention I had so vehemently resisted.
In the end I had no choice but to flip my thinking on its head and accept that I’d given it my best shot but it was time-to-time to accept my gynaecologists’ help and try an endometrial ablation. To give me the best chance of a good outcome she put me on a four month dose of Triptorelin, a drug that stops simulating the menopause to shrink my enlarged uterus and prevent any more bleeding.
This time the hot flushes did kick in. And the hair loss. And the horrible feeling of not knowing what the hell was going in my body, where did this huge tummy and layer of back fat come from? Who is that woman staring back at me in the mirror that looks vaguely like me but is mentally and emotionally adrift? The only good thing was that I wasn’t bleeding, but somehow I missed it in a perverse way. There was a huge sense of loss, the vibrant, young and fertile Amanda was well and truly gone, replaced by this bloated, insecure woman who didn’t know who she was any more.
And somehow, worst of all was the knowledge that this was only temporary. At the end of this fake menopause and after the ablation I would be right back where I started – waiting to see if my periods would return and if so what would they be like? Better, worse, no different? I remember tearfully envying my husband for not having to go through this painful transition (once now and once in the future) and remonstrating about the injustice of life as a woman!
So where am I now in my peri-menopause journey?
I’m in No Man’s Land. Or should that be No Woman’s Land?
I’ve had the ablation and it was successful. The effects of the fake menopause have lifted (be gone hot flushes and back fat!) and I’m carefully observing my body, watching and waiting for a sign that I’m going to bleed. As a yoga teacher I work closely with the Moon, something I will talk more about in the coming months, and I do notice that around the time of the Full Moon my body feels like something is stirring – I get pain in my ovaries, increased discharge and aching breasts but nothing more than that so far. I’m living again with uncertainty. Along with millions of other 40 something women. My body is different. My outlook is different. ‘The Change’ as my mum used to call it is coming, if not now then in the next few years. It’s been happening in dribs and drabs for the past few years. It’s a challenging time in my life, acknowledging that I’m transitioning from one phase of life into the next.
Yoga, meditation and essential oils have been my saviour in the last year, the former to help me quieten the mind when the uncertainty gets too much, and the latter to help me find emotional balance and equilibrium. That and chocolate!
I recently did a Well Woman Yoga Therapy teacher training which gave me a greater understanding of the spiritual importance of the menstrual cycle as a whole and particularly peri-menopause. It helped me accept this part of my life as an unpredictable, sometimes dramatic but ultimately liberating and radical transformation.
About the Author
Amanda Wilkes is a yoga teacher and holistic therapist based in Twickenham, South West London, in the UK. She is passionate about teaching the ancient practice of yoga as a modern way of life and works closely with nature, the season and the cycles of the Moon. Amanda runs monthly women’s circles that aim to empower and encourage connection with our innate Divine Feminine wisdom to live a vibrant, radiant life. To contact Amanda to find out more about her work, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website www.amandawilkesyoga.com