Rumination & Education
Pause & Change
Claire Bickerton | March 2018
Menopause, meno from Greek mēn ‘month’ and pause from Greek pausein ‘to stop’ – depending on your age, this will either be of interest to you, or way off your radar.
I had my last period about 2 years ago now. At first I’d miss a month, this always seemed to happen at a season change; I smugly decided my body must be deeply attuned to nature’s cycle. However, I began missing more than a month. In panic I did a pregnancy test and was baffled to see it come up negative – I did another one, same result. I never even considered the menopause, being 42, I thought I was too young. When I awoke to the truth that I was entering the first phase of the menopause a range of complex feelings arose. I didn’t want more children, but knowing my fertility was leaving me brought up a lot of sadness. I needed to allow myself a time of grieving, because I really felt I was losing something, a deeply feminine part of me – something I’d never given much thought to before. I was moving out of the time of my life where my body had the potential to produce life; such a powerful thing and I took it for granted.
The menopause is the second time of a woman’s life where she enters what I call “the tunnel of transition”. The first time is adolescence where she enters the tunnel as a girl and emerges the other end, changed forever, as a woman. What occurs in the tunnel can shape and mould future relationships. It’s a time where we begin to pull away from our parents, but conversely still need their support; it’s a push-pull, like winter giving way to spring, or summer to autumn. At first there are just a few signs that a change is on the way, those signs grow and grow until finally one season lets go and the other dances away.
So here I am in my second tunnel, entering as a fertile woman and emerging….as what? Still existing are countries and cultures where rites of passage are recognised and the older woman becomes mentor to the first time ‘tunnellers’; a new role with purpose and one that is valued in the community. Sadly, in our society it’s more common for an older woman to be ignored, as if their usefulness is over, their time done. I know my usefulness isn’t over, I know I still have a role to play but I’m in the tunnel and what I’m transitioning to is not yet revealed to me.
The menopause can go on for years and for some it can be a really unpleasant time. Anxiety, sleeplessness, hot flushes, brain fog, skin elasticity begins to go, not to mention the change in body shape as hormones re-arrange themselves. Thus far, the greatest challenge to me is weight gain. Both the foods and amounts that I used to be able to scoff without a thought have turned on me, tucking themselves around my body, storing them…. consequently, how much and what I eat must change. My body appears to need significantly fewer calories which is a huge shame because I really love food, all food, so I’m not fully reconciled with this idea.
As a result, a bit like the seasons, I am still holding onto the tunnel entrance whilst the winds of change are sweeping me towards the exit.
Foods and herbs that can help you through the more unpleasant menopausal side effect are:
helpful for keeping facial furriness in check: melt ½ cup coconut oil in a saucepan, grind or crush 2 tablespoons of fennel seed, add to the oil and simmer gently for 15 minutes, strain and pour into a glass jar.
this can help with brain fog. Basil stimulates cerebral circulation and the memory. Put a couple of sprigs in a mug and pour on boiling water, leave for about 5 minutes then drink. You can add rosemary to this – also said to improve memory.
helpful with hot flushes; 4-5 fresh leaves in pot or covered mug (stops the essential oils from escaping). You could add raspberry leaves (not in pregnancy) these are used to balance hormones. You can also use a rounded teaspoon of dried sage if you don’t have any fresh.
a useful spice for sleeplessness and anxiety. Not to be taken in very large doses, (but I do mean large, more apparently than the stomach can hold down) but in smaller doses it can be very helpful. Most effective in capsule form (you can do this at home with a capsule maker) nutmeg works on a 12 hour cycle, becoming active 4 hours after ingestion and staying effective for a further 8 hours. It is very person specific, so doses differ from person to person, begin with 1 capsule and then increase to 2-3 if you still find sleep elusive. For anxiety a small capsule can be taken during the day. Because people react in different ways, you must begin with conservative amounts, even less than one capsule. Try this lovely drink – lightly toast 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds, crush 3 cardamom pods, grate ½ nutmeg and take a 1/3 of a cinnamon stick. Add these gorgeous spices to a mug of rice milk and simmer together for about 15 minutes. Strain and drink.
Lions Mane Mushroom
if you go mushroom hunting and find some of this fresh, lucky you! Otherwise it can be used dried and has been shown to help with insomnia, anxiety and hot flushes.
Reishi Spores – Ok, I’m probably getting too ‘out there’ for some, but they are known to help with anxiety and are very calming. You only need the tiniest amount. All mushrooms mentioned are available from mushroomtable.com
More pulses, less refined carbohydrates, increase calcium rich foods, more vegetables. Watch your levels of vitamin D, if you live somewhere with low light levels, it could be an issue. Vitamin D helps the absorption of calcium, but you don’t have to use supplements; mushrooms can offer all the vitamin D you need when exposed gill side up to sunlight for about 30 minutes.
PLEASE NOTE that all these herbs should not be taken in large quantities if pregnant or breastfeeding.