I believe if the menopause was a season, it would be the autumn; a beautiful time of transition autumn is probably the month that has the biggest show of change where the fresh summer beauty of leaves, flowers and sunny days are replaced with trees dropping their leaves, flowers losing their petals to leave seed heads and the weather becoming changeable, colder and more unpredictable. Autumn is a time to reflect on the growth of spring and the blossoming of summer and is also a time to look forward and prepare for the winter days to follow. Similarly, for women the perimenopause and menopause stages of their menstrual cycles are a time of change into unpredictability that bridges between what has gone before and what is up ahead in the second half of our lives.
Named after the Greek words ‘menos’ meaning month and ‘pause’ meaning to cease, the menopause has been referred to as “The Change” for many years. In a similar way that the phrase: “it’s her time of the month” has been used to dismiss the emotional reactions of girls and women, “she’s going through the change” feels like another dismissive comment that in no way offers the support and understanding many women need at this momentous time of life. Rather than being spoken about and appreciated for the significant impact menopause has on the lives of so many women, it is often unacknowledged, misunderstood and disregarded.
For this reason, menopause isn’t very well understood by many women themselves and is often pushed to the back of our minds as something that will happen ‘one day in the far distant future’. Many women feel fearful of the negative images and messages our youth-worshipping western culture generates around the natural process of ageing and changing and may ignore or avoid the realities of how getting older affects us. So, when many of us find perimenopausal changes creeping into our bodies and minds from our mid to late 30s it can come as a total surprise because we just aren’t ready to face our time of change, or the changes go unrecognised sometimes for years, despite impacting on our wellbeing, health and sense of ourselves.
The physical changes are numerous and varied. As we get older our ovaries produce less of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone and there is also a reduction in the hormone testosterone. Looking at the list of the 34 symptoms of menopause, from the better-known hot flushes, night sweats and irregular periods, to loss of libido, difficulty sleeping, weight gain, heart palpitations, urinary problems and the less recognised issues of hair loss, fatigue, pins and needles, change of taste, burning mouth, joint pain, brittle nails, dizzy spells, dry eyes, brain fog and stress incontinence, it is a vast array of potential physical changes and challenges to somehow navigate.
The emotional and mental symptoms of perimenopause and menopause seem to be less acknowledged than the physical ones. I have seen it explained that hormones during menopause can be “a rollercoaster akin to a reverse puberty”. Puberty was another phase of significant change for us, and we may all recall the overwhelm, heartbreak, sensitivities and mood swings we lived through in our early teens as our hormones propelled us into adulthood that earned us the labels of “moody”, “psycho”, “crazy”, “hormonal”, “over-sensitive” and “irrational”. The reduction of our sex hormones has a similar effect to the onset and surge of our sex hormones in puberty but having lived another 30+ years of our lives we are likely to have a lot of additional experiences and responsibilities to manage while we go through this change.
Menopause can bring on anxiety and depression for women who have never experienced either before. Almost half of menopausal women say they feel depressed and a third say they suffer from anxiety. Our deep-rooted fears about our mortality, the meaning of life, the mistakes we have made or the unachieved opportunities we wish we had taken, can be activated and irritated by the change into the menopause phase. Nuffield research shows that 1 in 4 women with menopause symptoms are concerned about their ability to cope with life, and many menopausal women experience feelings of ‘going mad’, together with suicidal thoughts and feelings at some point during menopause.
Again, according to the Nuffield research, two-thirds of menopausal women say there is a general lack of support and understanding, including being failed by their GP due to a lack of knowledge. Menopausal women feel confused with what is happening to their bodies and where to get help. The best approach is to get help, information and guidance in all areas of our wellbeing: nutrition, exercise and fitness, relaxation, medication, social connections and emotional and mental health, as menopause can and does impact all areas of our life.
Counselling for emotional and mental health provides a safe and non-judgemental space to work through current feelings and issues, process and address any past problems and traumas, as well as support women to look forward into their new life phase following the end of their reproductive phase. A wide range of issues and themes can present at this time in counselling: regret at not having had children, exhaustion and feeling unfulfilled from bringing up children, and feeling career opportunities were missed, a wish that it was possible to have one more baby, women who feel as though they are no longer attractive, women feeling that they are “on the heap”, who feel discarded as though their life is heading downhill and believe they are no longer useful. As well as relationship issues, domestic abuse, sexual violence, caring responsibilities for elderly relatives and grandchildren, health fears, loss of libido, career problems, loss of self-confidence, a lack of self-identity, addictions, financial problems, childhood abuse and traumas.
With the right support and preparation, the perimenopause and menopause phases of womanhood can be a positive woman-focused time. Where women can turn to themselves and tune in to their own needs, often after many years of giving to others, caring for family and community, and often putting themselves last or not acknowledging or responding to their own needs at all.
It can be a time to re-energise, find a new level of inner strength, and redirect our energies so that the exhaustion and frustration that women can feel at this time of life, doesn’t drain our enjoyment of living and desire to keep growing, experiencing new things and appreciating the world around us.
Themes of self-nurture, self-expression, recognising and responding to our sexuality, generating a creative power, and looking inwards at our own needs and desires for life, rather than looking outwards at the needs and wants of others, can help us rebalance our lives and bring a calmness, comfort and regeneration to this phase of womanhood.
Counselling can support women to prepare for life post-menopause so they have a good sense of what they want and how they are going to live, what they are going to do, which aspects of themselves they want to focus on, how to strengthen and empower themselves towards living their best lives.
Women’s Time Counselling focuses on the needs of women through all phases of womanhood, but menopause, in particular, is a time to address issues from the past, deal with long-term problems, rethink who and what and where we are in the world and within our lives. Counselling can be accessed with Women’s Time Counselling in-person at venues in Bath, Warminster, Westbury, Devizes and Frome; Walk & Talk Counselling can be arranged in Bath, Wiltshire and Frome; also video, email, text chat and phone counselling are available as well. For more details or to book a session visit the website: www.womenstimecounselling.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text: 07422 942599.