by Kate Greenaway, Physiotherapist, Goonellabah
In my younger years I saw my mother going through a phase of anxiety, agitation and unrest and eventually she started taking hormone replacement therapy. Hearing the doctors around me (I had a lot of doctors in my family) give their medical opinion as to what was occurring didn’t really support me to understand what was going on and what was actually happening to her.
What was happening to her?
It was simply menopause. But the way it was discussed was as if it was an ill health condition that needed to be managed medically, rather than something normal and natural that can actually be a very beautiful process in a woman’s life.
There are many instances when medical intervention can be necessary during menopause and this is not a criticism of medicine, or anyone that needs medical support during menopause. Nor is it a criticism of doctors – I work closely with many medical practitioners for the greatest support of our mutual clients.
The problem is that menopause, is often by default viewed as ‘an issue’ for women, in both medicine and the general population. It is often seen as something that has to be braced for, something women have to ‘get through’.
Discussing this topic with a group of women recently, I realised the extent of the harm that is done to both women and men when we are fed and swallow lies about this time in a woman’s life.
This can deeply affect how younger and older women view themselves and their bodies through menopause and beyond.
I was never at ease with the general medical and societal version of how women are or should be in this time of life, as it is the opposite of the truth of what the cycle of menopause can be for a woman and all those around her.
I know many women in their 60s and 70s who live and love their deep beauty, wisdom and have a consistent joy in life – yet you rarely hear about these positive experiences of women’s elder years.
I am now a 56 year old woman well past menopause – which occurred when I was in my mid 40’s.
I, like many women I know, had minimal symptoms and for me it has been a time of blossoming, not a time of shrinking.
I have for the first time in my life deeply appreciated my beauty, my body and the wisdom that comes naturally when it is needed.
I am far more content with my body and myself than ever before.
I realise now that menopause is a natural cycle in our lives with a great potential to be the complete opposite to the way society and the medical world generally view menopause.
It is true that there are many changes that occur in our bodies that are common in many post-menopausal women such as:
- drier thinner skin,
- dry mouth,
- more wrinkles,
- droopier fleshy parts,
- not as strong in our muscles and bones,
- sometimes thinner tissues in our vagina and pelvic floor and
- sometimes tighter and drier tissues in the vagina that may cause discomfort or pain with making love,
- hot flushes that can come at the most awkward times, and
- there can be emotional changes such as a greater tendency to anxiety and or depression.
However, for many women there is a positive shift, in that this is a settling time for them:
- They don’t have young children to focus on and constantly care for, and while they may have a partner and are caring of them, many women do have a sense this is also a time to give back to themselves.
- For them it is a cycle in their life to do what they love to do, what nourishes and nurtures them, which may be as simple as walking more regularly in nature, exploring their expression in music/art, developing their purpose in community activities and spending more time with old friends and family.
When women open up and start sharing their experiences of their bodily changes in menopause and beyond – there are common themes.
The changes mentioned above are more the physical and physiological changes, but there are also deeper changes that many women have shared with me – many feel far more at ease in themselves than ever before:
- They don’t feel they need to be something more or different for others, they know they are all they need to be.
- In this settling phase they feel more deeply beautiful than when they were younger, they are way more content with themselves and their bodies – as they feel they have nothing to prove anymore.
It is not inevitable to have all the uncomfortable bodily changes mentioned above. Again, many women I know – as with myself in my 30’s and 40’s – have slowly grown from being very driven in our ways and movements, driven by trying to ‘get the job done’, to being far more gentle with ourselves and others.
We learned how nurturing it was for our bodies to move more smoothly and to be tender with ourselves. These women, as I did, had minimal changes in their bodies, no hot flushes and for myself I didn’t even know I was in menopause except that I didn’t have my periods anymore.
What if instead of women learning to dread menopause, our societies and the medical world opened up to the very true experiences of so many women?
The wisdom that menopause is a cycle for the potential enrichment of women – to let go of the ‘to do’ tasks and ‘trying to be more’ and being someone or something for others, and to settle into the deeper stillness, beauty and wisdom that all women innately are within.
The natural elder quality would then naturally arise, and we would have wonderful and true role models for younger women.
As this way is lived more by our older women, our younger women will be able to appreciate what a beautifully blossoming, enriching time menopause can be and they would be able to look forward to this time in their own lives.