A year ago today, I consciously took a step off a path.
Not a metaphorical path, but a real-life path, in a small field, in a town called Petworth in West Sussex.
I remember clearly making the choice, choosing to place my left foot on the grass next to the path. In that split second, it felt like a harmless step to take. In actual fact, the grass was hiding a dip and I went over horribly hard on my ankle. I collapsed in a dramatic heap like a Premier League football player, asking my husband to keep my legs raised, to stop myself passing out!
Despite the enormous swelling, I told myself it was just a sprain and had convinced myself that ice, elevation, a Tubigrip bandage, rest for a few days and a shit load of turmeric would be enough for me to push on through with my busy life.
It took weeks to reach the point of finding out that I had actually ruptured a ligament, and there was some form of tendon damage. And now, a year on, I’m eight weeks post-ankle surgery, after needing a ligament clean-up and a tendon repair.
OK, what’s all this got to do with perimenopause?
There is no doubt that this past year has been hugely challenging and I spent time pondering this morning on reaching a year of reduced and at some points no mobility. I reflected on how much grief it has brought up, how my self-worth has been brought into question, how much I’ve had to say no to, how much my life has been forced to slow down. And, bearing in mind I teach self-care, how high imposter syndrome has piled up!
That perimenopause link?
Well, the societal push in all things menstrual, in perimenopause and menopause is to carry on regardless. You’ve seen the adverts – it’s suggested you don’t stop, but instead ramp it up and maybe choose your bleed as the perfect time to hop on that zip wire! The precept is – do not listen to what your body and psyche are asking of you, instead push on through, and that’s where you’ll prove your strength and sense of worth.
Holland & Barrett recently ran a Me.No.Pause campaign, which personally made my blood boil. What an amazing opportunity for growth missed by suggesting we do not pause and explore ourselves at this time of transition.
Of course, I wouldn’t dream of speaking for all, as the menopause transition can be an energising time for some who are strongly pulled towards action, rather than rest and reflection. But, from the many years of working with women, there is a HUGE call and need to slow down, allowing the richness of menopause to be experienced.
You see, waxing lyrical about listening to your needs and resting in menstrual and peri/menopause terms is effortless. But what happened when faced with pausing and listening in another guise? I didn’t, and that has been the greatest lesson.
My surgeon reminded me that it’s been necessary for this operation to make my ankle much worse than before the surgery, but by taking the recovery really slowly and carefully, I would heal stronger than before.
Isn’t it the perfect analogy for perimenopause?
Perimenopause is a time when it can feel as though we’re losing our marbles, our fertility, our youthful body. A time when we face grief, questioning self-worth, at times questioning everything. This opportunity we’re given at perimenopause is to sift out what isn’t serving us in our life, realising it’s ok and necessary say “no” more often, and for allowing ourselves to slow down and really listen to how our body and psyche is asking us to respond.
I’ve spent much of the past year looking for the message this injury has given me, knowing perimenopause was there in the picture, simply because of having to completely change the pace of my life.
Post surgery has been a perfect storm of having an area that carries the entire weight of the body operated on and being deep in perimenopausal void space.
For weeks after the surgery, apart from being physically immobile, my mind went into almost complete immobility too! I couldn’t concentrate on reading or writing, watching hours of tv, but couldn’t tell you about what I’d seen. Everything stopped, except my emotions. They were, and continue to be on high alert. Barely a day has gone by without emotions being pricked in one way or another. There have been tears aplenty! There it has been, facing the grief simply because that’s all I can do.
The challenge is always to keep listening.
I was guided to take 12 weeks off work for recovery, but it turns out that wasn’t realistic, and realising that my ‘surgery sabbatical” would have to be extended, sent me into a tail spin. My response was ridiculous, the next day, rather than pace myself, as advised, I decided to up my movement, cook for the family, do chores that I had, by necessity, let others take care of for the past 7 weeks, go for the longest “walk” since the operation…and what did my body tell me? To slow the fuck down, remember sister, you’re being asked to stop!
The real truth about menopause is to listen to our needs harder and closer than we ever have in our life. There is a second, wisdom spring of life to revel in post menopause. Journeying to the other side of the transition, by listening with grace and kindness.
Having witnessed women travel through their menopause this way; listening to the manifestations (aka symptoms) and hearing what they are being asked to tend to. It is as empowering as it gets.
Not attending to our needs, that’s when we get tripped up.
The power of NOT pushing through. No, it’s not a trope we often hear, but it serves us completely at perimenopause to celebrate slowing down and only doing what feeds our soul.
So happy injury-versary to me, and all the perimenopausal teachings I have been gifted with along the way.
If you are in your 40s or 50s and perimenopause is on your radar, join us for our Woman Kind online retreat Am I Going Mad? from 1st-14th July. Exploring the messiness of it all in virtual circle.
In her midlife, every woman deserves a chance to go travelling alone; just to test the possibility of rolling with “fuck it”
The teachings of Red School tell us that there are psycho-spiritual phases of menopause that we move through. This knowledge is gold, and a way to keep us anchored and sane on the uneasy path of midlife shifting. The first phase we enter in perimenopause, is the chamber of separation.
What does that look like? Probably the most disquieting time of the menopause journey, because the call to be separate from, well, sometimes everyone and everything, can be extraordinarily strong.
This summer I was blessed to have had the opportunity to travel to Bali and Australia. The trip to Bali was to complete my teacher training in Womb and Fertility Massage Therapy. Then on to Australia to spend time with my beloved aunt and cousins. Circumstance meant that I was to be travelling alone, as my family wasn’t able to join me on my adventures.
As I hugged my darling ones tight at the airport, and walked through passport control, this midlife traveller was oozing excitement. The prospect of heading to the other side of the world, only having to look out for myself, was actually quite exquisite. I was fully embracing separation.
Travelling while in the phase of separation felt utterly easeful. I didn’t have to worry about anyone else’s needs but my own.
Flying to the other side of the world and back did, of course, mean spending time in the company of the same group of people for an entire day each way. But, I was able create my own travel bubble, so that I would only chat if I wanted to. In reality, “fuck it” I really didn’t want to! Small talk with those around me was kept to a minimum.
The freedom was there to observe parents, often with an exhausted look in their eye, as they had to navigate the challenges of long-haul travel with their little ones.
Before perimenopause, the yells of other’s young children would have yanked at my heartstrings, but with perimenopause, there’s a shift. “Fuck it”. There’s no need to take on the screams and yells of the intensity the children felt at take-off and landing; I knew they were safe in their parents’ arms. I was simply able to offer the parents a supportive nod and understanding smile.
Mapping out my own space in the small, tight environment of an economy class plane seat even felt unproblematic. Sitting next to a couple of women chatting about Love Island, again I could phase it out and concentrate on my book, choose a film, do a bit of writing. “Fuck it”, there was an element of joy connected to only choosing self-care. Just to switch on relaxing meditative music to drown out the constant rushing sound of the aeroplane so I could try and sleep, was bliss. There was no call to think of anyone else’s sleep needs.
Travelling through I don’t know how many time zones, and only having to take care of my own discombobulation was a huge relief. The brain fog of perimenopause was going through several multiples of intensity. Could I have taken on anyone else’s jet lag? Phew, I didn’t have to!
That said, I was travelling with an injury, which pricked at my vulnerability. Severe ligament and tendon damage to my ankle, meant a countdown to whether or not travel was even going to be possible. The vulnerability sat in opening myself up to accepting assistance at each airport.
The experience of sitting in a wheelchair, being pushed around by various strangers, was a true lesson in surrender. Surrender is the next chamber of menopause after separation. This meant dipping my toe quite deeply in this phase.
Not simply the practicalities of surrendering to my inability to walk long distances, but to the vulnerability that I found myself steeped in. The discomfort of being in a wheelchair was immense. Accepting help in this way, when in my heart surely I’m an independent, vibrant and very mobile person. It was a challenge.
The wonder and upside of airport assistance, though, was being whizzed through customs and passport control at each of the eight flights I took!
Of course, there was the physical side of perimenopause; the odd hot flush, interesting experience on a plane; insomnia; aches and pains; and a crazy-ass short 18 day cycle, all came with me on my travels. But I could breathe through each menopause manifestation, without having to concern myself with anyone else.
Before I went away, a male friend asked me if I was nervous about going? I was quite shocked to be asked this question. Would he have asked my husband the same question? Did I give the impression that travelling alone was going to be a nerve-wracking experience? Was it a misogynistic expectation that I needed a man to make me feel safe when I travel? Was it other women he knew who may have been genuinely nervous about travelling alone, being projected on to me?
Was I nervous? Absolutely not. Even with the injury, I was only excited. “Fuck it” hey, we have Whats App and Facetime to stay in touch with loved ones now! Separation was firmly holding me.
While in Bali, as my fellow sisters gathered for our Womb and Fertility Massage teacher training, we did experience a few of the earthquakes that claimed far too many lives in Lombok. As the effects of the earthquakes emerged and the number of lives lost rose, my soul was rocked. But during the earthquakes, there was a definite feel of “fuck it” in me. If my life was going to end, what a beautiful place to transition; surrendering to mortality.
I would absolutely love to go back to Bali with my husband and children. For a different experience of family togetherness in a country that took my heart. And without the support of my husband, who took over full parenting while I was away, I could not have taken the trip, and for that I will always be grateful. But the gift of travelling while in the phase of separation was truly liberating, and an experience I will treasure as part of my menopause journey.
To explore your own perimenopause journey through a self-directed program, Perimenopause Unwrapped is available to dive in.
“As the year rolls on and autumn arrives, all of nature prepares for fruition and going to seed, or to store up reserves for the winter” (The Language of Plants, Julia Graves)
It’s Autumn Equinox here in the northern hemisphere. Before our energy sinks into the gradually decreasing hours of light, we can find balance in the equal hours of light and dark today. It’s a beautiful time to take stock of the year; while the fields are being harvested, what can you reap from the past months?
As our outer focus shifts from the external pleasures of summer, we turn to a more inward-looking state of being.
The yearly seasons mirror so beautifully, our menstrual cycle, with our pre-menstruum being our inner autumn. But…
If you ask a group of women when their least favourite time in their cycle is, almost always there is a unanimous show of hands for the premenstrual phase.
It’s kind of understandable. We rage. We lose our filters, as the truth speaker in us is unleashed. We may question pretty much everything around us; from our relationships to our ability to do our job, to feeling that nothing we say or do is worthwhile. Without a container of awareness, this phase is disconcerting, disquieting and raw.
Our inner autumn is also the home of the inner critic; part of our shadow side that dances with glee as it feeds our rage, encourages our feelings of worthlessness, and at its worst can have us clinging to our sanity.
With a nod to the Julia Graves quote above, we can genuinely feel as though we are “going to seed” at this point in our cycle. But as the rest of her quote says, autumn is a time when we have the opportunity to store up reserves for winter. In menstrual cycle awareness terms, we can store up reserves for our inner winter, our time of menstruation.
By paying close attention to our needs in our inner autumn, the pre-menstruum can be a deeply potent time in our cycle. We can still be discerning truth speakers, but more directional and with awareness.
We can own this powerful time in our cycle, rather than apologise for it.
To add more juice to the picture, perimenopause is our Life Autumn, often with a more distilled and intense flavour of our premenstrual phase. The oils suggested here would work just as beautifully in perimenopause.
To ease these passages to power, we might need some sturdy support around us. Essential oils can be a firm ally to have by our side if it all goes wobbly.
Enjoy a selection of autumn supportive oils:
Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea)
In plant form the flowers of clary sage form a spikey tip to their pinky purple and heart-shaped bloom. The leaves, with their downy hairs, cup the flowers from underneath, in a show of tender support. Perfect for our premenstrual phase.
As an essential oil, clary sage, has a warm, musky and herbaceous aroma. But it’s talent lies in it’s actions – being deeply grounding and holding, yet uplifting. As Gabriel Mojay shares: “The earthy quality of (the oil) reflects its ability to both steady the mind and reassure: while its gentle pungency enlivens the senses and dispels illusion, restoring the clarity echoed by it’s name” (Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit, Gabriel Mojay). The description reads like a balm to the sometimes deeply unkind work of the inner critic.
The pre-menstruum, a time when the outer lights go down and the inner lights brighten, pulls us towards greater intuition. Valerie Ann Worwood invites us to hear the “whisper” of clary sage: “…be at ease, and focus on contacting the inner spirit” (The Fragrant Heavens)
For a beautifully feminine and holding massage blend for inner autumn try: clary sage, geranium and black pepper
Clary sage also enjoys spending time with sandalwood, cypress, bergamot, and grapefruit.
Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)
Distilled from the resin of the Boswellia tree, with it’s sweet, rich but fresh aroma, the oil holds a special place in my heart. If an essential oil could hold out its arms and offer a hug with genuine love, it would be frankincense.
As Valerie Ann Worwood shares, frankincense is “…like an ever-watchful older friend capable of support in a wide range of circumstances. But, like a vigilant parent, it will not let us go where we are not ready to go.” (The Fragrant Heavens)
The incense resin has it’s place in spiritual tradition, but the essential oil is also “…an ideal aid to mediation, contemplation, and prayer, ceasing mental chatter and stilling the mind. Facilitating a state of single-pointed concentration, it allows the Spirit to soar” (Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit, Gabriel Mojay) When the mental chatter can turn quite vicious, seeking out frankincense can be an act of kindness in your pre-menstruum.
Frankincense cozies up well with so many other oils. But for a supportive inner autumn blend, clary sage, sandalwood (another oil that enjoys offering a nurturing hug) and bergamot will give you a place to ease your premenstrual disquiet.
Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
Picture the scotch pine, with it’s cluster of evergreen needles, the tree and its fresh, crisp and clean essential oil makes it an ally in supporting you when you’re feeling easily “needled” in your premenstrual phase.
Pine encourages us to trust, ease in to more self-confidence and helps to hold the tension, and more. Gabriel Mojay suggests pine as supportive in “Restoring emotional positivity and “boundary”, as well as our ability to “process” experience, pine works to dissipate both negative self-image and feelings of remorse, replacing guilt with forgiveness and self-acceptance” (Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit)
Blending pine with frankincense and clary sage, the other oils explored here, would create a truly holding blend.
For a lighter blend, try vapourising pine, grapefruit and juniper.
Who knows what kind of powerful places you can inhabit, with your psyche supported with these beautiful oils…
To support your inner autumn experience, try vapourising the oils, or mix a few drops with Epsom salt or milk and have a soak in the bath. Or perhaps you would love an an Aromatherapy Massage and have a bespoke massage blend created for you, to meet your needs for that day.
The safety stuff:
If you would love to explore your menstrual, fertility or menopause health, with a bespoke blend of essential oils created each time you visit, have a peruse at Aura Mama to see how you can be supported.
And for more information on menstrual cycle awareness enjoy this link