I was somewhere in my early teens. We were sitting down to Sunday lunch in the dining room and Mum was serving up. She was doling out peas onto our plates and when it came to mine, I said I didn’t want any. I think I was already holding onto my plate and a bit of a push-pull went on, when, all of a sudden, Mum flung the plate into the air – peas and all – screaming “so don’t have any bloody peas then!” before dissolving into a hysterical wreck.
My next vague memory is of Mum lying curled up on the sofa, having sobbed herself to exhaustion and the Doctor arriving. The adults spoke in hushed tones. Nobody told my sister and I what was going on, but we knew to stay out of the way.
Besides feeling guilty and responsible for my mother’s “crazed” outburst, I was utterly bemused and shocked by what had happened. To my teenage mind, it looked as if my Mum was having a nervous break-down.
I have some notion that she was given pills for whatever it was and then needed to rest a lot, before gradually resuming her householding duties (most of which she detested). But nobody ever spoke to us about it, either at the time or subsequently.
That was almost 40 years ago and today, as I approach my 53rd year, I am suddenly seeing that bewildering experience from a whole new perspective.
I hadn’t even heard of the word back then, but as I reflect on those events from where I am sitting just now, it’s evident to me, that my poor old Mum was more than likely in peri-menopause.
Menopause has been something that, until very recently, I’ve not really thought too much about. Largely, I guess, because most of my friends aren’t in that age-bracket, nobody I know really talks about it and it’s not been something that’s affected me.
Sure, in the last few years, I’ve noticed my pmt getting much more pronounced, but I figured a part of that was due to my being both way more attuned to my cycle these days and way more sensitive generally.
I’d also noticed a dip in my energy levels, disturbed sleep, a significant increase in hair loss, more period-related headaches, a greater need to pee in the night and an increasing tendency towards sudden onsets of extreme fatigue.
But as a fit, vibrant yogini and tantrika, I’ve also continued to ecstatically sweat my prayers on the dance floor, attract far younger lovers (prior to meeting my Beloved that is) and experience massive bursts of almost manic creativity to offset the zonked out moments my kids began to tease me about.
It was they, who probably voiced the “M” word before I did. “Having our menopause are we?” they’d jibe in sing-songy voices. To which I’d fake indignantly protest “No I’m NOT! I’m still bleeding every 28 days, I’m just tired that’s all!”
Methinks I did protest a tad too much.
For my kids were better placed than anyone to notice my shifts in behaviour and call me on it – with love and humour – just as I sometimes teased my daughter about her quite obviously impending menarche.
(And before anyone leaps on that, it’s fine: we have a very open and loving relationship, and we’re both cool with this mutual teasing. It’s become a bit of a thing now, in fact, as we joke about menopausing and menarche-ing together.)
In any case, clearly, I was – and am – changing.
But, being a stickler for correct terminology and understanding, I did want to make it clear to my kids and indeed to anyone reading this, that, the official definition of menopause is when a woman has not had a period for 12 months.
Prior to that, when she is experiencing the shifts in physical, emotional and spiritual state effected by a massive reduction in female hormone production (as her body prepares to cease ovulating for good) she is defined as being in peri-menopause.
And so it is that, in the last few weeks really, I’ve finally decided that it feels right to define myself as such and not only really own, embrace and explore the change that is happening, but come out about it!
Yes, I’m still menstruating monthly. And, all those symptoms I’ve been experiencing over the past few years have gradually been amplifying, to the point where I feel as if I am being summoned, commanded even, to attention.
Depressive despair….anxious thoughts that make my heart beat faster…floods of tears….a comb full of hair…aches and pains…murderous rage….days of debilitating headaches…nausea…an ever-present movement of energy in my womb and ovaries…fatigue so overwhelming, I would quite happily lay myself down wherever I happen to be to rest….a foggy mind…a ferocious intolerance of anything that isn’t aligned… sudden bursts of hectic energy that make me feel I’ll explode if I don’t move my body and a deep, deep pull to nature, peace and inner space.
Imagine the swirl of water circling around the sink, before being sucked down the plug-hole. It often feels as if I’m in that swirling vortex – being undone, pulled under, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Resistance, as they say, is futile.
As a woman, Priestess and spiritual warrior, I know the spiral journey of descent-ascent well. I have walked this path of surrendering into the unknown blackness and confronting my shadow countless times. And just as many times, I have been dismembered and reformed. So I am not afraid of the discomfort. I welcome its value.
But there is something more and all-consuming to this, as I am being taken in my everything: not just emotions, but body, mind and spirit too.
I have paid homage to and danced with Kali for some years, but now I feel her taking me on the ride of a life-time.
And as I journey on this roller-coaster ride of holy hormonal shift, what emerges for me as one who has been called to speak and share out loud on behalf of Shakti, is that I must now make this a part of my teaching and expression into the world.
For nobody spoke to me about my mother’s suffering and transition. And nobody, as yet, has spoken to me (in any empowering way at least) about my own.
The menopause, just like menarche in fact, still seems shrouded in silence, secrecy and shame. But I’m determined to change that.
Most of what I’ve heard and seen about it is alarming and negative: my sister’s sharing with me last year of her vaginal atrophy, my friends who were urged by their doctors to take anti-depressants as an antidote to perimenopausal symptoms, my former boss who told me my mid-riff would expand the moment I hit the “change”, furtive questions about what the best vaginal lubricant is, my fellow yogini who struggled through our teacher training with raging hot flushes and the friends who went through a very difficult year of relating, as the she-partner menopaused and, according to her partner, became quite a "bitch" to live with.
It seems to me that there’s a need here for a far greater self-understanding and honouring of this huge and powerful transition, both for women and men, as well as society at large. And the opportunity to write a way more empowering narrative for transitioning women to live by.
In my Priestess training, we embraced those amongst us who had ceased ovulating as being in their “wise years”. Indeed, in many indigenous cultures, menopausal women are regarded with great respect as elders.
A brief online search showed me that menopausal symptoms vary markedly in different cultures: in some cultures women state they experience nothing significant at all.
My reading on yoga and tantra suggests that hot flushes may be an expression of kundalini rising: an opportunity for greater awareness and spiritual insight as we deepen into the potent mystery of the womb-space.
Jade egg experts I've spoken with affirm that its use helps regulate hormone production and promote vaginal tissue elasticity and lubrication into menopause and beyond.
And I'm already hearing from and connecting with a wonderful network of women, who are doing the work of empowering themselves and others to embrace this time as "ecstatic", "mining for diamonds" and "a spiritual practice".
My own knowing tells me that I am being invited into an almighty surrender, that is a merciless re-aligning with truth, an expansion of my intuitive wisdom and an ever deepening anchoring into the primal womb of mother earth.
Though there may be turbulence and discomfort ahead - perhaps the longest period of labour I’ve ever endured - I can already see the wise she-Shakti rising from the darkest depths. Her eyes smoulder with a luminous power that sees and blesses. And she is wrapped in the shawl of a soft, yet unequivocally assured Feminine that flows through life with grace.
I'll soon be forming a new group and regular blogs and vlogs on My Sexy Menopause. If you'd like to stay in touch or be a part of this, do let me know!