It was a Tuesday and it was nearly 10 am. I was still in bed.
Anyone who knows me can attest that this is way out of character for me. If I am anything, I am disciplined. I get up with the sun. I make my bed. I sit to meditate. I drink my hot water with lime. I go for a hike in nature nearly everyday. I eat a good breakfast. I do all the things.
But something was going on, and the “things” weren’t working.
I often think of life as a tornado… and I have always done a pretty good job of staying in the “eye”… watching the world spin around me, while I keep my cool. But this was different, and I was not keeping my cool.
I was feeling huge waves of depression. Exhaustion. Anxiety. Joint pain that made me feel like my tendons would tear when I’d do the slightest fast walk or jog. I would wake in the night and feel like a team of wild horses were galloping through my entire body. One of my girlfriends suggested I have my partner lay on top of me, my belly down, his belly on my back — almost like a cattle squeeze to help calm my nervous system. He thought I was crazy and begrudgingly agreed. It helped a little, but our relationship had been strained because I was not feeling like myself…. So, although he did this for me, it didn’t relieve the intensity of the situation. I still felt strange.
I thought perhaps this was the beginning of menopause… but I wasn’t having hot flashes and my cycle remained regular. I just felt like I couldn’t locate myself: The fit one. The happy one. The focused one. The inspired one. She was gone, and I was left with this quivering lump of a shell of a woman — and I was not impressed.
So, on this particular Tuesday, it also happened to be my 47th birthday and so I said, “enough is enough”. I pulled myself together and called my naturopath. I left her a message that said, “I need support. I think my hormones are changing, but I’m not sure. I just know that there are things happening that I can’t explain and I don’t like…. I ended the message with, “I am going through hell, and I can’t do this alone.”
We scheduled a session. She listened to me through the never-ending tears and took a long inventory. I explained how a couple years earlier, I had started to have very uncharacteristic panic attacks in the night… which led me to start popping lavender pills and to google “symptoms of a heart attack in women under 50”. I told her that recently, with increased frequency, I felt like I had been losing approximately 2 days every week… to lethargy, tears that wouldn’t stop, and full-on exhaustion. Even AFTER going for a hike and doing all the things that kept me healthy in the past, I felt miserable.
She asked me about sex: I told her that although I was not experiencing vaginal dryness, that when having intercourse, I felt like there were shards of fiberglass in my vagina. Needless to say, the pain overshadowed all enjoyment. My libido was non-existent, and I dreaded intercourse for the pain alone. And then my vision was all wonky — changing daily it seemed…. And my skin and hair were dryer than usual and seemed to be thinning at hyper speed. And my breasts? Which are small anyway, were dwindling away to nothing.
The take-home message :: I felt like I was shriveling up and dying.
I adamantly did NOT want to do hormone replacement therapy. I was healthy and I didn’t want to do it. Period. I wasn’t on any medication and I didn’t want to start. She heard me, and instead, we tried other things…. Seed cycling. Valerian root tea and melatonin to help me sleep. Oil of evening primrose. I did a naturopathic plan for a year or so, and it helped take the edge off… until the hot flashes kicked in.
At first, I was fascinated, since I had always “run cold”… but it didn’t take long and I’d had enough: Waking in the night, needing to change my sheets and shower because I was drenched in sweat.
Not long after the night sweats started, someone in a local Facebook group spoke highly of an experience they had had with an exceptional OBGYN who was a specialist in peri-menopause and “bio-identical hormones” in my neighborhood.
I caved and made an appointment.
I entered his office and was immediately struck by the walls filled with life-size photographs of natural births, and women of all shapes and sizes. And then I met him: Dr. Felix. He was maybe 35. We went into his office, which also included his examination area. He asked me a lot of questions, did a pap, a breast exam, and a cervical exam, and then suggested I get some in depth hormone lab work done. I told him I didn’t want to do hormones, and he said he understood, and deflected by suggesting I get the lab work done and come back.
I did… and when I arrived at his office, I laid my 20 page lab results, tucked neatly into a manilla folder on his desk in front of him. He gently slid the folder aside, and pulled out a well-worn, colorful laminated chart that showed “healthy” levels of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and DHEA – at what he called, “pre-menopausal” levels.
He spoke to me about all the ways Estrogen helps us: by regulating sleep, supporting heart health, increasing plumpness and vitality of skin, hair, and mucous membranes, and enhancing brain health.
He showed me a photo of an actual healthy cervix, pink like the inside of my lower lip… and then he showed me the image he had taken of MY cervix. White like the underside of a fish belly.
He said, “the tissue is atrophied and lacking oxygen as a result of low estrogen levels. This causes pain during intercourse.” He said, “it doesn’t have to be that way.”
He told me that healthy progesterone levels relate to the vitality of the lining of the uterus, and help regulate emotion and sleep.
Then he spoke about testosterone… and how important it is for women — and that it helps with maintenance and repair of all reproductive tissue, healthy libido, feelings of “contentment and joy”, bone density, and muscle mass.
And finally he spoke about DHEA and told me that low DHEA levels correlate with feelings of weakness, fatigue, difficulty controlling weight and body pain.
Y’all. I literally placed my forehead on his desk, took a deep breath, raised my head, looked him in the eyes, and said, “Tell me about bio-identical hormones.”
He explained to me that bio-identical are made for each woman’s body — they are not a one-size fits all approach, but are compounded for each woman and change with her as her hormones change. He told me that they are made from wild yam root, and that there are some populations who ought not take bio-identical hormones, but because I was still menstruating (off and on at that point) and because I had no history of certain types of cancer, the risks associated with taking bio-identical hormones was very low for me. While the benefits — for bone density, quality of life, clearing up brain fog, enhancing sleep, and increasing heart health were all very beneficial in my case.
And so began my journey with bio-identicals. They come in a cream — and I apply a single “pump” in the morning and one at night. Within days, I began to recognize myself again.
That was three years ago, and although I have a new doctor (due to moving across country), I am still apply my creams and seeing my doctor every 3-6 months, and paying close attention to my symptoms — which are nearly non-existent. Every 3-6 months I get my hormones tested and my doctor adjusts my levels as my body goes through this journey.
Overall, here’s a quick rundown of the benefits I experience: I sleep better, my weight is healthy, my body feels strong and fit, my moods are even, my libido is intact, sex is enjoyable, my breasts, lips, skin and hair are “fuller” and overall, I have consistent energy and I feel good — no brain fog, no anxiety, and no depression. I feel alive. I feel competent. I feel like I have agency over my health, and I welcome the clarity, the independence and the wisdom of these menopausal years.
That is MY story… and I tell you because every woman will go through in her own way — at some point in her 30’s, 40,s, 50’s or 60’s. Every woman’s journey and symptoms are different.
So, I tell you my story because if YOU are suffering, I want you to know that there is help out there and you don’t have to do this alone. I also want to tell you that there are a lot of uninformed medical providers who continue to speak to the “high risk” of ALL HRT (hormone replacement therapy). And although I am NOT a doctor, I hold a Masters in Public Health and I know how to read the research, and what is true is that not all hormone replacement therapies are equal, we are still learning a lot, and there are risks for some and benefits for many. My suggestion to you is that you find your provider… and you tease through your options to make the best decision for you.
We, as women, are living SO much longer than past generations, and as a result, we are dealing with new and different symptoms of aging, in general, and everything that comes along with it.
I am here to say, personally, that I know you don’t have to suffer in silence, you don’t have to do this alone, and that there is help to be found… slowly and steadily the stigma around menopause is changing — and you and I can be a positive part of that change.
Sister… menopause is natural — and every woman will go through it — in her own, unique way. And there are many potential reasons that the symptoms are much worse these days than perhaps they were for our mothers’ generation — one reason, as suggested through Ayurveda, is that we enter into perimenopause already depleted, making these significant changes that much harder on our bodies, minds, hearts and spirits. Other suggestions relate to the toxicity of hormone-modifying pesticides, the declining quality of the environment, plastics and the reality that we are completely disconnected from the natural rhythms of nature, and therefore ourselves. We seldom rest. We seldom listen within, and we doubt the messages of our bodies constantly and want quick fixes whenever possible — leaving us frequently depleting with nothing to give when our bodies request of us a little tenderness and time during major hormonal and life changes.
I am sharing all of this because when I started my journey I found nearly NO answers…. My own biological sisters had differing stories and symptoms and told stories of struggling through it. I spoke to my mentors, and they too, had found NO good resources for help — no books, no doctors, no consistent support
I am happy to say that is changing…. And if YOU are going through a hard time, feel like you don’t what is happening to you, and/or are losing days due to depression, brain fog, anxiety and body aches and pains…. I encourage you to get honest, ditch the shame of “talking about these things” and start the conversation.
Here’s how to start advocating for yourself:
1. Start charting your symptoms…
all of them, even if you think they don’t relate to the “change”: headaches, mood, energy, joints, digestion, when the tears flow, blood flow — color, frequency and quantity of blood during cycles, all of it — so you have good information to give to your health care provider.
2. Get a really clear picture of what women in your family have heart disease, history of cancer, depression, anxiety and addiction–
include who, how they are related to you, and what you know about their health history — this will help your doctor help you.
3. Find yourself a OBGYN, Nurse Practitioner, or Naturopath who SPECIALIZED in bio-identical hormones…
If it’s a pill or a patch, this is very likely NOT bio-identical.
Have HONEST conversations with your close girlfriends of the same age, younger and older and start to learn everything you can about this important time in your life.
4. Have HONEST conversations with your close girlfriends of the same age, younger and older…
and start to learn everything you can about this important time in your life.
5. Let NO ONE (hang on…. Let me get up on a park bench and say this loudly…) LET NO ONE tell you, “It’s all in your head… you are healthy… there’s nothing wrong with you.”
Yes, I know… this IS natural, and you ARE healthy and there is NOTHING wrong with you… but you don’t have to go through it alone. There is someone out there who knows this world of women and can help you without making you feel like a lab rat (because “wrong” levels of hormones prescribed, or poorly monitored hormones can make you feel just as crazy as NO hormones) not to mention it puts a huge strain on you and your close-in relationships — and it’s JUST NOT WORTH IT.”
Then… if you haven’t seen it: Oprah is doing a series with Maria Shriver… on menopause — intending to demystify it and to provide resources for women who are feeling lost and alone on this journey. Google it. It’s not perfect, but it’s a darn good start.
And finally, finally finally… read the next line a thousand times:
I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I AM NOT A MEDICAL PROVIDER. THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE.
I am a 52 year old woman who is sharing her story with her fellow-females in the hope that if you are feeling alone and un-resourced, you know that you are NOT alone, and that there is help and folks out there who can support you…
keep advocating for yourself, keep the conversation open, and know that you are whole, healthy, and this too shall pass…
I know it to be true and I know that my life is a WAY LOT better and in balance… with bio-identical hormones on my side… and THAT. IS. JUST. ME.
Well, there you have it. Never thought I’d be talking menopause here… but from where I sit, it’s about darn time we start talking about it.
Sweet day to you — xoxoxom.
Love to you.
- Listen to this week’s podcast episode of It’s All Right Here :: Am I in Menopause?
- Join the RISING with BRITT B STEELE Facebook Community
- Get My FREE really simple Healthy Habits Checklist that will begin to help you regulate your energy, your blood glucose, your hormones, and your mood:: Download Now