THE TRIGGER


Two years ago, after Christmas, aged 46, I came off the ‘pill’ after being on it for over 3 decades, apart from breaks to conceive our three daughters. I thought it would be a good time to see whether I was menopausal which I would gauge by whether or not I was still menstruating. It turned out that I was regular as clockwork. My periods arrived every 28 days and were as they had always been – light and painless.


A few months rolled on and I found myself sweating at night, waking up with palpitations, feeling tired and nauseas during the day, with a dull headache that never went away. I started putting on weight and as the sleepless nights continued, I felt foggy and forgetful. This coincided with starting a new job. I felt I wasn’t up for the role which in turn made me feel more anxious and so a viscous cycle began. By summer, I was teary and angry. I felt rage towards my husband who never seemed to emotionally support me in the way I needed. I sat silently at the dinner table unable to engage with the family. I literally felt like I was slipping away. Maybe not slipping away but slipping inside. I didn’t notice the wall building up around me but I did notice something was very wrong with me. Usually, sociable and energetic, I felt withdrawn and lethargic.


NOT JOINING THE DOTS


The next few months saw me back and forward to the doctors. I was lucky in having a wonderful GP who suggested I was perimenopausal and I go on HRT. I was in such a stage of anxiety, all I could think about was getting breast cancer. She gave me a couple of websites and forums to visit to go away and think about it. I decided to leave it. Not long after that an incidence at work left me totally flawed. I just couldn’t recover from it and handed in my notice. I felt unable to share anything that was going on in my head or body with the founders who were male and the team who were twenty years younger than me. Then I started questioning my burn out. Surely it couldn’t be hormones. I went for a walk with a good friend who suggested I go on anti-depressants. I returned to the GP and saw a different person and begged for a prescription. I couldn’t stop crying, I felt my marriage was in tatters, I was a terrible mother, and I was unemployable.


I have always worked taking short maternity breaks and setting up a business with my third child. I knew stopping work and not having structure was going to be difficult, so luckily I had in place a volunteering role with Alzheimer’s Society at a local Dementia Café. This was my lifeline. I would walk to venue with wet eyes, arrive a little early to sit on a bench and practice some paced breathing and somehow managed to pull it together so when I walked in I looked composed. Being part of a team of volunteers and getting to know the carers and those living with Dementia was so fulfilling. It gave me a sense of purpose and my mood was transformed in just two hours.


ROCK BOTTOM


After a month of being on sertraline at the full dose, I started to feel drugged. Although previously, I felt like I was hidden behind a haze, this was different. I felt like my emotions were being blocked and that I was totally disconnected to my body and mind. This was briefly stopped with morning exercise at the gym with endorphins that made me feel happy and strong. One day when I was running late for class, I took the car and managed to drive into a bus coming out of a side road. I was so shocked that my reactions had been slowed and was convinced this was due to the anti-depressants. I decided to wean myself off them, starting the next day. Within 4 weeks I was off them and as part of the process upped my exercise, cut out alcohol and caffeine and changed my diet, so I was eating healthier.


THE ROAD TO RECOVERY


It was at this stage when I decided to create a perimenopause support network and service to help women. At this stage I still hadn’t connected my own perimenopause blip with oestrogen depletion, triggered by coming off the pill. Looking back now I wish I would have known and been better prepared. And that’s what I’ve created with Over The Bloody Moon. Classes, coaching and a self-care toolkit that helps boost women’s physical, emotional, cognitive, sexual and social health. I’ve done this with an amazing team of Advisors and other experts who have shared their tools of the trade with me, filmed interviewed and donated demos and resources. My research skills have come to fore. I’ve distilled and curated 18 months of learning, attended conferences by British Menopause Society and acquired knowledge from my Integrated Health Coaching & Nutritionist Diploma. From this I’ve built The House, a digital self-care platform, developed 10 different Masterclasses tackling symptoms and demystifying menopause and HRT and run workshops to support women’s family and colleagues. I’m proud too of the community I’m part of @overthebloodymoon on Facebook and Instagram.


REFLECTIONS


What I underestimated in my perimenopausal journey was the enormous toll to my mental health which had stealthily crept up long before the physical symptoms arrived. Tools like mindfulness, paced breathing, essential oils, exercise, volunteering and nutrition helped activate my parasympathetic nervous system. Cutting out alcohol and caffeine has been transformative and helped cure years of insomnia and anxiety. I have learned that whilst medication has an important role to play, when it comes to building resilience, having armoury of inner resources is incredibly empowering and limitless. I also know the immeasurable value of having a tribe and support. My family and friends showed such compassion and kindness. Having our community and members of The House has shown the power and magic that happens when you get women together.And working in an industry of wellness and health has shown me the wonders of collaboration. Connecting with inspiring change makers around the world who have shared their wisdom and tales of transformation has been such a privilege.


If you have a story to share, would like support or know someone that could benefit from Over The Bloody Moon's services, please visit our website – www.overthebloodymoon.com or mail me at lesley@overthebloodymoon.com

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At Over The Bloody Moon, we take health seriously. That's why we have 12 different Advisors from integrated wellness practices on our team and are continually adding to our perimenopause learning by chatting to clinicians and British Menopause Society accredited specialists. To that vain, I wanted to share a topic close to my heart that continues to surface as we look to fulfil our mission to help all women take charge of their change. It's Perimenopause Poverty and the lack of BAME representation that exists in the UK. Access to education and healthcare but also in the way menopause role models are portrayed in media. No one likes to be classist, but the fact remains - we have a Health-Wealth gap that’s growing in the UK. Women that live or have lived in poverty are more likely to experience early menopause (under 45 years), are more likely to have lifestyle factors contributing to symptoms, are less likely to visit a GP for menopause and less likely to have access to quality, health care. Alexis Palfreyman was quoted in an article written for British Menopause Society, saying “A key factor determining a woman’s experience of menopause is the culture in which she finds herself before, during, and after menopause.” Black, Asian, Ethnic Minority communities cannot be clumped together – each community has its own culture nuances that are impacting on a woman’s menopause. In some cultures, cessation of periods and infertility is linked to a woman’s status becoming devalued with it being common for men to remarry. In other cultures, menopause is considered a taboo and embarrassment with issues like incontinence or painful sex being ignored whilst women suffer in silence. Of course, women whose first language is not English have a further barrier of having to share something private through their translator to the GP. We caught up with Fay Reid, founder of 9to5, a menopause community, supporting women. She felt isolated through her own perimenopause experience, feeling a lack of affinity to the stories and faces, she saw in the media. “I thought to myself, where are the black people? None had a 9 to 5 job...meanwhile, I’m legging it for the train first thing in the morning and after work. Their stories and experiences just aren’t realistic of my life, I want people to know that it happens to us too. It made me realise that the black community doesn't talk about it as much as we should and we need to. That’s why I set up 9to5 to share my journey whilst sharing tips and stories from other women.” Dr Nighat Arif, GP and press commentator on health including menopause, agrees. “As a mainstream society there is little representation of ethnic woman in literature, posters or media campaigns when it comes to woman’s health, in particular menopause. When a black woman cannot see herself on a poster of the signs and symptoms of the menopause, the association is made that this is something that ‘doesn’t happen to me’. Women are likely to become educated and engage in an open conversation if there is an inclusive dialogue.” She has observed that women from an ethnic minority background are more likely to report some physical symptoms such as joint pain, fatigue or dry skin than mental symptoms. It becomes difficult for health care professionals to support women who are unable to discuss their experiences honestly. “Mental health is stigmatised and a taboo subject anyway in our communities. This is particularly more so, when it comes to understanding that fluctuations in hormones can impact on our mental health. This is something that has to be highlighted more especially for women in the perimenopause phase - let’s face it, it’s easier to talk about a ‘physical pain.” However, it’s not just the ethnic minority communities where perimenopause poverty exists. Women from any ethnicity but living in low income households are more likely to experience severe physical and mental symptoms than those from higher income ones – smoking, drinking alcohol that’s more than the recommended 14 units per week, immobility or obesity are all triggers. These women may be less resistant to seeking out support and used to a culture where they just ‘tough it out’. If you are a healthcare professional that wants to be involved with Over The Bloody Moon to help inform, equip and empower women through perimenopause OR a BAME women who wants to share her story of perimenopause, then please get in touch – hello@overthebloodymoon.com

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I spend a lot of time chatting to clinicians and wellness practitioners about ways women can effectively manage and alleviate their menopause symptoms. Whether it's a yoga or mindfulness teacher, a pelvic health physiotherapist, a CBT therapist, a hypnotherapist, a herbalist or a clinicians, they all agree on the power of the breath. When we breath slowly, consciously and in a controlled manner, we calm down our nervous system, boost alertness and is a natural anti-depressant. When we take slow, steady breaths, our brain feels safe and activates the parasympathetic response, increasing our levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a brain chemical that has calming and anti-anxiety effects,

Here are three basic breathing exercises to try out to help with different perimenopause symptoms

Paced Breathing

This is slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing. With normal breathing, you take about 12 to 14 breaths a minute. By comparison, with paced breathing, you take only 5 to 7 breaths a minute. This has been proven to help alleviate hot flushes and night sweats



How to do Paced Breathing


1. Sit upright

2. Place one palm on your chest bone and the other on your belly

3. Breathe in for the count of five through your nose

4. Breathe out for the count of five through your mouth

5. Start off doing this for 3 minutes before building up to 10 minutes



Ocean Breath A Vinyasa Yoga technique that is great for tuning us back into the body and reducing cortisol, for when we are feeling out of control or anxious. It works by slightly constricting the back of the throat and sucking in air. The noise in and out mimics that of the ocean and provides instant calming relief



How to do the Ocean Breathe (this is Petra Coveney, our Yoga Advisor, who does a demo for us in The House, our digital self-care platform packed with self-care tips from women's health experts)

  1. Sit up tall with your shoulders relaxed away from your ears and close your eyes. To prepare, become aware of your breath without trying to control it at all. The begin to inhale and exhale through your mouth if you have been breathing through your nose

  2. Bring your awareness to your throat. On your exhales, begin to tone the back of your throat (your glottis or soft palate), slightly constricting the passage of air. You should hear a soft hissing sound

  3. Once you are comfortable with the exhale, begin to apply the same contraction of the throat to the inhales. You should, once again, hear a soft sound, like the ocean

  4. When you are able to control the throat on both the inhale and the exhale, close the mouth and begin breathing through the nose. Continue applying the same toning to the throat that you did when the mouth was open

Energising HA Breath When your brain is feeling foggy or you are feeling tired during the day, the HA breath exercise is a great way to wake up your mind and body


Image Credit: Andrew Rae


How to do the Energising HA breath

1. Stand up tall, elbows bent, palms facing up 2. As you inhale, draw your elbows back behind you, palms continuing to face up

3. Then exhale quickly, thrusting your palms forward & turning them downward, while saying “Ha” 4. Repeat quickly 10 to 15 times


Check out the website: www.overthebloodymoon.com/our-services for details on our September services to help you through perimenopause and beyond with self-care tips & advice based on science and practice so you can #takechargeofchange

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