Why, when for some women the menopause is a time of seamless transition from one phase of life to another, bringing an opportunity to take stock, explore new areas of creativity and self-fulfillment, or turn towards a more contemplative or spiritual way of being, do so many others find themselves suffering from loss of confidence, mood swings and depression, insomnia and physical symptoms such as hot flushes, vaginal atrophy and bladder problems? Why the varied experience, when the basic pattern of hormonal changes is much the same?
There are several clues
Firstly, the fact that the shorter or more abrupt the menopause, the more severe tend to be the unwanted symptoms.
Secondly, the significant overlap between the symptoms of post-natal depression (PND), premenstrual tension (PMS), and the menopause.
Thirdly, the 4 to 1 women to men ratio in the incidence of some autoimmune diseases, with a higher than average incidence occurring during the menopausal years.
These observations suggest that these symptoms are not directly due to the effects of the hormones themselves, but to the change in the levels and balance of hormones, and to the rate of change; that in PND being the most abrupt, and in natural menopause the most gradual.
The Emotional Context
How can we explain the appearance of these symptoms across the female life cycle, in what appears to be a continuum of vulnerability in some women but not in others? This picture suggests that at times of significant hormonal change, painful emotions that have been experienced then suppressed in earlier life, surface into conscious awareness as the body loses some of its power to ‘keep them under wraps’. Thus the menopause is a natural event, of itself symptom-free, that allows the release of symptoms that could be seen as a form of post traumatic stress disorder.
These ideas are supported by the findings of the ongoing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study in San Diego, California, which reveals a powerful relationship between our emotional experiences as children (especially those we have never talked about) and not only our adult emotional health, but our physical health also, including the major causes of mortality. This study compares adult health levels with eight categories of adverse childhood experience, – three of personal abuse (recurrent physical, recurrent emotional, and sexual abuse); and five categories related to growing up in a dysfunctional household, including alcohol and drug use, chronic depression and other mental illness, violence to the mother, and where separation, illness or other factors have caused a parent to be lost to the person during childhood.
The findings were that these traumatic experiences are not only hugely more common than recognized or acknowledged, but that they also share a remarkable correlation with adult health over 50 years later, being closely linked to smoking, alcoholism, depression, obesity, high blood pressure and many chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and even bone fractures.
It is not difficult to see the same connection between childhood trauma and the emotional symptoms of PND, PMS and menopause, and then again with the physical symptoms of menopause. Metaphysically, the link between hot flushes and repressed shame and guilt is intuitively apparent, while many situations in both childhood and later life, (especially those that are ‘unspeakable’), lead to sadness and regret that cannot be dissolved with an antidepressant. The often-taboo subject of vaginal atrophy – the thinning of the vaginal lining which is usually remediable by local estrogen – can lead to vaginal and bladder infections and on to irreversible damage. Here lies the link between inflammation and anger, itching and frustration, dryness and atrophy and loss of joy and self esteem.
Of course, it is never too late to go back in time with intent to heal the past; but the menopause is perhaps the last window of opportunity where what needs to be healed will be presented so clearly in the form of emotional and physical symptoms. The therapeutic means to do this are developing all the time beyond counselling and cognitive therapies to energy psychologies such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Psyche-K and Supercoherence Therapy www.supercoherencereturntolove.com
In my view, the most important ‘self help’ is to find a spiritual path that leads to a higher understanding and forgiveness of self and of others. This is really the ‘golden opportunity’ that menopause offers.