a little backstory – about five/six years ago, my life ignited into a wild dumpster fire. The things that I considered to be constants in my life, things I could rely on – like my health, my relationships, my career – were burned to the ground and I was challenged to start from the ashes. A big part of my journey slog has been books. Lots and lots of books. Trying to read my way back to “normal” became my focus. Along the way I’ve picked up some good stuff and I’ve read some total trash. I’m starting a periodic series here to give a little taste of some of the books I read and what I thought and whether it was useful to me. I’m not likely to talk about too many books that had no value to me because I don’t want to spend my energy that way, but I’m also not saying that I won’t. Maybe I can save you some time.

The first thing I tried to do when the bottom fell out of my life was to try and stop the feeling of freefall and establish some level of normalcy.

I figured the best way to do that would be to hone in on what in the world was actually happening with my body. My own observations concluded that it was freaking out but that wasn’t particularly helpful. I scheduled an appointment with my regular doctor after a scary ER visit. I mean, aren’t all ER visits scary?

Beyond getting blood work and other tests that showed some basic imbalances, an auto immune disease and discovered a heart disorder, my doctor and the specialists she referred me to were not a lot of help. In fact, the neurologist I saw, Dr. Dempster – I’m naming him because he was such an ass – was an ass. I was in such a broken down and vulnerable state that I didn’t call him out for being a dismissive, sexist ass but I’m feeling better now so I’d like to state that for the record. The other doctors advised me to monitor my autoimmune disease, get my iron and Vitamin D levels up to normal and to not worry about my heart not beating perfectly. Not really a lot to offer there. I continued my quest for answers.

After finding mostly frustration in the traditional medical channels (I want to note here that my mom was an ER nurse and I was raised to believe that western medicine had all the answers and anything alternative was akin to taking a sugar pill) I reluctantly started to explore alternative medicine (as my mom got older she revised her thinking on most alternative medicine but did retain a certain distain for chiropractors to her death). It was a huge move outside my comfort zone to consult with professionals that didn’t have an MD after their name. But, what did I have to lose?

My first stop was with a naturopath. After the initial visit, let me just say I didn’t leave convinced my early conditioning was wrong. While I appreciated the seven-page intake form that asked me all manner of questions about every aspect of my life, she followed that up by connecting me to a machine that was measuring my electrical field or something like that and also did muscle testing that consisted of pushing my arms down and checking my resistance. That didn’t feel like that was a real thing. But I was in it. I left with an arm load of supplements and homeopathic tinctures as well as a severely restricted eating plan.

To say I was desperate and convinced I was dying would not be underselling it. I’d lost 25 pounds in two months without any effort and that isn’t the dreamscape scenario I would have predicted. I became convinced my internal organs were going to shut down. There were so many seemingly random symptoms I couldn’t believe someone could live like that long term. The recommendation that I stop eating gluten, dairy, soy, caffeine, sugar and alcohol seemed like a viable path. The full story of that ordeal is best left for another day.

Along with the pills, potions and inability to put anything in my mouth that I actually wanted to eat, the doctor recommended I read Dr. Christiane Northrup’s The Wisdom of Menopause. Originally published in 2001, it’s been updated a couple of times since then and it comes up a lot when female patients get to “a certain age” in holistic medicine circles.

Just to rant for a sec – that whole “a certain age” was tossed at my face repeatedly when I began trying to figure out what was wrong and get healthy. Allopathic medicine seems to feel like pointing out my age – over 40 – explained everything and it was to be expected that I would fall apart after years of wear and tear. I was too sick at the time to say fuck you, but I’m more than happy to say that now. That’s a demeaning and dismissive thing to say to someone who is suffering and seeking help. Just because a doctor doesn’t have an immediate answer or nothing is showing up on their standard tests does not mean that nothing is wrong or that it’s all in my head or that I’m just bored. What it does mean is that the western medical community lacks imagination and has a hubris that won’t quit.

Ok, that was a little sidetrack, but I needed to say it.

Anyway, I got Dr. Northrup’s book and first, let me say, it is a mighty tome and a little intimidating even for a voracious reader such as myself. You can kind of skip around and read what’s relevant to you. To cut to the chase: It’s worth it.

Dr. Northrup was trained as an OB/GYN and had a thriving practice. She found that what was happening with women’s health was they were being dismissed if symptoms didn’t fit into a neat little box. Christiane (I feel like she wouldn’t mind the lack of honorific since she’s made a couple OPB infomercials so she might not be super uptight about it) went hard on looking at what was happening with her patients and what was happening with herself and did the research and then wrote up her wisdom. She found that indeed, women of a “certain age” were presenting with similar symptoms and was able to tie it back to menopause. But it wasn’t any menopause I’d been told about because no one ever talked to me about menopause.

In my life menopause was characterized as, like, as you got old (like 50!) and you had a few hot flashes and bit your husband’s head off for no reason and then, voila, your period dried up and you’d grow a little pot belly and get man hair on your face and go on your merry way. I thought the whole thing took like three to six months and you came out the other end a dried up shell who didn’t want to wear pants with zippers anymore.

SPOILER ALERT: It takes a lot longer than that and it changes your whole system and that’s not the required outcome.

For real, some women start to have symptoms of perimenopause in their 30’s and it can carry on into your 50’s. And because our body systems are interconnected, everything’s up for grabs. That’s fun, isn’t it?

Christiane dives deep into the body, mind and spirit changes that happen during menopause, if we let them. At this point in my life, I appreciate the sacred approach to the transformation that can occur when you enter this chapter. At that time, though, I was just pissed off that no one had told me about the wide range of shit that can happen when your hormones go for a ride and the extent of the weirdness that can be associated said transition. It wasn’t talked about and even I haven’t wanted to talk about it because, in our society, you get labeled “old” and it’s fucking hard to maintain relevance if you’re deemed an old woman. My guess is that’s a big part of why women aren’t sharing their stories so we can nomalize the turbulence of this reverse puberty.

In the last several years, I’ve heard of a flood of women I know that are around my age that have developed strange physical symptoms and often, mental and emotional symptoms as well. Their doctors are at a loss to help them figure out how to get back to feeling good and it manifests in increased anxiety and depression. I’m not saying that it’s all menopause, that’s as dismissive and simplistic as my asshole neurologist, but I am saying that we need to have more open and honest conversation about women’s health. We’re the more complicated gender, physiologically. Also understudied, but that’s also for another day.

What started as whispers got louder when I would say “for real? I’m dealing with that too”. A deeper conversation would result and the ever important normalization would occur. Sisters, talk about your health issues and get the support from your friends to advocate for your health until you find the path that works for you. When we level up our connection, there’s shared information and we can make more empowered decisions.

And if you are of “a certain age”, I recommend picking up The Wisdom of Menopause as a good place to start to make sense of this nonsense. It might be too woo woo for some, there were some places where I did roll my eyes. I have grown a lot but I’m not a completely different person. There’s lots of paths you can follow from the information in this book.

I wish I could say that I read the book and the light went on and everything was smooth sailing but the truth is, it was an early step in a long, long road that continues to unfold to this day. It was an important step.