Before I turned 50, I asked one of my closest older friends how she survived menopause. She shared that it was a powerful initiation into “elderhood,” but admitted that it wasn’t easy. She felt frustrated by the unexplainable weight gain, hot flashes, and constant waking through the night.
Listening to her story was fascinating. It reminded me of when I was pregnant. Everyone had a different story about the pain and intensity of giving birth. There I was, with a belly full of baby, somewhat petrified and wondering: How do women go through this and come out the other side?
As menopause approached, I thought to myself, “It’s going to be tough, and I’m going to hate it. I hope I survive!”
Why did I have such fear? Let me explain.
Adjusting to a new normal
In 2008, I was diagnosed with latent autoimmune type 1 diabetes in adults (LADA). That meant it took a long time for my pancreas to stop producing insulin.
Our bodies use insulin to regulate the amount of sugar in our blood. Insulin acts like a door to allow glucose (energy) into a cell. Our brain needs glucose to power our nervous system. If we have too much glucose or too little, we basically risk damaging the organs, tissues, and nerves in our bodies.
When type 1 diabetes shows up in adulthood, some factor has triggered its onset. Science is still trying to work out exactly what that is, but evidence suggests it has to do with environmental or emotional stressors, poor gut health, or having certain genetic markers in the DNA.
I was diagnosed at the age of 42 while travelling the world as a global yoga teacher. To be honest, it took me years to accept my diagnosis. The more I was in denial, the sicker I got. Eventually, I had to face the truth: The body doesn’t function without insulin.
Six years after my diagnosis, I started taking daily shots to stabilize my blood sugar levels. What a relief to finally admit I needed medical support. And then, just when I was adjusting to my new normal, you guessed it — menopause.
The resilience of women
My period stopped, and the hot flashes began. A feeling of electric voodoo vibes traveled from my toes to the crown of my head. My whole body was so hot, I had to strip off down to my undies while buckets of sweat flooded from every pore.
But despite the awkwardness of getting hot in all the wrong places, menopause also made me reflect on how resilient we are as women. It’s not just that we go through puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, or that we shepherd children to adulthood and tend to our family and friends. We also care deeply, work hard, and still take on whatever we can. If you stop to think about it, women are flawless diamonds. We may think we’re not perfect, but we’re actually strong and brilliant.
Living with a chronic condition like type 1 diabetes is no picnic. Keeping my levels steady in the middle of my busy life has been a challenge. Throwing my period into the mix was debilitating. I think that’s why I feared menopause so much. Just when I had things figured out, I’d start bleeding, and roller-coaster blood sugars would take me for a ride. I was convinced that menopause would only exacerbate the situation.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
Reasons I’m grateful for menopause
Menopause has for the most part stabilized my blood sugar levels. There have been other positives too:
1. I have a built-in continuous glucose monitoring system. When you live with diabetes, it’s handy to know what’s happening with your blood sugar at night. Waking up through the night with hot flashes means I can keep an eye out for a potential low.
2. No more mood swings! I no longer crash and burn with premenstrual tension.
3. I get to have salt-and-pepper hair free of charge. Why pay a fortune to streak my hair when nature is giving it away for free?
4. I’m saving money on skin cream! Instead of needing different creams for skin texture variations, there’s only dry, dry, and more dry. Only 100 percent shea butter does the trick.
5. I get to dress for summer in winter and create my own haute couture. I’ve found ways to coordinate my summer clothes with winter accessories so I can strip off anywhere, anytime and still have a modicum of style.
6. No more late-night spinach binges to keep up my iron levels. I’ve been vegetarian and sometimes vegan for most of my life. I ate so much spinach to compensate that I felt like Popeye the Sailor!
7. I’m saving the environment. No more tampons and pads in the trash.
8. I’m never cold! (I adore this one.)
9. I can engage in wild sex with abandon and not worry about getting pregnant (that is, if I ever feel like it).
10. I’m happy to hang out with me. Feelings of isolation and loneliness or the idea that there’s something wrong with who I am are gone.
In addition to all of these reasons, menopause has completely changed the way I approach my health and well-being. I’m more tender around my emotions, beat myself up less, and put myself first when I feel overwhelmed.
And the biggest takeaway? Menopause has taught me to accept things exactly as they are.
Rachel was diagnosed with Type 1 LADA diabetes in 2008 at the age of 42. She started yoga at 17, and 30 years later, still practices passionately, teaching teachers and beginners alike in workshops, trainings, and retreats internationally. She is a mother, award winning musician, and published writer. To find out more about Rachel, visit www.rachelzinmanyoga.com or her blog http://www.yogafordiabetesblog.com