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menopause outdoors




It’s Sunday.  It’s a bit rainy, The house is quiet. Two of my three kids are not at home, the youngest is still sleeping.

There is nothing more that I love than to write a blog but finding the focus these days is tougher than usual.  I have had dozens of blogs in my brain over the past few months, none of them have been written, none of the ideas have been quite right. Maybe today is the day.

 

I don’t know if menopause as a subject is going to be popular or will sink like a brick.  It’s all a bit of a secret you see.  So many people are dealing with it and yet it’s often not out in the open but undercover and hidden in the undergrowth, in the hedges and in the woods.


 

I am thinking about and living through menopause as a person who is AuDHD and works mostly outdoors and in nature.  This is what my blog is about today. 

 

Some brave women like Davina McCall have done a great job of bringing the menopause up to the surface and out of the undergrowth.  Following this there are now more conversations, slightly better access to medical support, and better books to read on the subject.  A more recent development is workplace menopause champions and training.  All good stuff.

 

All good stuff because women get to the top of their game, they have accrued tonnes of valuable knowledge and experience in life and in work and then many leave their careers (and sometimes their families) as they feel they can no longer manage.





Watch the comedy drama, The Change by Bridget Christie, it's brilliant! 


The changes that hit them are so hard that the physical and emotional demands of menopause are often so shocking and debilitating that day to day life as they have known it becomes no longer possible. 

 

A dark and scary fact is that suicide increases for women during menopause. “Women aged 45 to 54 have the highest female suicide rate, more than double the rate of those aged 15 to 19, the ONS reported”.  It is a very real life or death situation. 

 

A few weeks back I made a face book post asking where all of my menopause crew were at.  I thought, I know I’m not the only one but where are we all?  It had 120 comments and I also received lots of super supportive and emotional private messages.  It was overwhelming.  So many of my friends, colleagues, peers, old school and college mates were dealing with it. Obviously, as we are all going to be in a similar age bracket, but until then it was not obvious at all.

 




It is a very personal journey and each person has to consider how they wish to manage and support their menopause.  One of the things I am convinced makes it so much harder is acting as if it’s not happening and as if we can just continue as before, continue to do everything we have always done and not even talk about it. Sadly my Mum died in her thirties, I never got to talk about it with her or live with her going through it. I wish I knew more about it. So many women feel this way. Darned if I am going to keep quiet about it now!

 

The "gender data gap" means that it is not always easy to work out or decide what support may help you when you arrive in menopause or officially, perimenopause. Perimenopause is the term used to describe the transition to menopause. You are officially in menopause when you have had no periods for at least one year. For the purposes of this blog we are using menopause to describe this general transitional time of life as often the symptoms do not just end abruptly when you officially enter menopause and some women even get more periods after this time. It's not so very defined, like nature, like the seasons, there maybe an official date on the calendar but the signs of spring do not happen on one day and are subject to change. What is more clear however is that there is not enough research that is specific to this season of life. There is often a data gap in medical information specific to women generally (read Caroline Criado Perez-Invisible Women, exposing data bias in a world designed for men for much more on this). There is also a thought that thorough research for women who are no longer fertile is even more thin on the ground as in a patriarchal society that objectifies and places womens worth in fertility, that we are worth even less than before. Is this one of the reasons why middle aged women report a feeling of becoming invisible? (read Second Spring by Kate Codrington for much more on this).

 




Menopautism

This brings me to menopause and Neurodivergence.  It is understood that hormones can have a significant impact on Autism and Adhd. In this scenario two major gender data gaps converge for the perfect storm-Autism and ADHD largely believed to be male brain experiences until more recently. Many women still struggle to be diagnosed as historically the diagnostic criteria have been based on research done by males about males.  Much medical research has generally not included women and as the presence of fluctuating hormones deemed potential research to be too scientifically unreliable (see Caroline Criado Perez again).  However, I was fortunate enough to see a presentation by Lotta Borg Skoglund at the ITAKOM Neurodiversity conference, about girls and ADHD in adolescence and how their rise in hormones impacted behaviours and serious life choices and ultimately their life chances.  It is just starting to be understood that a drop in hormones will impact how people feel and experience ADHD and Autism in menopause.  It is thought that the lower levels of oestrogen affects dopamine levels which we understand can be lower in ADHD folks. AuDHD mixed with menopause has given me a type of brain fog I never thought possible!    The gender data gap means that there is precious little research and information to really support menopausal ND people beyond an understanding and knowing that the struggle is real, but I hope it is slowly getting better at least in the ND community. 

 

So lets get outdoors.  We understand more that menopause has a great impact on work life and so what if your work life is outside and in nature? 

 

If you google you will find mostly positive, affirming information that says the outdoors can help you through your menopause, which it can, I wholeheartedly agree but lets also first acknowledge that if your job is outdoors that you may have a different relationship to it if nature is your therapist but also your workplace.

 

The first issue that comes to mind is that working outdoors can be physically very demanding.  Not just the movement requirements but also the temperature and weather can be physically challenging at times even if you love it.  One major symptom of menopause is tiredness and fatigue. There is an obvious clash here. 

 

(I paused here to watch and listen to the amazing rain downpour. You can too if you would like.)



 

Finding the energy to do small and basic tasks like washing up, having a shower or even being 'nice' can become surprisingly difficult and so the as the urge to be outdoors may remain, doing big physical jobs or big social tasks can start to feel impossible some days. Sleep can be lost during menopause and a physically demanding working day with consecutive nights with less or broken sleep exacerbates fatigue and politeness failures.   Fitness levels can be unpredictable and I’m sure leads some women to feel they have lost their touch outdoors or that they are getting too old for the job.  This can be a shock if you have never considered doing anything else and especially sad if you have no wish to do anything else but feel your body is letting you down.

 

Lisa Newton Goverd describes this perfectly;

 

“My emotions became erratic. My fitness seemed to fluctuate without any obvious reason. I kept losing my concentration, I sometimes became confused and struggled to focus. I forgot words, at times even putting sentences together was an achievement! My sleep patterns became irregular. My pain levels increased, sometimes at unmanageable levels. In turn this exasperated my already erratic sleep and mood. I also noticed that my weight was very slowly increasing, in fact over two years I would put on about 7 kilos. All of this had a massive impact on my relationship with the mountains. The most obvious consequence was due to my strength and fitness, some days I was able to function reasonably normally, other days I could barely walk up a small incline without feeling out of breath.”

 

This leads to the next major change that impacts women at work and at home- mood, emotions and confidence-but what about women working outdoors? Lisa continues:

 

“I still had the constant threat of doom lingering. I would often get a heaviness in my chest like everything was being sucked out of me leaving an empty space. I felt I was constantly balancing on the edge of some kind of unknown horror. By this point my internal dialog was continually berating, shouting at me to get a grip. I really didn’t like myself much. I tried hard to keep climbing and walking, some days were easier than others but I kept getting dragged back by my lack of confidence. I didn’t really speak to anyone because I couldn’t verbalise how I felt, I didn’t understand.”

 




In my facebook comments so many women described their menopause experience as feeling like they didn’t know themselves anymore.


That's huge.


To feel like you don't know yourself anymore. 


For outdoor women, we already work in a male dominated sector where we can feel a pressure to keep up physically and the environment can be competitive at the best of times. The Palgrave International Handbook of women and outdoor learning is the place to begin to understand the outdoor gender struggle, it is full to the brim of stories, research and accounts of the pressure to try and keep up with outdoor male colleagues or suffer looking weak and incompetent.  Imagine then finding yourself in menopause where your fitness levels are changeable, your strength not guaranteed, your confidence shot to pieces and everything you thought you knew about yourself is in question.  Add to this mix the fact that it can be hard to discuss menopause with other women let alone your male colleagues.

 

And blimey what about periods?  We rarely discuss the management of periods outdoors.  How do we go on adventures with no facilities and manage periods?  How do we manage cramps and the physical impact on our bodies when we are outdoors and maybe in the middle of nowhere?  Then in peri-menopause periods don’t just stop, they become a spinning roulette wheel.  The patterns and predictability of your cycle that you have got to know over your whole adult life, goes out of the window!  You might get two periods in one month, none for ages, they could be lighter than usual or heavier.  How the flip do you manage this outdoors?!


Some help and support from the fabulous Adventure Queens


In the book Wise Power by Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer, the authors discuss having a feeling of wanting to burn everything down, to hide away, retreat and stop.  Social interaction is harder and uses up more energy.  For Neurospicy folks, the social can already be exhausting and so how much further into your cave can you retreat and still be able to work, earn money to live and care for loved ones!?  Lots of working outdoors is social and involves leading and teaching groups being one step ahead of them to keep them safe and happy.  For women leaders this role is often a nurturing one even if we didn’t select it. The urge to no longer mask and no longer hold in true feelings and opinions is strong.  This accounts for the burning it all down feeling. Burning it all down can include the parts of us that are expected to be nurturing, selfless and endlessly giving.  I am getting more grumpy with people I don't know, with healthy salaries asking me to do work for free for example! How does all that look as an outdoor leader now? 

 

It’s all shaping up to feel a bit difficult and depressing.  Is there an up-side to any of this?

 

Take everything I say next with a pinch of salt as tomorrow I might think or feel differently. One thing I have learned is that it all changes all the time and that there is no pattern or predictability. The only certainty is uncertainty and all that.

 



I am currently in the slow down menopausal crew.  I have lived much of my life at a million miles per hour. I think I have the heartbeat of a rabbit or tiny rodent, so this is no mean feat.  I see now that one of my mentors, Mark Leather had this slow down thing sorted ages ago, with his Slow Pedagogy outdoors. I wish I had listened more to this advice back then and really taken on board. This video was made during Lockdown when many of us enjoyed the enforced slowing down. I think it has been much harder since our post covid enforced "catch up".




My menopause season is asking me to slow down, I have tried ignoring it and doing what I always have but it hasn’t worked.  The ADHD me doesn't want to slow down and the Autistic me hates that there is no pattern and predictability. I live seasonally and have always been able to connect to life through repeated rituals, observations and seasons.  My personal menopause brain and body hack is to treat these changes like a season.  Fighting what is happening and what I need makes as much sense as gluing the leaves back on in Autumn.  My brain and body maybe do not want to be slowing down but they do get that Autumn is Autumn so I can work with that. 


(Incidentally the image used in the blog title is called 'Autumn Melancholy'. I made this image back in the days when the onset of Autumn would make me sad to see Summer leave. I don't feel like this anymore. I am much more likely to embrace Wintering these days.)

 




Slowing down has strengthened my connection with the outdoors and the natural world.  I never expected that.  How can a special interest get anymore special! I notice things I did not before and my intellectual curiosity has me exploring ideas and learning about new layers of my outdoor and nature based life.

 

I have piles of books everywhere but now I have a new pile of menopause season inspired, wild-nature-eco-folksy-political-artsy- books to keep me going.  I have learned that my brain fog has not affected ideas and creative, nature connected thinking but it has made the dull, monotonous, sequential, pointless, empty, capitalist, gender and neuro biased tasks pretty much impossible. Oh Well.

 




I am reviewing my practice.  What seemed all important before, now with a new menopause seasonal lens, has faded and new ideas are growing stronger.  I am asking myself what I should do with the absolute privilege of teaching, leading and supporting groups and communities outdoors and in nature? How can I not squander my knowledge and experience, how can I best share it and how can I do this gently?  What can I offer that is most useful now in this environmental and socio-political emergency without further traumatising our young ones nor leaving them alone with it? Importantly, it is all becoming one.  Parts of me that were disconnected or categorised and separate are needing to join up, integrate and overlap.  

 




In nature, the places where different types of environment meet is where there is most diversity.  Where margins meet other margins. The term for ecological diversity in areas where environmental margins meet is "ecotone." An ecotone is a transition area between two biological communities where two distinct ecosystems, such as a woodland and a grassland, or a river and its floodplain, meet and integrate.  Ecotones are sensitive to changes in environmental conditions and are biodiversity hotspots. They can quickly reflect back changes in the broader ecosystem due to their transitional nature.  Species in ecotones exhibit adaptations that allow them to thrive in fluctuating conditions.


This is menopause outdoors.    

 

 



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