I have to admit, its taking me awhile to get acquainted with the 4-six. I was actually really happy with 45 and got comfortable with my designated chronological age number. This January, seeing the 6 get slapped on where the 5 has now faded into obscurity is hitting a few fears within. Though we have been just "tryin' to live life" in 2 years of a global pandemic, the fears never really hit until the end of last year when I realized I was just getting older and life had not gone anywhere for the last 2 years.
My first fear was triggered last summer when I went through what I felt was my first signs of perimenopause. Yup. You heard that right. The dreaded Peri Beast. And what's really frustrating about it is this: NO ONE - absolutely NO ONE in the established medical field has a whole lot of anything to say to us women or womenx-identfying people when we enter uncharted hormonal territory.
My second fear? It was literally not being seen. I didn't realize how invisible I felt as a woman in complete crazytown mode when trying to find answers on my own about this phase in life. Usually a google search at 3am yields way too much info (anyone who has googled stomach pain at 2am will understand the Dr Google suggested diagnoses you get) am I right? Well, not a whole lot of hits when you try and poke Dr Google for answers about Peri.
So what's an older lass gunna do? Work my tail end off at digging sh** up. I realize that with a paucity of information and data in this field, someone is going to have to try and trailblaze some roads into unknown-crazy-land. Who better than me as I am already going through this yoyo of hormonal shifts and physical changes? And I need some answers as of last year already!
I realized somewhere in all of this whoop whoop hoopla that I am aging. And that things in my life have to change to accommodate that reality. Obviously I can't just keep doing what worked me for 5 years ago now. Like how older athletes change how they train and eat depending on what decade they're in over the course of their career, a woman and womanx-identifying individual has got to change how they live, eat and sleep to meet the needs of where they're at as they journey through life.
Hormones....yeah the eyerolls are starting (I can practically hear the scritchscartch of eyelids flapping against corneas) but hear me out. This is where the Kidneys come in.
Chinese character for Kidney pictured above (taken from: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/腎 )
You didn't think I would just talk personal crap and not get into any meat and potatoes of my own craft did you?
This is how I like to explain the role of Kidneys in the human body. They are the battery pack of vital life force energy and the big Hormone Boss of each of our corporeal earthly abodes. Kidneys store Essence or Jing ( 精 ) which is what we inherit from our parents at the time of birth. I'd like to interpret this Essence as the primordial DNA that we are given on our literal birth days.
We only get so much Essence or Jing. That actually depletes over the course of our lives so listen fully up. You got to conserve as much as you can as you start piling on the years you earned living on this planet just doing you. Its hard though! You use up Essence the minute you hit the ground running as a neonate. You lose it when you work (overwork) too hard in life and spend countless hours pushing and burning the candles at both ends making life work and working at what you do in life. You also lose Essence when you lose essential bodily fluids over a lifetime. For men that means dropping sperm count as you age and for us Femme folkx who menstruate, that's literally the blood that we shed over each successive period.
Its a little less stacked for us womenx because we don't have the upper edge in conservation like the menfolkx do since those of us who bleed regularly once a cycle don't get a say in how much (and for how long) we bleed out and lose our inherited Essence. Blood carries the life force or the Qi (氣) of the body and is created from the very Essence that we inherit at birth. For anyone who menstruates, each cycle means a loss of vital Essence through the loss of blood which means (how do I use delicate words here), we age faster.
As a womanx-indentifying person who has regular bleed cycles, when you reach middle life, you would have depleted the Kidney Essence to the point where periods are no longer starting and stopping at their regular fixed cyclical times. That is because Blood levels start to drop and the body is no longer producing enough Blood (simply because there isn't enough Essence or Jing to support Blood production). This is what defines this funky in between stage of perimenopause. There is no fixed cyclical timing nor is there a complete stop to what you have come to so regularly expect on an average monthly menstrual cycle.
That's the meaning of the prefix "peri"which is is used to describe a period of time that is "around" or "about". Peri-menopause means, "around thereabouts....but, not quite at menopause yet". I know, right? Not very reassuring for when you are in a place like I am - trying to track periods that come and go for a few good solid months regularly and then, just because, they suddenly stop and don't show up until almost a month and half later (and ALWAYS when you're wearing the lightest-coloured possible bottom half threads and in public).
Picture of TCM Female Clinical Plastic Model taken from: https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/453385887488502576/
Oh, and I did mention the phrase Hormone Boss earlier? Well, that's essentially what the Kidneys do in a more modern context and analogy. The Kidneys "turn on" the life cycles that delineate the sexual maturity of each person. They literally light up the sexual and reproductive functions of each individual at the time when it is supposed to naturally happen as the person matures and becomes a reproductively capable adult. For instance, traditionally defined male persons have 8 year cycles and traditionally defined female persons have 7 year cycles. This excerpt taken from the page: https://www.euyansang.com.sg/en/how-men-and-women-age-in-tcm/eysageing4.html illustrates this principle really clearly. This idea of 8 and 7 year cycles is actually documented in ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine texts such as the "Yellow Emperor's Canon of Internal Medicine" (which is what a a big portion of TCM and Acupuncture training and education is based on).
• 7 years: has abundant Kidney Qi for the growth of permanent teeth as well as body hair.
• 14 years: starts to menstruate and is able to conceive.
• 21 years: Kidney Qi level peaks, body development stops and wisdom teeth grow.
• 28 years: peak physicality occurs, with strong muscles and bones, and thick, lustrous hair.
• 35 years: body starts to decline; initial signs of ageing (sallow face, wrinkles or hair loss) are usually due to the degeneration of the Yang Ming Meridian.
• 42 years: the three Yang meridians in the upper body begin to decline, which leads to facial sagging and gradual whitening of hair.
• 49 years: body deteriorates, and ability to menstruate and give birth ceases.
• 8 years: Kidney Qi consolidates, grows permanent teeth and body hair.
• 16 years: Kidney Qi is abundant; as a result, Kidney essence will transform into sperm.
• 24 years: Kidney Qi level peaks, body development stops, wisdom teeth continue to grow and limbs are strong.
• 32 years: body reaches its peak, with sturdy and powerful bones and tendons.
• 40 years: Kidney starts to decline at 40, leading to hair loss or loose teeth.
• 48 years: the body’s Yang-Qi starts depleting from the upper body; face will start sagging and hair will start greying.
• 56 years: the liver degenerates, leading to joint problems; kidney degeneration leads to lower amount of essence, so vitality and body greatly wanes.
• 64 years: hair and teeth may be lost. "
That's all fine and dandy but the gist isn't lost on me. The Kidney Hormone Boss (think the levelling up you did as a kid playing Mario Bros and getting to meet Bowser when you start progressing further in the game) literally has full sway over the symptoms of the swing state of perimenopause when the body is losing Essence. It sucks that in female identifying people, we seem to have biologically drawn the faster depleting straw by rushing through each life cycle 1 year faster than our male earth-born compatriots.
That explained why last summer, my moods just plummeted like a comet dawn to the Earth's gravitational field. Essence can be looked at from a more current and contemporary viewpoint as the collective total of the trifecta holy trinity combo of eggs, estrogen and progesterone. As you age and lose Essence, your Essence stores not only can't support Blood production to ensure regular refills of uterine lining blood. It's also limited in the amount that it can readily allow for the support of Kidney Yin (the wet, squishy and liquid substances of the body) which many practitioners of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture interpret as hormones such as those that support healthy egg production and ovulation as well as the inversely related rising and falling levels of estrogen and progesterone in a regularly timed menstrual cycle. And for those of us who have experienced the ups and downs of hormone changes when we do have regular periods (think PMS and PMDD folks), you know the kind of emotional roller coaster "feels" I am talking about. In a two word summary: not fun.
I'm finding that for myself and I suspect for most womenx who bleed regularly (this could depend on you as an individual though so I'm not willing to go so far as to saying this covers ALL Femme folkx), its the dive in progesterone levels that causes the swing swing swing and the variations in period timing, as well as the amount that is bled (some days its trickle and "did I bleed?" and other days its like the floodgates had bust open) and the icky feely feels you get when you're stuck in limbo waiting for a period and either not sleeping for several nights in a row (like I was!) or just bloated up and feeling like you just had the boa constrictor 2 for 1 special!
My cycles started to shorten (that's progesterone levels going south over time) from 28-29 days in my 30's, to 24 and sometimes even 22 days starting from my 40'sh years. Progesterone is the hormone that helps the body retain the uterine lining and stop it from shedding in case you are pregnant and your goal was the maintenance of a healthy pregnancy through to labour. As you age though life however, those progesterone levels dwindle meaning that you aren't holding that lining for long and you end up having a period much earlier on in your cycle than you used to. And as you get further beyond into the post 45 era like I am, you start to notice that as the progesterone levels start to fall, it starts to affect the start time of each bleed or start of each cycle. Which means in true domino fashion, the switch for estrogen production and the thickening of the uterine lining for the next cycle gets delayed (sorta like those COVID delays in the timing of things like we've seen) and that can really toss up the upcoming timing of each successive cycle to come (if they do start up that is).
Just to recap what happens in a menstrual cycle and each phase of one, here's great graphic from: https://www.yourhormones.info/topical-issues/the-menstrual-cycle/
You see the dog's breakfast that gets served up right? It's a sea of hormonally wrathful krakens wanting to wreck things.
So is there any hope? Honestly, I'd truly like to think so. But right now I'm navigating this landscape like a girl Girl Scout without a compass trying to score her camping badge for the first time. So if you're here too, I know emphatically just how you're feeling. The serious data gap here on perimenopause was shocking at first. After being told by doctors to "just track those periods for now because there's not a whole lot I can do because you're not menopuasal yet", all I want to do is summon my inner Hulk and smash stuff. Its not very helpful so I'll settle for trailblazing my way into finding as much info as I can on the subject and sharing this with anyone who needs a sympathetic ear and some hopefully helpful info on how to survive feeling like you're losing the plot.
This brings me here in my own evolution of my own personal practice.
I know in my prior years I have been super focused on fertility, regulating periods, hormone balancing for PMS and PMDD. That's because I was there with my feet firmly planted in that territory of my life. For awhile anyway. Looks like I am drifting well into the outer edges of that known part of the galaxy and the opportunity to learn, enhance and punch holes in the wall that characterizes the lack of perimenopausal information is being presented to me. Its time to level up so to speak and start making maps where no perimenopausal womanx has gone before. You'll see me charting this journey here and also on both my Instagram accounts (@acuinthesix and @daryl.fang). You'll also see me beefing up the resume with new learning, reading / research and courses on this so that I can better help us W-folx figure this ever-changing period of life out with.
Its early in the game of the second half of life but, I'm considering working out how to kitchen-sink strategize empowering us peri-orphans out there by figuring in new ways to incorporate fitness and sport into the mix (in my early days, my career started off with helping ex and presently at the time, competing atletes with sports injuires so this consideration is a no brainer for me). From a personal standpoint, I discovered boxing when I was in the thrall of feeling crap about myself last summer when my first perimenopausal symptoms started. I found a lot of joy in movement and in conditioning. In learning this new form of fitness, I also felt stronger and found most of the self esteem that I thought I had lost from feeling really alone in dealing with the plethora of perimenopausal symptoms that no one could help me get a handle on (GERD, insomnia, depression, anxiety, skipped periods and low cortisol levels to name a few). How could I NOT find a way to share this?
It doesn't mean I'm completely dropping my prior work focus. I just want to expand the lens and go further beyond just this 20-40 age group. This archer is aiming for 40 and further into menopause because frankly, I'm living this in realtime right now. It is now my current truth and it's time to revise the playbook at this point of the game.
I am finding that because I lack Wayshowers right now, I'm doubly fired up to becoming that Pathfinder that I don't have right now. Yeah it sucks to be the only one here for the time being. But you can bet that the more I speak about this in between land that is sandwiched right bewteen very well known Youthful Maidenhood and Elder Wisdom Cronehood, more of us can start literally showing up in our own lives and finding our voices to add to the conversation. If we don't start advocating for ourselves in this in-between Peri stage, we will get lost in the dust and feel like we're suffering quietly and alone when we're really not.
I'll leave it there everyone. This one is personal and the fight for data has only just started for me! I'll see you here on these pages and in Insta-land real soon this year with the insights I learn okay? Bye for now!