Tuesday, October 30, 2012

PMS, Menopause: My Beauty My Beast author

Interview with Pauline Houle, psychotherapist and author of My Beauty & my Beast, Mind, Body and PMS (and Menopause). Pauline came and spoke to my women’s circle years ago, and I found her approach to PMS fascinating. It also applies to menopause. Read on.

Musemother: Women at midlife sometimes notice increased PMS. From your work on this subject, why do you think that is?

Pauline Houle: There is one thing I have found for certain is that for some women it does, for others it disappears. If for any reason, a woman doesn’t take care of certain things, it comes back with a vengeance. Menopause doesn’t have to be a curse, but if stuff is kept under the carpet for too long, it will come out, not only as menopausal symptoms, but as cancer, or other diseases.  All the newer research and my training in New German Medicine, along with all our understanding about the mind-body-spirit connection, give us ample examples of such diseases and their intimate connection with our own life.

Life brings to consciousness or awareness what we haven’t dealt with. Emotional issues are unique and different for every woman. Our limiting beliefs are not the same; it is an intimate quest, our own path, so it must be different for each woman.

M: Body guidance is an important tool for intuition – listening to the messages from the body. What is the end of menstrual cycle about for women?

PH: It’s a different kind of freedom; it’s not just that I’m aging, or that I’m going to lose my husband, my kids are gone and I  have an empty nest – it doesn’t have to be like that. It is a time of changes. There is nothing on this planet that does not change. We have been so brainwashed to get rid of our natural cycles that pharmaceutical companies got the message loud and clear, hence enticing women to stop their menses. If women only knew the potential damage they are inviting in their life.  We have to relearn how to accept our natural cycle.

M: What blocks women from listening to their own wisdom?
PH: We block ourselves from a very young age; we listen to medical gurus, publicity, we try to keep up with the pack. And we become victims of the environment, including all the artificial hormones we breathe in, through air, water, food. I feel human beings, not only women, have lost their souls – we’re disconnected from our health. Women are working way too much, two-three jobs – at home, on volunteer committees, at work. We try to be Superwoman, and we’ve lost ourselves.

It’s an attitude, a mental attitude. I know I have changed. I can rest much more easily now than when I was thirty. But above all, I hold myself accountable for all that happens in my life. Taking full responsibility for all that happens is a great master. It never lies.

M: What about the Inner critic: how does this hinder us at menopause?
PH: From a very young age, we internalize those voices. We hardly revise it as we get older, in some areas, but not in others – we will undertake a path that got shown to us early on, and we rarely revise what is our true essence. PMS and Menopause both serve as a wake-up call – we ask ourselves, what’s important? And take a look at the symptoms that show up nowadays – women lose concentration, their memory, the ability to multi-task – what if this were really a blessing?

M: Do women get better at self-acceptance as they age?
PH: If we look at the results of the survey to determine if PMS is a result of subconscious states linked to our personality, in my book My Beauty & My Beast, Mind, Body and PMS, the majority of women say their mental attitude will affect how they experience menstruation. From what I’ve collected, 77% of women believe our mental attitude affects how we prepare for menopause, and only 11% say it does not. “The belief that each one of us has inner power seems to be on the rise.” (MBMB) In my book, in the last few chapters I discuss menopause:

“My experience has been that medical science has rarely invited people to understand and make pertinent links between their emotions (invisible) and their physical symptoms (felt or visible). The bridge has but started to be built…If PMS can sometimes find its source in a biochemical imbalance and sometimes in the psychosomatic field then the same goes for menopause.
…body pains and symptoms are but a signal to let us know we have something to take care of, something to heal and transcend.

…I think menopause should allow all women to reorganize their lives so that they can do the necessary cleaning up of those untouched dreams that have been unattended for too long. All our limiting beliefs have infiltrated themselves into the smallest cracks. The time has come to refine and clean up.” (MBMB)

PH: In conclusion, menopause has a biochemical component, the body has to readjust, but once it has readjusted – it’s fine. But the more you want to get rid of it, the less you embrace your reality, the harder it gets. The menstrual cycle and menopause are part of our make-up as a woman. When the doctor told me I was menopausal, he was ready to write me a prescription, but I knew this was not for me (HRT). Even my husband thought I should look into it, but I said no. One month before my book came out in 2000, he said, I want you to look at this, how right you were. It was a scientific study in the JAMA journal, a study with 10,000 women showing the link between HRT and increased risk of breast cancer.

M: What can help women listen better to their own wisdom and what blocks us from doing so?
PH: Our Inner critic blocks us, the big fat lies we tell ourselves. If we never revise the recipe of our life, in any aspect or field we play in, we will keep harvesting the exact same result. Wasn’t it Einstein who said that: The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results!

Well, dear Jennifer, at times we are so blinded by our routine of repeating what we know best, that we have forgotten to ask ourselves enlightening questions such as: What else can I try or explore and harvest different results? What have I not been shown or taught that could make a difference?

And then, how can I go and get it? How can I change my belief system? Because after all is said and done, we are not who we think we are, we are who we believe we are, even if we have lost track of the beliefs behind it.

M: Thank you Pauline for this enlightening conversation.
Pauline Houle is a Social Worker and psychotherapist in private practice who loves to find the truth and the hidden reasons behind the psychological and physical symptoms of her clients. Visit her website

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Falling in, Fall

feeling the need to retreat this fall
my birth day only one week away
and turning inward
going down and in
quiet and solitude my desire
to listen carefully
to grow my roots
to nourish myself
and be more able to be present
wholly present
for my companions, friends, fellow travellers
may I be happy
may I be healthy
may I be whole
may you be happy 
may you be healthy
may you be whole
may we be happy
may we be healthy
may we be whole


Monday, October 22, 2012

Increased Intuition at Menopause?

Dr Christiane Northrup, in her book, The Wisdom of Menopause, says that hormonal changes at menopause are actually rewiring a mid-life woman's brain for greater access to her intuition ( "We go from an alternating current of inner wisdom to a direct current that remains on all the time after menopause is complete. During perimenopause, our brains make the change from one way of being to the other."  TWofMenopause.  But how do we get in touch with that intuition? In our busy, frenzied pace of life, sometimes that still, small voice gets drowned out.

Time alone, solitude and calm - these are the best ways to encourage listening to the inner voice. How do you get time alone? That is the question. Northrup suggests that we first acknowledge and validate the need,  and from my workshops with women, I can say that this is the hardest part. We feel the impatience and crankiness that results from not having time to hear our own thoughts without distractions, and that is the first clue. But we must be willing to allow ourselves to feel worthy and deserving of quiet time, because it will not be given to us on a shiny platter; we will have to push something else aside to make room for ourselves, so we can dialogue with or listen to the Wise Inner Self (my name for my intuitive side).

To court our intuition, we need to give ourselves the space and time to be away from whatever noise and activity is disturbing us and preventing us from getting in touch with our inner wisdom (cell phones, email, telephones, kids, work stress). It doesn't mean you have to book a weekend away on a desert island, although that would be nice. But you can clear a little private space in your home - after the kids are gone to school, or inside your cubicle at work with earphones on. What can you do that is absolutely practical and doable, to create a space, even if it's just an inner space, for you to court your intuition?

I think intuition is always available to us, but we need to learn how to tune in, to trust it, learn the language it uses through the body guidance we receive. Sometimes you may feel a sense of calm, a feeling of being in the  flow, the serendipity of the moment. Or you may feel a tightening in the belly when something is wrong, out of whack, and your inner senses or instinct is warning you. Learn to pay attention, be open, and act on the information you receive.

Here are some tips, from practices I do to help me stay in touch with my Inner Wise Self or intuition:

-        -   Cultivate your inner awareness through more downtime:  rest (naps), yoga, chi gong, relaxation
-        -   Spend time alone walking in nature, meditating, getting in tune with silence and calming the static
-       -    listen up and follow up – when you follow your intuition, it helps strengthen that Inner Voice
-         -  Write in your journal, start a dialogue with Inner Wise Self as in Writing down your soul. ask the question and wait for the answers to come. 


Friday, October 12, 2012

Getting through it: Menopausal Minefield

How did I survive it, I wonder sometimes? Looking back at the time I spent in sleepless nights, feeling like I was going crazy, weeping in my bedroom or lashing out at my teenagers with impatience, feeling far away from my husband and just generally, not 'myself'; it feels like the long period leading up to menopause was a dangerous minefield.

What helped me through it? lots of different things - Promensil, a little red clover pill I got at the pharmacy, suggested by a woman friend a few years older, prevented hot flashes and melt-downs of heat. I know some women like to call them Power Surges but I could do without those, thank you very much.

There were ups and also Down times - I remember seeing a counselor for about a year, for talk therapy and anger issues. I didn't like the little explosions, the unexpected blowing up at my kids and spouse. Therapy took a few layers of defensive stuff off (and helped the shoulders), and gave me some practical tips for getting help and not burning out, but after going over the same childhood territory, sad, lonely teen with a chip on her shoulder from being little mother to her siblings, alcoholic mother, workaholic dad, etc etc, it was getting a little repetitive, so next I saw a Reiki therapist who also did reflexology and gave me very sound advice about how being a Mom, flipped upside down, was WoW. Energy work of any kind, cranial sacral, reiki, osteopathy, are all very healing.

I must have seen four different homeopaths and naturopaths, looking for the perfect mind-body health solution. It wasn't only menopause, but those aches and pains at mid-life - who ever heard of bursitis before age 45? or basal cell carcinoma? I also had a frozen shoulder from too much working on a laptop computer. Still bothers me, but an osteopath (saw several actually, before I found "the one") helped me unfreeze it, as the whole collar bone and neck was affected. There were nights when only a heating pad could help the pain.

Hmm, diet wise, a naturopath helped me discover low iodine was a problem for my thyroid, and the tendency to wallow in depression lifted. Losing the gluten was a miracle, discovered after a month-long diet where you remove things, one at a time, first no red meat, then no chicken, then no eggs or cheese, til finally I was eating rice and veggies only, with some rice protein powder smoothies. All those joint aches and pains, weeping sessions, weight gain and mood swings were not from menopause and aging, but from a gluten intolerance.

Low libido and sex life - this minefield is more slippery - pardon the pun - it goes up and down, and although I've taken oat tincture and Lorna whatzername's supplements, used the Ganga lubrifier and other JoyToy remedies, this one feels more like a communication issue. Still working on that one. Mostly, it's about speaking up, and allowing myself to enjoy mindless pleasure. Go figure!

Yoga and meditation were my constant companions, and still are. There is just no way to find inner peace and balance without them, for me. That and journal writing have helped me negotiate the mine-fields and not get blown up in the process.

The skies are clearing now, the storm clouds mostly gone, and blessed be, my kids are studying in two different cities, so my alone time and hermit needs are more frequently fulfilled. I am so loving leading Creative Journaling and SoulCollage(R) classes, and discovering the company of other women on the journey. And now it's my husband's turn to navigate the mid-life minefields (he's growing a beard).

take good care now, and if you want to learn more about the peri-menopausal journey and self-care, look for The Tao of Turning Fifty, on my website or at

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Stress and the Mid-Life Woman

I'm so glad I'm not the only one eating whole bags of potato chips! yes, according to Women's Health Mag editors, here's what women turn to when we're stressed or under duress:

- Nutella or peanut butter straight from the jar - (guilty as charged)
- a whole bag of Oreos
- a whole pint of HaggenDaz ice-cream
- a pound of Twizzlers
- sprinkles by the spoonful (nuh-uh)
- a dozen ready-bake cinnamon rolls (baked!)
- chocolate in any form
- booze
- a bag of potato chips

(from poll and survey done by

What are your favourite de-stressors?

Recently I posted a quote on my facebook page from Gail Sheehy The Silent Passage ( about how rest and restorative relaxation are so important for women at mid-life. When I was 45, mother to two pre-teens, and running like a chicken with my head cut off from volunteer work to doctor's appointments to after-school chauffering, stress seemed to be a constant. Being in peri-menopause had a lot to do with it - juggling all my time commitments seemed more challenging and my patience seemed to wear thin more easily. Yoga and meditation were helpful, but I needed to stop pushing myself so hard. After I broke my leg skiing, at age 47, I began to take regular naps and give myself permission to rest more. With a leg in a cast, I had no choice!

So here's the thing about stress: you can eat your stress, or you can do some deep breathing exercises, take up jogging, or lie down for a nap every day between 5:30 and 6:00. So what if supper is a little later one or two nights of the week? Can you cut down on some extracurricular activities or carpool? What will make your life seem a little less crazy? Can you ask your spouse to pick up the slack?

Until I broke my leg I was doing all the errands, appointments and meal preparing, figuring that since I was working from home, it was easier on my schedule. Asking for help was hard for me, having been programmed to do it all myself, and having a strong control freak in my nature. But it was a very wise move - and it helped my husband feel more included with the kids' activities. He'd take them skiing on Saturdays while I rested with my legs up the wall, and prepared a hot meal for them and a roaring fire (while sometimes; my fire-building skills took a while to perfect).

"It is of utmost importance for any woman over forty-five, faced with high-stress professional or personal demands, to commit herself to some restorative relaxation measure. It might be biofeedback, prayer, yoga, or routine meditation. ...The single most important aid to continued health through the menopausal transition is proper rest." Gail Sheehy

by the way, I recommend this Women's Health Ultimate Yoga Guide, found at the local pharmacy. Great easy yoga moves to tone your body, food to help slim down and chill out, and more.