Conversation with a menopause goddess: Lynette Sheppard talks with team Gennev
We had the pleasure of recording a menopause goddess podcast with Lynette Sheppard, author of Becoming a Menopause Goddess and “scribe” and moderator of the website and blog by the same name. Lynette and her goddesses are tackling the lack of knowledge and awareness women have when approaching the “Big M.” Lynette spent more than 10 years as a Nurse-Manager and head of Intensive Care and Coronary Care units in Santa Rosa, California. She knows her way around healing and the human body and is a terrific translator of medical-speak.
We talked with her about where the Menopause Goddesses came from, what she’d learned over the years, and how the blog had changed – and continues to change – so many women’s lives for the better.
JILL: I’m here today with Lynette Sheppard, author of the book Becoming a Menopause Goddess, and moderator of the Menopause Goddess blog and website. She and her team of goddesses decided to take on the lack of knowledge and awareness women generally have when heading in to the big M. She’s a former nurse manager and was the head of Intensive Care and Coronary Care Units in Santa Rosa, CA for about 10 years before deciding to go out on her own as a speaker, author, and expert on all things healing and health.
The Menopause Goddess blog has been named a top menopause blog for the past five years by Health Line magazine, and so we’re extremely excited to have Lynette with us today.
LYNETTE: Absolutely my pleasure, I look forward to talking to your listeners and sharing what I’ve come to know over the past oh-so-many years of menopause.
Becoming a menopause goddess
JILL: How did you come to find this lack of awareness associated with menopause when you started out with Menopause Goddess?
LYNETTE: Honestly it happened because as a nurse I expected fully that menopause would be a simple, easy transition. Maybe I would be hot once in a while but no big deal, and how wonderful not to have to worry about if I could wear white pants or a white skirt anymore, but what happened was so many weird menopause symptoms and so much strangeness occurred that I began to look for information, and there wasn’t much. There was one site called powersurge.com and it was so confusing I couldn’t even figure out how to follow or get more information. It was very chatty and nice but it didn’t have anything for me. There were a couple of big books but they were written by doctors, and they were so hard to tackle, so full of anatomy and physiology, that even as a nurse I didn’t want to read it. What I wanted to know was, was what was happening to me normal? If it was, what could I do about it because my entire life was turned upside down.
JILL: Do you mind sharing how it turned your life upside down?
LYNETTE: Personally, first of all the hot flashes were so overwhelming, it was like heart palpitations, intense heat, and they would last for … they weren’t flashes, they lasted for five, ten minutes, and they were hideous and literally interfered with daily living. They were dreadful. I thankfully did not have any of the emotional symptoms – I did not get depressed, I did get a little angry once in a while. Kind of like a cranky child, when you’re too hot, when you have the flu or something, you get irritable. And you know the other symptoms were just weird things like I got sick a lot, I had shingles for the first time, everything was catty-whampus and upside down and it made no sense at all. There was vaginal dryness, the libido just said goodbye… so there were so many things that were so disconcerting.. oh, and my hair started falling out. That was horrifying and to have it all happen at once. I was like “either I have some terminal illness or this is menopause and if it this is menopause, why doesn’t everybody talk about this?” I talked to my own mother and she said, “Oh honey I didn’t really notice it.” Well, that generation unfortunately was given hormone pills before they actually would have felt a symptom, I believe, so there was no way she would have felt it. Anyway it was dramatic and it was interfering with my life terribly.
JILL: Was there a moment where you just said “I’m gonna take this on and start not only fact-finding for myself, but publishing”?
LYNETTE: Absolutely there was, my girl friend, my best friend Teresa started menopause around the same time as I did. I was talking with her on the phone one day and I asked her “Do you think this is normal? Do you think we’re normal?” “Do other women go through this?” And we decided to have what we called a “slumber party with a focus.” We were gonna invite some women to spend a weekend where we explored what was going on with us, we women of a certain age and affliction. We had all these icebreaking exercises and stuff which we obviously didn’t need because the minute the 15 women gathered the floodgates opened. Clearly we were all going through dramatic huge upheaval, and there was no place to vent that or to realize that we were not alone so that became the impetus. We began to meet every year, we met for 14 years once a year and kept in touch the rest of the time, just to find out we were not alone, that all of us had been sort of hit upside the head by menopause was a huge relief. And the second part was beginning to realize that it would not last forever, the worst of it was going to be temporary. But we shared what we called “kitchen table wisdom” with one another, the things that worked for us or didn’t. Each of us was different, each of us had different symptoms and each of us responded differently to different remedies, but coming together and being able to share that meant “OK we’re women, we’re tough, we can get through anything if we know what to expect.” But not knowing what to expect threw us over the cliff. We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know what was wrong with us. If somebody had told us, “hey, it’s normal, and the worst of it will last a year or two” we would’ve said, “fine, good, we’re down with that.” I mean, women can have babies, we can do this! To not know was probably the worst thing possible for us, and basically started the impetus of our goddess group meetings.
“Just to find out that we were not alone, that all of us had been sort of
hit upside the head by menopause, was a huge relief.”
JILL: Lynette, I love the notion of the slumber party with a purpose. Women need women, and the notion that you all took this time and maintained it over the course of 14 years and now have pulled it into something like the blog and your own writings is really remarkable. What are some of the unique remedies or a remedy you’d care to share?
LYNETTE: If I were to give one remedy and absolutely one, it would be to create your own goddess group and call it whatever you want. Sometimes when you’re in the throes of menopause it’s like, “Oh I can’t possibly do that, it’s too much work,” but we’ve already done the work for everybody. If someone went to our menopause goddess blog and wrote in “creating your own goddess group” in the search box it would come up with all the ways of how to do that and how easy it is. So no reinventing the wheel, all you’d have to do is invite people and it would be simple. But if there’s one remedy we would say, all of us, got us through, instead of just surviving menopause we actually became able to thrive during the transition, it was each other; it was that group. Single most important, every woman said: the single most important remedy they had in their multiple remedies and things that they tried. That one saved their bacon.
JILL: Tell us a little bit about the blog then, how did that group in its very infancy shape the blog? What kind of resources and information do you make available?
The origins of the Menopause Goddess blog and book
LYNETTE: First of all, how it got started was my girlfriend Teresa said, “Not only will we start this group but we’ll write a book about it! There’s not any information out there.” I said “You write a book, I’ve written a book once, it was a lot of work and I said I’d never do it again.” But the things that were shared were so wonderful and so helpful that we couldn’t help but share it. I asked my book agent about starting a blog and she told me it was a good idea. But the blog took on a life of its own oddly enough, so not all the stuff in the book ever made it on the blog because so much information was coming in so fast and furious that I had more than enough stuff to put on the blog for years. Because it’s been around for 15 years, the kinds of information really are partly what women share with each other but also as a nurse I’m pretty well able to sift through the medical information, pull out, and put in plain language, what we really need to know.
I would say that in the last couple years the shift of the blog has been more to what do we do post-menopause to live a vibrant life. I would say to women going to the blog, every symptom, everything you want to know about has been written about at least once, probably five to ten times on the blog. That search box is amazing. Dealing with heavy bleeding? All those posts show up. You can find remedies, you can find information on the blog because it’s been around so long. We’ve gathered that information and that’s why the blog has shifted its focus now so the more recent entries are much more about living our second act. Of course if there’s a new product like yours, I’ll showcase that if it’s worthwhile, or books. I’ll also report on new research and new modalities. Otherwise it’s all there, for the asking and the taking.
How has being a menopause goddess changed you?
JILL: How has managing the blog changed the way you deal with your own life changes associated with menopause and this next chapter? Has the blog made you more conscientious? What would you attribute to the blog that’s changing the way you’re moving through this as a woman?
LYNETTE: I absolutely think the meetings and the blog have made me more open and conscientious, and probably ask ourselves questions we never would have asked ourselves. I think that was really important, knowing that every woman has a different menopause, and what worked for one woman may not work for another, or what worked for me today may not work tomorrow, which is startling but true. So you become much more fluid, open and receptive rather than trying to control everything, if that makes any sense.
JILL: What are some of the lifestyle changes that help with the transition into menopause and also into this second chapter of life?
LYNETTE: I think the lifestyle changes for the second chapter are pretty simple. There’s a nurse who’s also a hospital administrator I know and she summed it up pretty sweet and simple saying “Eat well, move, and love well and if you do that, you’re gonna do great.” And I really think that’s the prescription. That said, when you’re first going through menopause it’s rough, different foods, temperature, things like that can precipitate horrible hot flashes – women will find themselves trying anything. There is a lot of writing out there that says you shouldn’t have chocolate, alcohol, wine, all of those precipitate hot flashes. I basically wrote in the book that I would give up my health care practitioner before I would give up wine and chocolate and coffee. One of the doctors who proofread my book said “absolutely best part of the book.” What that really translates to is you have to be gentle with yourself. If/when you make changes, don’t change everything all at once, you’re already going through so much. If you’re having horrible hot flashes you might try cutting out caffeine or decreasing it, same thing with chocolate and wine, but if those are things that also make you feel happier, then I wouldn’t do it! When we started meeting the refrigerator for the weekend was stuffed with wine, chocolate, and we had coffee and we had a wonderful time. And now there may be one or two bottles and we don’t need to drink it. We don’t feel the need for so much chocolate (probably our serotonin levels are up again.) We all agree there’s only so much you can give up and so much you can do to yourself. And secondarily if you haven’t been super heavy duty in exercise I wouldn’t do 6 days of Pilates. Again, be gentle, be kind to yourself more than you’ve ever been because you really need it at this time of life. Don’t think you can fix it because it doesn’t get fixed. It’s something we have to go through but we can choose how we go through it. If you feel nourished by making lifestyle changes, I think that’s great. If you don’t, if you feel deprived, now is not the time to feel deprived.
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JILL : In all of that have you come across any surprises along the way?
LYNETTE: Absolutely. The weirdest one was when a women wrote me on the blog saying she had “burning lip syndrome.” I had never heard about that, I swear, her doctors had said she needed to take heavy duty drugs, like anti-convulsants and had huge side effects to deal with that. It was so painful for her that it made it hard to eat. So I made it my personal mission to learn what I could about Burning Lip Syndrome and I found that weirdly enough there was a way to deal with it that was more natural that worked probably better than the big drugs. It was simply oil with cayenne pepper, controlling a burn with a burn. But it was an eye opener, I thought “Wow, there are symptoms that I never dreamed of that occur with menopause.” So that was shocking to me. It was surprising to me how many women, previously healthy, strong, active women, came down with some serious illness or illnesses during the menopause transitions. It’s not too surprising that your immune system might be affected, but I mean hideously affected. I got my first attack of shingles and when I went online it said I either had lymphoma or something is really wrong with you. But now enough of us, of the Baby Boomers, have had shingles that it says “You’ll probably get shingles for the first time when you’re menopausal because it’s caused by the chicken pox virus which continues to live in your system.” But you can imagine how terrified I was when I thought I had lymphoma.
JILL: That’s one thing you really don’t hear about menopause at all is around that notion of more serious illnesses outside of the traditional symptoms.
LYNETTE: Absolutely, I even wrote to the investigators at the Nurses’ Health Study which is the longest pro-active health study that’s ever been done, and I’m part of it. It started the year before I was in nursing school. They said it was interesting, they were studying rheumatoid arthritis as group and lupus as a group, but they hadn’t considered that this might be because there’s an immune system assault that happens with menopause. Now, have they done anything with it? Not that I know of, but I’m still hopeful that there will be research done. Even if research isn’t done, I would say if you’re coming up on perimenopausal age, now is the time to start boosting up your immune system as much as you can.
The five “forgotten” signs of menopause
JILL: You’ve listed some of the really odd things with menopause along with some of the more common things, but Lynette, what are the five forgotten symptoms of menopause?
LYNETTE: Well I just mentioned one of them which is the immune dysfunction which is just horrifying and horrible and fully half of our group had some huge health problem when they’d never had any health problems their whole life except for normal colds and flus. Each one had a different assault which I think is why it’s not noticed as much.
Secondly the hair loss is getting a little bit more play now, but most of us women define ourselves a little bit as feminine by our hair. If your hair is falling out in big clumps, it’s a real concern. I found this the most disconcerting symptom of all, actually. Thank god I had a lot of hair because I believe I lost fully a third of my hair volume. I was ready to research hats and wigs and then it stopped. If you go to your dermatologist or your hair dresser, you’ll be told it’s just hormonal. That really doesn’t help. It’s horrifying. I don’t think that one gets as much credence as it should, but that’s changing, thankfully.
Brain fog is another one, the fact that suddenly your brain doesn’t work at all. You can’t remember things, you can’t focus or concentrate. One woman wrote me and said, “Oh my god I’m studying for my master’s degree, I started to write my thesis, and menopause came on and I’m afraid I’ll never finish it. I just can’t seem to think.” So if you think about having the flu and your head’s all full and you can’t think and you’re out of it – it’s like that, only every day. It really feels like we’re losing our minds. So to tell someone, “No, you don’t have Alzheimer’s, no, you’re not going crazy, what’s happening is normal, it kinda sucks, but it does get better with time.” But it can be a horrifying symptom too. Most menopausal women laugh it off now but it is difficult to deal with.
Fatigue is almost never addressed I think and there can be almost a bone crushing fatigue that happens with menopause. Just because everything hormonally is in such flux, so you can feel like you have no energy whatsoever. So just the time when you think you oughta be exercising, you can barely drag yourself through the day. It’s exhausting. Certainly insomnia plays a part in that, but even if you’re sleeping well, and I did sleep well after a while, the fatigue would come out of nowhere – didn’t want to do anything, didn’t want to move. Again it was like having the flu all the time.
The fifth symptom I mention is anxiety. People who’ve never been anxious their whole lives suddenly have panic attacks – waking up in the middle of the night worried about everyday things, a constant barrage of worries, and it’s pretty debilitating also. There aren’t a lot of remedies you can use without pretty major side effects. Obviously, if it makes you feel like you can’t leave the house then it should probably be treated, but if you’re feeling just general feelings of worry and doom and gloom, that can be managed with, “This is normal, it’s gonna go away and get better, I’m gonna give myself a reality check. What is happening in this moment? The sky is not falling, nothing has happened, everything is OK in this moment.” To breathe into that sometimes can break the pattern of that. Just knowing it’s normal honestly is such a huge relief to women when they write me and say “I think I’m going out of my mind, I’m scared of everything, I’m nervous,” I write back “it’s totally normal” and they go, “Oh, my god, thank you. And this is not gonna last forever? Fabulous. I can deal.”
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Celebrating the good things about menopause
JILL: Are there any uniquely good things that start to happen as we move into the menopause phase of life?
LYNETTE: Oh that’s a very good question, and yes there are. After the initial physical and sometimes emotional onslaught, you kind of come out the other side feeling like “OK, I’m different now. And if I’m different, how is that going to play out in my life?” Oddly enough we all decided that we cared less what people thought in the best possible way. We found menopausal women become extremely creative, the creative urge overwhelming, you can’t wait to create, whether it’s craft or dance or painting or writing or gardening, that creative urge is huge. It’s like we channel the fertility into another type of fertility. Also sort of a willingness to try anything, because we feel like we’ve been through the worst of it, so now it’s like a new life in a sense. So in that new life, you’re not afraid to try new things because the “Oh you didn’t do it good enough” police won’t come and get you. You can fail at something and laugh and then try something else, you can enjoy things more. There’s a settling into your body that happens. I think it’s like an awakening. Menopause is such a sharp transition, I feel sorry for men that they don’t get to go through it. That sharp change makes you question everything and you begin to go “Oh, I see what I want to do with life, I see how I want to live it, I see how I want to enjoy it and how full and rich it could be.” So actually menopause turns out to be a wonderful thing. I always say “menopause will set you free but it will really piss you off first.”
JILL: That’s fantastic, I love that. We typically don’t look at the positive. Often times we celebrate these other milestones in life as women, first period, first baby, but we don’t really celebrate menopause other than “I look forward to not having a period” but it’s such a small bit within the bigger new next chapter that you just talked through from a positivity perspective. What makes your blog so popular amongst your readers?
LYNETTE: I think it’s just the plain talk, and the fact I can sift through the medical information and make it plain and simple. But the straight talk from real women, not just me but all these women, we distilled the wisdom and put it out there. I think that’s what made it popular, trying to demystify things, make things simple and clean and pure and not be afraid to say certain things. Some bloggers are afraid of litigation, but we’re just women sharing wisdom. We’re not gonna hold back, we’re not gonna say we know, we’re just gonna share it. We are there as a broader community of women helping each other.
JILL: What kind of lasting advice would you give our listeners about how they can take control of this phase of their lives and ultimately feel as fabulous as they possibly can?
LYNETTE: Again, I can’t say how important it is to have a group of like-afflicted, like-minded women. That said, I think just being responsive to your body and to yourself. Again you’re gonna want to exercise and eat well but you also want to be gentle with yourself. I always think of menopause as puberty to the tenth power. When kids are going through puberty we give them lots of space, we understand their moods, we let them go into their room and be quiet and write poetry. Alas that’s not always what happens for a menopausal woman who has to work and take care of a family, and is feeling all those feelings only to the tenth power. I think making that space for yourself and being proactive, saying, “I need this, this is what I need to take care of myself.” And involving family and friends. I think a lot of men read the blog with their wives because if we have no idea what’s going on, it’s even worse for them. It’s like their partner has suddenly turned into someone they don’t know! For them to experience it and to be a help along the way is so healing for both partners. I think those are the kind of things. Be gentle with yourself, gradually incorporate more exercise, eating well, but if you’re suffering from brain fog and a whole bunch of things, be good to yourself. Take time out for yourself.
Resources to help you become a menopause goddess yourself
JILL: That’s wonderful. Especially about involving men. They’re partners in our lives and they’re trying to come along on the same journey and that’s really critical.
Lynette, in a final note, can you share with our audience how to find more of the resources you offer?
LYNETTE: It’s easy to find the blog, it’s menopausegoddessblog.com, and secondly the book Becoming a Menopause Goddess, it’s on Amazon, it’s on all the ebook sites, Barnes and Noble, it’s everywhere. If you’re on the blog just click on the stuff about the book or contact us. We’re more than happy to talk to anybody, just give us a little time to get back to you.
JILL: Thank you, Lynette, and thank you to your whole community that’s gotten you to this point. We appreciate you sharing your time and wisdom with the audience and the Gennev-ers out there listening, we certainly hope to bring you back in the future. I think we T’d off all sorts of deeper dive topics that we could go into and it would be good to have you back.
LYNETTE: It would be my pleasure. Thank you guys for all you are doing to help menopausal women, it’s just so heartening that there are more resources out there now. Like I said, I’m happy to let people know about those resources because all of it’s gonna make our transition easier.
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