The Brain Catches Fire at Menopause

An exploration of the physical and emotional changes that can spur growth and creativity for women at midlife.

Continued from page 5

Though we tend to blame perimenopausal symptoms on hormonal shifts in the body, their origins are far more complex. Several women in my practice, for example, have experienced symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings in their later 40s--despite having been on full hormone replacement for over 20 years as a result of hysterectomies and removal of their ovaries while in their 20s. Changes in reproductive hormones alone do not account for these symptoms. They are signals from our mind and body that we have reached a new developmental stage--an opportunity for healing and growth.



Moving Inward

Until midlife, it is characteristic for a woman's energies to be focused on caring for others. She is encouraged to do so, in part, by the hormones that drive her menstrual cycles--the hormones that foster her instincts for nurturing. But for two or three days each month, just before or during our periods, there is a hormonal interlude when the veil between our conscious and unconscious selves is thinner and the voice of our souls beckons to us, subtly reminding us of our own passions, our own needs, which cannot and should not always be subsumed to the needs of those we love.



I like to think of the first half of our cycles as the time when we are both biologically and psychologically preparing to give birth to someone or something outside of ourselves. In the second half of our cycles, we prepare to give birth to ourselves. It is at this time that the more intuitive parts of our brain become activated, giving us feedback and guidance about the state of our inner lives.



A Direct Current of Wisdom

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At midlife, the hormonal milieu that was present for only a few days each month during most of your reproductive years, the milieu that was designed to spur you on to reexamine your life just a little at a time, now gets stuck in the on position for weeks or months at a time. 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.



Biologically, at this stage of life you are programmed to withdraw from the outside world for a period of time and revisit your past. You need to be free of the distractions that come when you are focusing your mothering efforts solely on others. Perimenopause is a time when you are meant to mother yourself.



Perimenopause is a time when you are meant to mother yourself.

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Christiane Northrup, M.D.
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