'Running helped me cope with the menopause'
For holistic therapist Karen Ward, the onset of menopause was a bittersweet experience. She tells how running helped her embrace the change
For Karen Ward (52), turning 50 was a milestone that deserved a year-long celebration, beginning on her 49th birthday. What she didn't expect to be celebrating was the onset of the menopause.
"I hadn't anticipated experiencing menopausal symptoms that early, I thought it would be closer to 52," she says. "For me, the hot flushes and the night sweats were the key ones."
Although it is an unavoidable part of getting older, the menopause years can be a distressing time for many women.
However, Karen saw it as an opportunity to develop healthier habits, both mentally and physically. Through her work as a holistic therapist, she knew the best way for her to handle the change was with a holistic approach. As well as cleaning up her diet, she decided to take up running.
Karen has practiced yoga for many years, but between classes, she noticed herself often becoming restless and fidgety.
"I found with the menopause that I had a lot of physical energy buzzing around inside my body that I needed to get out, and I couldn't always get to the Vinyasa class I wanted to go to.
"I learned that instead, I could pull on the runners and just head out the door to get my body moving," she explains.
"When I started running, my menopausal symptoms absolutely abated."
Karen now runs every day, from her home in Smithfield, Co Dublin, along the River Liffey or around the Phoenix Park.
"I'll be sitting at my desk, and my mind will be on the computer but my body is out the door. I'm very keenly aware of the weather, so the minute I see the sunshine I'm out," she says.
Karen and her husband are both passionate about running, but she prefers to run alone to appreciate the natural surroundings.
"When I run, I feel very connected to nature. Sometimes I run in the moonlight, and sometimes in the sunlight. I always come back totally refreshed."
Karen describes menopause as "puberty in reverse. It really didn't happen overnight. It was a process that took a number of years. It's not the most pleasant experience but it is something that you grow through.
"The only difference," she adds, "is that in puberty, you tend to be really excited about growing up, and you want to be older, whereas with the menopause, I think many of us are slightly fearful of what's at the other end."
Although she has since embraced menopause as a new beginning, her first experience of symptoms was tinged with sadness, as it indicated the end of a particularly tough chapter in her life.
"My husband and I met later in life, and by the time we got around to trying to have children, it didn't happen for us. All of us have something in life that is a challenge, and infertility was ours.
"Menopause was very bittersweet for me because in one way, it meant that finally we could say, 'that's it, it's not going to happen.' But on the other side, there was a sort of relief in it, because it meant, 'this particular challenge is now over.'
"We both had to work through that in our own separate ways."
For many women, menopause is not a welcome change. Karen is very familiar with the shame and anxiety the menopause years can bring, as many of her clients at the clinic and those who attend her talks and workshops are struggling to accept how their bodies are changing.
"So many clients are at that point where they are dealing with empty nest syndrome, or they are coming into retirement. There are so many changes, and the menopause is the real humdinger in the middle of it all," she explains.
The stress surrounding menopause inspired Karen to write a book about growing older, titled The Secrets of Ageless Ageing. Due to be published in 2016, her book includes a section on taking the fear out of menopause. She hopes it will encourage women to speak openly about ageing and the menopause.
"We need to admit 'I am now an older woman,' and embrace the wonder of that rather than only looking at the negative side," she says.
"In modern society, we revere youth, and we tend not to look to older people as those with fantastic wisdom and life experience. My book is about celebrating that."
She is optimistic that people's attitudes toward menopause will change, and that the next generation won't grow up afraid of getting older.
"I see menopause as very much a rite of passage. There's no need for women to be ashamed. We should look at our bodies as very wise and amazing things, changing from menstruation and childbirth to become an older woman.
"Instead of giving out to our bodies or trying to hide menopause, I think we should embrace it."
For more information on Karen's work, visit slianchroi.ie
Health & Living