In the early hours of the morning a couple of days ago I woke up in the grip of anxiety. It was a feeling I am very familiar having suffered insomnia as a child then for most of my adult life, until my yoga practice changed my sleeping patterns I thought forever…until menopause.
Menopause has brought so many ‘gifts’, including the return of my old friend 2am spirals of anxiety, sometimes descending into sheer panic. It may have begun with a surge of heat that even in the middle of winter in Canberra necessitates all bed coverings thrown off or perhaps a nightmare that I have jerked myself awake to leave. The predicted path of the next couple of hours would have been tossing and turning, more heat surges and little sleep, getting up close and personal with my deepest fears and descending into panic.
Over the last six months my friend’s visits have become increasingly frequent and all of the tools I had used previously were increasingly ineffective, breathing in particular seeming to make the anxiety worse, not better. I have been growing dark circles under my eyes, MS has been returning and people have started to remark on my tiredness.
Then at around 2am one morning in the grip of anxiety I started to use a Yoga Nidra format of rotating my consciousness around my body but this time using the detailed anatomy I had been learning for yoga therapy, starting with the deltoid muscle on my right arm and remembering as much detail as I could.
I made my way around my whole body, externally and internally, so I didn’t gain much sleep but I was certainly more relaxed and didn’t feel so tired the next day (and I felt slightly righteous for studying). Each night I woke after that I repeated the same format and sleep increased.
Again, this was not to last. about a week ago anxiety returned with a vengeance, bringing its two best friends, insomnia and menopause. I felt wretched.
Then a couple of nights ago I woke with both heat surge and nightmare, and each time I began to rotate my consciousness around my body, the anxiety and/or heat returned to distract my concentration. I prepared myself for another descent … until I thought about the opposite of anxiety.
Anxiety is the expression of fear, the opposite of fear is love ergo the opposite of anxiety is love. What is love? Unconditional acceptance. What if I held my anxiety in my arms like I would a baby, with acceptance instead of more fear?
This time it was anxiety that was derailed rather than my attempts to alleviate the condition but I still wasn’t asleep.
So I began to rotate my consciousness again but this time with the warmth of love and each time a fear arose I held it in acceptance and went on, and before I knew it I was asleep. The same a short time later and then again the same night. I woke in the morning feeling soft and rested.
The next night the same thing happened but I only woke once. Then again and again. And I am looking forward to sleep tonight.
You see, just before my anxiety returned I had realised I had been expecting the outside world to fill my need for love and it is my thought that menopause has brought me to the next layer of my recovery in this area; my fear of not being loved and my neediness in the face of that fear.
The thing is, self-love is not a prescription that can be filled by anyone else but until a few days ago I didn’t know how. Holding the 2am spiral in love, holding my deepest fears in love, holding my anatomy in love is dissolving the fear and filling me with love. Who would’ve thunk it?
And during the day I have noticed that my background reactivity has also dropped. This has given me the space to reflect on the content of my inner dialogue and a deeper understanding of acceptance – another circle. Allowing the reaction and pausing in the reaction gives me choice and a moment to understand the judgement or self-criticism. My life has become peaceful again and my sleep and health have again improved.
As a culture we have successfully stigmatised and/or medicalised menopause, anxiety and insomnia. Menopause is a thing, anxiety is a thing and insomnia is thing, and together become a very big, toxic thing, particularly if we ignore them or feel shame to the point of silence. Let’s open the conversation to include all the possibilities of experience and therapy, without shame or exclusion.
So, I have been reminded that menopause can be a current, albeit a bloody uncomfortably strong one. It can carry us to a place we can transform fear into love. And most importantly for me, I have been reminded of the tools I have that can help me navigate the current, and the power and my obligation to share those tools.
Lynnette Dickinson is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, and teaches yoga, relaxation and meditation in Canberra and via Skype or phone. Classes, personalised programs and yoga therapy. Visit www.splendouryoga.com. Listen to Lynnette telling her story click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2, and be inspired.