This is a guest post by Leona Kringe. She was diagnosed with premature menopause at a very young age. What that meant for her and how she deals with it, she shares in this post.
Trigger Warning – IMPORTANT: This is a very personal experience post that openly and honestly describes the topic of menopause and also talks about mental illness and anorexia. The post is intended to inform and share experiences. However, it does not give explicit recommendations for action or even replace medical advice. If you recognize symptoms at you or it also does not go well, turn please to an physicianin!
Leona is a restless life and bike person who shares her adventures on Instagram @heimat
Personal development, solidarity and learning from each other, as well as sharing honest, authentic experiences are close to her heart. She loves long distance and bikepacking, the Alps and the Black Forest. und in ihrem eigenen.
Hello World Menopause Day! Hello – on a day for a topic that has not yet reached the status of “normal” in our minds. October 18 is a day for a topic that is still far too tainted by shame. A day for a topic that we should look at much more – not only we as women, but we, as a whole society – to finally break the status of “taboo”.
And to do just that, today I try to give you a natural and open approach to this sensitive topic with my story. I hope that it will become more “normal” in the future and finally be allowed to reach much further: in our minds, our understanding, and also our acceptance.
The uniqueness of the female menopause
Women’s menopause – it is as unique as it is natural. It is worthwhile to understand how unique this special gift of evolution to us women actually is.
Because often, unfortunately, menopause is simply understood as the end of the female cycle and thus the end of female reproductive capacity. Those who think of menopause initially imagine hot flashes, mood swings, weight gain and – especially as an athlete – a drop in performance. The thematic link seems to be primarily one of negativity and shame. But menopause is actually much more than that.
During my research for these lines, for example, I learned that there is only one other species besides humans that experiences menopause during its lifetime: it is a few species of whales. Whales are considered to be extremely delicate animals, capable of forming large generations & family bonds – in evolutionary terms, this forms an extremely exciting analogy to us humans with uteruses.
What does menopause really mean for us?
So, should menopause first be viewed as a gift from nature that allows us women to live beyond our reproductive lifespan? In any case, it offers us the chance to create stable families, consisting of grandparents and great-grandparents, and to give us a basis for a long life, far beyond our original “sense of existence” of procreation. This phenomenon does not even exist among the great apes so closely related to us. Does the menopause therefore perhaps simply herald a new phase of life, which may be gratefully accepted and which in turn may also have its very own, new meaning? And wouldn’t it then be time to accept and understand it as such?
My (unusual) menopause & me.
It may be surprising that I, as a still young woman with my 31 years, write about this topic and deal with it so much. That I am advocating for menopause to be more present and de-tabooed so that those affected can be helped more. But like all of us, I have my own story here:
The long road to a liberating diagnosis
I was just 21 years old when I was diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure Syndrome, which marked the beginning of my menopause. What would have a decisive impact on my life as a woman and athlete felt like a liberation for me at first. A liberation from no longer being “alone” with all my unexplained symptoms that have burdened me so much for years, but to finally have a reason for them. After a long search for why, countless examinations, self-doubt, psychological and physical stress, and odysseys of medications, antidepressants, and various hormone substitutions, I finally knew what was wrong when I was diagnosed.
At that time, I had already been suffering for years from the consequences of the undetected, premature onset of menopause: amenorrhea, mood swings to the point of depression, weight gain, water retention, poor concentration and memory, hot flashes and sleep disturbances. For a long time, these symptoms were overshadowed by anorexia nervosa, the anorexia from which I suffered for a long time, and were not recognized as an independent problem. Neither by me – nor by the doctors at that time.
Premature Ovarian Failure Syndrome affects about 1% of all women. In these women, the ovarian function and the oocyte reserve already dry up years before the physiological onset of menopause. This can already affect women in their thirties – or as in my case, they already before and in their twenties. The causes of the disease can be genetic or autoimmune, consequences of chemotherapy or other factors. Often, however, they remain unexplained. This was also the case in my case.
From the bright side of my odyssey – cycling…
Due to the anorexia from which I suffered in its acute phase between the ages of 13 and 18, my body was already in a state of deficiency for years. I worked against it every day and dragged it out. Let me be neither man nor woman with body & soul. In the end, it is above all cycling that saved me from this whirlpool of self-destruction. It is the flow, this being in the flow, this being able to be one with myself that does me so much good when all the nasty voices of my mental illness come back. It means for me to be allowed to be fully myself: with who I am and who I want to be deep inside and with my heart and soul. It was only here and in my love for the long distance that I was able to learn what it means to take good care of myself and my body again.
…& the inevitable consequences of this.
Despite the love for cycling and a meanwhile stable mindset regarding anorexia, I had been too long in a state of deficiency, from which my body was now recovering only slowly and made the cause research and diagnosis of the syndrome so difficult. This did not remain without consequences for me:
For example, I developed osteoporosis of the lumbar spine and also osteopenia [editor’s note: reduction in bone density] of my femoral neck bones. Osteoporosis is one of the main risk factors of menopause, because estrogen and progesterone are crucial for a healthy bone metabolism and a balance of bone formation and bone loss. In particular, hormone levels in our younger years are critical here.
For an exercise-loving person with an incredible desire for freedom like me, this diagnosis was a total shock. Not knowing how long my spine would be able to withstand all the stresses was at first almost unbelievable to understand and bear.
As a sports and travel enthusiast, freedom seeker and creative thinker, I need to be on the road and outdoors to stay mentally healthy and strong. And so, at first, I continued to power through as usual.
That is, until a fatigue fracture of the metatarsal bone during a short training run made me really aware of the extent of osteoporosis. At this point, for the first time, I put one of my great passions in ultrasports (trail running) on the back burner, for my own sake.
How I learned to live with the diagnosis of menopause.
It took some time until I could really accept the diagnosis of premature menopause with all its consequences as an invitation to get to know myself & my body better and to finally accept it as it is. With all its strengths, weaknesses, its curves, corners, scars and also edges.
What was shaken the most at first was my image of myself, my sense of what it means to be a woman. I suddenly asked myself different questions and woke up again – especially in relation to my anorexia. I started to stop pushing myself so far beyond my limits to the extreme, changed my career path, set new goals. I lost many things, but also gained new ones. And so I continued on my own path, which now looked different from what I might have thought before.
My various trainings as a veterinarian, coach and yoga teacher support me enormously. I combine all components from these areas to find a way to do something good for my body and to keep it sustainably healthy – more consciously than ever before.
However, in addition to a fundamentally balanced lifestyle, my hormone replacement therapy, i.e. the substitution of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, is the fundamental factor that ensures that I am hormonally well cared for so that the risk of the long-term consequences of menopause occurring too early is reduced. These risks include osteoporosis in particular, as well as the development of dementia and cardiovascular & vascular disease. This substitution gradually made me feel like a human being & also a woman again. Slowly I returned to myself.
Reminder of self-care & acceptance.
Related to my love of long distance, my annual bone density checks keep reminding me to stop exhausting my body with endurance sports as much as I did during my acute eating disorder days. What I used to do to excess, I now approach more consciously and mindfully. I have learned to manage my energy and to allow myself sufficient regeneration phases. In addition, I provide myself with all important vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins D3, K2 and B12, as well as zinc, magnesium and calcium.
My daily yoga practice as well as my strength training provide the balance to the often rather demanding endurance sports. Both components are instrumental in halting further degradation of my bone density. In addition, my yoga practice always brings me back to my calmness and to myself and likewise teaches me to feel more into my body again. A fact that I have had to relearn over the years and that I sometimes still find difficult today.
Additionally, my diet today is colorful – plant based, rich in fiber, diverse, and above all, one thing: free. Free from dogma, free from constraint, and free from want. My body tells me what it really needs – and gets it today.
To give courage – to be a woman, with body & soul.
I want to give courage to all women out there with my story. I want to encourage all women out there to stand up for themselves and their own bodies, to notice changes in themselves, to recognize symptoms as such, to get help when it is needed and above all: not to work against themselves and their bodies.
It is important to me to share my story! After all, although we as women spend an average of one third of our lives during the supposedly “critical years”, as menopause is also called, much of its symptomatology and its consequences are simply not yet present and accepted enough.
It is worthwhile to recognize that we are and may be women, body & soul. That it is a unique gift of our nature to be allowed to give life ourselves, to become mothers as well as grandmothers and even great-grandmothers. To be allowed to experience all this is not only part of our cycle, but also unique and yet not self-evident.
My reminder & the message of the heart
My early menopause showed me what really matters in life. This experience, with all its consequences, is my daily personal reminder, reminding me again and again to be mindful of myself, both as a woman and as an athlete.
The hormonal fluctuations of premenopause and perimenopause, which can begin many years before the actual menopause, set in motion psychological and physical changes that are unfortunately often not initially recognized as symptoms of these phases. This failure to recognize those connections can have serious consequences and lead to increasing psychological and also physical suffering for those affected.
So the more we talk about these issues, the more education, prophylaxis and awareness we can create and the more affected people can learn to recognize their symptoms early, understand them, accept them in order to deal with them and live well.
I would like to encourage you to value your body at all times, to take good care of yourself and to stand up for it when you feel that something is not as it should be. Listen and feel inside yourself and dare to give yourself exactly what you need right now. Your body will thank you from the bottom of its heart.
And so each one of us is unique. Every single one of us – in our own way. Without an ideal that has to be fulfilled. And without lack, for which it would be worth fighting.
Edit: Wiebke Lühmann/ Sandra Schuberth
Layout/ Website: Juliane Schumacher
Photos: Leona Kringe/ Nicole Stegmann