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Episode 12: Perimenopause with Special Guest Kirsten Brown - The Peri-Project

 

The Peri Projecttheperiproject.com

Whole Hearted Life: wholeheartedlife.com.au

 

Show notes

Hannah:
Welcome to the Burn Pod listeners. We're really excited to get stuck into today's episode which we believe will be incredibly insightful and beneficial and really hit home for quite a few of you. Today we're diving into the big M word menopause or more specifically perimenopause and we're very lucky to be joined by Kirsten Brown. One of the three incredible women that head up the Peri Project. A collaboration designed to support women to take charge of their perimenopause experience, minimise disruption and maximise health and wellbeing. The Peri Project focuses on three simple pillars. Movement, mindset and nutrition to help women build a strong base for a positive perimenopause and menopause experience. The project runs retreats, it provides wellbeing and inclusion advice to businesses. It hosts conversations and generally it provides a really amazing community. Welcome Kirsten.

Kirsten Brown:
Thanks very much Hannah. Really delighted to be here.

Hannah:
And we are very, very excited to have you on board now. For our listeners get to know you a little bit more, tell us a bit about yourself, the Peri Project, how it started, what got you into this area and what are you passionate about?

Kirsten Brown:
Great. I work in Leadership Development and Culture in organisations and helping organisations be the best they can be through developing their leaders and getting really conscious around their culture. I am not from a health background although I am a certified nutrition coach with a precision nutrition certification. The Peri Project has been quite an organic thing. It started as a little germ of an idea for me when I found myself one day really angry. Disproportionately full of stickiness and rage. For some reason and I'm so glad I asked myself this question I wondered could this be hormonal? I popped along to a doctor and she said, "Yes you are absolutely of the age where you might be perimenopausal." I didn't even know what that word was and here is a herbal supplement. Quite an enlightened doctor. I took theat herbal supplement and 24 hours later I was fine.

Hannah:
Quite easy.

Kirsten Brown:
And it doesn't work that way for everyone. I was very fortunate that it was just boom that obvious and the fix was that simple. I thought to myself, "My God! Am I the only one who's experiencing this?" I started to have a chat with my girlfriends and say, "This is what happened to me." And the flood of response that I got from them. Women who are friends who were suffering acute anxiety, women who in their forties were already experiencing hot flushes, women who were exhausted because these days a lot of women my age have quite young children, they have careers and then all of a sudden their bodies start kicking off. I thought to myself we need to raise awareness about this and we need to support women because from my perspective thinking about the workplace, most of the leaders I work with are still men and I'm wondering because the number of women who said to me, "Yeah. I had to step away from work. I had to step away from my senior leadership position. I was suffering anxiety and wondering whether or not I'd be able to work at all."

Hannah:
In this day and age that's pretty insane, isn't it?

Kirsten Brown:
It is a blackhole and ridiculous.

Hannah:
Yes.

Kirsten Brown:
I was at Christmas Drinks with Janice and Renee and we're all part of the same little health and wellbeing community and I said, "What do you think about this?" And they're like, "Yes. Let's.do it." At the beginning of last year, 2020, the Peri Project kicked off.

Hannah:
Amazing. And this is something that you do on the side or is this now become your sort of full-time focus?

Kirsten Brown:
This is still on the side. We were really fortunate to be with TasNetworks in Hobart last year for International Women's Day and we ran a beautiful retreat at the gorgeous botanic gardens down there and then COVID kicked in.

Hannah:
Yeah.

Kirsten Brown:
We've done a few online things and a lovely online retreat but we're really hoping to get back into things the back end of this year and into next year.

Hannah:
Sort of put a big stop in front of a lot of businesses particularly a lot of those that had only just started or just launched and then they sort of had to put the brakes on for a bit there. I guess it's the joys of being a woman. I swear it's not all that fair really but at some stage all of us are going to go through menopause or most of us will but there's little discussion about this stage in our lives and in particular what comes before and you even mentioned yourself that you didn't even know what it was. And to be honest I hadn't heard of peri menopause until Emma, one of our instructors, mentioned you and what you do to me. Could you tell us what perimenopause is, when it usually starts to occur and how it differs or is it even different to menopause?

Kirsten Brown:
Beautiful. Thank you. Menopause... I'll start with actually. That is the single point in time which is 12 months after your last period and in most women that happen sometime in their fifties. Now as I've been growing up and becoming a woman and then an older woman menopause was the thing I understood to be the hot flushes, the crankiness, the hairiness all these ridiculous negative things that we just don't want to talk about.

Hannah:
Yep.

Kirsten Brown:
Really menopause is that point in time and after menopause your post-menopausal and before that your premenopausal and then peri-menopausal. Perimenopause can start as early as your late thirties. For most women it starts sometime in their forties and it's the time that our bodies are starting to wind down from a reproductive perspective. It's a hormonal transition which has wide ranging impacts for our body but the first thing that women might notice a slight changes with their cycle. It's really helpful in your thirties if you're someone who is really clued into the way your body works and you can notice these tiny changes because in hindsight when I look back... The thing that prompted me to go to the doctor was, "Oh! My goodness! I am so angry [inaudible 00:07:32] to walk out of my marriage for absolutely no reason-

Hannah:
Wow!

Kirsten Brown:
And I'm so glad I could recognise that or recognise the absurdity of it. But the thing really in hindsight that happened for me were period changes in my thirties and they just got heavier and heavier and heavier and being me and maybe it's something about being a woman. You can be a bit stoic. I just soldiered on and I soldiered on [inaudible 00:08:07] really silly because what I had actually growing inside me were lots of fibroids. And it ended up that I had to have my uterus removed.

Hannah:
Wow!

Kirsten Brown:
In 2016. If I had been aware much, much earlier then I would have been able to.... I guess probably not get to that point and certainly it wouldn't have been as debilitating as it was.

Hannah:
Because there's no conversation. There's minimal information out there even just in general on periods and on your reproductive cycle. I don't think we know what's unusual or what's... If we see a change we just think, "That's just that." I don't think we look into it any further.

Kirsten Brown:
That's what happens when you're a woman but really what's going on is your levels of oestrogen are starting to fluctuate. And if you look at any of the graphs that are out there showing each oestrogen progesterone and FSH and LSH hormones you see a nice beautiful... For most women lovely, beautiful, regular cycle through the reproductive years and in perimenopause looks like somebody turned on a ridiculous rollercoaster and then post-menopause things generally start to even out and calm down again.

Hannah:
I guess we've already started talking about some of the common symptoms or telltale signs starting with changes and fluctuations in your cycle but are there other ones that you know of?

Kirsten Brown:
The other ones which we hear a hell of a lot about mood symptoms. I've already described my journey with rage.

Hannah:
Yep.

Kirsten Brown:
But a lot of women also talk about anxiety and experiencing anxiety for the first time in their lives. I would love it if nothing else came from this podcast. If there are women out there who are starting to feel emotionally different to their normal selves if they're able to get up onto the balcony and get a bit of distance from themselves and go, "Hang on a minute. This isn't me. This isn't my normal." And then have a chat with someone who'd be able to help them out. Mood is a really big one and has a really significant ripple effect out into women's lives. From a family perspective, from a work perspective even just a relationship with self perspective can be quite impactful. Other little weird ass things.

Kirsten Brown:
Things like connective tissue can become less lovely and supple and flexible. Oestrogen is a hormone which does wonderful things for our hair, for our nails, for our ligaments and joints. And as that levels of oestrogen start to decline we can experience aches and pains where we maybe wouldn't have or in my case I've always had a few issues with connective tissue but now my connective tissue will get angry at the drop of a hat.

Hannah:
Wow!

Kirsten Brown:
Those sorts of things. The old hot flushes.

Hannah:
Yep.

Kirsten Brown:
Sleep disturbance is another one. There's a huge amount that can happen and for every woman it's going to be really different.

Hannah:
Yeah. And it's just listening it's coming down to knowing what your normal is and guess all of us have occasional times where things kind of fall off the waggon but if this is something that's happening a little bit more regularly than just very occasional you've had a crappy night it's probably a sign that that things are starting to change. And I guess where do you even start? Do you go to your doctor or what's that next step if you start to notice these symptoms?

Kirsten Brown:
That next step again will be really highly individual. And one of the things we talk to women about is being able to advocate for their own health. Because for me finding a doctor who would listen to me... If I travelled back to fibroids days I was exhausted and so I wasn't thinking so much about the catastrophic bleeding I was thinking about my tiredness. And I went along to one doctor because I've sort of been going to a doctor to a doctor for a while but she hadn't really been able to help me so I thought I'm going to start to find myself a different doctor. I felt confident enough to get out there and look around. And I went and saw one guy after one morning I got up in the morning and accidentally put dog food on my breakfast. I was [inaudible 00:13:11] out of it. Yes.

Hannah:
Wow! Yes.

Kirsten Brown:
[inaudible 00:13:14]

Hannah:
And we can laugh about it now but...

Kirsten Brown:
There's so much that's just really horrendously, horrific and hilarious all at the same time. And this one I sat down and I looked at my bowl it's a lovely bowl of muesli with a topper of dog food and my dog sitting beside me going, "Mum. Mum."

Hannah:
"What is going on?"

Kirsten Brown:
"Where is my breakfast?"

Kirsten Brown:
I went along to this doctor and I said, "This is getting ridiculous now. This is how tired I am." And he said, "Women your age you just got to expect that." Can you believe it? And so that... This is where anger can be a beautiful catalyst. I felt very sticky understandably and thought to myself, " [inaudible 00:14:05] where do the wealthy people go to a doctor?" Which is a horrible thing to have to say. And I found myself a lovely women's clinic and the doctor there said, "Right. No that's not normal to be putting dog food on your breakfast and let's do some blood tests." And I had to go straight into hospital for an iron infusion-

Hannah:
An iron infusion. I was going to say if you were having heavy bleeds that would make sense.

Kirsten Brown:
It makes perfect sense so now-

Hannah:
Which should have made perfect sense to a doctor but sometimes you need that female perspective.

Kirsten Brown:
It's not even a female perspective because then she sent me off to a gynaecologist a really good female gynaecologist who was absolutely brutal. She had me in the chair with my legs spread, my cervix and everything up on the big screen TV. And she's like, "Look at that uterus. That's going to have to go."

Hannah:
Jeez!

Kirsten Brown:
She didn't know anything about me. She didn't know whether or not I was still trying to have children. It was devastating. I went back to my doctor [inaudible 00:15:15] wonderful and said, "Above all else please find me someone kind." The capacity I think... Who you go to and it's been quite a journey for me. Who you go to is going to be really dependent on your philosophy around your health and wellbeing. The important thing is to be a really strong advocate for your own health. If you're in your thirties at the moment and you're not experiencing any of these changes, it's worthwhile starting to have a conversation with your primary health care around, "Tell me what you know about perimenopause. Tell me how you support women through perimenopause." And if they get stuck answering that question it might be time for you to find someone who can answer that question really well.

Hannah:
And start that relationship earlier.

Kirsten Brown:
And so I found myself a wonderful doctor. I found myself a very kind gynaecologist who is a man so I don't think it's a gender thing at all. He was delightful and he gave me a full year to really come to terms with the surgery I was going to have to have. And that year was spent... I actually went and tried Chinese medicine for the first time. And that was mind blowing for me. It was able to help me manage pain beautifully. It stopped the growth of the fibroids. It helped regulate my cycle again which had become totally chaotic and it really gave me that breathing space to come to terms with the decision I was making.

Hannah:
It was a huge decision you needed that time.

Kirsten Brown:
Yeah. And so we really advocate for an integrated health approach. No one provider is going to be able to support all of you. I don't think. Having people like yourself Hannah and Burn Theory behind you is really important because health and fitness is really important. Finding yourself a great GP, a good gynaecologist and any other complimentary health people that fit in with your philosophy in life.

Hannah:
Exactly. Having a tribe. Having a team around you.

Kirsten Brown:
Yeah.

Hannah:
Now I guess when we're talking about the disruption and the discomfort of perimenopause are there some ways we can reduce this? I guess home remedies vers medical suppport.

Kirsten Brown:
100% and that's the beauty of the Peri Project is that we have three of us who all professional women from very different disciplines and so what we're able to demonstrate is the benefit of an Wholistic approach.

Hannah:
Yeah.

Kirsten Brown:
The first thing I think being able to tackle that's really important is your sleep and being able to get enough sleep a really good quality. Really simple things like [inaudible 00:18:20] actually it's not that simple. There're kids running around.

Hannah:
Sounds simple on paper. In practise...

Kirsten Brown:
And work to do and computers in the bedroom because we post pandemic here in Australia thankfully. But asleep routine is really helpful. Having a dark room that it's a little bit cool. If you can't have a dark room then an iron mask is a wonderful thing. Not spending too much time on screens before bed. Giving yourself a gap between last time on screen and actually trying to go to sleep. Giving yourself a good gap between when you're eating and drinking and you're going to beds so really establishing strong sleep hygiene behaviours. The next one would be nutrition. We love this quote and of course symptom of perimenopause, forgetfulness. His name's gone out of my mind, but-

Hannah:
It's all right. We can link to that in the show when it's done. The-

Kirsten Brown:
Michael Pollan. Beautiful. Michael poem. Eat food not too much, many plants is probably a good way to go. No need for wizbang or anything just when you're looking at your breakfast, your lunch, your dinner or whatever, look at your plate. Is there a good amount of whole food on the plate? Nice lean protein and a lot of plant material. That's the other thing and then finding some movement that you really love is the most important thing. Firstly, the movement you love. Secondly, movement that is going to support bone health so resistance training is fantastic. Running actually is quite good for bone health-.

Hannah:
Impact stuff. Even though it sounds like it should be the opposites-

Kirsten Brown:
Yeah.

Hannah:
Actually having that sort of running to a point. Don't run downhill on concrete guys-

Kirsten Brown:
No. I don't run [inaudible 00:20:24]

Hannah:
I don't [inaudible 00:20:24] but that sort of impact in and resistance is a really good combination.

Kirsten Brown:
Yep. And Latisse is absolute magic. I'm a massive fan. Movement that's going to boost your cardio health, look after your bones and allow your body to move in a way that's really joyful and happy. And then the last thing I'll mentioned which is probably the most important thing but probably the least sexy thing is minding your mind. Really cultivating a flexible mindset because up until this point in the conversation we've talked about all the shitty stuff about perimenopause but really it's a time in our life when a whole lot of new possibility opens to us because we're moving away from I guess the burden of the reproductive cycle and we're moving towards a whole lot of freedom and possibility. Really starting to look at how am I viewing this transition? Am I seeing it as a loss and then just fighting that loss and trying to stop it and trying to avoid it and prevent it or am I seeing it as an opportunity? This is a change in my life and opportunity for me to take stock and make some conscious choices about what I want the rest of my life to be or most likely it's both. Yes it's a loss and let's acknowledge that and the passing of time and then let's embrace what the future's going to hold for us.

Hannah:
I love that because it's something that no one talks about. It's always menopause is this big dark cloud on your horizon as a woman and I guess we always do... We talk more about the crappy things in our lives in general than we do about the positive things unfortunately but I've never really thought about it that way but it is an opportunity to not have to deal with tampons and pads and the time when you... If you one of those people that gets cramps and discomfort and it just generally... Let's be honest guys it sucks. It is not fun. It can be a positive although there are the effects of the changes in mood and your body kind of going through that but changing the way we look at it and also supporting our bodies with what we're putting in them and what we're giving them in terms of sleep and exercise is going to be so critical. I love that. Tell us are there good... Obviously the Peri Project and we want to definitely touch on how people get in contact with you there but are there other good resources our listeners can seek out to further educate themselves?

Kirsten Brown:
Yes. We love the Jean Hailes Institute. Jean Hailes is a women's health institute and they have a load of just really good scientifically backed, very simple information available.

Hannah:
Right. And is that J-E-A-N?

Kirsten Brown:
Yep.

Hannah:
And Hailes?

Kirsten Brown:
H-A-I-L-E-S.

Hannah:
Hailes.

Kirsten Brown:
Probably have to Google that but Jean Hailes. Jean Hailes is great for the nuts and bolts but another group of women out of the UK called the Red School are fantastic for both cycle awareness. If you're a mother or daughters and you're looking at what's a different way I could approach their periods and puberty and becoming a woman and all of that stuff with them. The Red School is great for cycle awareness and living in harmony with your cycle. They're also starting to move into conversations about perimenopause and menopause and I love them for their positivity. They call menopause the great awakening.

Kirsten Brown:
And it really resonates for me because when I speak to... I'm fortunate through precision nutrition to have a lot of women friends who are well and truly post-menopausal and they all talk about how amazing it is to be at that stage in their life, in their sixties. I'm absolutely loving it and that notion of the great awakening really resonates so Red School.

Hannah:
R

Kirsten Brown:
And there in the UK. Jean Hailes are here in Australia and the Red School are in the UK.

Hannah:
Fantastic. And how can listeners get in touch with you and the Peri Project.

Kirsten Brown:
We are on Insta and Facebook. Absolutely check us out on Instagram and join the conversation there. And we're also @theperiproject.com.

Hannah:
All right. And you mentioned you do online workshops and things like that. So this has some extra resources that people can access there too?

Kirsten Brown:
Not yet.

Hannah:
They coming soon.

Kirsten Brown:
Yes. Exactly. We're still in our infancy and the website we really need to get into that but if people are interested in anything like hormone loving recipes, any suggestions around movement. We do have some of the materials from our retreats which we would be really happy to share.

Hannah:
Fantastic. Thank you so, so much for joining us Kirsten. Is there anything else that you wanted to touch on before we wrap up?

Kirsten Brown:
No. I think just that point around mindset and maintaining a really flexible, curious and self-compassionate mindset towards yourself. But really giving yourself the care you need reaching out for help if you need it.

Hannah:
Yeah. And that's so important in any stage of your life-

Kirsten Brown:
Yes.

Hannah:
As well. Yeah. It's been an absolute pleasure having you on the pod and I'm sure it's a topic that will provide great advice and education for many of our listeners. I know that there's many of our women are usually predominantly 35 to 45 is sort of our main target. And then we've got a lot of wonderful ladies that are 45 to 65. And so I know that we have some that come in and they're having one of their hot flushes and they're like, "Open all the windows."

Hannah:
I know my mom went through it too and at some stage I'll be going through it. I think it's been really important that we start this conversation and I think this is an excellent platform to be able to do it on. I know we're aiming to have your team member Renee on board. I think we've got her booked in next week so guys keep your ears open and your eyes peeled because we're going to be talking all things nutrition and naturopathy with her as it relates to perimenopause. Until then guys. Thank you again so much for joining us Kirsten.

Kirsten Brown:
Thanks Hannah.

Hannah:
And have a fantastic day and keep on thriving.

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