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SESKA LEE Posts

Minimalist Skincare

Definitions

For some people a minimalist skincare routine is all about having a minimal amount of products. It might be to save time, space, money or to avoid over cleaning and treating their skin.

For others minimalist skincare is not about how many products they own, but using products with very few ingredients. The might focus on minimally processed natural ingredients. They might buy certain brands that contain few ingredients. They might make their own lotions and potions.

For some it’s about minimal packaging so they have minimal waste when they are finished.

My Minimalist Skincare Routine

Minimalism for me is about simplifying the things I do day-to-day and creating space to feel grounded and present. I hate feeling rushed. It makes me anxious. So I take my time with a short routine of rinsing my face with tepid water first thing in the morning and applying moisturizer and an eye cream. And later, after I’ve done my gratitude journaling, meditation, workout and had breakfast, I put on sunscreen and make-up. Though make-up is optional. It depends how polished I want to feel. I will write about my make-up choices in a future post.

In the evening I usually have very little energy so I want to gently cleanse my face and apply no more than a few products (serum, moisturizer and eye cream) and go to bed. I enjoy the process with a facial massage I learned from Reverse the Signs of Ageing: The Revolutionary Inside-Out Plan to Glowing, Youthful Skin, but often times I skip this step. I’m not a night person. At all.

In terms of the actual products I use, it’s varied throughout the years. I like to experiement – I’ve used drugstore brands like Neutrogena, fancy department store brands like Enro Laszlo, multi level marketing brand Arbonne, and small independent brands like Stark Skincare.

Right now, I avoiding ingredients that cause me irritation – read more about my reactive skin here – so I’m using products recommended by Dr. Sandy Skotnicki author of Beyond Soap: The Real Truth About What You Are Doing to Your Skin and How to Fix It for a Beautiful, Healthy Glow as well as a few DIY recipes.

This past year I’ve also outsourced some of my skincare. I see an esthetician for a monthly treatment following a plan she created for me after I had a Visia Skin Complexion Analysis. It has included a series of Venus Freeze treatments, IPL (in the winter) and a bit of microdermabrasion.

Creating Your Minimalist Skincare Routine

Learn your skin type. I think seeing an esthetician or dermatologist can help you figure this out, but they may try to sell you their product line. An impulse purchase is not what you want to do as minimalist so if you are still working on that you can determine your skin type on your own.

Ask yourself what you want from your skincare routine. Be specific.

Knowing your goals and what’s important to you ingredient-wise will help you decide on the right products and routine for you.

What is your budget?

How much time do you have for skincare?

Do you engage in any activities that may require specific products (like more sunscreen because you alpine ski)?

Do you have reactive skin and experience irritation on the regular. Do you know what is troubling your skin?

If you do have irritation you can see a dermatologist for a patch test to determine if you have a known allergy (I did that a few years back and it was helpful). Or you can consider going on a skin product detox. Much like a food elimination diet with a product elimination diet you remove the most common allergens and irritants for a period of time and then slowly reintroduce products one by one to figure out what is triggering what.

Then, when you have your answers, start researching brands that suit your needs and budget. Remember that there are effective products at all price points. Also, research DIY product recipes if that interests you. Two of my favourite blogs on the subject are Madeleine Olivia and Wellness Mama. There are some super simple, inexpensive and effective options in your pantry. I think a mix of both choices is a great way to go.

If you are looking to simplify your skincare routine, I hope this post was helpful. If you have any questions for me please post in the comments or head over to Instagram. It’s the best way to reach me.

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Feel Good, Look Good

For the past 5 years I’ve been focused on my quest for a simpler, healthier life. It’s been a fascinating and rewarding search. I’m constantly discovering strategies that help bring me into a more consistent state of equanimity. It may seem superficial to some, but focusing on my skin has been a part of my wellness because how I feel in my body and how I feel about my body can help me generate my Core Desired Feelings (CDFs). And ignoring my skin or mistreating it can take me off track.

Let Me Explain

As a woman in her late 40s my skin is changing. My hormonal balance is changing from my reproductive years (which were on a 28 day-ish cycle) to that of perimenopause (a bit all over the place with low progesterone and estrogen highs and lows and most definitely not 28 days) and heading towards menopause and postmenopause (consistent decline). My skin is reacting differently to my environment, my levels of stress, the food I eat, and the products I use.

What I used to work for me no longer does. This past year I’ve invested in my skincare so it’s right for me right now. I see it as a part of my simpler, healthier life quest. It’s self-care in this transitory phase of life. It’s a way of feeling Poise and Radiance (2 of my CDFs).

But when I think about it, the state of my skin has always been part and parcel of how I feel about myself and hoping for a sense of peace and composure. I think that’s because our skin is a visible example of how our body, while always working to be in a balanced state, is never static. It’s always changing. And that’s super frustrating.

Puberty Skin

I was a teen in the 1980s and an avid Seventeen reader. I have a very strong memory of buying a specific copy at McDermot’s – my small town’s family owned and run pharmacy – and all the feels I got from the purchase as well as the inspiration from the beauty articles and fashion spreads.

I experimented with so many DIY skin and hair treatments I found in this magazine. I remember going to school smelling like vinegar because I had used it as a hair rinse – oh, how my friends made fun of me. This experimentation was a bit of adventure fun. It helped me discover my likes and dislikes. It made me feel empowered, that I had some control over my changing body and over how I felt about it. Much like I feel now that I’m going through puberty, but in reverse!

Age 14 – 1985
I let my parents take my photo. It must have been a good skin day.
I don’t have many photos of me as a teenager.

However, like most adolescents I was awkward. I had a fair amount of outbreaks. Often on my forehead and on my nose. Perfectly aligned in the middle of my face. I hated them. I was lectured about eating too much chocolate. I was teased. I was given Noxema. And like many girls and young women I became a picker.

This turned into a compulsive behaviour that spread to other parts of my body and lasted well into my late twenties. If there is interest, I will write more about that and how I overcame it in a future blog. I touch on some of what I did below, but there is more. Other than ending my marriage and later getting sober it might be the hardest thing I’ve done.

This self-mutilation was the dark side of my skincare and was about a deeper struggle.

Chasing Perfection

For the longest time I thought if I was perfect, then everything would be OK. I’d be OK. If I never made a mistake I’d make everyone around me happy. I’d never disappoint those I love. I’d never feel bad – ever again. A part of that perfection was appearance. Perfect skin would make me happy. Blemish free skin would make me happy. Smooth skin would make me happy. If I just looked perfect people would like me. I would be acceptable. I would belong.

This kind of thinking stuck around for a long time. It took me many years and a bunch of therapy to learn how totally unrealistic it was. Also to see how perfection actually doesn’t equate to happiness. Other things – like the healthy things I do every day to nurture my mental and physical health – are what make me feel good.

Chasing Feelings

Having the desire to feel good is OK. It’s more than OK. It’s what drives me to create, to be of service, to engage, to be present. It’s what drives me to be connected to my body – something that for me is no mere tool for my consciousness to participate in this Earth experience. Getting precise on how I want to feel has helped me focus on healthy ways to feel the way I want to feel – more and more. So I do the pleasant in the moment yet damaging in the long-term things less and less.

Non-attachment

The paradox is while desire for happiness is a big part of being human, to have some emotional stability you need to comfortable with discomfort as well be non-attached to the outcome of your desire. Tara Brach’s RAIN resource is a cornerstone for me and my wellness toolbox in this regard. It helps with big emotional pain, but also the smaller day-to-day things that come up.

When it comes to my skin I take pause when a critical thought comes to mind, I acknowledge it, I investigate it with kindness and curiosity, and I don’t try to change the thought or feeling. Using this technique I have learned to accept my skin on good AND bad days. I accept that hormonal fluctuations will mean pimples are certain times of the month. I recognize that when I eat to satisfy a craving one day will affect my skin a few days down the road.  I’m becoming comfortable with the aging process. I know that repeated expressions of emotion like smiling and frowning will show up on my face. I accept the feelings of discomfort that arise when my body’s aging and hormonal changes show up on my face.

The neat thing is the more I practice RAIN – and gosh, is it ever a practice – the more I make healthy choices for my skin. I eat foods that fight inflammation and use products that don’t irritate my skin it’s clear and smooth. I don’t eat my feelings with an enormous portions, unhealthy fat, salt and sugar. I don’t pick. I don’t over clean or over scrub my skin. I don’t overload my skin with products.

The Cliché

I do believe in the cliché when you feel good, you look good. That good will look different day-by-day, through out your menstrual cycle and as you age. As you nourish feeling good, your outer being will reflect that. It will not look the same as it did in the past and it likely won’t look like anyone else’s good – especially media representations. It will be * your * good.

And, I also think the reverse is true too. When you look good, you feel good. Especially if it’s coming from a state of mindfulness and compassion, imperfection and acceptance, intention and vitality.

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A Skin Care Journey – Part 2

A few days ago I wrote an introductory post about my skin and the irritations and reactions I’ve been experiencing in recent years. I’ve been researching and reading books in hopes of finding a remedy. Most have been diet related. Recently though I read Beyond Soap: The Real Truth About What You Are Doing to Your Skin and How to Fix It for a Beautiful, Healthy Glow by Dr. Sandy Skotnicki (a dermatologist with over 20 years of professional experience) and it has me adding a new tool to my clear, smooth and radiant skin toolbox.

Our skin’s appearance is due to a mix of genetics (about 60%) and lifestyle choices (40%). Lifestyle includes things like exercise, diet, sun exposure, and smoking. I’m doing OK on the first three (room for more consistency, but OK) and I’ve never smoked. Upon reading Beyond Soap I think I’ve found the missing piece of the puzzle for my problem skin — I have irritation from using too many skin care products as well as sensitivity to some ingredients in my skincare products (quite likely some of the amazing smelling botanicals). However, I won’t know for sure until I do a product reboot.

Before I get into that, here is a little book review.

This book is a throughly well-researched and accessible read. It addresses how allergies, irritation and sensitive skin are on the rise. It begins with a combination history, anthropology and science lesson on hygiene, cleanliness, and the truth behind ingredients. The marketing of body care products and the lack of their regulation is astounding and depressing.

In recent decades Dr. Skotnicki (and many others) say we have been over cleaning our skin, stripping away our healthy oils ,and breaking down our protective layers. When issues arise we pile on more cleansers, exfoliants, creams and serums (plus shampoos and conditioners). Instead of helping this makes things worse. 

Beyond Soap provides excellent information and easy-to-follow suggestions so you can be empowered with good science (and not hearsay ) and take a step back from excessive cleaning, hidden ingredients, marketing fears, and bottomline – take better care of your skin.

The Product Elimination Diet

Have you ever heard of an elimination diet? You remove foods that are common allergens or cause disruptive digestion or other unpleasant symptoms and then one by one slowly re-introduce them to your diet.  It’s a useful way of identifying triggers to your symptoms so you can avoid them in the future. The skin version works in much the same way. You stick to a very simple allergen and irritant free regime of products an then after 2 weeks you introduce products one by one, each week or every few days. You monitor your skin to see if and what causes a reaction.

Since Sunday I’ve stopped using all of my skincare products as well as hair styling products. I’ve stopped diffusing essential oils, got rid of fabric sheets that I used to keep my shoes from stinking up the closet. I carry a little bit of hand cleanser bar with me for public washroom use.

What I’m Using

Organic virgin coconut oil
No name petroleum jelly
Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Cleansing Water and Makeup Remover Solution for Face and Eyes – 16.7 fl. oz. *
Vichy 24H Deodorant Sensitive Skin Aluminum-Free Stick
Eau Thermale Avène Tolérance Extrême Cream, 1.69 fl. oz. *
Aveeno Moisturizing Bar 3.5 Oz (Pack of 6) *

* Affiliate Links – Thank you for supporting me and the blog.

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A Skin Care Journey – Part 1

I’m not sure where or when this recently published book – Beyond Soap: The Real Truth About What You Are Doing to Your Skin and How to Fix It for a Beautiful, Healthy Glow by Dr. Sandy Skotnicki – came on to my radar, but I know it did because when I saw it displayed during a recent bookshop trip I recognized it immediately as something that I had heard about and was a must-read for me.

I’ve always been a bit skin obsessed and doing what I can so that my skin is blemish free, smooth and bouncy. The more I learn the more I realize that most of my efforts (but not all) were misguided. It’s taken me more than two decades to truly understand that when it comes to the skin less is more.

As a teen I started with the compulsive habit of over cleaning (thank you Noxema ) and over exfoliating (thank you St Ives apricot pit scrubs). Later I spent so much money on awesome smelling and feeling products that unfortunately had unremarkable results. I layered product onto product in hopes that the effects of lotion 1 might be remedied by lotion 2 (or 3 or 4 or 5). Through out the years there have been breakouts (and picking), redness, stinging, itchiness and most recently extreme dryness, hives, swelling and rashes.

A few years back this started to happen

I was put on prednisone, had patch testing done (results all negative), took prescription anti-histamines whenever I felt the swelling start (it began with a tingle and an itch), and walked around with an epi-pen for a year. I tried to figure out what was trigging it and my best guess was alcohol (I was drinking pretty heavily back then). I was using all natural products without parabens and pegs in them so I assumed my skincare wasn’t at fault. I can’t know for sure. What I do know is that my life was a bit of a mess and had been since 2010. I had my last drink December 27th, 2012 and worked on sobriety big time. I haven’t had a reaction like that since then.

What I have had is very dry skin and redness

And weird breakouts

Now, this may be due to aging. I’m perimenopausal after all. Last summer I was diagnosed with fibroids, endometrial hyperplasia and severe anemia. I got treated (as well as an IUD for the progesterone) and those conditions have greatly improved. I’m also sleeping through the night for the first time in 4 years and have fewer night sweats. Lots has improved, but, my goodness, is my face ever really, really dry and still breaking out.

It’s not clear in this pic, but there were close to 100 pustules on my forehead. Yes, I counted. This blogger likes her data. ;-)

Now onto the book Beyond Soap and what it’s inspired me to do

Stay tuned for part 2 of this entry!

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Estrogen, Vaginas & BV

Note: This post is not sponsored. Links to products are for information purposes only. Please consult your health care provider to help you decide what is the right course of action for *you*.

There is much to know about how estrogen supports genitourinary health. For this blog entry my focus is on one of my favourite topics – estrogen and the vaginal microbiome (also known as the vaginal flora).

During pre-menopause (your active reproductive years) estrogen causes the outer layer of vaginal cells to shed naturally. When they die off they release glycogen which converts to glucose (sugar). Lactobacillus (the “good” bacteria) coverts the glucose to lactic acid. This acid keeps pH levels in the healthy pre-menopause levels of 3.5 and 5.

When estrogen starts to diminish this vaginal cell shedding process slows down and the lactobacillus starves. The bacterial balance is disrupted and the “bad” bacteria takes over. The vaginal pH subsequently rises and can cause something called Bacterial Vaginosis (BV). This is the most common vaginal infection and is often symptomless of and when left untreated can raise the risk of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). When there are symptoms they include thin, grey, white or green vaginal discharge, fishy vaginal odour, vaginal itching and burning during urination.

Recently, there have been new over-the-counter vaginal gels and suppositories on the market. They contain various acids with the aim of keeping the good bacteria fed. I wrote about some of them here. There is also the vaginal moisturizer Mae by Damiva * that contains topical sucrose. If you suffer from recurrent BV they may be something you’d like to consider.

Recommendations

If you think you have BV, I highly recommend you see your GP or gynaecologist to confirm this. There are a number of different vaginal infections as well as STIs that cause similar symptoms. Best to get an accurate diagnosis.

Keep in my mind vaginas don’t smell like flowers or spring fields. Dryer sheets do. Vaginas and vulvas have a slightly sweet or musky scent. BV can cause a very different scent – fishy.

Do not douche. This remedy is superficial, temporary and ultimately harmful. Treat the cause. Don’t camouflage the symptoms. Again, your vagina shouldn’t smell like Febreeze.

If you find you regularly have BV – for example, after your period or after being exposed to male ejaculate – you may want to consider post period or post sex use of the gels or suppositories.  Again, check with your doctor.

In my case, I have had BV so often over the years that even without major symptoms I just know when my vaginal microbiome balance is off. I got an IUD last July * and had spotting near daily for 6 months. BV seemed like my constant companion even though I tried to manage things with the gels and suppositories (as per my doctor’s recommendation). Once the spotting stopped I was treated with antibiotics. If it happens again, I will go that route again. Ultimately, I have the best, long lasting and more affordable results with antibiotics. It’s what brought me some relief and, pardon the expression, some a feeling of balance.

If you suffer with bacterial vaginosis I hope you find some relief too.

Resources

Centers For Disease Control & Prevention

 

* I will write more about it in a future post as it’s my current preferred day-to-day vaginal moisturizer. Also, I’m working on a post about why I chose to get an IUD when I did. Yes, it’s perimenopause related. Stay tuned!

 

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That Smell Down There & How To Get Rid Of It

Bacterial Vaginosis & Perimenopause

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) can occur when the vaginal environment experiences a change in flora equilibrium – when healthy lactobacilli is diminished which then creates extra production of less desirable bacteria. This harmful bacteria produces enzymes that break down vaginal protein and causes an unpleasant discharge and odour. What researchers and doctors are discovering is that this change is often due to an increase in pH (normal levels are 3.5-5 on a scale of 0 to 14 – so low and acidic).

An increase in pH can be caused by: menstruation (blood has a pH of 7.4), semen (ph of 7.1-8), perimenopause  and menopause (because when estrogen declines vaginal pH rises), douching, medications (allergy and cold medications can dry out tissues and sometimes affect vaginal pH), and antibiotics (they are meant to kill the harmful bacteria but also end up killing off beneficial bacteria).

Not treating BV can increase the risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (if exposed), increase the risk of premature delivery if you’re pregnant, and the development of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Serious stuff! So besides the symptoms being rather unpleasant, it’s a dangerous condition for your genitourinary well-being.

Symptoms of BV: unusual vaginal discharge (white, milky or gray – also foamy or watery), strong fish-like odour (especially after sex or exercise), burning when urinating, itching around the outside of the vagina, and vaginal irritation.

There still isn’t a lot known about BV even though it’s the most common vaginal infection. When you do a Google search though you end up with a TONNE of results (hey, it’s how you likely found this post), but most are upsells for booklets of at-home treatments that have not been tested for efficacy or safety. I think if you think you have BV, it’s better to consult your doctor, get a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

If you test positive for BV the likely treatment will be a prescription medication called metronidazole (oral tablets or vaginal gel). It does work, but even so most people will have a reoccurrence within 3-12 months. Finding ways to keep the vagina happily balanced pH wise after the prescription can help keep BV at bay. It requires being quite diligent about your flora. And yes, I’m speaking from experience.

My Situation

The last few years I’ve dealt with recurrent bouts of BV – especially after my period. Basically, I’m getting a double punch of high pH. From my period and from my estrogen levels because of perimenopause. I also take allergy and sinus medication and I’m generally quite dry EVERYWHERE I have mucous membranes so I think my pH might be affected by this as well. What I don’t do is have unprotected sex and I never douche. At least I have that going for me.

I went to my local sexual health clinic (Clinique A in Montreal and later The Sexual Health Centre in Ottawa) as part of my regular STI testing routine and brought up my symptoms. I knew something was fishy (bahahaha) and I was right.

Treatment

I’ve been prescribed metronidazole for BV a few times. It’s harsh on your stomach, but I don’t drink alcohol and I’m good with taking medication on a full stomach so I didn’t have any side effects. The BV cleared up fast and I was fine for two or three months, but then it came back. My health care practitioner then suggested a specially formulated Vitamin C tablet called Prevegyne that is inserted vaginally. It helps create and maintain a more acidic state. It’s available behind the counter at pharmacies, but isn’t covered by most insurance plans (in Quebec and Ontario – I cannot speak to other areas). It isn’t a one time treatment. It’s something to take to treat as well as regularly to prevent.

By the way, don’t take regular vitamin C tablets. They are not the right dose and they are not capsuled the same way. It will burn!

In the name of science I have also tried other over the counter BV treatments that aim to treat and prevent. Like the Prevegyne they will most likely have to be used once a month for a few days (usually after your period) to keep the bacteria at a healthy, pleasant equilibrium. Your health practitioner can help you figure out how much and how often to take them.

Canesbalance Bacterial Vaginosis Gel supports healthy vaginal flora by restoring vaginal pH with a lactic acid formulation.

Relactagel contains lactic acid (which restores and maintains vaginal acidity favourable to the growth of lactobacilli) and glycogen which provides nutrients for lactic acid producing bacteria.

Probaclac is a multi-strain probiotic complex that is inserted into the vagina nightly for 14 days to help build up the lactobacilli and prevent overgrowth of the harmful bacteria.

RepHresh Gel contains policarbophil which is a bioadhesive ingredient that can maintain a healthy physiological vaginal pH.

RepHresh Pro Biotic is an oral capsule that contain patented and clinically tested strains of probiotic lactobacillus that have been shown to balance yeast and bacteria.

I will write about my experiences with each treatment in future blog posts. For now, do know that I think they all showed some benefit. I think by addressing vaginal pH we have finally turned the corner when it comes to managing this condition (not eliminating it, but managing it).

I wish the science brains had figured it out sooner!

Resources

BOOKS

The V Book: A Doctor’s Guide to Complete Vulvovaginal Health

Sex Rx: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever

YOUTUBE

Bacterial Vaginosis and Diet

Treating Bacterial Vaginosis with Vaginal Vitamin C

PS

BV is condition that can affect those of us with vaginas whether we are CIS, trans or gender nonbinary. I’m trying to write in a way that reflects this, but I may make mistakes from time to time. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

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I Want To Vlog But Should I?

Big Decisions

I’m thinking of starting to vlog. I had hoped to start last fall, but I didn’t have the funds to get the equipment so I put the idea on hold while I saved up. But there was more than finances to the delay. There was trepidation.

If I vlog I want to focus on my current interests of simplicity, minimalism and wellness (especially midlife issues like perimenopause). I wasn’t sure if my following on social media was interested in that kind of content. I still mainly get e-mails and comments from people who knew me from my adult industry work. While some do say they enjoy my authenticity and openness as I’ve blogged about my life post-porn, they are men who found me because they were looking for porn and it’s mainly what they want to focus on in their e-mails. That was all fine and good when I worked in that industry, but I haven’t for nearly ten years now. I’ve moved on and would like people to move on too. I’m not ungrateful for past members or ashamed of my past. I’m just not interested in performative sexuality anymore.

My new interests do appeal to some of the old followers (especially when I talk about my sobriety as others have similar struggles), but I’m also seeking to reach out to people a little more like myself – CIS women in midlife going through all the joys and challenges that seem to come with this time in our lives. Many of us are questioning our choices, deconstructing our lives and rebuilding – not just us retired porn stars. Anyway, it’s these people I want to reach. If people who know me from my old life are interested they can follow along and if not they can live in the past and do whatever to all the stolen xxx of mine that is littered online. I’m OK with that as long as it’s on their time and in their space.

So much wishful thinking on my part. I know.

Anyway, intentional, sustainable and healthy living is what I’ve been posting about on Instagram and it’s allowed me to connect with people interested in much the same things. I find the experience of sharing my life lessons with people dealing with similar challenges rewarding and empowering. The same thing can be said from the other side – what I learn from the interesting, genuine people I follow. I find it inspiring and life affirming. I think vlogging can add to this experience. Enhance it even.

Granted, there is a lot of negativity and trolling in the comments on YouTube. Last fall I wasn’t sure if I could handle the mindless critiquing that seems to be ubiquitous there. A certain amount of not caring what other people think is required. I have experience with that given I’ve lived online since 1999 or so. Still, I can get peeved by certain engagements. I’m bored whenever I post a body shot or anything remotely ‘pretty’ or glamorous and get mainly the male gaze. I’m annoyed when I post about challenges or share a vulnerable moment and get advice or some pseudo uplifting message (***hugs***) when I wasn’t seeking any. I’m turned off when I get offers from strangers half way around the world to date me or have sex with me. I don’t understand how anyone thinks an Instagram or Twitter profile is a Tinder profile.

Thankfully, the ‘you used to be hot’, ‘your to old to f*ck now’, or ‘you should have stuck to sucking c*ck’ comments – I barely notice them anymore.

What makes me hopeful though is that I have found some channels like Eco Boost, Lauren Toyota, Samio,  Pick Up Limes, My Green ClosetJenny Mustard and Alli Cherry that brim with optimism, usefulness and kindness. I think by focusing on those qualities the haters will make their idiotic posts and then move on because of boredom.

Oh, and all of the talk of perimenopause. ;-)

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Why Do I Have Heavy Periods & What Helped

Endometrial Hyperplasia

During perimenopause you typically experience high levels of estrogen at the same time as lower levels of progesterone. It’s a bit later when estrogen begins to drop too and you are closer to a year without a period (that’s menopause). This high estrogen low progesterone state can cause Endometrial Hyperplasia (the excessive proliferation of the cells that line the uterus). Basically, the build up of your uterine lining (what you shed when you have your period). This condition can cause heavy and long periods and leave you at higher risk of uterine cancer.

Heavy and long periods – I know them well. I’ve been dealing with them for about a year. It’s been painful, uncomfortable and annoying, but to be honest I didn’t give them much thought beyond tracking on my period app (I use Flow). What preoccupied me more were the night sweats and the sleep disruptions that have plagued me on a near nightly basis for a year (and about ten days a month the year before). I didn’t realize that the heavy and long periods could be a more serious issue until I saw a gynecologist and was diagnosed with Endometrial Hyperplasia.

How did I get diagnosed?

In February I went to the Sexual Health Clinic for my regular STI testing. While there I also asked about getting the Mirena IUD. At age 46 I absolutely don’t want to get pregnant so I was interested in a back up to condoms. I thought an IUD would be ideal because it isn’t estrogen based like most oral contraceptives. I’ve been on them before and they have made me feel horrible – neutral, nonsexual, unfeminine, and emotionally flat. That’s the best way I can describe it.

Anyway, the Mirena works differently than most birth control pills.  It releases small amounts of levonorgestrel (a synthetic form of progesterone) which thickens cervical mucus and helps prevent sperm from reaching or fertilizing an egg. It also thins out the uterine lining and partially suppresses ovulation.

The nurse I spoke to thought it would be a great option for me as the progesterone would help ease my periods and likely help with my night sweats and sleep issues. She didn’t want me to go ahead with it quite yet though. I needed to see a gynecologist for an exam to measure my uterus (IUDs are recommended for women who have had a child – I haven’t, but it turns out I have a large uterus for a childless woman – 9 centimetres), have a biopsy in case of abnormal cell build up, and get a transvaginal ultrasound to measure the thickness of the endometrium.

I was able to see the gynecologist in June and while the biopsy did come back negative for abnormal cells, my results showed significant build up of my lining. So yes, an IUD would be a good option for me, but first I would need to have my lining thinned out a bit. My gynecologist prescribed me a synthetic progesterone (medroxyprogesterone acetate).

Treatment

Like most every other prescription medication medroxyprogesterone acetate has side effects. The ones I experienced (especially when I first started taking it) were – anxiety (I had vivid PTSD panic attacks), breast swelling and tenderness, and water retention (I’ve gained about 10lbs because of bloating). I think my body has adjusted to it because the anxiety is much less pronounced (and no longer hallucinatory) and my breasts are not as sore. I’m still pretty bloated in my face, belly and limbs – OK everywhere – but I’ve gotten used to it. I’m trying to embrace it even.

I also experienced one specific side effect that was very welcomed. Sleep! You need to take it before bed because it can make you drowsy. Since I started taking it 2 weeks ago I’ve been able to sleep through the night for the first time in about 2 years. No night sweats and no sleep disturbances. It’s been amazing. I hope when I get the IUD this continues. Fingers crossed!

One More Thing

One of the consequences of very heavy periods can be significant anemia (low iron). So no surprise (except to me) this is something I’m experiencing as well. But I will write all about that in my next blog post.

Resources

My go-to-resource for perimenopause information is Barbara Taylor, M.D. as well as  The Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research at the University of British Columbia. I think The Mayo Clinic’s overview is useful too.

In terms of books, I learned a lot from The Estrogen Window: The Breakthrough Guide to Being Healthy, Energized, and Hormonally Balanced-Through Perimenopause, Menopause, and Beyond. Menopause Confidential: A Doctor Reveals the Secrets to Thriving Through Midlife (except for the lubricant recommendations) is a great easy read on the subject matter. I also like Sex Rx: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever.

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Get Your Act Together In The AM

Morning Routine Resource

I’m a big fan Sadia Badiei, a nutritionist and dietician who hosts the wellness site and YouTube channel Pick Up Limes. I was going through her recent uploads and came across a great post where she shares her 10 strategies for a healthy morning routine including a printable checklist. I appreciate her approach to wellness because it’s informed and compassionate. Her tone is gentle and positive. Her suggestions are realistic and achievable. I highly recommend you check her work out.

Speaking of morning routines, I have been tweaking mine recently. I have more time at the moment to work on my writing so I knew I’d need to make sure my morning routine was solid. Otherwise, I would be too excited about writing and just sit down. That might sound productive, but actually it’s not. If I don’t have a solid and healthy foundation for my day, then crashes happen in the afternoon or I power through my work and end up frazzled and wired by the evening. Not good for me in the moment or for my longevity.

This is what my morning routine looks like right now:

1 – Take my temperature when I wake up (I’m tracking my ovulation for my perimenopause project).

2 – Do some gentle stretches in bed as I rise to warm up my back.

3 – Make my bed (this is important as I live in a small studio apartment and sleep on a sofa-bed).

4 – Feed cats, drink water, splash some water on my face.

5 – Mediate (I use the Calm app and do 15 minutes each morning).

6 – Boil water for tea and my neti pot. Drink tea and let neti pot cool down.

7 – Look over my to-do list, journal a bit, note down my temperature. All things related to my bullet journal.

8 – Check social media and email. Add any pertinent things to my to-do list.

9 – Go for a 45 minute walk then do my core exercises. If I’m walking somewhere as part of my morning I do some yoga instead.

10 – Have breakfast (usually a large portion of slow cooked oatmeal with a scoop of pea protein, a mix of ground seeds (pumpkin, chia, hemp and flax) and 1 cup frozen berries.

For an older post on my morning routine go here.

How about you? Do you have a morning routine that gets you off to a happy, healthy start?
Would you like one? Not sure where to start? Share in the comments below.

 

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Cheap Effective Natural Ways To Deal With Period Cramps

Fennel & Ginger For Cramps, Flow & PMS

One of my favourite sources for nutrition research is Nutrition Facts. Dr. Greger’s non-commercial, nonprofit, science-based website that provides free daily updates on the latest in evidence-based nutrition.

In reading up about the increased flow and PMS symptoms during early perimenopause I found this video on the benefits of fennel seeds and ginger. It’s been found that fennel seeds work as well as ibuprofen for reducing painful cramps (without the side effects and way cheaper too!) and 1/8 tsp three times a day of powdered ginger can cut menstrual bleeding in half. Ginger also improves PMS symptoms such as mood, physical and behavioural symptoms while fennel seeds can improve anxiety and depression during PMS time. Wow!

Both are definitely something I will include in my diet to help with my PMS and my flow week. Day two is particularly heavy and my flow lasts over 5 days – typically 7 since I entered my 40s.

More Nutrition Facts videos on menstrual cramps:

Benefits of Ginger for Menstrual Cramps

Ginger for Nausea, Menstrual Cramps, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Dietary Treatments for Painful Periods

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My Perimenopause Journey

When I was 11 years old I became obsessed with puberty and the transition to adulthood. I devoured every book and pamphlet on the subject. Thanks to the flowery text from feminine hygiene product companies I had high hopes for puberty. I thought it would lead me to an immediate state of confidence and equanimity. I was deeply disappointed. Instead, like most, my teen years were turbulent.  Pimples, growth spurts, allergies and so many feelings. Thank you hormones, you powerful substances produced by endocrine glands, for all that you did and continue to do to make life so confusing and exciting.

I’ve come to appreciate my puberty experience so much more now that my body is changing again. Yep, I’m in perimenopause and it’s throwing me for a loop and has for a few years now. Thankfully, I have my adult brain and access to much better reading material to help me make sense of it all. I feel like I am going through puberty once again, but with the wisdom of years by my side.

I’ve been posting a fair bit about it on Instagram and I’ve had many women reach out to me to commiserate as well as ask me questions. I have a whole lot of questions of my own so I decided to write a little more in depth about my personal experiences here at my blog.

I’ve been purposefully and diligently doing my research to get a better sense of what the science says and what I’ve found is a lot of inaccurate information (mainly that perimenopause IS menopause – when they are two very different states), lots of Big Pharma hype, and thousands of infommerical type blogs selling supplements. It’s pretty depressing.

Thankfully, I also found a few easy to understand well-researched resources. They match my way of thinking about this time in my life, this experience – that it’s normal and natural and that the attitude you have about it, the way you frame it, will greatly affect the way you experience it. While I’ve long been on the path of healthy living, based on what I’ve discovered I’m more determined than ever to focus on plant based, low fat high fibre eating, daily movement and stress reduction. It truly does seem to me the key to vitality through out the lifespan – during all phases. Pharmaceutical hormones may be in my future, but for the time being I’m looking to my daily choices to create a high standard of living.

A little background and a little catch up…

My perimenopause journey began a few years ago. Shortly after I got sober (December 27th 2013) I started noticing some physical symptoms (shorter menstrual cycles and the occasional night sweat) and at age 45 they began to intensify. No surprise there in terms of timing, but it was also when I became quite stressed because of my move to a new city, new job and greater role in my family’s life. Even without the perimenopause symptoms I would have wanted to make some improvements to my life, but the peri symptoms made my research and lifestyle choices all the more pressing. I’m starting to get a handle on things in recent weeks so it’s the perfect time to focus on blogging about all the things I’m learning and to bring my readers on my journey.

I especially want to reach out to women who are in the thick of it, but this journey is also one for younger women who are hoping to be well prepared for the experience and those who are past it. We can all learn from one another. Remember, it’s like puberty but with the wisdom of our age.

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Perimenopause – A Quick Definition

I’d like to start with a few definitions from The Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research at the University of British Columbia. It’s an incredible resource by the way – the most useful I’ve found so far.

Perimenopause is the period of time before and for a year after the last menstrual period during which ovarian hormonal patterns, experiences and sociocultural roles change. The average age at which irregular cycles develop is about age 47.

Perimenopause probably begins several years before that in CIS women with regular cycles when the ovaries start are making fluctuating amounts of estrogen (often higher than before perimenopause) and lower amounts of progesterone.

Like menopause, perimenopause is a normal part of a woman’s life cycle.

Resources

Dr. Northrup

Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine

The Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research

My YouTube Playlist of Favourite Videos on Perimenopause

Disclaimers

By the way, I’m using the word CIS woman, but this information can also apply to nonbinary and transgender folks with an XX reproductive system who haven’t taken hormones as part of transition.

I’m not a doctor or registered dietitian. The purpose of my blog is to share my experiences with simple intentional living and holistic nutrition. When it comes to your health and wellbeing, do your research and consult with your doctor or medical professional before making any lifestyle changes.

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Equanimity

I’m obsessed with equanimity. It’s an often sought out thing, but a little used word. And it’s the word I want tattooed onto my body because I value equanimity so much.

Equanimity is a mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.

For much of my life – until I entered therapy when I was 39 – I struggled with finding any bit of peace within myself. I was always in panic mode. Always dealing with low and high levels of anxiety. Always trying to control things outside of myself (impossible and so so so draining) in order to avoid feeling my troubling or scary feelings.

It took much work to find ways to nurture a sense of calm and composure no matter what comes my way. The waves of emotion did not disappear. I learned to ride them.

The less I implode or explode these feelings that I am “not allowed to feel”, the more of a moderate relationship I have with them. – Alanis Morisette

This is why I want a tattoo with the word. But where? My friend Christelle is very good at small freestyle tattoos. I will book time with her in 2017 and I’m sure she will help me find the perfect spot.

PS I wrote a blog post a while back on how nurture equanimity within myself.

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If you could give all human beings one virtue which would you choose?

Tolerance of our differences – without the desire to change others or want them change to be like us.On a personal level – with our families, friends, lovers, and significant others – this would save us a lot of frustration and heartache. Can you imagine never fighting about how to place the toilet paper roll? ;-)

And on an international level I think if we were more tolerant we’d avoid so much political strife and greatly improve the living conditions of others (1.44 billion people live in extreme poverty and subsist on an average of US $1.25 or less a day).

I think a greater virtue might be empathy (to appreciate the feelings of others) and compassion (sympathy for the suffering of others), but I think it begins with tolerance of our differences.

I feel I’m still in the early stages of my own journey in increasing my tolerance of differences. I’m thankful that I’ve been exposed to people and experiences different than me and my own. I think without this exposure I’d have a small world view and be stuck in a scarcity and fearful mindset. I’m thankful that I’m curious and excited when some sense of newness is introduced in my life. I think using curiosity as a key to tolerance is a pretty powerful thing.

What virtue do you think we humans need more of? What virtues do you have and would like to further nourish in yourself? At the end of the day these virtues do begin with ourselves.

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The Big Tattoo

It came to pass. It did not come to stay.

This statement lives on the right side of my torso. It was beautifully painful to get. People with large tattoos in tender spots know what I’m talking about. The experience – it’s a special kind of high.

I got it in the fall of 2011. I was about 18 months into my healing journey. I was still in a place of deep pain, but I was trying new things (like holistic nutrition classes) and reading a lot of Buddhist inspired teachings (like Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha and When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times). I was discovering who I was and what I valued. I was also drawn to toxic people and dark, dramatic situations. There was a whole lot of two steps forward one step back going on.

Forward steps included exploring impermanence – the Buddhist belief that existence is always changing, always evanescent. This brought me much relief. It helped me reframe my suffering. It allowed me to accept that how like joy is not a constant state, neither is anguish.

This tattoo is quite clear in it’s message to myself. That emotional states will change just as the material aspects of life will change. That the people in your life may come and go, live and die. My tattoo is a meditation of sorts on loss that makes me feel grounded to the reality of constant change and experience equanimity no matter what life throws at me.

A Silly Story About This Tattoo

One time I was with some new acquaintances – a couple. I clicked with her, but not so much with him. I think he was not very bright in terms of emotional intelligence or vocabulary. At one point we were talking about tattoos. He said he wanted to get one along the lines of live hard, die young. I mentioned what I had and when he heard about my larger piece he looked puzzled and said he didn’t understand what it meant. His girlfriend explained it to him and then a light went off for him and he said he would get that one too.

I wasn’t impressed before and I certainly wasn’t impressed then.

I bumped into them another time and he told me he got a tattoo saying no regrets.

PS – Here is a lovely post by Leo Babauta (Zen Habits) about impermanence because I have to leave you with some optimism not cynicism.

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Vitality

The third of my small tattoos is a V for Vitality. It’s on the back of my neck – the nape. I like that word, but I digress.I desire vitality inside and out.  I want to be vibrant in mind, body and spirit. I want to be active and strong. I think this comes from a general desire to age well, to age gracefully, to age with dignity.  And that in part is because my father died of colon cancer when he was 54 and I was 24.

He was diagnosed at age 49 and died 5 years later. He went through all kinds of treatments – traditional and experimental. He fought hard. I know he was doing it for himself and for his love for me and our family. I want to live with wellness to honour him, my family and myself.

But I saw what cancer does to the body and the mind. I want to avoid it – very badly. Prevention and early screening are my tools. Not 100% guaranteed of course.

I was already a nutrition geek (had been since I was in elementary school) and fascinated by physical wellness science. Seeing my father edge then leap towards disease and decay inspired me to have a different future.

So I embrace vitality. I seek it out. I create it. I am active in my pursuit. I use all the wellness tools available to me. I focus on getting enough sleep and eating a whole foods diet. I have never smoked and I have quit drinking. I meditate and practice loving kindness and gratitude. I surround myself with people I love and that love me.

This is my path to vitality.

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November Q & A

My monthly Q &A thread will go live on Monday November 21st. Patreon supporters contributing $5 and more per month have access to this post. It’s a place to ask your questions. I set aside time that day to respond to questions and I will do my best to answer until the end of the month if the questions keep coming in.

Visit my Patreon page to sign up as a Supporter and participate !! I eagerly await your questions !!
Seska

 

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