Agnus Castus – The Return of Me

My herbalist Wendy gave me Agnus Castus capsules to take along with my usual herbs this month. Agnus Castus is a herb that works on the pituitary gland to regulate hormones, specifically to help with natural progesterone production in the body. It is often used in treating the symptoms of PMT and the hormonal upheavals of the peri-menopausal and menopausal period in a woman’s life.

Agnus Castus is turning out to be a miracle herb for me. For the first time in ages I am feeling truly well; the awful exhaustion that would not respond to rest has gone, my energy rising by the day. The dreadful moods swings are no more; I feel level and nothing seems to phase me at present; the nigglesome worries of day to day life that recently have had me feeling like I couldn’t cope, now appear insignificant. To say I feel like a new woman is an understatement.

The herbs Wendy has prescribed have been helping my actual periods and – apart from a tricky couple of months of tweaking the prescription – this continues to be so. I have just finished my shortest period in decades and, despite a couple of heavy, painful days, my well-being throughout was a new and pleasing development. The difference in how I feel, both mentally and physically, is so profoundly changed that I feel the urge to shout it from my roof top!

Our hormones are incredibly powerful and impact upon us in ways we barely know or understand. There are current theories that we are all – men and women alike – suffering from an over-exposure to oestrogen. Many substances that we each come into contact with in modern life, get into our systems and mimic natural oestrogen, tipping the body’s natural balance out of whack. For women, this can have devastating effects, the most serious being an increased risk of breast cancer. It can also leave women feeling like emotional wreckage, their own natural progesterone swamped and struggling to do its job. This means that the second half of the monthly cycle is dogged by intense moods swings, exhaustion, breast tenderness (touch at your peril!), depression, heavy and painful periods.

I have found that the ‘me’ that I call myself could very easily be distorted or lost in the symptoms of this imbalance. We are fools if we think our emotional well-being is separate from our bodily health. With all the willpower in the world, when our bodies are out of balance – particularly our hormonal selves – we can suffer greatly, the symptoms upending our lives and even destroying our sense of self  in serious cases. Sadly, conventional medicine chooses to treat these conditions with synthetic hormones and, in many cases, this only seems to aggravate an already unbalanced system. I think it certainly did with me. It feels so much better to take something that aids the body’s own natural production and balance of hormones. If what I am experiencing is a rebalancing, then, at present, I am living proof that this is the sanest way to go.

Being a Yoga nut, I am fascinated by the chakra system, by the link it implies between body and mind health but also the focus it places on the Endocrine system. Our glands play a vital role in keeping us well and balanced hormonally. I believe that we need to take good care of our Endocrine systems, particularly when we are unwell, doing all we can to help them help us to stay healthy.

I suspect that the extreme stress of recent years did a lot to knock my system off balance. Sadly, it can become an unstoppable cycle: the stress unbalancing our bodies; our imbalanced bodies impacting upon our minds and causing more stress. Hopefully, with the help of Wendy, I can now break that cycle. Welcome home M!

Healing Herbs

Gaia's Daughter - Mara Friedman

A little over a week ago I had an appointment with a Gynaecologist. Exactly a week after this, I had an appointment with a Medical Herbalist. The difference between the two meetings, and the impact they each had on my immediate well-being, was striking. I have to say that the hospital doctors and nurses are certainly trying to help me in their own way, but the herbalist appointment was a revelation and left me feeling a million times better! In contrast, I left the hospital with a gnawing doubt about the course of treatment that they are suggesting. I am down to two choices: the removal of the lining of my uterus or the complete removal of my womb – both of which leave me feeling quite worried about the possible consequences. My body seems to be fighting this all the way: my cervix was too small for a womb biopsy to be taken without a general anaesthetic. They tried to do this process whilst I was conscious, which was excruciatingly painful and failed. I have taken the conventional medical route over this last 18 months or so to tackle my menstrual issues. It has been a challenging route (to say the least) and despite all best efforts, it has left me feeling, at times, very ill and increasingly demoralised.

I met the very appropriately named Wendy Budd by chance. She had been invited to talk about the medicinal properties of herbs at the open day of my friend Tracey’s Community Orchard and Garden project.  For months I have been complaining at feeling confused about what particular solution is best for my problem; as each option presented itself, I felt no clear sense within about which one was right for me. My friends have suggested things, my medical practitioner’s also, and yet I remained paralysed by the fear that I would choose something that would, yet again, make my symptoms worse. As I listened to Wendy’s talk, I felt that sudden spark of recognition; after months of assuming that I had completely lost all sense of judgement, at that moment, I felt certain that I had to speak with her. I approached her in a quiet moment and asked about the possibility of booking an appointment. After explaining my situation, she confided that she had suffered with exactly the same problem and was now managing her symptoms and feeling really well. If I hadn’t already got the hint, I did at that moment!

Understandably, hospital and doctor’s appointments are pushed for time, ten minute blocks that speed by. I spent almost two hours with Wendy where she asked about every area of my life and health. Rather than treating me as a set of isolated symptoms, she engaged with the whole me, trying to put together a clearer picture of my life, from diet and exercise to emotional and mental states that might be impacting on my health and leading me to suffer in the way that I am. I have always known that the events in my life over these last few years are a key factor in my worsening symptoms; I gave up tying to explain this to my doctors because none of them seemed to think it relevant. The equation for them is symptom + treatment = management; I have been astonished at how often the cause gets left out, particularly if it might involve the complex and tricky world of the emotions – they just don’t have the time to go there, and sadly, some don’t even have the interest. I am reminded of a Joni Mitchell lyric – Doctor’s pills give you brand new ills.

With Wendy I felt truly listened to; in an age when ever tightening budgets dominate health care, this empathetic exchange between patient and healer often gets lost. It is a tragedy because, as we all instinctively know, it is such a crucial part of the healing process. After almost all my doctor and hospital appointments, I left feeling very low; after Wendy, I was practically doing cartwheels!

I have also been increasingly aware that something has started to shift in me. Since being synthetic progesterone free, I have felt so much more settled in my self, the angst easing, and the pain of my family situation being placed into a greater perspective. I am feeling happier and this in itself is working its own magic. After not bleeding for an age after the implant’s removal, I have just experienced the best menstrual period I have had in years. I am hoping with the help of herbs that this sudden improvement will continue to be the norm for me.

I have been given a tea and tonic, both to be taken three times a day. Each has a mixture of several herbs, aimed not only at physical but emotional symptoms too. The tea is Raspberry Leaf, Yarrow, and Shepherd’s Purse, Rose, Lavender and Hawthorn; the tonic is Borage, Shatavari, Motherwort and Belladonna (a very small dose! It is an incredibly good painkiller apparently!), Peony, Liquorice, Ginger and the wonderfully named Tree of Life.

For the first time in a long time, I feel hopeful that my life will no longer be dominated by pain, bleeding and exhaustion. It is a heady thought! I don’t know whether it is psychosomatic but I am already experiencing a sensation of opening in my lower body, as if something that has been clenched and closed has suddenly relaxed and softened. Strangely, I also feel a mirroring of this sensation emotionally too. Wendy said she is often amazed at how often the herbs go to where they are needed, even beyond her own understanding of their medicinal qualities. They are magical things. Time will tell but for now the sun is shining, I have people who I love in my life, I have purpose and feel well. What else truly matters?