Menopause Stories: Fountain Retreats Founder Dee Gardner
Have you heard of Fountain Retreats? These 1 or 2 Day specialist Menopause Retreats at luxury spas and hotels across the UK and Spain are life-changing. Imagine being equipped with expert knowledge to alleviate symptoms at the same time as being supported in an environment of like-minded women. It’s not too good to be true, it exists during these specialist getaways. Added to this, there’s a delicious and nutritious lunch which could kickstart your desire to improve your nutrition and physical health so you continue to make changes when you return home.
We’ve partnered with them to offer five winners a Retreat day for themselves and a friend during September 2019 worth £398 each. Entry is via our Facebook page. There are also 50 runner up prizes of Sisterhood brooch (worth £24.99) for women to wear when they are having ‘bad days’ without the need to talk. It represents understanding during menopause and beyond with two birds taking everything they need from the striking silver fountain.
Fountain Retreats’ founder Dee Gardner is very inspiring. She’s been through her own menopause journey and used her experiences to help other women feel better. We did a Q&A with her to find out more about her incredible story:
Please tell us about your personal menopause journey?
At 44, I noticed changes were taking place. There was a sudden weight gain of around 4-5kg, I started forgetting things, losing things, and it became impossible for a while to feel organised. This was completely alien to me, as I am usually such a controlling person (in a good way) that it felt my character had changed.
Alongside the brain fog and forgetfulness, I was suddenly starting to have heart palpitations, which become very worrying. There was no pattern to them, sometimes it would feel like I was about to have a heart attack whilst watching some TV, seemingly relaxed! After about 2 weeks of the palpitations, I decided I should really see a Doctor. (I should have gone sooner, and I recommend you do). I was then staying at our French home, so I flew back the UK to see my GP, who then referred me for ECG’s.
After 3 ECG’s, it showed no evidence of anything wrong with my heart, which was thankfully very healthy. I could not understand why I was feeling so uncomfortable until I saw a heart specialist who told me I was having anxiety attacks! Obviously as a trained and highly skilled behaviourist, this came as quite a shock. I have always managed my anxiety. This made me acutely aware that this was a symptom (very common) of perimenopause. The minute I was told what it was, I dealt with it using my blend of skills, including self-hypnosis, and I have been free of the palpitations ever since. I have to note, that no-one at the surgery ever suggested or mentioned perimenopause!
What inspired you to set up Fountain Retreats?
I realised that changes start to take place gradually and then they hit you head on. Women in their 40s often hate to admit to changes, especially if they know it could be related to menopause as this may be seen as ‘an old lady thing’. This misconception about menopause has to change. We are not old in our 40’s, 50’s or 60’s anymore! Look at Kylie Minogue, J-Lo, Jenifer Aniston for example, let alone Madonna!
I wanted to help other women, in a way that felt cool. Knowing how much women enjoy Spas and Retreats, my idea was born. However, if you are the type who would prefer to drink plenty of alcohol and stay all day in a jacuzzi and just accept whatever symptoms arise, without improving your lifestyle and health, then our retreats are probably not for you. BUT if you want to make some significant changes that will improve your health and wellbeing as well as your mental health, in a beautiful safe environment with women who care and understand exactly how you are feeling, then come and join us.
Although the subject matter may sound very serious, trust me when I tell you I have never laughed so much in all my life. We have a lot of fun discovering more about ourselves, and our woman feel very connected to one another. Friends for life are made at our retreats. It does far more than HRT could ever do on its own, and we believe the positive effects can be felt for many years to come.
Did you learn anything about society’s attitude to menopause when you went through it?
It is very simple and I love a giggle. If I have to get a taxi, or just meet someone randomly who then asks ‘what do you do for a living’, I tell them I have a menopause retreat company for women. The reaction is priceless in most cases. Men do not know where to put themselves or what to say, but women of a certain age then have a long in depth conversation with me about their own menopause which is great, and for some, it will be the first time they have ever met anyone who understands or wants to listen to what they are going through.
Once I met a woman while we were investigating the spa area at one of our venues, who went on to tell me she had been experiencing menopause symptoms for more than 40 years! I nearly fell off my chair! She was 65 and had a surgery induced menopause at 24. Boy did she have a story to tell, and it was filled with much sadness as she had felt so isolated for so many years. Sadly, stories like hers are now quite frequent as I chat with so many women. The terrible feelings of isolation, depression and in some cases suicidal thoughts. Things must change for us all, and for our daughters’ generation too.
What do you hope to do or hope someone else will do so that future generations can experience the menopause better?
The recent government announcement that they will be introducing the topic of menopause into the GCSE curriculum from next year is very welcome. For many women, they experience menopause right at the time that their kids are teens, also going though hormonal shifts! This is a recipe for anxiety and often arguments - I truly believe that better understanding from family members, and even your boss at work, will help normalise what is a natural transition for women from one phase to another. Just like the changes during puberty that we have all come to accept.
Education is information, and information is power, no matter what topic of conversation. I have 3 daughters all in their twenties who are now very knowing about menopause and very understanding about ‘bad days’ and ‘mood swings’ but who also understand how diet and nutrition play a fundamental role in menopausal wellness and women’s health in general. This education forms the core of our retreats, helping women to feel empowered and back in control again of their own bodies and minds.
What are your top three pieces of advice for peri menopausal ladies?
Don’t ignore it. It does not mean you are old if you acknowledge Perimenopause in your 40’s..
Talk to other women about your symptoms and feelings, if you cannot afford a retreat, or would prefer to be more private, look out for our online version coming this Autumn.
Educate yourself, then you can pass that knowledge on. Other people then start to empathise and understand.
How do women that come on the retreat learn more about menopause? What does a typical day involve?
We have designed the days to include what is fundamentally required to help women feel more in control of their own menopause.
Firstly, everyone takes part in the yoga class. This is designed specifically for the more mature body, we know we are not as flexible as we once were. There are specific yoga poses that may help prevent diseases like osteoporosis and aid other symptoms. I have seen the ladies when they come out of the class, they look and feel so incredibly relaxed, perhaps for the first time in years!
We wanted to introduce movement, to reconnect with our physical selves again, because it may have been a while for many. They can then decide whether or not to take up yoga that will be restorative for them after they leave us at the retreat. I often ask the question ‘when was the last time you actually laid on the floor, like a small child does?’ The answer is usually ‘I don’t think I will be able to get back up’ Yoga removes that fear. Suddenly they are starting to take more charge of their bodies, and therefore, their menopause and wellbeing.
After yoga they get to meet our specialist nutritionists, supplied by Women’s Health Guru Maryon Stewart BEM. Maryon has written 27 very successful books on women’s health and menopause, and is a leading light in natural menopause, she shows us through our nutritionist what changes are advised to help massively reduce symptoms, and in some cases totally eradicate them all together. Natural menopause treatments are great for all women, however, some women may also require to support of HRT, and our Wellness Nurses talk about HRT later in the day.
Then it’s time for a wonderful lunch that consists of many foods that have been discussed with the Nutritionist to support health during menopause. We promise the lunches are never boring and always tasty. Much debate takes place over lunch, and true friendships are discovered. We serve alcohol during the supper at the residential retreats, but not on the day retreats. Alcohol is only served in the evening with food and is limited because this is a wellness retreat after all!
Women start to feel so great, they realise they no longer need the crutch of alcohol, which only exacerbates symptoms. We cater for Vegetarians and those on plant based diets. The option of Fish and Chicken are offered as an addition at our Suppers during the residential retreats. We never go without something sweet, and Sabrina, The Menopause Chef, comes up with gorgeous sweet recipes that not only taste wonderful but are good for us too!
After lunch, we meet the Nurse. This session is informative but fun. Our nurses have menopause training and an acute understanding of how you might be feeling, as well as knowledge following NICE guidelines about what is available as treatments, the myths about HRT, and what actually happens to our bodies physically during this time. We feel it is really important to understand the physiology of menopause as well as the symptoms. Why do we get symptoms anyway!? All will be revealed.
The last session of the day is with our qualified and experienced psychotherapists. This is the time you will better understand the psychology of menopause, what happens to the brain, why we experience tremendous anxiety and what we can do to help ourselves. The Psychotherapist will show the ladies techniques that are powerful and long lasting that they can continue to use at home. By the end of the day, women feel boosted, in charge, enlightened and reinvigorated. Ultimately, empowered to make the right choices for them!
What extra things does a two day retreat involve?
Everything that the one-day retreats offers however, imagine it becoming a level two! Which basically means more time to discover, learn and enjoy the experts. Doubling up the sessions, means that inevitably people will learn more and build that trust and relationship with the same experts who carry through into day-two. It would be like having a longer session with your therapist and a mini-break and the best bit is that it is just about you!
Some women may want to experience the 1-Day first, then re-book for a 2-Day perhaps even at another retreat? I think that might be what I would like to do. Though our programme is the same at all venues, the personalities and hosts vary. But no matter where you go, the feeling of sisterhood and comradery will be the same - very powerful warm and inviting.
Nutrition seems to be a big part of the day, why is it important to you to educate menopausal women about their diets?
Nutrition is vital. The body and the ageing process understands that the hormone for making babies is no longer required. Estrogen or oestrogen (same hormone, with 2 spellings) is still required for strong bones and good health. We explore with the Nurse what the hormone actually does for us biologically. We must get it from elsewhere, and the most effective way is through our diet.
Menopause for the modern woman is still evolving as we (humans) are still evolving, don’t forget it really was not that long ago that the average life expectancy was 35-45! Hundreds of years ago we just did not live to see menopause, so we have to adapt. Humans have only existed for a couple of hundred thousand years, so perhaps the body still needs to make changes as we age, and live much longer.
How can psychology sessions help with menopausal symptoms?
Mental health is a subject very close to my heart. My father was treated for bipolar and borderline schizophrenia, so I grew up acutely aware of mental health issues and perhaps witnessed a few things that I shouldn’t have at a tender age. However, it made me so aware and aged 15 as a struggling hormonal teenager, I made a pledge to myself to always look after my mental self. My daughter sadly was also diagnosed with bipolar aged 19. But now, 10 years later is dealing with it very well, and without medication.
I had my own very successful private practice for 12 years, and treated hundreds of people, including some well-known celebs over the years. It never ceases to amaze me how the mind can overcome physical issues. Often it is poor mental health that creates poor physical health because we are all one whole being, body mind and soul!
I treated many women with symptoms of menopause over the years and once they felt more in control again, symptoms like flushes, brain fog and lack of libido soon passed. And by the way, we go off sex for a reason, we are not making babies any more. But we can still enjoy recreational and intimate times with our partners without the need for any penetration that may cause discomfort. Many women experience pain during sex. Often you just have to think outside the box (pardon the pun). When the mind is in a better place, libido does come back for many, especially in a loving relationship. Relationships are under strain during menopause and that is why talking about your feelings is so important, and for the days when you are feeling very low, and you really do not want to talk, or in a snappy mood, I invented the Sisterhood Brooch!
What advice would you give to women struggling to make time for themselves? What can they change to incorporate some more Me Time?
Block out the time in advance in the diary, it is the only way! Use a physical lovely hand written diary, not an online one where you have to remember passwords. Buy a gorgeous looking diary just for you, and use it, making a note of something lovely just for yourself each day. Could just be a bubble bath, or a walk in the woods, so long as it is something you enjoy that takes you away from the humdrum.
What does Me Time look like for you?
I have to admit that my me time is quite limited as I am busy with the business most days. However, I do love being in the garden, I love plants, walking the dog, and cooking. I absolutely know when to stop and just take some time for me. It doesn’t matter what you are doing if you are enjoying it!
My children are missing the lavish long lunches we once had, so I have promised to re-introduce them soon. Keith and I have 6 grown up children between us and most with partners, so we often have everyone over, food is always a feature, as too are board games!
I also try to spend as much time as I can with my Mum who is nearly 90. She has recently been diagnosed with dementia, and so needs support from all of us. But I use all my psychological influence to ensure she stays chirpy and enjoys each day we spend together. Our ‘olds’ are often a consideration during menopause, as we stop becoming so responsible for children, we now have to consider our aging parents. I only have one left, and I make the most of every day. I often take great pleasure out of listening to her tell me all about life as a child, when she grew up in Worcestershire amongst market gardeners! Perhaps that is where my natural green-fingers came from, you will often find me outside, I love any green space.
What are the greatest successes you’ve had since starting Fountain Retreats?
The franchisees are all going through their own menopausal journey, and it has always been so exciting to meet every new franchisee, hear her story, and then watch her experience changes for the better, just through the involvement of a business that is so focused on women’s health. It is heart-warming to watch.
My other feeling of pride is how many men we have been approached by who want to be involved either through investment or just to help in some way. It is often assumed that men do not want to understand, but in my experience they really do want to help women that they love and that’s why education for men is crucial too. We have just launched our Menopause Cookery Schools through our Sister company The Menopause Chef, and we actively invite couples to attend the classes together. I hope this will prove to be another hit.
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