Known by many for her skills as an aromatherapist, Elaine Le Feuvre has had a varied and interesting career. Having lived in South Africa and the UK, she returned to Guernsey in her 30's and worked in Guernsey’s prison service before returning to work as a holistic therapist, working with aromatherapy, reiki and as a qualified cacao facilitator.
Her work as a holistic therapist is linked to her personal healing journey. Having suffered from severe menstrual symptoms since she was a teenager, Elaine had a lightbulb moment several years ago when she discovered she was living with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), a cyclical, hormone-based mood disorder. Driven by a desire to heal, Elaine has an understanding of many holistic and hormonal remedies and has leaned into her own spiritual practices to help her to deal with the physical and emotional toll of PMDD.
She has shared her deeply personal story in the hope that others who may be struggling with hormonal conditions can gain some understanding from her open and honest account of living with PMDD.
Imagery credit: Wild Smile Photography
I feel incredibly lucky to have grown up in beautiful Guernsey. My early memories include long sunny days playing with my little sister on the beach at Port Soif and family nature walks with my adventure loving parents. I was always smelling and crushing leaves and flowers and digging around the garden for worms! So it's perhaps not surprising that I fell in love with aromatherapy and using nature to heal. At the age of 14 my Dad bought me an aromatherapy encyclopaedia and I was hooked. I started blending for family and friends and experimenting with new oils I ordered from the mainland.
It was around this time that I first started my periods. Right from the beginning I had intense period pains that had me bent double on the floor, along with really heavy bleeding, migraines, depression, mood swings alongside soul crushing acne. A trip to the doctor and I was put on the pill, which did clear up my acne and saved me the ‘inconvenience’ of having my period. So, like many women, I just stayed on it for 20 years! I never gave much thought to my body. I just continued on at pace - working, completing two years full time therapy qualifications, powering through exercise classes and working in the busy spa industry for over 10 years.
Although the pill suppressed my bleed, the other symptoms kept increasing in severity; I had such intense visual migraines that I would lose my vision and the mood swings flipped from really low depression and fatigue to very intense and impulsive phases where I would be filled with such energy that I couldn’t sleep. Tired but wired, I would stay up all night then feel exhausted at work the next day, pepping myself up with caffeine in the day and regularly dosing myself with alcohol most nights, causing a continuous negative loop that I just assumed was normal.
During this time I had left Guernsey for South Africa, then moved to the UK for 8 years. At 30, after a painful breakup, I threw caution to the wind and applied for a job as a prison officer back on my island home. I planned to stay only a couple of years and then return to England to be near my family, but as ever, the universe had other ideas. As I both settled well into my new job and re-met and married my amazing husband, who I went to school with.
I am incredibly grateful for my decade-long career at the prison. Working long hours in such a challenging environment really pushed me to my limits and helped me learn so much more about myself and about the complexities of human nature, mental health, addiction and survival.
As an empath and a deeply emotional person, just like the vast majority of my male and female colleagues, I quickly learnt the importance of finding ways to cope with stress. I discovered yoga, weight training, crystals, flower essences and meditation and learnt that being away from my phone and out in nature was an absolute game changer. I would often spend my 30 minute lunch break on my 12 hour shift with my shoes off walking around in the prison grounds and listening to a meditation.
I would make blends for my colleagues and was lovingly - I’m sure! - teased about my hippy approach. But I was never embarrassed to discuss my spiritual path and could already feel the pull of a higher connection. Working in such a ‘masculine’ environment helped me to build my confidence and taught me the importance of saying ‘no’ a lot more and ‘sorry’ a lot less! People pleasing is still something I struggle with, but I can now identify what is a gender role that society has conditioned me with and in all the many safe areas that we, as women, are allowed to be our true, capable, authentic and unapologetic selfs in.
Throughout my thirties my hormonal symptoms flared up again and I thought that it may be a reaction to the pill and so I came off it, but still didn’t track my cycle or discuss any detail with my doctor. My period pains every 28 days were so horrific that I’d strap hot patches to myself and dose myself up with lots of painkillers and sugar to get me through the day. I didn’t feel able to speak to the often male senior officer about it, but it actually wasn’t because it was embarrassing to speak about periods - we spoke quite freely about many things in the prison environment that you probably never would in an office - it was more that it was so inbuilt in me to ‘power through’. I just assumed that all women worked through this amount of pain, so to go home from shift with ‘women’s problems’ when we were always so short staffed felt like leaving my colleagues in the lurch when I was needed most.
But again, this was part of my very big issue. I never thought about my body or what I was putting it through and I regularly worked through my pain, went long hours without food, without drinking water, without going to the toilet even, because I always prioritised my job over my health.
As I entered my 40’s my symptoms dramatically increased. Hot sweats would suddenly overcome me in the middle of the Visits Room and I would feel so embarrassed because I felt everyone was looking at me - which made me flush even more. My hair became thinner, and when I was walking on the lower landings this would be pointed out to me by prisoners on the uppers. The worst time would be the two days before my period when all the emotions of the previous month, that I’d tried so hard to repress, would all come to the surface the very moment I came home from work.
I can recognise now that we are just never taught what to do with these emotions and dark thoughts so I most often chose to ‘numb out’ with alcohol instead of confronting these issues. I would also like to be very clear here and say I place no blame for any of this on my employer. I was regularly offered counselling, particularly after major incidents at the prison, and I had full paid access to a range of mental health options that I just didn't think I needed. Just as it is with the prisoners, you cannot receive help until you both accept that there is a problem and continuously choose the path to healing yourself.
With the encouragement of my husband I went part-time at the prison and began studying back in the holistic field again. As I was researching for my essay on ‘Aromatherapy for Mental Health’ that I came across and article in an Aromatherapy journal about PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) and had what we call in the PMDD community my ‘lightbulb moment’. The article explained that this is a diagnosed mood disorder happening in the brain not a hormonal disorder happening in the body.
The extreme ups and downs of the mood disorder are often misdiagnosed as Bipolar disorder, but the link is that PMDD is entirely cycle led. This took me deep into the research and also on a journey to mapping my own cycle and seeing how my energies waxed and waned like the moon over the course of my cycle was literally life changing. I began to observe and review my emotions, my responses, my symptoms, my needs and how I was (or mostly how I wasn’t!) clearly communicating these with loved ones, family, friends, colleagues or my employer.
Then covid hit and I was made redundant. A process that really makes most people question their worth. I leaned more into my own spiritual practices throughout this difficult time and was guided to set up my therapy business training in the two modalities that had helped to support me most alongside tracking my cycle, qualifying as a cacao facilitator and twice returning to the UK to be initiated into aromatic reiki.
Then my periods moved from their regular 28 days to not turning up for a month or two and I went through a severe ‘dark night of the soul’ questioning my identity, my life path and even though I had a blossoming business now, I felt a deep feeling of being ’not enough’ and then the panic attacks started. They would hit me out of nowhere, my heart racing so fast I thought it would burst, I barely slept and I felt constantly on edge, as if I was letting everyone who loved me down, that I was crap at my job, a crap wife, friend, daughter, sister…everything. As I increased my spiritual connection and tracked by cycle I recognised the suicidal ideation repeating and knew this was as a call to get medical help. Complementary therapies are designed to work alongside medical interventions and counselling and it’s vital to recognise and respect the limitations of holistic therapies too.
I eventually took all my cycle details to my doctor and she was incredible. She listened so patiently as I begged her to let me have a hysterectomy and she calmly let me finish before explaining that that may cause me more issues and this was most likely PMDD meeting the Perimenopause. As PMDD is triggered by hormonal fluctuations, this occurs most erratically in puberty and again at perimenopause. Both times at which my mental and physical health had suffered the most. When our body is no longer making sufficient oestrogen for a regular cycle the symptoms increase, and whilst I was using aromatherapy, reiki and cacao to get to know myself and my spiritual path better, there is no oil or herb that can replace that lost oestrogen.
Having also made such radical lifestyle changes of giving up alcohol, increasing my exercise and improving my nutrition (by no means ‘perfectly’ due to being human and all!) In addition to regular counselling I was prescribed bio identical HRT which I researched and chose to take, and within days my symptoms improved. So for my own menopause journey, adding HRT into my rapidly growing and unique 'support system' was the right choice for me.
Working with my cycle instead of against it has really improved my marriage, my relationships, my fitness, my self-esteem and in moving forwards with my little one woman business. Holding space for others in my therapy offerings is such a huge privilege and I owe it to my clients to monitor and adapt my energetic capacity so that I can continue to follow my soul's calling and help others who are suffering with hormonal issues too.
Working now in a very ‘feminine’ environment has helped me to step back into the joy of trusting the universe, in continually checking in with the heart and in nurturing my creative abilities. I initially found the move from working in such a big team to working entirely alone incredibly difficult, however, I have found most of the holistic community here on the island to be incredibly supportive and kind. Many of my friends have their own businesses, some on the island and some in the UK and working through these incredibly challenging times, both energetically and financially, is so much easier when we are all doing it together. As our client bases so often overlap it's an absolute pleasure to work with my many respected holistic sisters in fun, collaborative workshops to bring even more value and support to our clients.
Working with natural plant medicine and helping other women navigate their hormones to make their own informed medical and holistic choices is now at the forefront of my offerings. I hope that in speaking up about my own journey living with PMDD and Perimenopause will help others have their own ‘lightbulb moments’ so that they can reach out and connect with others and seek the help they need too. I offer in person holistic therapies, online cycle coaching, holistic support circles and am in the process of adding a free library of resources onto my website and my Holistic Red Tent YouTube channel, to help others find and work with their own cycle joy too.
It is my hope for the future that all women will grow up knowing of the magic that is contained within our menstrual cycles, the process of creativity, death and rebirth that occurs each and every month and the empowerment that comes from learning to love and respect our body, mind and soul so that we can step into each new day with energy, clarity and focus.
If you are affected by PMDD or any of the issues in this article you should speak with your GP. Further information on PMDD and other Premenstrual Disorders can be found here. There’s also a selection of support books available at the Guille-Allès library.