Friday, February 29, 2008

Self Care for Menopausal Babes

originally published on Musemother, Tuesday, May 08, 2007

If you are menopausal or peri-menopausal, as so many of my friends and acquaintances are realizing they are, you have been or will soon be confronted by some form of fatigue - either from insomnia, night sweats or nurturer burn-out. Perhaps you are working as a teacher, nurse, secretary or in some other helping profession. Perhaps you have full-time work at home, or perhaps you have an ailing parent you are caring for as well as your children.

The most important Mother's Week (I've just extended it from one day to one week!) message is the one I received in my in-box this morning from Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom and Mother-Daughter Wisdom. I think it's so important I'm passing along an excerpt to you:

"One of the biggest challenges women face is learning how to care for themselves while caring for others. It requires a delicate balance between what often feels like polar opposites. I’ve spent a lifetime studying self-care. And I’ve come to the conclusion that good self-care is the single most important aspect of our health, period. The programming of self-sacrifice leads ultimately to health-destroying sentiments, such as guilt, resentment, anger, and other emotions linked to high levels of stress hormones. Self-sacrifice feels wrong to us on a soul level—our spirit gravitates naturally to joy and happiness. That’s why self-sacrifice ultimately makes us sick and keeps us stuck in dead-end situations."
Dr. Christiane Northrup's e-health newsletter excerpt

Unforunately some of us have been programmed to be good girls, and give selflessly to others without thinking about ourselves. Sometimes it takes a major health challenge, like burn-out or chronic fatigue syndrome or breast cancer, to make us stop and take a look at how we are emptying our feminine container, giving our energy away, and losing our joy.

My wake-up call was a broken leg, and a small cyst in my left breast (which turned out to be filled with a thick creamy substance!) The message took me a while to figure out - but while I was lying in bed with a cast, I had time to think and reflect. I also had time to listen to how my husband was dealing with a busy household, and time to talk with him in the evening about my feelings. I learned I had to speak up and ask for what I wanted (help with kids, help in household), especially in the sensitive area of sexual pleasure. I learned a lot of things.

I learned I was not superwoman, and could not do it all alone.

I learned that nobody else wanted me to be self-sacrificing anyway.

I learned through therapy (after my father passed away and more emotions came up) that I had always felt I wasn't 'enough', not good enough, not pretty enough, etc. And that I overworked myself out of needing to feel worthy. I had a hard time saying no to volunteer jobs for instance, especially if they had a nice title attached like 'coordinator' or 'vice-president'. My self-worth was lower than I imagined. And I was keeping myself too busy to wonder why I felt depressed, stressed and over-extended.

It's a long slow process towards self-honesty, and learning to be true to myself. On the road, I am learning how making myself invulnerable cuts me off from feeling close to people. How controlling others is a technique that used to work for me in my dysfunctional childhood home, but how it doesn't work with my own family now. How pushing myself beyond my comfortable limits makes me end up going over the edge and useless to those who rely on me.

Self-care involves dumping a lot of old baggage that doesn't serve me anymore. Guilt, resentment, anger and stress were making me a very cranky person. That's not the woman I want to be. Menopause has been a gift for me, in that it has forced me to pause and reflect, and dig deep. In that descent into murky waters, I have found some healing. I have begun to accept myself, know my limits better.

I hope you will not wait until something breaks. Heed the warning signs, the tension in your neck and shoulders, the explosive anger and PMS, the extreme fatigue and insomnia, and take action. Slow down. Be kinder to yourself, and that will increase your capacity for kindness to others. If you lose yourself, or your health, you can't help anyone anyway.

One way you can do this is to be mindful of your own body rhythms. See the Women's Wisdom blog (link on the left) for Seven Tips for body guidance.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Resources for Menopausal women

I have bought two new books today, about menopause.

The first is The Secret Wisdom of a Woman's Body (about aging fearlessly and listening to the body's signals), by Pat Samples. A title I wish I could have dreamt up myself!

The second is Our Bodies Ourselves, Menopause from the The Boston Women's health Book collective. This book is like a dictionary, chock full of the latest studies, myth busting, pro-wisdom but not anti-medical establishment, yet anti-medicalization of menopause.

There is too much to quote, but one chapter that screamed at me is Emotional Well Being and Managing Stress (my personal bugaboo these days). While menopause may be a challenging time emotionally, it is also the best time of our lives! If our health is good, our systems of support, adequate income, then, yes it can be wonderfully liberating to hit menopause.

Some of us, however, have the stress response on automatic overload. It never turns off. Calming rituals like yoga, drumming, dance and meditation have been around for thousands of years and help us relax.
"eliciting the relaxation response" covers many different techniques, like mini breaks and mindfulness, contemplation and acceptance.

Here's some helpful info:

Deep breathing techniques can reduce the intensity of hot flashes - myth or reality?

"Reality: researchers have found relaxation techniques involving progressive muscle relation and deep breathing exercises reduced self-reported hot flashes by about 50 percent." now that's worth looking into.

"Taking care of ourselves is key. There is a difference between selfishness and self-care. Self-care means moving away from the belief that your needs come last. It means caring enough about yourself to prioritize those activities that will promote your own health: taking time for socializing, fore relaxation, and for embracing what is meaningful to you. Many of us lead busy lives, and the hours of the day evaporate. We reap many benefits when we realize that scheduling time for ourselves is essential to our health."

So there you have it - two more books for your bedside reading table. A good friend of mine called today about her doctor telling her that at age 46 she was too young to be in peri-menopause! So much misinformation out there. So check out the website, and this Our Bodies Ourselves, for correct medical advice and encouragement.

and see you back from March break, March 8

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Where is the deep feminine space?

Rereading my own entries about the masculine and animus on this and wisdomforwomen blog, it strikes me that my dis-ease with myself is really about missing the feminine space, the deep sense of groundedness that comes from being still, alone, either reading or writing or meditating, the best times for me are when I am alone.

I have always been a loner, and a social animal too. Not a complete introvert, but as menopause has gradually acclimatized me to my own nature, I realize I need time alone to be well.

Lately I have been overbusy with some volunteer work that involved lots of computer time, emails and phone calls, deadlines, kind of an HR position. It nourished and fed part of me, because it was a good cause. Helping spread a message of peace in the world. But somewhere in the busyness, I lost my own peace, my own depth or root of stillness. Part of me loves to be busy, to feel important, to have a 'job' to do besides being mom, cook, and laundry person.

The challenge for me is always to find balance: time to write vs time to be 'out there' doing stuff, keeping the wheels in motion.

So I've stepped down from my post, which had turned into a part-time job, timewise. And here I am back on my blog, back with my books, reading The Dance of the Dissident Daughter - which just popped up on my Amazon screen one day as a book I might like to buy. Sue Monk Kidd, the author of The Secret Life of Bees, one of my favourite novels, describes her own journey from daughter of a Christian, patriarchal mind-set to woman on a journey to find the sacred feminine.

All my readings these days tend to be about the need for contact with the deep feminine, silent space. The space of nothing, in my life. Recently I dreamt that I checked myself into a hotel and just slept for a few days.

Fighting off a flu bug, everyone around me is hacking and coughing and losing their voice (even in my Singing Valentine's quartet group). Trying to lay low and beat off the illness that stalks me. I find myself alone, at home, on a very snowy day, and happy to have a day off.

I remind myself, I don't need to get sick to have a day off. It reminds me of the winter I broke my knee skiing, and got to lie in bed for a few weeks. Some times the best moments were just lying there at dusk, watching the sun set in the field behind my house, out the window, and feeling a surge of life energy up the middle of my body, just humming. And I want to be held by that hum, to be surrounded by that comfort and feel connected to my source.

Dizzy with busyness, I stop. I put my feet up. (my kids are teens and away in school all day, so this is allowed, no toddlers pulling at my jeans anymore, saying, pick my up mommy). Menopause. Pausing into stillness, to find the deep source within. The feminine or yin place, the openness to nothing, to emptiness, to stillness.

This is nourishing my soul right now.

Make yourself a short retreat today, or this week. Hibernate with the bears, and return to the source. Rest, retreat and renew, however you can, even if it's while your son or daughter makes a play house around you with blankets. Snuggle down, and in. Read stories, walk in the snow, make snow angels. Be simple.

thanking the universe for this gift,

Friday, February 1, 2008

Cut off from her depths

"It is difficult in life to find the Feminine Realm. The drawing of the water, the gathering of the grains no longer are performed under an open sky. ...The sense of her task as consecrated and necessary to the cosmos is gone. And I fear for women yet to come. For under the pressures of modern life, time has become compressed. The feminine sense of time has all but disappeared. Yet woman cannot exist with only a linear awareness of time, for her sense of sacred Kairos time is the precious essene of life. there must be time enough for her to experience the sacredness within each moment and within herself...." Judith Duerk, I sit listening to the wind (also author of Circle of Stones)

According to Duerk, we have modeled ourselves on the Masculine, but the heroic task/journey of the Masculine can not provide what a woman needs to complete the journey of the conscious and devleoped Feminine.....

"When a woman uses her energy only to reinforce what is outside of herself, she becomes cut off from her depths. her own feelings and life values become inaccessible to her. She molds herself to external standards and loses touch with her individuality. She is cut off from all that is uniquely her own that could nourish her and those around her, cut off from the creative new answers so badly need in the world today.

Cut off from her deeper sense of life, from the wisdom of her own unconscious, she lives in an arid approvable way. and her depths become enraged! the whole wellspring of womanly creativity within her is furious for not being tapped. and the greater the individuality and insight that have been dammed up, the greater the rage!

A woman speaks: My grandmother, my mother and me...only allowed to smile and agree. Only allowed to affirm what was initiated around us, never allowed ourselves to initiate.

If grandmother tried to disagree, she became hysterical. And mother swung between hysteria and opinionated animus, with no grounded Feminine ego between them. She was enraged that the men could never hear what she was unable to say.

All those generations of women in my lineage using our energy in service to a system that had so litle tolerance for Feminine feelings and values. Caught amidst all this, I was depressed and cut off from myself, with no energy for the causes I had believe in only haf a year before. then my judging animus did its foul double-play, first dmaining me for my depression, than blaming me for having served so long what had not served me."

I Sit Listening to the Wind, Judith Duerk

I am living this battle with the animus this week, judging myself harshly, striving to compete, prepare, be on time, get things done, and running steamroller over my own feelings, tiredness, need for quiet time.

Finally, today, I opened this book, and felt a tear trickle down on reading the first opening paragraphs. yes, my body is saying, you have been tricked into this harsh attitude of performance and perfectionism, and you whip yourself, because you put no faith in your own feelings, emotions, or heart side. Focused on doing instead of being, you hurt yourself, and the neck acts up. Freezes up, cramps and gets so sore, I have to quit working and rest.....

ah, rest. It's a snow day today, go back to the circle of light under the lamp, the comfy gold suede chair, and the warmth of a puppy lying beside you, relax and read, and dream your own thoughts.....



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