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.
Keep it simple, and find your joy :)