Friday, November 29, 2013

Valuing the Feminine and self-care at menopause

"In the Western world, we live in a culture that highly values productivity, assertiveness, aggression, drive, forward motion, which we like to consider as progress and have traditionally aligned with the world of work and the Masculine. We spend our lives with the on button pressed all the time, work work work. Being productive is good, however, we've created imbalance in banishing the day off, the Sabbath or rest day. The softer, inner values of rest, reflection and cultivating the artistic, inner soul qualities have become secondary. But that is exactly what we need as an antidote to being overly busy and exhausted. Getting in touch with the Feminine is an important survival tool for our planet right now, especially at mid-life, especially those in the caring professions. Taking a little down time to rest should not make us feel guilty, but somehow it does." from The Tao of Turning Fifty, Valuing the Feminine. 

Today in the Globe & Mail, two articles caught my eye. One was about a book called Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink. Author Katrina Alcorn writes that the solutions lie not in individual treatments for anxiety and mental illness, but in activism and workplace reform.

The second article, on the Facts & Arguments page, was an essay about a woman whose son is learning about menopause in school: My 12-year-old son’s not ready for menopause is the title. So the Life section of the G&M today is dealing with two of my favourite topics - moms being stressed out and menopause. At mid-life, even stay-at-home moms, who are often crazy-making busy with volunteer projects and house management, let alone chauffeuring their kids, sometimes get into this feeling of being Maxed-Out, or overwhelm.

When I was in the throes of peri-menopause in my forties, (the pre-menopause period last 7-10 years before you are official menopaused, or have no more periods for 13 months), I also had two pre-teens on the cusp of puberty. I remember overwhelm as the major constant feeling at that time, and on some days when I felt myself losing control and shrieking, I wondered if they should put me in a straitjacket. My precocious daughter would write me birthday cards that said, I love you Mommy, in spite of your mood swings. 

Part of the problem was giving myself permission to just nurture myself and care for my own needs. When you're on call 24-7 as a mom, and some moms are on call all day at work as well, the fight or flight hormones are always on too, and you never seem able to relax, get a good night's sleep, or even take 15 minutes to yourself to read the paper without being interrupted. You learn to respond, you learn to take really good care of others - spouses, children, parents, co-workers, siblings, but you tend to put yourself last on the list, skipping meals, rushing around like Chicken Little yelling the sky is falling.

It's a mindset, and a powerful social belief system, that pushes us to go faster and faster, achieve more and more, get more things crossed off the list. We are also highly addicted to the adrenaline rush that comes from stress and deadlines, so when it is calm and quiet, we wonder what to do with ourselves, and feel antsy or anxious. I can't even watch a 30 minute video anymore without checking my emails, going on facebook, constantly distracted and scattered.  It's a real struggle to be centered and calm, even for a quiet hermit like myself whose kids have flown out of the nest and only bug me when they need more cash in their bank accounts. 

So this little book I wrote while going through menopause, was all about Valuing the Feminine, valuing my down time, getting help from whatever modalities I could, osteopathy for sore shoulders, acupuncture, Reiki, reflexology - blessed moments of calm in a turbulent week that were like an Oasis of sanity. Self-care became my mantra, my crutch if you will, my absolute need - because if I cracked up and did need a strait-jacket, who was left to run things and take care of the household?

It really is in our best interest to slow down, do less, revise the list of things to do, cancel a few extra projects, not work until 8 pm, eat regular meals, do yoga and practice some form of centering technique whether tai chi or mediation or chi gong. We cannot serve our children, our jobs or our communities when we are fried, maxed out, and overwhelmed. Mid-life and menopause are forcing you to call a halt to the "too much" syndrome. If it's all too much, scale down. Do less. And if you need extra help from medication, hormonal treatments, herbal remedies, by all means, hunt them down. Find out what works for you. Girl friends are also great allies - just talking to someone about how you feel like you're going crazy can help you find some sanity.

Your sanity is important. Your health and well-being are crucial. You, mid-life mom, are the fulcrum, the center everyone is leaning on for support. You must be solid yourself before you can be there for them. Don't wait until you have a breakdown. Take a break, a serious reflective break, and make room in your life for your Self. If that means having a serious talk with your spouse or boss, please find the courage to go there.

The Tao of Turning Fifty is a workbook with exercises and journaling questions to help you put priorities where they belong. I'm headed to a book club meeting tonight, my first one as an author, and six or seven women will be discussing my book and looking for answers.  I know it will be a rich and rewarding evening.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Prescription for Self-Care: 10 Ingredients

I was brought up the eldest daughter in a fairly happy, Catholic, and wholly dysfunctional household with a brood of seven siblings (and depression and alcoholism in the family tree). Somehow this grew me into a highly functional, overly demanding perfectionist –harder on myself than others, with a strong tendency to morph into the Overarching Boss of Everything once I became a Mom.
My journey through midlife has partly cured me of this kill-joy attitude, by bringing me nose to nose with this miserable character (being with my kids helped too). Perhaps someone else who is just realizing they are their own worst party pooper will read this and gather some hints about how to relax and enjoy life.

10 Ingredients:
1)      Kindness to self and others: no belittlement, bullying or harsh criticism allowed. Not even yelling obscenities at aggressive drives that cut you off! Send them blessings instead and it will boomerang back to you.
2)      Right eating: finding the balance between the desire for pleasure and fun, and real nourishment, what truly feeds your body. There is no one-size fits all in terms of food – experiment, be curious, don’t follow fads. I have gone from extreme vegan to macrobiotic to carnivore before finding the right food for my body and blood sugar (steak ‘n eggs for breakfast)!
3)      Energy In is greater than Energy Out: ask yourself, what drains me and what feeds me? the two best questions to finding balance. If you are exhausted and cranky, how can you be of service to others, let alone yourself?
4)      Peace in the Heart: inner bliss, find the oasis within in stillness, submerse yourself and dive in regularly, every day if not every minute. Life is short. Heaven is now.
5)      Ease: catch up on the sleep deficit induced by all work and no play, take more down time to chill and learn the power of doing nothing: nap often.
6)      Allies and Friends: never underestimate the importance of being seen and heard by friends who love and fully support you, accept you as is.
7)      Gratitude Attitude: appreciation is a wonderful antidote to bitterness. Give thanks, give back, pay it forward. It’s a practice that feels forced at first, but grows your bliss.
8)      Creative expression: let your soul out to play: collage, art, doodling, weaving, singing, dancing, bass lessons, tai chi; include your five senses and get a whole body rush, while being in the Flow, lose track of time, rediscover childlike wonder. A powerful game changer.
9)      Embrace your shadow: accept your faults, withdraw projections onto others (the blame and shame game); practice saying “I am flawed and fabulous”, “I am Enough.
10)   Emotional Wisdom: let tears flow, and laughter ring, give hugs aplenty. Feeling is Healing. And PAIN stands for Pay attention inside Now!

OK, I left out something rather important for a blissful life, Sexual Pleasure and Fulfillment. This one took me a long time to allow (must be all that religion, wanting to be a saint and being celibate for ten years). All I can say is, allow, allow, allow.

There are many elements to happiness, of course: where you work and play, how many friends and companions really see you and ‘get’ you; the health of your children, parents, tragedies that occur, but one thing is for sure: the size of your house, car and bank account are way down on the list.

The worst Bliss Busters? Besides perfectionism, the worst Bliss Buster seems to be the pushing, striving, nose to the grindstone attitude until either burn-out, extreme fatigue or death by heart attack.

How can you find ways to move into more body ease, more supple enjoyment, more light and laughter? Put on a soothing music CD, light a candle and write about this in your journal right now.

If nothing else works, pray for guidance from your angels and guardian spirits. Our purpose on earth is to enjoy, to be in Joy, as much as possible. Besides, self-flagellation is so passé….

Jennifer Boire is a recovering perfectionist and the author of The Tao of Turning Fifty. She leads retreats and Creative Journaling classes for women in the Montreal area. 

first published on MindBodyGreen July 2013