Menopause hacks

These are things that helped me get through to menopause. Think of it as transforming from a caterpillar to a butterfly – the old rules don’t work anymore. Everything is changing, and it gives you a chance to re-invent yourself into a new and better you. Meanwhile, the process can be quite difficult with the hot flashes and night sweats.

Half-blanket. Have the heavier covering on your legs, and a lighter covering on your torso.

Lower the thermostat in your house when you sleep.

Make art. You are transitioning from being physically creative – you can no longer have babies. But the need to be creative is still there. Making art on a regular basis (ideally, daily) is very helpful. Don’t have an agenda – crayons and fingerpainting works very well. Plus, art helps you process the new feelings and emotions that you are experiencing. It is essentially a new language.

Soy milk. I drink organic vanilla soy milk, (the store brand from Publix is great) every evening. I prefer mine room temperature. Don’t think it is going to taste like milk. It doesn’t. You’ll get used to it about the time you notice you’re feeling better. It is all a choice.

Black Cohosh. Consult with your doctor first. This can be harmful if you have high blood pressure or heart problems. For me, I ended up taking 40 mg doses of it, three times a day.

Avoid caffeine, meat, sugar, processed and/or fried foods. Cook fresh foods from scratch. Get organic as much as possible. Spicy foods make things worse. Drink lots of water. Daily exercise – 20 minutes of walking. Water aerobics is a godsend.

Yoga. Take some classes first to learn how to do it right, then you can do it every day at your house.

Learn to set boundaries. Now is a time to learn to tell people No. See my “resources” section for book lists – under “survival”.

Daily journaling. This does not have to be public in blog form, but it can if that helps you stick to it. I write every day in a paper journal, and most every day in the blog. Sometimes what I write in the paper journal ends up in the blog, sometimes it is private.

Crone

I’m celebrating the fact that I’m now a crone. Not an old, withered, ugly woman. Crone in the sense of a elder woman of the tribe. Crone in the sense that I’ve successfully navigated “the Change”.

We don’t talk a lot about our bodies in this culture, and we certainly don’t talk a lot about our emotions. Well, sure, we talk about our bodies in the sense that we say we are too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny – we never are just right. Goldilocks would be right at home in our society, where the majority of things aren’t enough. We talk about the external parts of our bodies, but nothing about what really matters. We certainly don’t talk about menopause or menstruation.

Some cultures have such taboos about the natural rhythms of women’s bodies that they force women to behave differently when they are menstruating. Men won’t touch them, even to shake hands. This includes their husbands. If they are married, they sleep in separate beds during that time. Some societies force young girls to stop going to school the minute they hit puberty. Some are forced to marry so that they don’t become pregnant without the benefit of a man to support them. Somehow they forget that it was a “man” who would have gotten the unmarried girl pregnant in the first place. But that is a post for another day.

No, we don’t talk about menstruation at all. We call it by other names – “Aunt Flo is visiting”, “The Curse”, “my monthly visitor”… the list of euphemisms is endless. We don’t want to talk about it because we don’t want to deal with it. We’d like it to just go away.

Except we don’t know what to do when it starts going away, either. We start to think that something is wrong. Some women try to medicate it, by tricking their bodies with artificial hormones. Some women will get a hysterectomy to stop having to deal with it at all. The only thing is that the cessation of periods is natural. It isn’t a disease. It doesn’t have to be treated with medicine.

But, we are part of a culture that doesn’t like change, and it doesn’t like any sign of getting older. Women dye their hair rather than let their silver crown shine. We’ll get botox injections rather than have wrinkles. We’ll put powder on our faces to fill in lines. We hide the facts of time. In our desperate efforts to keep everything the same, we miss the valuable gifts that change can offer us.

Menopause is the complete cessation of periods. A woman is not in menopause until she has not had a period for a year. In the years before that, she is in perimenopause, where the body is adjusting to the changes.

I like to think of is as being similar to a caterpillar evolving into a butterfly.

It really is more than just a physical change. It is a transformation. The more I tried to hold on to old ways of being, the harder it was. I am grateful for drums, writing, painting and collage for being the tools I used to navigate the new terrain. I suspect learning to cook, eating better, and exercising helped a lot too.

I didn’t have a guide for this journey. My mother died when I was 25, and her response to dealing with this life event was to not deal with it. She took hormones, so she didn’t have any of the sensations that come along with this stage in life.

Note that I said “sensations”, not “symptoms”. “Symptoms” indicates disease. Do we think of puberty as a disease? Do we try to treat it with drugs? No. We get through it, transforming from one part of our lives to another. Our “growing pains” are seen as normal when we are young, but abnormal, even pathological, when we are older.

Changing into a crone is like trying to walk across a quickly moving stream. The steps are not easily visible, and they can be treacherous. Sometimes you have to stand still for a while to see what the next step is. Sometimes you have to take a different path than you intended. The terrain is constantly shifting and uncertain. The goal is to get to the other side safely. The trick is that the only way to do that is to become someone else.

I learned that certain foods I always loved were suddenly bad for me. Foods that caused me joy now turn me into a raging meanie. I learned that other foods that I never liked are now very tasty. I learned that my body and my spirit work much better the more fresh vegetables I eat, rather than processed or fried foods. I learned that I need a lot less meat than society tells me I do. I learned that a strictly vegetarian diet isn’t for me.

I learned that I need less sleep. Related to that, I learned that if I don’t make time to write, the ideas will well up inside me and force me to get up to write them down. I learned that I have to make time to be creative every day.

The creative energy is the main part here. The body is no longer able to create – to reproduce. But that need to create is still there. That force is just transforming into a different form. Consider water – it is still the same atoms whether it is ice, steam, or water. But it looks and acts different in these different states.

The trick about becoming a crone is that it is your path, and you must navigate it yourself. I celebrate it, because it was a chance to reinvent, rediscover who I am.

It reminds me of when I went to college. I initially went to college in a different state than I had grown up in. Nobody knew me there. I had the opportunity to be anybody I wanted. I chose to be myself.

The time right before menopause gives you that same opportunity. Who are you? Who are you really? What do you want to be when you grow up? Is what you are doing now leading towards or away from that goal? Are the things you are doing with your time supporting or taking away from who you are called to be? If not, why not?

Use this time as an opportunity to become the person you truly are, rather than the person you’ve always been told you were. Use this time to reexamine everything – hobbies, job, relationships… Do they build up, or tear down?

This is your path. Celebrate it.

Menopause and art

Menopause is a time of shifts and changes. It is a time where you are no longer physically able to be creative. And by creative, I mean procreative – you are no longer able to produce a baby. But the energy and desire to create is still part of being human, and still needs to be used. It just needs a different outlet.

We are the physical vessels through which God is revealed and works in this world. God gives us the energy and we provide the shape. We are created to be co-Creators with God.

When you go through menopause your ability to create changes and you have to navigate these unusual waters. I like to think about how a caterpillar knows what to do when it becomes a butterfly. Who tells it how to fly? How does it know how to move with these new legs? Everything is different and strange – yet it is normal. It isn’t like it was, but it is like it should be. Perhaps we forget that menopause isn’t a disease. We are transforming into something else. It doesn’t herald the end of life but the beginning of a whole new one.

Being creative saved me and taught me. Art is what saved me when my back hurt. Even though I had to hunch over my desk in order to make my art, somehow the slipped disc in my back no longer hurt.

I found this to be true with doing art now as well. The need isn’t as immediate, but rather it is cumulative. Now, doing art in some form every day centers and focuses me. When my mind was filled with too many ideas, writing helped me slow things down enough that I could think. Painting and making collage at least twice a week has given me a way to create and express myself that don’t use words. Drumming has restored my rhythm.

It took a while to learn how to navigate with these new wings. I didn’t have a guide. Mom died long before she thought about telling me how to “do” menopause. Even if she was alive now, I doubt she’d talk about this. Somehow the reality of being in a physical body was something that she just didn’t talk about. Perhaps being a person was too personal.

Part of my learning was done the hard way. There were a lot of nights where I didn’t get enough sleep, and days where I felt I was going to melt. Hot flashes aren’t a “Western construct” as one person (younger) told me. They are a reality. They aren’t in my mind. I didn’t expect them to happen so soon – so it certainly wasn’t something that I manifested. I’ll concede that perhaps hot flashes are a result of the Western lifestyle (eat whatever you want, don’t exercise).

Some of what I did was to get up when I couldn’t sleep. I would wake, hot in body and mind. Instead of staying in bed, I decided to use that energy. I didn’t want to disturb my husband or concern him though, so I didn’t get all the way up. I moved to another room and turned on one small light. I sat on a recliner in mostly darkness and wrote in my journal or in my Kindle. Some of what I wrote became this blog. Often I’d return to bed, having “burned off” that heat – yet I’d produced something useful with it.

I also started the practice of getting ready to go to work a little earlier. I made time every morning to do something artistic – watercolor pencil drawing, painting, collage, or my new “fortunate stamps” pieces. This took just 20 minutes in the morning, but it has been enough to help me immeasurably. I really notice when I don’t make time to do it. I’m starting to think of making art as a multi-vitamin. It strengthens and protects me.

I’m using this energy I’m finding to take new classes and discover what I want to do “when I grow up”. The coasting I was doing during my middle ages has changed. I no longer want to drift through life. I am trying to play it safe and be bold at the same time, so there is some tension there. I keep taking classes in helping people communicate with each other. There is something about peacemaking and leveling the playing field all rolled up together. My tutoring is factoring into this as well.

Menopause is a chance to discover new wings. It is a time to assess priorities. It is a shift of energy. It isn’t the end – but it is a reminder that life isn’t permanent. For me, creating has been a way to feel like I’m making a difference, that my existence matters. Deep down, that is the reason behind most human activity, according to Matthew Fox in his book “Creativity”. Properly channeled, it results in greatness.

On salamanders – part one. (The heat is on.)

I have a tattoo of a salamander on my right shoulder. I got it probably five years ago. It is specifically a Yonahlassee salamander. They only are found on Grandfather Mountain, which is in North Carolina. There are bluets surrounding it, and they grow on Grandfather Mountain in May. That is where my husband and I spent our honeymoon, and when we got married. It is a reminder, and a promise. It is a marker of the past and of the future. But there is even more to it.

I’ve loved the idea of salamander for many years. I was in a medieval re-enactment group and used the salamander as the animal on my device. I guess you could say it is my totem. The salamander may not look scary or fierce, but there are hidden strengths to it. The salamander was a medieval Christian symbol of “strength through adversity” because they thought it walked through fire. They would notice that salamanders would come out of a forest that was on fire, and they would often come out very late after the fire started. They wouldn’t come running out at the beginning of the fire like the rest of the animals did. They also would notice salamanders coming out of a log that had been set on fire in a fireplace, so they also thought that salamanders were born from fire.

Now, science wasn’t a strong suit for medieval Christians. In reality, salamanders sleep a lot of time in rotting logs. They love the moisture and the quiet, and how safe they are. They use the logs to hide from enemies because they can’t be seen in there. So when there is a forest fire, they are often the last to know. They are curled up all snug in that log and they get warm when the fire is going full force. They escape the fire late because they are aware of it late. They can’t exactly run because they have really short legs. I’m sure that a lot of salamanders die trying to escape the forest fire. But, they do have really moist skin so they have a small level of protection from heat.

But the symbolism remains.

I like the idea of them because they are very small but they survive. They make it through the storm. They endure. In the midst of something bad, they don’t run away. I’m reminded of the Hindu image of God called Ganesh. Ganesh has the attributes of an elephant. Instead of walking around obstacles, he walks through them.

Somewhere in the middle of last night I was up again because I was too hot. Middle age will do that to you if you are female. The heat wakes me up. I’ve learned to just get up for a little bit and cool down. These days I write during this time. It is a quiet enough activity that doesn’t wake my husband up or get me so engaged that I can’t go back to sleep. Plus, writing helps get the words out of my head.

In the middle of writing last night I realized that the salamander is a good symbol for this time too. It walks through fire. This fire of perimenopause is pretty annoying, but instead of seeing it as a bad thing, I can use it as a chance to transform myself. I can see it as a sign that I am changing, and becoming a wise woman. This time is a time of growth, of shedding my old self and growing into my new self. Or maybe I need to think of it as the self that was always there, just hidden beneath layers of stuff that was put on me. It is an opportunity to strip down and make a leaner, faster, better me.

I’m thinking of it as if I was going on a journey, and I keep finding out that the more I carry, the shorter the distance I can go. The more I get rid of, the faster I am. The stuff to get rid of isn’t just stuff – it is ideas and old ways of thinking. It is relationships that aren’t healthy. It is anything that doesn’t serve, isn’t useful, and doesn’t work anymore.

In fact, some bits never worked in the first place. Some of it is stuff that was given to me – either real, tangible things, or instead they are ways of thinking – that never worked at all but I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know that there were other choices, and that the person giving them to me wasn’t healthy or healing for me. Not all people who say they are teachers or leaders really are. And everything should be tested. Is it true? Is it helpful? Does it work? Does it fit with other things that I know to be true and helpful?

Sometimes the best teacher is to be found in that still small voice, that quiet moment when you have that “ah-ha!” in the middle of the storm, where it all comes together and makes sense.

I’m becoming grateful for the fire inside, the heat that I’m feeling these days. It is waking me up.