Find Your Balance Through The Midlife Transformation
All my life I’ve weighed each decision with utmost care – scrutinizing each pro and con.
I’m always trying to balance the left-brained, practical, list-making side of myself against the rule-flouting, creative, free-flowing side.
I spent way too many years emphasizing the former, because let’s face it – our western society rewards that illusion of productivity.
But I’ve recently begun to wonder: at what cost?
As this wave of change begins to rise inside of me –this gift that the menopausal midlife passage brings – all that I once knew and understood is up for reevaluation.
How productive am I really when I refuse to make time to play with colored pencils, or to craft a collage – in favor of clearing out my in-box?
Is it possible I may be stifling a brilliant new idea, a vision for action that would take me closer to my true goals?
Am I waving away the muse? How can she find me when I’m head-down at the desk ticking off to-dos?
And really, where is the balance there?
Maybe Balance Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be
Self-help literature abounds with platitudes and advice about balance: living a balanced life, work-life balance, eating a balanced diet, etc., etc.
And there’s nothing inherently wrong with harmonizing these elements of our lives – unless it becomes yet another thing to beat yourself up about.
How about if true balance is not about cracking a whip and barking at yourself about getting up earlier so you can fit in your exercise program, but rather about taking a kinder approach?
What if balance is not about lamenting the lack of it in your life? What if it just means allowing in some self-love so our own natural balancing mechanisms can do their thing, unhindered?
For a couple of days now I’ve been thinking about how balance relates to the profound brain and body shifts that a woman experiences at midlife (and men probably get a bit of this too!) These hormone-driven shifts toss us right out of the balance we’ve so carefully cultivated throughout the fertile years.
And suddenly we’re angst-ridden and discombobulated and forgetful – we’ve lost our mooring. How can we get back, we wonder?
The truth is – there is no way back. There’s only all that teetering and tottering, clambering through the unfamiliar brush, kind of like baby caterpillars, until we can emerge reinvented.
Are you feeling it yet?
Most women spend their ‘mothering’ years (whether raising kids or not) building up a huge imbalance around giving to others vs. giving to self. If it’s not selflessly sacrificing for the family, it’s often in a work setting or in another part of your life.
Self gets the short shrift.
Self is coming to call when those hormones light up at perimenopause. Self is starting to wave a flag, jump up and down, getting a little hoarse from yelling for our attention.
And still some of us ignore. We know this path of giving, of being selfless, of ignoring our own little twinges and needs And we know the old pathways of soothing that niggling discomfort – maybe it’s shopping , maybe it’s comfort food, maybe it’s your favorite little pill or cocktail.
It feels like we’re getting back to balance.
But damn, those little soothers used to work so much better. They did their job to silence that shouting voice.
Now – not so much. Now something has changed. And that something is you.
They don’t call this shit The Change for nothing.
We’re breaking open, we’re reforming. That balance gets awfully elusive as we walk this tightrope through this passage to the wisdom years.
Here are a few things I’ve lately learned about managing this teeter tottering time of life.
1) The ’emotion’ of irritation is a sign of suppressed anger. It’s like a roaring inside of you that you tune down to a dull rumble. That’s why it lasts and lasts, especially during PMS.
Most of us were taught to be polite, well-behaved “good girls.” We don’t get to let that roaring goddess out, she’s too mighty, too angry, she’ll upset that applecart of balance way too much.
And so…irritation. PMS. Feeling vaguely (or not so vaguely) like shit for two weeks out of every month. We buy into the common agreement that it’s just hormones, PMS, our lot in life as women.
Turns out that women who stuff their anger suffer far more intense PMS symptoms than their sisters who let out their roar now and then. That’s what Dr. Christiane Northrup, who authored The Wisdom of Menopause and who has spent her medical career studying the mind/body connection, discovered.
And it makes a heck of a lot of sense.
And then – here comes perimenopause! That roaring gets more rumbly, may even manifest as a cyst, high blood pressure or other imbalance. Big changes are a’coming.
If we don’t open to the transformative nature of this passage, if we cling to the familiar, comfortable patterns, we can kiss the idea of vibrant wellness goodbye.
Next time you’re apologizing for ‘just being a little grouchy,’ pay some attention. Are you leaving something unsaid? Why?
It’s time to stop with the suffering in silence, stop with the apologizing for your irritability, your grouchiness – and just let that roar out. A big cleansing, angry roar.
Then you get to feel good instead of spending days fighting the urge to snap at anyone who looks at you sideways.
Oh, and if you haven’t made it to perimenopause yet – take it from a professional anger-stuffer! The sooner you can let this out, the smoother the coming ride will be!
2) Attitude is way more effective as a disease preventative (think cysts, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure) than any amount of dietary adjustments and supplements.
Not to say that it’s okay to subsist on drive-in food as long as you stay smiling. But the opposite holds true. If you follow a rigidly healthy diet, and forget to allow some fun – you might be compromising your health potential just as much as your junk-eating counterparts.
But how to get to that attitude adjustment?
Sure you can self-medicate to mask the pain with drugs, drinks and other crutches. But we’re talking about making an adjustment so you can feel alive, radiant, vibrantly healthy.
One answer is to learn self-compassion, find the way to look in the mirror and say “I love you,” and really mean it. This may sound impossible (at least it sometimes does to me!). Especially the part about loving all those icky and crummy bits about your personality, your body, your past actions.
Yet study after study shows that the people who can love and forgive themselves enjoy renewed and vibrant health – even curing themselves of various diseases that had stumped the doctors.
And guess what? The menopausal hormonal surges can actually facilitate a radical change in your own patterns. They can assist you in your intention to love your big bad self!
And that leads us to…
3) Although those hormone shifts seriously mess with our carefully set up equilibrium in life, they also bring a menopausal gift: they can literally change our brain chemistry, helping us to finally heal from past trauma or to make huge leaps.
Even those patterns that seem so ingrained in your life it’s like they’re carved in stone – even those can change with the help of menopause-induced shifts in our brains. But it does take some energy and focus.
Certain areas of our brains (amygdala and hippocampus for those of you who are biology-minded) are particularly key for encoding and retrieving memories. These exact areas are big open receptors for estrogen, progesterone and other hormones that start doing their crazy dance during the perimenopausal transition.
Now this is not a big fun party – take my word for it.
During this time old hurts and losses may suddenly be up, slapping you right in the face. And thing is – a lot of those old avoidance techniques just aren’t working anymore! This can seem totally screwed at first, and you may be tempted to find a new way to hide.
Because all this hormone/brain action is exactly what can force you to walk through that transformative fire – and result in some deep and profound healing.
The type of healing that’s necessary to move forward to this next phase of life with grace, joy and exhilaration.
So, hold on sisters – the walls are shaking, I know it. But a new sort of balance and ease lies on the other side.
I can’t say when you’ll get there. Crap, I don’t know when I’ll get there.
I do know that the more I resist the worse it gets. And yet when I open up, when I allow those emotions to bubble up and out of me, when I say “YES!” to that voice inside my heart – that’s when I get closer to this more grounded sense of harmony and balance.
Are you feeling any of this? Is balance eluding you more than ever at midlife? Or have you discovered a way to a healthier balance? Let’s share some wisdom here in the comments or over on the Facebook Page.
See you there!