Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Middle-aged and proud

People think they're being nice when they try to tell me I'm not middle-aged, but I think they're really trying to tell me they're not middle-aged. People in their 40s and up often protest when I define the 40s as middle-aged, but twenty-six-year-olds don't. They know that if the average American woman lives to her early 80s, then 40 is pretty much the middle of her life.

Ways I proudly bear my middle age-itude:
1. I no longer wear high heels ever, even though I'm a little less than 5 feet, 2 inches tall.
2. I wear bifocals glasses, with the line.
3. I wear dowdy, I-don't-care clothes in public and feel glad when men completely ignore my body as I walk down the street. I'm done with that game.
4. Prune juice every morning!
5. Each year I'm increasingly grateful that I didn't have kids because I do NOT have the patience.

I think my 47th year is going to be great (just completed 46)!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Let's hear it for menopause!

Birthday roses from my husband on July 24th
On Tuesday I turned 46 years old. Americans try to pretend that 46 is still young, but reproductively, there’s no denying that 46 often falls in the middle of one of the biggest shifts in a woman’s life. Puberty marks the beginning of a girl’s ability to conceive and menopause marks the beginning of a woman’s ability to focus on herself and her community in different ways. While menopause is marked by the cessation of the menstrual cycle, there are years leading up to that event that are referred to as perimenopause. It’s this time period I’m focused on.

Menopause brings respect and power
In cultures outside of the U.S. where elders are respected and age is seen as bringing wisdom and dignity, women approach menopause with anticipation. They welcome the end of their childbearing years. Imagine that: welcoming the end of your childbearing years, especially for women who don’t have access to birth control. This is a good thing.

In cultures where menstrual blood is feared, there are many taboos against women of child-bearing age. These are lifted after a woman achieves menopause and sometimes she’s even seen as more equal to men at this point. Often such elders are respected as healers and spiritual wise women.

Also very significant is that in parts of the world where menopause is a positive transformation, women report few if any negative effects. In Japanese there isn’t even a word for “hot flash” except for one that has been appropriated from English. In Mayan culture as well, women report few if any symptoms that correspond with perimenopause. There’s a clear link between how respected elder women are, how positively menopause is seen and how little discomfort woman experience as they move through it.

How the U.S. sees menopause
Sadly, in the U.S. we tend to think of menopause as a painful time during which a woman loses her sexual appeal, her beauty and her value. In the cruelly youth-focused U.S. there is no end to articles and stories about hot flashes, insomnia, joint pain and emotional upset associated with menopause. We Americans focus on ways to minimize the changes of menopause, to treat it and recover from it if it were a disease.

Consider the similar shift that many American men experience. It’s usually called a “mid-life crisis” or maybe “male menopause.” Sometimes this time of change is just looked at as “retirement.” Men shuffle priorities, decide what really matters and face changes that their bodies are going through. Men get just as disoriented and touchy as women do when they re-align major parts of their lives and struggle with health challenges, but retirement and midlife crises in men just aren’t seen as medical disorders the way menopause is. Maybe since men don’t experience a single physical event like women’s cessation of the menstrual cycle, we Americans fool ourselves into thinking that they don’t have a major time of change in their lives.

Ways we can look at menopause
What are some ways American women can move through perimenopause with a positive attitude and minimal symptoms? Considering that we’ve kind of been set up to see menopause as this uncomfortable thing that will leave us ugly and unwanted, here’s one way to go. I don’t need to tell you that there’s a strong correlation between the mind and the body and that stress can have physical symptoms. According to Dr. Christiane Northrup, who has studied menopause for decades and written several books about it, the women who do the best recognize that their physical symptoms are linked to other issues in their lives and they deal with those issues. For instance, a woman who stops and faces the problems causing her insomnia or headaches usually does better at reducing those symptoms than a woman who refuses to look at issues in her life. Accepting perimenopausal symptoms as gifts pointing us towards necessary changes seems critical to making peace with our lives and our bodies. Don’t ignore what’s really bothering you. Face it and you’ll end up in a better place in your life.

Change is good
Think about puberty: loss of control over our bodies, not sure what would happen next, changes that happened quickly. We probably changed our relationships with parents, siblings and friends. Menopause is simply the mirror of that time of change. Maybe your old friends don’t stay as close and you make new friends. Maybe you change the dynamic between you and your parents or family. Maybe you discover new interests and hobbies and let the previous ones fall away. That’s all perfectly natural and if you’re lucky, your loved ones also accept that it’s natural,

Men, please support the women you know as they reconfigure their lives. They will come out better on the other end of the process, but it goes more smoothly if everyone recognizes that change is often for the best. Our experience of menopause depends hugely on how our male family members, friends and partners respond to the women in their lives.

Freed by middle age!
I find perimenopause a very freeing time. For years I’ve felt the relief of no longer needing to look attractive all the time because I’m hoping someone will notice. I'm not as dependent on the opinion of others. When you’re done trying to look young and fertile, or raising children there’s a lot of energy that’s freed up for what YOU want to do. Creative pursuits? Run for office? Start a community garden? Or just wrap yourself in the quiet activities that make you happiest. These are the kinds of things that wait for us on the other side of menopause.

At the age of 46, my perimenopause has started. For years I’ve been feeling physical and emotional changes that are causing me to look carefully at my relationships and what I want in my life. I say let us take our cues from other cultures that value age and know that there’s a whole lifetime to be lived beyond the child-bearing years. Let us start a new American tradition of celebrating menopause as the beginning of a woman’s wisest and most productive years and her freedom from the parts of her life that she has outgrown.

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Shooting" the dog

I guess when my life gets more demanding, my blog posts get shorter. I found out today that the dog needs vitamin B12 supplements, by injection. One shot a week. Guess who's giving the shots because her husband hates needles? Dog ownership just hasn't gone smoothly for us.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Driving me to drink

After the dog exploded in several puddles of diarrhea on the afternoon of Thursday, June 21st, I had a bad night, followed by a bad day of wondering why I'd ever agreed to get a dog. That Friday night I had a birthday party to go to. I warned the dog to keep it together while I was out (dog-loving husband was at work) and headed to a store that sold alcohol.

For the first time ever, I bought wine with the intention of opening it and drinking it myself. I did not let go of that bottle until I reached the party.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

How I spent my 4th of July

This is as close as Ozzie gets to what some dog lovers call a "smile." Usually he has a very serious face with an intense, dark stare, but that's okay because so do I.
We alternated staying in our air conditioned living room with sitting outside. Yes, the dog WANTED to sit in the sun, at least for a few minutes at a time (it was 99 Chicago degrees when this photo was taken).

This is also outside our apartment, but in the shade.

Here are some photos of Ozzie convalescing from some illness we never did identify. At least, we HOPE he's getting over it now. He wasn't keeping food down and has been producing a lot of doggie yogurt, but after a few visits to the vet, some medications and a few drops of Rescue Remedy, he's doing better. Ozzie's a great dog and I like him a lot, but I still don't see how having a dog is worth all the diarrhea cleanup, vomit witnessing, trips to the vet, medical expenses (we're over $1,000 at $2,000 total now in just nine months), cooking special foods and the walking required so he doesn't spew or spurt in the apartment. Having a dog is gross! And a big expensive hassle! Why do people do this?

My husband Bob is the one who loves owning a dog and knows it's all worth it, but he worked today, so I spent the day at home with the animal. I did a lot of reading (my favorite thing to do) and because I attended no celebrations, I didn't have to stare down a big table of painful food and desserts. YAY! I chopped fresh cherries and roasted almonds, sprinkled finely ground flaxseed over all and savored it while imagining it was cherry pie. MMmmm...it worked for me! I like making my own wheat-free, sugar-free treats.

Comforting the dog when he was at his worst, Monday.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Birthday gifts

On July 24th I’ll be 46 years old. I’m excited about it because I still see my birthday similarly to how a small child sees her birthday: another year older and closer to being a grown up and people taking me seriously and stuff. I can’t wait til my 50th birthday when I’ll happily join AARP (I want those discounts).

When I was growing up, my favorite food was birthday cake, especially the fluffy, gooey frosting. My mother always ordered the cakes for me and my sister well ahead of time. She was big on birthday celebrations and so am I. Every July of my life I’ve waited for my birthday cake with anticipation. As a child, I relished eating the leftover cake for days after the party. As an adult, I carefully choose and order the cake that will celebrate ME. Under stress, my go-to food has always been plain layer cake with piles of white frosting. It is THE food I cannot resist.

But this year my growing intolerance for wheat has me considering an alternative. As sad and hard as the decision is, I think I’m not getting a birthday cake for my party this year. My emotional ties to cake remain, but my digestive system can’t take it anymore. I don’t want to spend my birthday party in pain and that’s what will happen if I have a regular wheat-based cake. Instead, I’m considering (no, not that gluten-free pastry stuff) making a birthday pie. Most pie fillings can be made without wheat ingredients and I’ve found a recipe for a nut-based crust. Problem solved.

I love my birthday. I never let a year go by without celebrating it with others. I enjoy the party, the cake (pie), the candles, the singing and being surrounded by friends. The only thing I dislike about my birthday is the presents. Over the years I have done a pretty good job of convincing my friends that I really don’t want any -- really, no, seriously, no -- birthday presents. Edible gifts aren't so bad because I can always find someone to eat them and they don't require storage. But besides that, I do not enjoy gifts.

...unless I’ve specifically asked for them. If anyone were to ask me what I want for my birthday my response would be immediate: an Amazon gift card so I can buy e-books. But people don't usually ask adults what they want for their birthday. Grown ups giving gifts to other grown ups often believe a gift should reflect a special quality or dynamic between the giver and receiver. It should encapsulate the friendship and send a message. They think it’s an emotional gesture that is hollowed out by gift registries and specific requests.

I don't believe that. Forget the birthday present. Just celebrate with me, preferably with lots of friends and some really good food and goodies. That's what I want my birthday to be: friends and food!