Words of Welcome Spring '11: Exploring the “Pause” in Menopause: Intentionally Creating Perspective, Space and Support (Alice Guidi, LCSW)
For many women, an inscrutable figure looms in the future as an inevitable rite of passage. We’ve all seen our female elders fan their hot flashes, we’ve read the stories written by women who mourn the loss of youth, we’ve seen ourselves portrayed as loopy and forgetful in the media, and we’ve heard all of the jokes. Menopause and its predecessor, peri-menopause inspires an “Oh, no!” in us as we begin to see the signs in our bodies and minds.
But sometimes we hear a different voice, one that shines a brighter light on “the change.” In these times, we are shown that the journey into and through menopause can be one filled with self-exploration, positive visions of the future, and letting go of roles and goals that just don’t seem to fit us anymore. Maybe we’re not marching into battle with our bodies, but rather breaking through to a new level of atmosphere. We might just need to pause and adapt to the new air.
How do we move away from the dread mode and into the more open and accepting mode? I offer some suggestions to remind us to view the experience with intention and intuition:
Take a top-down view, rather than a bottom-up view. Visualize peri-menopause and menopause as a pyramid, where individual symptoms and body changes lie at the base, and the point at the top provides a wider big-picture view. Most of us react to distress, distinct changes, and physical pain by taking short-term measures. Sometimes, when we are able to transcend an immediate problem and look at it from a distance, or using the pyramid visual, from above, we can gain perspective and view individual symptoms as invitations to pay attention to the whole life story.
Widen the space around you. Find ways to build more time into your schedule, and more quiet time into your environment. Make self-care a priority. If, involved in a difficult discussion or a stressful event, develop the habit of taking a break. “I need some time to think and we’ll continue this later.” This isn’t procrastination or avoidance. It’s clearing out the unhelpful “noise” so that the truly important aspects can become clearer. My encouragement is to move away from “I want things to be different,” and towards “I can accept how things are in this moment.”
Surround yourself with “Pause-i-tivity.” If your friends tend to commiserate about hot flashes, night sweats, and fuzzy thinking, maybe this is keeping you locked in the negative. If you choose to spend time with these friends, urge them to list the benefits of the changes they’re going through. As a friend, you have influence, and maybe they are quietly hoping the conversation will change. Look for opportunities to speak to others with a more open and positive view; many older women who have gone through menopause can speak in hindsight, and can surprise you with encouraging insight. Make your circle of support wide and varied, including healthcare practitioners, counselors, spiritual guides, exercise gurus, and other helpers.
Avoid isolation. When a woman finds herself in a work or social environment, or in a relationship where others aren’t relating to the changes she’s experiencing, it can be very isolating. Many women experience insight and relief from isolation and from all of the complicated aspects of hormonal changes by seeking counseling. Even though they might feel very comfortable with their physician, and because menopause is a transition that initiates exploration of the past and present, a therapist can provide a relationship where there is no judgment.
Peri-menopause and menopause happen very differently for each individual woman. There’s no formula or linear process for the end of menses. We don’t always know where we are in the process, or when the changes become more predictable. Because human beings seek out the meaning of our experiences, the unpredictable nature of peri-menopause and menopause make us feel that we have all the distress and none of the rewards. Through eliminating much of the clutter and noise, we can develop clarity, peace and even joy in this rich life transition.
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