Sunday, February 3, 2008

Snowstorms and Menopause

The snow keeps coming. Over a foot last night and it's still coming. This is my deck. It was completely cleared 3 weeks ago. I spend hours shoveling my driveway so I can get out of my garage and down the mountain, and overnight all my work seems in vain.

3 weeks ago we had a mini avalanche. Over two feet of snow suddenly fell off of the roof of our garage and fell on the arbor between the house and garage. The arbor wasn't strong enough, and crashed. The mess is so big we'll have to wait until the spring thaw to remove it. The snow continues to pile on top of it. This picture is Bruce, this morning, surveying the view from our porch. The garage is peeking over the pile of snow and logs.

I chose to live here. I've always loved the mountains; I've always loved the snow. I love my mountain cabin, and feel a great peace when I am here. Last winter it snowed a lot, and I thought, I can do this! Of course, the neighbors warned me that it was a mild winter. Now I see what they mean! This winter has brought more snow than has been seen in years, and there are many moments when I feel overwhelmed. I shoveled for hours this week, and it snowed more. My son came and helped shovel the driveway yesterday; today it needs it all over again. At times I wonder if I really knew what I was getting into when I moved up here. At times I wonder if I'll make it through the winter. At times I want to just hide in bed and let the snowstorm envelope me and not have to go to work. Then, the snow stops, I dig myself out once more, muttering, complaining, but when all is done, I feel very pleased with myself. I conquered again! And I love it here.

How often has my life been like this winter? I struggle and overcome something, just to get slammed all over again. I struggle and get out of that, and pow! something else comes along. I often feel overwhelmed. I thought I overcame that weakness, and then today I'm dealing with it all over again. At times I wonder if I knew what I was getting into when I chose to come to this planet. At times I wonder if I'll make it through this life. Then, the current storm subsides, I dig myself out once again, muttering, complaining, but when this crisis is passed, I feel very pleased with myself. I conquered again! And I love this grand adventure called life.

To many women, menopause is one of the snowstorms of life. To some the storm is light and the snow melts quickly. To others it is a major blizzard, and they feel like they will never dig out of it, that they will never be rescued from being stranded in the deep snows. Their physical symptoms: hot flashes, night sweats, racing heart, difficulty sleeping, dryness, difficulty losing weight, poor memory, etc. are bad enough. Coupled with the emotional mood swings, irritability, increased anxiety and/or depression, we may wonder why we were assigned to this miserable state of womanhood.

This is the first in a series of blogs I will be writing about menopause. Today I am talking about the emotional issues that often accompany the peri-menopause and menopausal time period. I'll get into the definitions and physical problems and treatments later.

As we go through menopause, the changing hormonal patterns actually change the physical brain and the brainwave patterns. Issues that we could deal with before now may really bother us. The way we could memorize and our thought processes and ability to focus may seem to be more difficult. But in reality, it is simply different, and it all seems hard because we are not used to this new pattern.

I compare the cycles in a woman's life to the tide of an ocean. When the tide is in (the hormones are in balance) we can handle life. We are floating. We feel on top of things. As the tide goes out (pre-menstrual period), we may get stuck in the crashing waves. Or we are tripping over the rocks and shells on the bottom of the ocean that didn't bother us before. As we start into menopause, the tide stays out longer and longer, until it is permanently out, and we may find ourselves surrounded by the rocks and shells of life that we can no longer float over. Life becomes hard. Everything bothers us. We can't hold in our anger, our frustrations. We feel guilty for not being that "I'm going to please everyone" person anymore. The snowstorms don't quit. We feel overwhelmed. We don't know how to dig out of the deep snow and move forward again.

This is when many women seek help. They go on hormone replacement therapy, they take anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medicines, sleeping pills. Sometimes these work beautifully for a while. Sometimes they don't.

But, if we choose, this snowstorm can allow for great growth, can become a blessing, can assist us into becoming wise women, wise grandmothers of the world that can affect such great change just by being who we are. I view the medicines as a great band-aid, something to help stop the bleeding while we work through the issues we are faced with. For now is the time when we are forced to look at each rock and shell, to determine which ones work for us, which ones we want to keep and make a rock garden out of, or to create a shell wreath with, or to line our path, and which rocks and shells we want to throw out. This is the time when we are forced to learn to swim as the waves are crashing over us so that we don't drown. This is the time when we can come into our own, learn who we really are for ourselves rather than being someone's wife or mother or sister or daughter or employee. This is the time when we can learn to BE WHO WE REALLY ARE.

This can all be very scary. Many of us have carried the belief that without our children, our spouse, our job, without being able to keep the house spotless, our bodies in shape, our neighbors cared for, and everyone around us in control, we are worthless. It is seemingly impossible to see ourselves as having any personal inherent worth at all. Our worth has always been in our relationships and how we serve them. But suddenly we resent all of that. The harder we try the more we seem to fail. Things don't work the way they used to. We often feel taken for granted, isolated, without emotional intimacy. We fear that if we find the Real Me inside we may not like it.

But the truth is, that part of us that is truly ME and not defined in relationship to someone else, not defined by what I do, that part of ME that I believe is connected to God, that part is inherently beautiful, loving, and wise. If we connect to that true inner self, rather than having to try to be better, we are naturally better. As we come more into alignment with our true selves instead of identifying with our ego mind that tells us we are never good enough, the more our gifts shine through and our weaknesses become less evident.

How do we shed the rocks and shells of our lives? How do we dig out of the snowstorm of changing hormones and changing brains? It is not a simple process, but it is very possible to be what we desire to be. For the next while, at the end of each blog I will put an assignment for "Finding Joy." We will do it together, because advise is easily given, but not as easily followed. I need them as much as anyone. These steps can be used by anyone facing a snowstorm of life, a difficult menopausal period being one of them.

"Finding Joy"

Assignment One: Count your successes and be excited about them

At the end of each day, I choose to take a moment to review what didn't work that day. If there was anything that I did during the day that was unlike love--any anger, fear, judgment, negative thoughts about myself or anyone else, I choose to ask for forgiveness and the strength to work on that aspect of my life again. But I choose not to dwell on these things, on my weaknesses. When this is complete, I choose to review what did work during the day. I choose to count my successes, what went well during the day. I choose to focus on these things rather than on my weaknesses and pains of life.

Sometimes simply getting out of bed is a success. I may not have gotten the dishes done but I did get the sink cleaned out, and that clean sink is beautiful! I may have gotten angry at a loved one, but I apologized, not for communicating my feelings, which is important, but for doing it in anger and defensiveness, which never can communicate love. I am pleased that I was able to admit my mistake and work through the issue. I may not have had anyone tell me they loved me, but I told myself that I loved me, in spite of my weaknesses, and I'm pleased about that I could do that, even when I didn't totally believe it. I may have had some negative thoughts about myself, but I did think that I did a pretty good job with that one assignment. I choose to focus on that.

I choose to focus on the positive, the successes, the gifts, the good things people do for me or say to me, the beauty in the world surrounding me, rather than on my and others' weaknesses, and the hard things that are happening.

This morning I was in fear that with the snow continuing the way it was I wouldn't be able to get to work tomorrow. I worried about what would happen to my patients, about if I could make enough money if I couldn't work.

My success? It happened when I bundled up and went out to the garage to get something out of the freezer. The path that I had shoveled yesterday through the arbor mess almost didn't exist. I sunk in the snow up to my knees, and then I started laughing! I realized that this is quite the adventure, and I was going to have fun. I stomped through the snow, parts of it higher that I was, shoveling a new path. I noticed the beauty, and laughed at the dogs sinking themselves while they tried to play.

I choose to believe that all is in divine order. I choose to believe that everyone and everything will be taken care of. I choose to believe that I'm OK. I choose to trust in God. That is what works for me, that is what brings me joy.

Until we meet again,

Dr. Judi

PS--If you have a question or comment, just click on __ comments below.


Laura said...

this was very beautiful & helpful to me- even though I'm not dealing with menopause! Thank you as always!

peggy said...

Dr. Moore,
Thank you for daring to being courageous enough to talk about real issues. There are so many of us that want answers to the unsolved puzzle pieces of life's trials. We are eternally grateful for a physician and teacher who goes the distance. You are more than a healer of the body, you heal wounded hearts that long for a place to come and rest. Your ability to laugh at yourself allows us to accept ourselves and love others without conditions. Thank you for your desires to teach us to look at life with the cup half full not empty. With you as a cheerleader we can not only exist, but look at each new trial with excitement in what God is trying to teach us! Thanks for your sacrifice and unfailing love for all those you serve day in and day out!