Monday, November 24, 2014

the other side of the sugar-free aging menopause coin

I spend much if not most of the time looking at the bright side. It's the complete opposite of how I've been for most of my life - expecting the negative runs through my blood. I'm a child of Jewish superstition and cringe when someone talks too positively about anything as if that will incur the wrath of mystical forces and something dire will soon be in the horizon. I still mutter kenahura under my breath and fervently hope ill will hasn't been set in motion. 

Ok so I haven't completely let go of old habits. They run deeper than most things. 

But, my glass is generally half full. I spend time every day saying quiet thank you's for the blessings in my life. Grateful is my usual default mode. 

I work to bring that to my aging/ menopause process. And much of the time I'm pretty successful. I can eek out positive aspects and silver linings. 

But not all the time. 

Deep down I hate that there's so little I can do. 

It sucks that I leak pee. That my elbows are covered with fine wrinkles. That even giving up sugar doesn't shrink my middle in the least. That I feel self conscious in funky stores. That I have to do foot exercises every day so I can walk after wearing cute shoes. 

That my kids will be on their own soon. 

That I bemoan harsh winter days and can appreciate why people move south.

That I have sinus problems every when the heat comes on. 

That I'm supposed to take hard to swallow calcium pills not once but twice a day. Something I never remember. 

That turning 50 means a colonoscopy, an eye exam, increased scrutiny and expectations of illness. 

That gas expulsion keeps increasing. 

That I grasp for the simplest of vocabulary words. 

That my motivation and drive are nothing compared to what they used to be. 

It's not that I've abandoned my positive outlook but it's not always quite that clear cut. Feelings about aging aren't black and white, they're literally grey. 


Friday, November 21, 2014

Hello. My name is Elissa and I leak pee.

Let me start by saying yes Mom, this is oversharing but I'm actively choosing to do it. 

And yes, I leak pee. I'm finding it annoying. Uncomfortable. Embarrassing  Humiliating. Kind of creepy. Incontinence ads and products are now harder to blatantly ignore. 

This year I finally mentioned it to my gynecologist. Last year and the year before I was too mortified to say anything but as the situation didn't  magically rectify itself I took a deep breath and said it out loud. Turns out there are specialists I can see and I could even get a Botox shot to staunch the flow (it's not really a flow, it's still just a leak). That thought was profoundly disturbing on many levels: 

A. I'm not a fan of Botox

B. I'm not a fan of needles anywhere near my bladder

C. from what I understand once Botox wears off the problem is worse than it was in the first place which could lead to

D. an endless cycle of bladder Botox shots 

In another vein entirely I spoke to a pelvic floor expert who educated me on what the pelvic floor does and how it's set up. I had no idea what there were two criss crossing bands of muscle, kind of like hammocks at right angles. And, that with concentration and practice you can work on strengthening individual bits. I can now tighten and release front, back, left and right. I only do this in private as I can't help but clench the corresponding parts of my face which I assume looks more than slightly ridiculous. 

It could be helping. It could be keeping things from getting worse. Not sure. 

That's another hard part about this aging/menopause process. There often aren't answers. And I like answers. I like finite. I like knowing. This is the opposite of knowing. 

I suppose in the general scheme of things I should be grateful that it's a pee leak and not a pee gush. 

Look at that, I found my pee silver lining. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

it's only a number

Yesterday, after having my blood pressure the nurse asked me to hop on the scale. 

Immediate reaction: boots or no boots? She said either way. So I gingerly stepped on and watched the black digital numbers quickly increase until they stopped at 145. 


And the spin began. 

I'd left my heavy shearling boots on. Plus my jeans and t shirt and sweater and scarf. That had to equal 5 pounds. 

Thoughts flooded over me. 

I weighed 142 when I started the kidney donor journey. 

137 when it was over. 

133 when I got pregnant with Iz

128 when I got pregnant with Jack. 

165 when I gave birth to both. 

123 when I was in art school desperately trying to be 118. 

106 at my anorexic thinnest. 

These pulsed through my head in mere seconds as the nurse asked questions. And then they stopped. 

Totally stopped. 

What never started, and this was the very first time in my adult life, was: 

you loser you are so fat you eat too much you have to go on a diet you don't exercise enough you pig you are so lame you'll never be thin you should be ashamed of yourself

Those repetitive, negative thoughts that were deeply embedded in me for as long as I can remember. I haven't owned a scale in close to 30 years because every time I stared at a number I didn't want to see that hateful rant would start in my head. I used to weigh myself as soon as I woke up, before and after I went to the bathroom, without clothes and then with. And I berated myself every single time. 

When I was pregnant and gained 9 pounds at the beginning the nurse chided me for gaining too fast. So I by the next visit I lost 3 pounds. We decided to keep my weight a secret from me going forward. I'd face away from the scale and she wouldn't leave my chart where I could see it. 

But yesterday, after that initial spin cycle I thought: 145. Ok. 

And then gratitude swamped me. For my healthy body. For answering no to every question on a very long, intimidating health questionnaire. For practicing yoga the day before. For donating a kidney. For walking to the office on a freezing cold day. For being fine with the clothes I fit into. For being a vegetarian. Even for giving up sugar to take care of myself. 

For appreciating this comfortable home my soul lives in.

It took until 50 to not care about what the number on the scale says. And at this point the number of my age doesn't phase me either. 


Monday, November 17, 2014

it's all sugars fault

Last night I treated myself to a heaping bowl of chocolate granola. Actually it was plain granola with chunks of chocolate throughout. In the recent past I enjoyed it so much that it became an unexpected addiction. Some days I was eating almost nothing else. And so, as I tend to do, I gave it up completely. 

Last night though I was feeling peckish (love that word) and I dipped my toe back into the chocolate granola pool. 

A. It wasn't as fabulous as I remember and 

B. I had trouble sleeping all night, waking up more than once sticky with sweat despite the fact that my bedroom was freezing cold. 

The last two times I encountered this hot flash situation (one for sure, the second time I'm not quite as certain), I'd eaten more sugar than I usually do. 

Could it be that, at least in me, sugar sets off hot flashes? 

Sigh. That would suck. I don't eat much sugar as a general rule but now that the weather is more wintery, every afternoon finds me on line somewhere, usually Starbucks, ordering a hot chocolate. With whipped cream. Mmmm. Hot chocolate with whipped cream.  
What a delicious finger warming, smile inducing mid afternoon treat. 

But pure sugar no matter how hard I try  to justify the calcium connection. 

And just perhaps it could be the cause of these night sweats. 

So, I'm giving up sugar for 40 days. Hoping it makes my nights cooler and more filled with actual sleep. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

wanting what you have

Wanting what you have.

I think that's a great concept. Something to aspire to. Appreciating how green my own grass is instead of coveting someone else's. Honestly I  live a life filled with gratitude. Most of the time. That's been one absolute bonus about getting older. My level of grateful, my ability to bypass drama far more often, my increased comfort in my own skin have been tremendous pluses during this part of the journey. 

But it's not all positive. It's not going to be all positive. With age comes good but also not so good. A first colonoscopy comes to mind. The gas output increase (my mother was rather horrified I shared that with the world). Those memory blips which can be remarkably disconcerting as I struggle to remember the name of an actress or where I put my keys or whether I already added flour to the batter. 

My drooping, purple lined, jiggly thighs (they deserve their own paragraph). 

Getting older is a microcosm of life in general. Positive and negative rolled together. Unexpected changes. Trying to maintain control but having to accept that I can't. Same old same old. 

But not really. It's never the same old same old in life. Not when you're really in it instead of just coasting. Aging can be a powerful reminder to be in the moment instead of being somewhere else. 

Hmmm. That was pretty profound. Am going to sit in that for awhile. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

my period really, really likes me

For the past few years my period has shown up every 23 or so days. More frequently than the average person and certainly more often than they used to. But for quite some time it's been remarkably punctual and by the book. Heightened anxiety beforehand. A craving for sweets. Massive cramps for half a day or so that on occasion require a hot water bottle intervention. And then after 4, maybe 5 days, we part ways for yet another cycle. 

And that's fine. It's all uneventful. Regular. Expected.

But yesterday my period turned up unexpectedly. Early. Even earlier than my ridiculous 23 day cycle. 

For this month we're at 21 days. 3 weeks. That's barely enough time for the bloating to subside before its starts up again. My skin can't decide whether to clear up or break out. 

I'm wondering if this is just a blip on the radar or if things are starting to shift in a bigger way. 

No answer to be had. 

But fingers are crossed this shortened cycle isn't a trend my period wants to stick with for the long term. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

hot flashes: 2 - me: zero

For the past two nights I've had trouble sleeping. Not falling asleep - that's usually not an issue - but staying that way. I've woken up sweaty, sweating, needing to be on top of blankets when usually I can only be burrowed under piles of them. 

Yup. Hot flashes. 

I laid there quietly, breathing my way through, hoping they'd pass quickly and never come back. They've brought my nemesis anxiety with them. Sigh. I work so hard to keep it at bay but here we are again. 

I'm wondering if I've been having too much sugar lately. Do I finally give up hot chocolate after saying I would for week? Or perhaps it's just chocolate in general. Maybe heat in the building when it's still warm outside. Could be stress of high school and now college searches. Facing big jobs I can't get myself to start. Too much volunteering with not enough making money. Not knowing what to make for dinner.

I want an answer. An explanation. A concrete reason why this is starting to happen. But, there isn't one. Learning to live and be ok with the unknown sucks. I suppose, looking at the bigger picture, we're always living in the unknown - it's just easier to pretend we're not most of the time. 

Today's another day where finding the gratitude is challenging. But I'm trying perhaps my metabolism is speeding up and all the sweating is ridding me of toxins on for size. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

not age appropriate

Today my 16 year old and I went thrifting. We discovered there's an outpost to a cool store we'd been to in Brooklyn not far from where we live so we spent a lovely fall afternoon walking uptown, prepared to browse. 

I walk in and was overwhelmed. Rack after rack jam packed with clothes. And then I felt old. Or at least too old to shop there. I, who am usually pretty comfortable in my skin felt dowdy, dumpy, embarrassed by everything from my messy hair to my hot pink Nikes. As my daughter fell in love with a full length sheer ball gown skirt, I scoured the racks and managed to pick out anything drab and grey. 

We tried things on and even she said most of what I picked was too shapeless, too conservative, too bland for me. 

While on one hand I know that, why do places like this make me feel so style-challenged, so insecure, so old?

I don't have an answer to this one, yet. But I'm hoping to find that grateful frame of mind from before so next time I thrift I'm not beating myself up quite so badly. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

aging is what it is

Here's the deal with aging (this goes for menopause too) - it happens. Every second of every day. It's happening. Nothing can change it, slow it down, reverse it, stop it. Taking vitamins, using moisturizers, trying chemical peels, eating organic produce, giving up sugar, not smoking, cutting back on alcohol, drinking more milk, meditating, practicing yoga, running marathons won't/can't change the inevitable. 

We age. That's the way the world works. We wrinkle. We get shorter. We take more time to heal. We get gassier (I'm not saying all people do but I'm finding that's happening to me). Our hair gets greyer, thinner, more brittle. Cellulite becomes more pronounced, skin saggier, memory less efficient. 

But in the inevitable we have choices.  Some are thrust upon us by advertisers with promises of wrinkle defying creams, erections that won't quit, or lustrous eyelashes. Doctors can now write prescriptions for a myriad of medicines meant to alter the aging experience so patients can take a pill instead of taking responsibility for their health through exercise and eating. Not to say modern medicine hasn't had a profound effect on life as we age. But sometimes it seems as if there's a medical remedy for too many things that a: are a natural part of getting older and b: could have other possible solutions besides pharmaceutical intervention. Many turn to surgery or Botox or having their faces coated with chemicals to burn off outer layers of skin, leaving fresher, you get looking ones exposed. Ouch. 

Instead of buying into the above I'm working on living my life where I am now instead of trying to get back to somewhere I'm not anymore. Trying on acceptance. Understanding. Appreciation. Gratitude. So far they're far more comfortable than liposuction. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

looking at the other side

Lately it feels like I've been writing exclusively about all the changes menopause and aging have brought about. And, to be honest, while I'm working towards acceptance, deep down that's not always the case. I could do without the deep grooves permanently chiseled between my eyebrows and the hair sprouting on my body where it hasn't been before. I could go on and on about things I've noticed, not too happily. 

But today I thought I'd write about how some things aren't changing at all. Or perhaps are actually getting better. 

I was in a kick-your-ass yoga class yesterday. From beginning to end it was almost 2 hours of heart pounding, sweat soaking, music blaring insanity. I moved so fast from pose to pose it felt like the step classes I used to be addicted to. 

My balance never wavered. My concentration never broke. I even held arm balances, even if only for a second or two, that is never been able to before. 

Standing in the front row, the word ALIVE staring back at  me from a mural, I silently thanked my body for being strong, for healing well, for rising up to challenge. Tears stung my eyes as I acknowledged that not everything is changing. Except, perhaps, feeling gratitude more and more easily. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

drawing the aging line

My grandmother had a waddle - that flap of skin hanging loosely under her chin, easily swinging in the breeze. 

For some reason that was the one physical part of aging I feared most. An innocuous bit of stretched out flesh. For years I've quiets run my finger under my chin, checking for sag. I'd always said that this was the one plastic surgery I'd undergo - that to me was the anti aging line I was willing. 

I still check my chin on a regular basis. It's reflexive. Almost unconscious. My cheeks too. Just to see if the droop is growing. 

So far it's only in my head. But I suppose eventually the waddle with move to the outside. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

an ode to my thighs

My thighs were never my favorite part of me. To be honest I never really had a favorite part of me. I have good cheekbones. Big eyes with yellow circles in the middle. I guess having long legs is a plus but my body and I were never on the most comfortable of terms. My thighs were a part I've always quietly criticized. Too flabby, too big. Too many dimples dotting the surface. Even when I was painfully too thin, my thighs never got that way. 

Aging only adds to the mix. Dimples deeper, flab saggier. Thick purple veins streak across the backs of my legs. Age spots, which my dermatologist can remove for a fee, slowly grow. And now, as if all that weren't enough, there are wrinkles. I stopped wearing shorts when I bent down to pick something up and saw my legs from that vantage point. Doing a down dog in yoga and catching a glimpse threw me off for an entire class. 

Sigh. My thighs are in a downward cycle without having ever reaching a place I was happy with. 

But then I started thinking about it differently. My thighs are strong. I can walk up flights and flights of stairs. Hold complicated balancing poses. My lap still occasionally holds children and very often holds dogs. I am grateful to walk, to move, for balance, for comfort in my body. It's now not being disappointed in how they look, it's being grateful that they're so solid and strong. 

Thigh gratitude. I'm glad to have found this place. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

can we talk about the headaches?

At 50 plus 5 months I'm well into my menopause journey. So far there haven't been too many outrageous changes I've noticed. A hot flash here and there. An unexpected crying jag (I had one this morning). A middle thicker and more stubborn than it's ever been. My period still arrives like clockwork but the intervals between have shortened. 23 days is the new 28. 

But the headaches. Some fleeting, some chronic. A pressure mostly on the left side that can last up to 3 days. At my temple usually, just below the skin. It hurts to bend over to stand up to fast. Tylenol barely breaks the pain. Then there are the ones at the base of my skull. Behind my eyes.  In my jaw. Subtle pressure. Throbbing pain. 

I've never been a headache person. When I was a teenager they plagued me for awhile - looking back perhaps it was hormones then too. But this is intense. Scary sometimes. I can understand the appeal of HRT (hormone replacement therapy) if it made them go away. 

Not knowing what's causing them, how long they'll last, how long this will go on is frustrating. Infuriating. Challenging. When I try to live my life as calmly and healthfully as I can and then this keeps showing up sometimes it's hard to hold onto zen. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

hysteria by any other name

Hysteria, from the Greek word "hystera" which means uterus, has been around for thousands of years. The word. The description. The diagnosis. Ancient Greeks though a host of female ailments could be linked to an out of whack uterus. And as they thought a woman was ruled by her uterus, not her brain, obviously it could and should be held responsible for the unexplainable. Emotional swings, seizures, cancer, heart attacks, too much or too little interest in sex. Aberrant behavior or symptoms that couldn't be otherwise explained were blamed on the uterus. 

Fast forward to the 20th century, hysteria was still a medical diagnosis until the 1950s. Easier to lump behavior together and blame it on a woman's inherent instability than spend time and resources getting to the bottom of things. One of the most fascinating/disheartening facts I learned while researching FLOW was that the year hysteria was stricken from the official book of medical diagnoses, PMS was introduced into it. It became the new umbrella to sweep female centric issues under. 

I'm feeling that way about menopause as well. It's very easy to collectively blame this natural biological occurrence with everything that can't be readily explained. And in doing so, women, as we age, aren't being well served. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Menopause Makeover!

What if there was a game show where women going through menopause had a chance to win a makeover to help them get comfortable in their new (actually older) skin? Not assistance in looking younger, but help finding them ways to feel comfortable in aging, changing bodies?

I'd throw my name into the hat. 

I would love someone to share advice for moisturizers that would effectively control the dry patches that now consume the upper half of my face. 

For a personal shopper to give suggestions on what my work better with my thickening middle. 

For make up application tips on how to deal with wrinkled eyelids and deepening circles. 

For finding bras that are more comfortable for droopy boobs

For exercise routines specific to bodies that heal slower, have been injured, deserve more TLC. 

For dealing with strands, streaks, swaths of grey hair. Hair changing texture. Even falling out. 

For finding not just emotional comfort and acceptance, but excitement and enthusiasm at being in the new place. 

Looking younger isn't my goal. I have no interest in Botox or chemical peels or liposuction (no judgement to those who choose that route). I want to treat my body and soul with kindness and respect. But I want to be comfortable where I am now instead of trying to be who I'm not anymore. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

a leaky faucet metaphor

I was at a Halloween party, talking to a friend about aging. He mentioned  that while men and women go through many similar things, women have a much more a concrete delineation as to hormonal shifts and changes. As in menstruation. Finite starting and stopping.  

Well, at least the starting part. 

When you're a teenager your period shows up. Unexpectedly. Usually without warning. Some girls gets cramps beforehand  but most don't. Regardless of age, race, weight, hair color, sexual preference your period starts one day. Specific beginning. And that's that. 

The other end of the spectrum is basically the opposite. Instead of a faucet turning from off to on, it's a slow, stop and go, erratic process that can last up to 12 years. A leak that shows up when you least expect it - sometimes a slow trickle, sometimes full force. What once could have been a regular cycle can disappear for months at a time or show up every couple of weeks. To be post menopausal means no period for an entire year so you wont know for sure that you're there until you're barely thinking about it any more. 

Nothing like living with not knowing. 

People tend to note the similarities of the beginning and end of menstruation: hormonal shifts, emotional changes, skin breakouts, a body getting used to a new way of being. But to me it seems the biggest similarity is the not knowing from before my period even started. Not knowing when it's coming. If it's coming.  

I'm not there yet. My period arrives every 22/23 days. But I know eventually I'll be waiting. And wondering. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

age defying

This summer I was in a department store looking for moisturizer. I was in London, in search of Boots No. 7, which came highly recommended. Standing in front over an overwhelming product assortment I asked the well made up sales clerk for help. She explained the brand came in 3 versions (I paraphrase):

1. Dewey new skin ages up to 25

2. Slightly older skin that needs some TLC from 25-35

3. Mature skin which encompasses everyone over 35

I fell into the last category. As do many, if not most women. I wondered how the vast majority of woman of women, from 35 to as long as someone is willing and able to purchase moisturizer, could possibly be clumped together. 

The reality is because we don't really count. Not to project developers. Not to advertisers. Not to marketers. 

Instead of feeling comfortable in our normally aging skin we're made to  both regret that we're not young anymore while trying our damnedest to look like we are. 

We're sold goods that claim to be age defying! wrinkle reducing! fine line erasing! as if those superficial effects could wipe out where we are in our lives. By categorizing all women over 35 together we're not so subtly being told that we're not important enough to address individually. Only by mimicking youth will we be acknowledged and provided for. 

While at first glance this doesn't relate directly to menopause (my writing topic of the moment), it sort of does. Menopause is about aging. It's about changing bodies, hormones, even skin. By being sold the message that we should retain youth at all costs, our very aging process is being negated. 

I bet if someone came out with menopausal moisturizer, they'd make a fortune. Once we ditch the aging stigma that's so thoroughly ingrained in all of us.