Find Your Balance Through The Midlife Transformation

photo: stephcarter
The sun is now in Libra – the sign of balance. I just celebrated my birthday, and I’m definitely the classic Libra when it comes to that desire for harmony and balance.

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.

Don’t!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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14 Responses to Find Your Balance Through The Midlife Transformation

  1. I just wrote a post about balance too, Sarah.  And I came to the conclusion it is highly over-rated.  For years, I was a balanced person who led a pretty balanced life, and I was calm, cool, and collected — at least on the outside.  Of course it took a lot of rum and cokes and Tareyton cigarettes (now I’m dating myself) to maintain that ILLUSION of balance.These days, I don’t look so balanced on the outside.  But I am aware of an inner contentment or comfort or harmony — not sure what to call it — maybe the right word is balance?  It seems no matter how topsy turvy my outside, that inner balance remains fairly constant.  And it feels pretty real, pretty authentic and maybe even — dare I say it — permanent?  It doesn’t feel like something I’ve had to chase or work hard to achieve.  It feels like a natural result of getting older and wiser — not that getting wiser didn’t take a helluva lot of work.  It did!  🙂
     
    Great post, Sarah.  I love how you go exploring and take us with you.

    •  @Carol Hess Loved your balance post! I’ve also been all about balance most of my life, and it’s just lately that I’m coming to re-evaluate its meaning. As you so wisely point out it’s that inner harmony that we truly long for. All those ideas and conditions of balance that are imposed from the outside don’t take us where we really want to be. They just create an illusion of a calm, collected, balanced person – when inside there’s this frazzled Tareyton-smoking, wild-eyed woman. (Well, maybe not quite that extreme, but your comment conjured up that image – and believe me I’ve been there. But it was Virginia Slims menthol – also dating myself. Luckily I was smart enough to ditch them at a very young age!)  Love the wisdom you’ve share with us here!

  2. I’ve got some good news!  In mid life both hemispheres of a brain start to work together more seamlessly as we develop competence then wisdom.  No need to try balance stuff, it will slowly happen for us, but we need to allow it.
    That allowing certainly is a rough ride as we move from being in control towing the line, to thinking ‘what the heck’ and telling the truth, blow the consequences, I’m angry.
    Funnily enough the consequences are not what I imagined.  The consequence for myself is that I feel more valued and life has become fascinating.
     

    •  @Priska You’ve nailed it here I think ! We’re so conditioned to believe they’ll be horrible consequences when we let our true feelings out – but instead we often find amazing new horizons and appreciation. How interesting what you are saying about both hemispheres of the brain beginning to work together at midlife! I’m so ready for that…and come to think of it I think I’m starting to feel it!

  3. Balance?  I’ve never sought balance in my life. Not really.
     My scales tip heavily in one direction or the other. For a long time when i was a single mom raising my two boys i was all about climbing the ladder, then i was about finding love, then i was about this or that. These days, i’t s still the same thing. But i do do less pleasing of others and try to make myself happy more often but it does feel a little selfish. I can’t even not cook diner once in a while without feelling like i’m not doing my job. SIGH!!! 

    •  @AnnieAndreHacks Time to get over that ‘oh, this is selfish feeling’ and take care of your needs when they pipe up! As I said in the post, the women who attend to those voices inside BEFORE the big storm of (peri)menopause hits (or at least earlier in the game) end up with less debilitating symptoms, and their PMS eases up too! I’m not just making that up – Dr. Christiane Northrup has worked with hundreds if not thousands of women and I trust her conclusions on this. Just wish I’d come across this info a little earlier myself! (Although who knows if I would have acted on it? It’s so seductive to take care of everyone else and have them love you  for it!)
      There’s a few others in your household that are old enough to cook dinner once in a while, Annie! Let yourself catch a break from time to time – WITHOUT feeling guilty!

  4. Is it the Libra thing to write about balance this time of year?  I wrote a post about “work/life balance” a couple weeks ago.  Ha!
     
    Yes, I’m definitely feeling the changes as I careen into perimenopause.  At home I know it’s safe to “let it all out” as my husband and I have been through enough to know that one person’s emotions have very little (really nothing) to do with the other person.  One day I’m fine and the next day I can’t stop bursting into tears.  One day my energy is flying and I can barely drag myself out of bed the next.
     
    Acceptance is my best weapon.  My hormones are changing and there’s nothing I can do about it so I might as well surf the waves.
     
    I turned 45 this week.  My husband asked me how I felt about that.  I said, “Awesome! Now that I’ve gotten all that crap behind me, the best is yet to come.”
     
    Like Priska, the more I’ve overcome the self-induced limitations that I created to not appear selfish, the more acceptance, respect and appreciation I’ve found.  
     
    I’m loving letting the world know who I really am and using my strengths to support others in their journeys.
     
    Sarah – I love reading your posts as I feel like I have a soul sister through all the changes.  Sometimes I’m experiencing what you write about and other times I take in the information, finding comfort in knowing what’s just around the bend.  Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experience with us!

    •  @PaigeBurkes  What a perfect observation: ‘acceptance is my best weapon.” I think a lot of us have a tendency to go into battle with this aging thing, and certainly with the confusing symptoms of the transition through perimenopause. But, ah, breathing and accepting. That’s where we can make our way to peace. yes?
       
      Thanks for sharing your wisdom here Paige! And I’m so glad to shine a light on this tangled pathway through midlife as I navigate it just a few years ahead of you. Yours, in LIbra balance my friend…

  5. I can definitely relate to this even though, of course, I am not a woman and will never go through menopause.  The idea of “balancing work against life” seems to assume that we’re either dead or not fully alive when we’re “working,” but I actually want to be fully alive at all times.  I’m grateful for a life right now that allows me to basically do everything from home, and to switch between projects essentially when I feel called to do it.

    •  @acordaamor  That is so much the point! Whether menopause is involved or not – let’s enjoy ALL the things we do, rather than feeilng a need to balance a ‘negative’ (work) along a ‘positive’ (the rest of life.) After all we spend so many hours on our work, let’s make it work we love. So glad you’ve found a way to do this. Here’s to being fully alive!!

  6. […] specifically, her blog: Holistic Hot Sauce, from which I copied onto a desktop sticky some words from a recent post on balance. I’m signing off with a slightly edited version of one of my favorite parts (thank you, […]

  7. Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you writing
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