It’s Dark In Here

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I have found it difficult to write, or even do much at all the past few weeks. It is a familiar space. I think of it as “melancholia”- a familiar dark space that is not quite depression, but pushes me to stillness and sadness and sometimes rage. I have often thought of it as the proud badge of Irishness- but also as a thing that was “wrong” with me. I usually have ignored the whispering of my soul and just powered on through whatever tasks and demands presented themselves.

So I have found myself quite critical of my behaviour and apparent aimlessness this past few weeks. Unconsciously critical, because not only is it from me, but from our culture: the dark is Hell, it is bad to let our feelings be in control (especially if they are feelings that are also considered negative)……………………………….until a few things have happened.

I dreamt that I was at full term pregnancy and in labour with a beautiful fully grown girl child. She was serenely happy- joyful even. She died in my womb. I woke with the echoes of the contractions and a welling grief – strangely combined with peacefulness. I don’t know what it means yet, some small guesses are occurring, even as I write.

I am dreaming a lot.

Last week I was carrying my 4 year old grandson (it felt like a dream, but we were all awake)- walking the 500metres with my daughter to the hospital. He was burning with fever, and his hot little head was pressed into my neck. At one point, he turned and kissed me gently on the cheek. A surprising and wonderful act of love. A few hundred metres later, he chuckled into my neck and proceeded to shove his (not very clean) hand into my mouth (open because I was panting with exertion). Another surprising and wonderful act of love. Perhaps not as pleasant as the kiss. Both things happening make my heart fill with love to bursting.

Yesterday, I was reminded of some facts by 2 beautiful women who are my friends. As I bemoaned my state of almost misery and un-motivation, Sally reminded me that it is Winter. The time of the dark, of going down and within. And perhaps I should just allow that. Stay warm, live in the dark womb of creativity, tend my seeds under the earth. Ishwari reminded me that I am in the autumn of my life and that I am preparing to journey to France to help hold the space for Dark Moon Gathering and the Descent, the stripping bare, the reflections, the letting go and the re-creating that this involves.  Other things make sense. The lovely astrologer Mikailah Gooda telling me that last year, I have entered a dark moon phase of my life that will be for several years. And Diz saying to me, is it depression? And me thinking- no, I don’t think so.

So- although it is only a few days from Full Moon, I have come to know that the light of this full moon will shine on my darkness. And possibly, paradoxically,  make it more dark. The nourishing dark mulch of the next part of my life. The Full Moon will impart the strength to just let this be. And eventually allow the birthing of the next.

I love this little bit from Susun Weed’s book “New Menopausal Years:

“Dear Woman”, sighs Grandmother Growth tenderly. “I see that Change has thinned the protective layers hiding your anger, your fears, your grief. Yes, I see your hidden feelings and secret desires exposed a little more with each hot flash. You may think your feelings are out of proportion, too sharp, quite irrational, possibly insane. But, I assure you, they are only raw from neglect. Receive them without judgement, nourish them and your “uncontrollable” feelings during the menopausal years will lead you to the deepest heart of your own secrets.”

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Hair Matters

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Hair Matters

I read Little Women when I was quite young. Jo March has always been one of my heroines. Katherine Hepburn playing Jo March even better. I have engraved on my mind the scene where Jo gets all of her hair cut off to acquire enough money for her mother to travel to tend to her sick father. The response to her haircut is catastrophic. “Oh, Jo, how could you? Your one beauty.” (The book doesn’t say who says this, but I have always imagined it to be Amy- the younger sister, who prized her own prettiness above all things- that might be slightly mean of me, but I feel protective of Jo- and of myself)

I confess to being hugely proud of and loving my hair. It is, perhaps “my one beauty”- but I am sure I have others, just like I am sure Jo March had others. I have had red hair since I was  teenager, not natural, but I loved being a red headed lass. I adored Katherine Hepburn (who has the same birthday as me) and all things Irish. I loved having masses of long red curls that I had trouble taming. Telling the world via my hair, who I am. If I was meeting someone on a busy street corner, someone I had not previously met, I could always say- “I’ll be the one with lots of red curly hair”- and they would never fail to find me instantly. My hair started to go grey when I was in my 30s. Keeping up the colour was time and money intense.

I recall the wonderful Lara Owen at a Menopause workshop I attended a few years ago talking about the importance of hair- its’ changes reflecting our own changes, its’ connection with our sense of our own beauty, and how that might impact on our Menopause journey. Susun Weed in her great book: “Menopausal Years, The Wise Woman Way” spends a few pages on Hair- “Too much hair (on the chin), too little hair (on the scalp), falling hair, thinning hair, greying hair, no matter what the complaint, many women notice something happening to their hair during menopause. As hormone levels shift…..hair responds to the changing hormones by changing texture, falling out, or by growing in “odd” places.”

My hair started to go grey about 25 years ago. But now the roots growing out were nearly white, and showed within a week of having my hair coloured. Not very many months ago, I had all of my wild mane of long red curly hair cut off, leaving perhaps a centimetre of white grey hair that was too short to be curly. There were many encouraging responses from family , friends and acquaintances (usually after they had paused briefly to recognise me).

The “other” responses were also enlightening:

  1. “It” eventually happens to all of us- letting yourself go. This said in jest, however, a reflection of our cultural attitude to ageing. And, letting myself go of course implies that I am now much less attractive.
  2. You are so brave- I haven’t got the courage to do “that” to myself yet. Sounds like I am abusing myself. The main courage involved has been listening to the responses of people and knowing their reactions were much more about themselves and their world view than they were about me.
  3. It’s time to let your true self shine ( or a variance on that) It’s good to be honest about who you truly are. Both these things have been said to me by more than a few women. I wondered at the time if they listened to themselves speaking. Are they saying that in their view, I have not been my true self for nearly all of my life, or I have been dishonest. Perhaps they don’t hear how deeply insulting this is?

I wondered a lot about these statements. When I stopped being angry. Statements of insidious suppression. Women do this to women. It’s not okay, but we do. Obviously have for a very long time (Little Women…and then there is “The Crucible’). I am ashamed of this capacity in myself. But that is another conversation.

My reasons for going grey are quite prosaic. I cut my hair off because I felt I had had enough of spending many hours and many dollars colouring it. And a small voice whispered that maybe putting chemicals on my head repeatedly wasn’t so good for me.

My hair is longer now. In not so many months I will once more have long wild curls, and they will be grey. Bordering on white. My “one beauty”. Telling the world via my hair, who I am.  I will not be so easy to spot when meeting you on a street corner. Even if I describe my hair. My visibility in the world has diminished. But that is another conversation. ipad July 2015 038

The Soft Beauty of our Bodies Doing What our Bodies Must Do.

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The Soft Beauty of our Bodies Doing What our Bodies Must Do.

This morning I woke up and decided. I decided to lose my ambivalence about Menopause. I piled up the books that I have on menopause. At least 6. Leslie Kenton, Dr Christiane Northrup, Susun Weed and more- notes by the fabulous Jane Hardwicke-Collings. and more.

I googled the definition of menopause: ” Menopause (natural menopause) is defined as the permanent cessation of menstruation resulting from the loss of ovarian follicular activity” (of course that implies there is “unnatural” menopause as well). I didn’t know there was an Australian Menopause Society (but there is ) and that is their definition. So that’s me: My last bleed was on December 6th 2013. 18 months and 26 days have passed. At least, so far, it looks like it was my last bleed. So- am I menopausal? What is the “pause” about? Am I menopausal now until I die? The tricky thing is, that unlike many other life events, menopause means that the end point (last bleed) is actually at the beginning and you don’t know it has happened until (according to various medical models) at least 12 months has passed. And then there is pre and peri, but I won’t go there.

There are 2 other things I have decided today. The first is that MENOPAUSE TAKES AS LONG AS IT TAKES. It’s a process. It’s a WOMAN’S process. Journey might be another word. The Heroine’s Journey. This is a journey that belongs to us. To us women. It is not a science. It is the soft beauty of our bodies doing what our bodies must do.  Women have and do ovulate and bleed a year or more after their “last” bleed. Have we lost the capacity to listen to our bodies? have we lost the capacity to TRUST our bodies? Somewhere along the way, I think that I did. Does it comfort us to have a scientific definition? a measurement? I know that my GP said to me about 2 years before I stopped bleeding that my hormone levels (as measured by blood tests) indicated that I should have stopped bleeding at 52. I was 55. I have a science degree. I like science. But I have learnt that it is not the definitive way that I wish to perceive Menopause.

My second decision is that MENOPAUSE IS NOT AN ILLNESS. NOT. I was struck by the repeated use of the word SYMPTOM in almost everything I read. In fact, the pages on the Australian Menopause Society website include: “Symptoms, How will it Affect your health, HRT, Therapies and Treatment Options, How Will it affect my Sex Life” I googled the word “symptoms”- because all of my training and professional life I have associated symptoms with illness, with something being “wrong” with my body. Sure enough as per Google search: ” a physical or mental feature which is regarded as indicating a condition of disease” and “an indication of the existence of something, especially an undesirable situation”. We need to re-language menopause. We need to remove it from Patriarchal and Western Medical models. The fear that can be created by language is controlling us. I feel angry about this. There are many things I like about Western Medicine (and Goddess knows it has saved many many lives and to some extent it has helped us to live longer) – but like Childbirth, Menopause belongs to us. To Women. It is our power.

Finally I notice that the Australian Menopause Society has a Congress in September (in Canberra): called “Menopause- Mind Over Matter” I have come to love using my heart, my senses and my intuition, without being mindless. These things matter to me and I will not put my mind over them.

And I am growing into knowing and loving the soft beauty of my body, which is doing what my body must do.