80's Names| My Name is on the List| Grieving – A Grace Full Life
I meant to publish this last week, but time got away from me. When I say “this week’s chapter,” I really mean “last week’s chapter.” And when I talk about three things I’m looking forward to in the podcast, know that I recorded it last week. I know this doesn’t mean anything to you, but I’m a week behind schedule and I guess I needed it to make sense to me.
This week’s chapter is about having compassion for yourself. What are your favorite ways to show yourself kindness?
You will hear (or read) about how making playlists is one of my favorite ways to take care of myself. I can’t say enough good things about doing this. It’s a lot of fun and doesn’t take much time.
I also don’t want to hear anyone say, “I don’t have time to do…” when it comes to taking time for yourself. Even if it’s just 10 minutes a day, please take some time for yourself. You are very important.
If you want to be your own deejay, here are some guides to help you get started:
If you have an Apple Music account, you can find my Hormonal Balance playlist here. Even if you don’t have an account, I believe you can listen to the preview.
I discuss screaming to songs in your car as a kind of therapeutic release. Here’s a great song to scream to in your car.
And lastly, because I know someone will ask, this is my favorite part of Riverdance:
Showing Yourself Compassion
During the five years of perimenopause, I had accumulated a lot of negative energy inside of my body, and I wanted it to be channeled somewhere else. When I couldn’t yell at my family or at health care providers, I’d get in my car and scream along to songs from the past.
“AND IF I ONLY COULD
I’D MAKE A DEAL WITH GOD
AND I’D GET HIM TO SWAP OUR PLACES
BE RUNNING UP THAT ROAD
BE RUNNING UP THAT HILL
BE RUNNING UP THAT BUILDING”
I would blast the music and scream to the tops of my lungs, releasing all of the repressed emotions, fear, and toxicity that had built up inside of me.
“EVEN THROUGH THE DARKEST PHASE
BE IT THICK OR THIN
ALWAYS SOMEONE MARCHES BRAVE
HERE BENEATH MY SKIN”
In the winter of 1996, I was 26 years old and working as a department supervisor for a major retailer. It was unsatisfying work that didn’t make me happy. I’d been with this corporation since I was 19 years old, rising through the ranks. In retrospect, I regret staying at this job for so long. The management team did not treat me with respect, I was barely making minimum wage, the hours were long, and the customers could be extremely rude.
Meanwhile, in my personal life, I was trying to make others happy while completely ignoring the fact that I was neglecting my own needs. When I got home from work, I cleaned the apartment that my husband and I shared. Then I’d cook dinner for the two of us and fold laundry while watching TV until it was time to go to bed. I was chasing what I thought was success, but I wasn’t finding it, and as a result, I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I couldn’t put my finger on what was missing. It turns out, what was missing was me. My belief was that in order to be a good person, I needed to be a good wife, a good employee, and a good human being to those around me. There was never a time when I thought about being a good human being to myself.
A few months later, while recovering from a cold at home one afternoon, I began watching the Irish dancing sensation Riverdance on PBS. I was mesmerized by the choreography, the synchronized legs, and the black, heavy shoes they were wearing. A short time later, I purchased a Riverdance compact disc, which I listened to in my car on the way to and from work, and at my home while cleaning, preparing supper, and folding clothes.
When I received a Riverdance VHS tape for Christmas a few months later, I squealed with joy and began watching it whenever I could. However, I quickly discovered that others did not share my enthusiasm for Irish dancing, so I began watching it alone, usually after work. Then, after a particularly bad day at work, I came home, changed out of my department store work clothes, put on my Riverdance CD, and just started dancing.
I danced as if I knew what I was doing.
I danced as if I were a member of the Irish dancing troupe.
I danced as if my family were in the front row, proudly watching.
And guess what? It was highly therapeutic.
For the hour or so that I was dancing, I forgot about my toxic bosses. I’d completely forgotten about the money I wasn’t making. I blocked out the obnoxious customers. I turned my attention away from everything that my ego told me I was awful at and instead concentrated on my “fantastic” dance moves.
After that, I started rushing home from work, changing into my exercise clothes, which consisted of a stained tunic and ripped shorts. Five days a week, before my husband got home from work, I would secretly dance to my Riverdance tape alone in my apartment living room to let out my rage, frustration, and stagnation. For over a year, it was my daily secret Irish workout routine.
At one point, I considered flying to Dublin, Ireland to audition for the cast. These talented dancers had been training since they were CHILDREN to be qualified to perform for this cast, but I was feeling so good about myself that I believed I might be able to qualify. Can you even imagine?
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Riverdance had become a self-care ritual. My daily secret Irish workout routine was giving me hope at a time when I most needed it. When my self-esteem was at its lowest, I felt like I could travel across the world to audition for a dance company. That is good therapy, indeed.
Compassion for oneself is essential at any stage of a woman’s life. This is especially true during the most difficult times of your life. It was during perimenopause when I became skilled at self-compassion. I recognized that showing myself compassion was just as important as brushing my teeth or combing my hair. It was spiritual hygiene, compassionately thanking my body for everything it had done for me.
True self care is focused on the inside, rather than just the outside. It is much more than just a pedicure or a day at the spa. While those things are wonderful, they just scratch the surface of what is possible.
Outside the box
Throughout my adolescence and adulthood, I was uninterested in makeup. Yes, when I was a teenager, I liked and used makeup. But I was never as thrilled about new eyeshadow shades and lipstick colors as my peers were. But it wasn’t until I hit menopause that I discovered my love for makeup. It all began innocently enough with a highlighter-Tarte Shape Tape Glow Wand, to be exact. I loved how the highlighter made my face glow.
I started playing around with makeup and learning from women my age and older. I also started investing in myself by signing up for a monthly beauty subscription box. I learned to accept my face as it got older and to love the person I saw in the mirror. I was very impressed by how creative and artistic it was to put on makeup. I’d never looked at makeup that way before. When I put on my makeup, it became a mindful activity that felt like a form of meditation to me. For the first time in my life, makeup felt like a way to take care of myself instead of a way to hide from other people.
Creativity can manifest itself in a variety of ways: writing, cooking, anime, decorating, photography, playing an instrument, journal writing, scrapbooking, calligraphy, dancing, gardening (indoor too), fashion design or experimenting with the clothing in your closet to create a fun new outfit, cosplay, learning a foreign language, makeup. The possibilities are endless. The benefits of creativity extend to both the mind and the soul. It’s like giving yourself a hug from the inside out.
What is your favorite form of creative expression?
I believe we all have greater expectations for our birthdays, and when they don’t live up to those expectations, it can be frustrating. We don’t say this aloud, of course. We should, but we don’t. Rather than being disappointed, I recommend taking charge of your birthday.
I wanted a week out of the year where I was kinder to myself; a week when I lavished more love on myself than usual; a week when I finally replaced the holey underwear (basically, buy yourself the items you’ve been putting off buying for yourself).
This is where birthday week comes in. I’ve begun doing a lot of fun activities the week leading up to my birthday, including but not limited to:
-Order something from a favorite store that I had in my shopping cart
-Go to a favorite restaurant for lunch or dinner
-Explore a new neighborhood I’ve been meaning to visit but haven’t had the time to do so.
-Get my favorite coffee while I’m running errands
-Spend time with the humans I enjoy
-Eat dessert for breakfast
And so on…
The first year I started doing this, it was the best birthday I’d ever had. I resolved to do this every year after that. Then something funny happened: everyone else became enthusiastic about my birthday. It’s very contagious because they see you having so much fun. I mean, who doesn’t love dessert for breakfast?? Just kidding, it gets old after two days. Okay, five days.
But you can’t help but feel joyful! And now, everyone in our little family has a “Birthday Week!”
Do you celebrate you?
Make listening to music a ritual
Music, in my opinion, is underutilized in terms of healing. I feel we don’t talk about it enough in the context of self-care. Music listening, like meditation or writing, requires a ritual. Before I even make my coffee in the morning, I get up and switch on my free Spotify playlists on my television. I listen to those playlists when I meditate, read, journal, write, clean, cook meals, have conversations throughout the day, and so on. But I make music a morning ritual because I believe it heals me as much, if not more, than the books I read or the words I write in my notebooks, whether it’s the playlists that play on my television while I write or the songs that play on my car radio. Music is one of my favorite ways to care for both my body and soul.
As I was going through perimenopause, I discovered how deeply music soothed me. When I was suffering from a migraine, I would put on some soothing music in another room to take my mind off of my fear of when the pain would go away. When I was feeling depressed, 80’s New Wave music transported me into the world of the screenplay I’d written, lifting me out of the despair when it appeared there was no other way out. Music has been a source of solace for me as I have progressed through so many phases of perimenopause.
I developed a taste for creating extremely customized playlists while coping with the pandemic and nearing the conclusion of my perimenopause in the summer of 2020. My hormonal rage would be funneled into the production of Hormonal Balance, a playlist composed exclusively of female songs with hidden meaning, angst,and rage. When I felt like the universe was on my side, I’d make a happy and soulful playlist titled Hippie Chick, which included lighter folk music and Indie soft rock. Rather than spending my evenings on social media, I would immerse myself in my music. It felt amazing to be able to construct “mix tapes” as a middle-aged woman/deejay. This healing process reminded me of lying on the floor of my bedroom as a teenager, taping Casey Kasem America’s Top 40 on a Saturday morning in the 1980s.
It was the most amazing and gentle method to repair my hormonal self as I approached the conclusion of this turbulent period in my life. I suggest it to everyone.
What type of music soothes you?
Connecting with others
Making a regular date with a loved one gives you something to look forward to. My friend Kristen and I had a monthly ritual of meeting at a new coffee shop. What began as a coffee shop date has evolved into her helping me with work on the book you are currently reading, which will lead us to collaborate on future literary projects. It’s powerful to have another person to connect with each week who shares your passion for anything. Those are the dates I look forward to the most.
Every time I get to go over to my parents’ house for dinner or lunch, or simply just to sit on their porch and talk for a few hours makes me feel like I’ve gone on vacation without having to pack a suitcase. My priorities shifted considerably as a result of living through a pandemic. Genuine friendships are now more important than ever. Listening to my parents’ stories and engaging in a give and take dialogue with them is more important to my well-being than spending a day at the spa.
Rebecca and I have started getting together at a local library so we can talk without being interrupted by the people in our homes, restaurants, etc. We rent a free room where we can sit together and talk without being bothered by such things. Both of us tend to be introverted, and I have ADHD, which makes my eyes and mind wander, so this is a great find. The day after I did this, I felt like I had gone to therapy.
What type of connection allows you to feel seen and heard? Make time for more of that.
Releasing of emotion
My friend recently told me of a time when she was hiding in her car in a parking lot, in order to avoid returning home to the chaos, when she observed at least five other women sitting in their cars, eating snacks, delaying the drive home, much like her. I found that to be highly relatable because sometimes, I, too, craved alone time and found myself sitting in my own car, alone, relishing in the solitude. My friend preferred to eat hazelnut wafers in her car alone as an outlet, whereas I preferred to express myself by screaming song lyrics at the top of my lungs.
During the five years of my perimenopause, my body had accumulated a lot of negative energy, and I wanted it to go someplace else. When I couldn’t rant at my family or doctors and nurses, I’d get in my car, drive miles away, and scream to songs from my past. I would blast the music and scream at the top of my lungs, unleashing all of my buried emotions, fear, and toxicity that had built up inside of me. This became my preferred method of anger control for the next five years.
When I heard a song I loved on the radio, I’d turn it up and drive around the block a couple more times until it ended. When I couldn’t physically escape, so many songs from my past transported me far away mentally. Screaming in song while driving with the windows down had become the perimenopausal equivalent of punching a pillow, which is also an excellent way to release intense emotions that have taken up residence in your body.
What is your favorite method of releasing powerful emotions that have been stored in your body? How do you feel afterwards?
Caring for the earth
The first thing that people say when they walk into my home and see my plants is, “You have green girl magic,” or “Tell me your secret.” Unless the secret is to talk to my plants and play music for them every day, I don’t really have a secret other than watering them on the same day every week and providing them with sunlight or shade depending on their variety. Alternatively, it’s possible that my plants are aware of how much I appreciate them, since I believe they are contributing to the alleviation of some of my anxiety and depression, as simple as that may seem.
Every Thursday is dedicated to plant watering. I spread towels on my counter and pour filtered water from the refrigerator into large cups and spray misters. Then I travel from room to room, bringing each of my plants into the kitchen so that I can water, aerate, and feed them individually. When I do this, I always talk to them while soft music is playing in the background. During this watering process, I make it a point to pay close attention to each plant so that I may be totally present at that time.
Watering my plants has evolved into a grounding exercise in kindness. I’m showing affection to the living beings in our home who rely solely and silently on me for their survival. In exchange, they provide us with oxygen and enjoyment. It’s this lovely, empathetic give and take. I feel so much better afterwards, both emotionally and spiritually.
Some people might laugh at this way of doing things and think I have way too much time on my hands. Some Thursdays, I realize that it’s really a lot of work. But then I think about how much time I used to spend on Facebook before I quit, and it never made me feel this good about myself. I remember how long the lines at Starbucks used to be, and even though a chai latte tastes great, it doesn’t last as long as my pileas.
If we really want to, we can find time in our busy lives to do things that make us happy. Find that time for yourselves. You won’t regret it.
Drag yourself away from your life
During my last year of perimenopause, which also happened to be during the pandemic lockdown, I had the most migraines. I felt like the world was closing in on me. Between the pandemic and the pain, I started to feel suffocated by the four walls of our house.
That’s when my husband came up with a plan; we’d walk 50 of the forest preserves in the county near where we live. I turned 50 that year, and since we couldn’t go anywhere, wouldn’t it be fun to walk all of the amazing trails near us instead?
Umm…no? That sounds like the total opposite of fun!
But he was trying to help me, which gave me hope. It gave us something to look forward to every week when things were bad. So each week, I made a secret promise to myself that no matter how bad I felt, I would drag myself outside for a walk. I needed these walks not to get in shape, but to clear my mind. I needed to be somewhere other than in my bed, on my couch, laying down with an ice pack on my head.
It was important for me to take the time to step away from my daily routine, even if it was only for a half an hour, and feel like I had reset myself. By going on a walk in the woods, I was able to clear my mind and gain a broader perspective on my life. That year, those trails heard a lot of important life talks and many tears were shed that year, but we weren’t the only ones. There were so many other people also walking those paths with us. When there was nowhere else to go during lockdown, the forest preserves were full of people walking their troubles away.
Walking in the woods has since become one of my favorite methods to care for my emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Reading, learning, and discovering
Due to migraines and brain fog, I was unable to concentrate at all during perimenopause. I couldn’t focus, became quickly frustrated, and had difficulty remembering things. As a result, I didn’t pick up a book for the next five years.
The first year of my menopause, on the other hand, was all about making up for lost time. Thanks in part to an antidepressant, I was able to regain the mental strength to sit down and focus on books for the first time in a long time. During the year I went through the transition from perimenopause to menopause, books helped me heal from the inside out.
I was falling in love with the library all over again and finding new and interesting authors. I asked my friends for book suggestions and kept a list of books I wanted to read on my phone. I felt like I was a young child learning to read all over again. It was like finding a part of myself I had forgotten about.
I was so happy to be free of perimenopause and able to resume something as simple as reading. It helped me detox from the previous five years of perimenopause. I was discovering new religions, poets, and nations I had never heard of before. It was allowing me to grow in ways I could never have imagined. All of this made me feel younger. Younger!
Learning, opening up to new ways of thinking, helps you stay young at heart and young in mind. I recommend this to everyone, young and old. The fountain of youth is real, and it exists.
At the public library.
Some of this may seem overwhelming, and I understand that you don’t want to be burdened with another list of things to do. This is simply a reminder to prioritize your own well-being first and foremost. And, by the way, prioritizing one’s own needs is never regarded as being self-centered or selfish. You are treating yourself with the kindness and compassion that you deserve.
Lyrics at the top of the chapter: Running up That Hill by Kate Bush and Constant Craving by KD Lang.