When I was 13 my Dad told me, I was a Warrior. At the time I can tell you I didn’t feel like one. We were on holidays and my Dad had a daily habit of going for a bottle of coke after a stroll on the beach. Each day one of us would be invited along for the stroll and the reward at the end. On this day my day hadn’t started so great….I was as you are by the beach in my swimsuit (no it’s not a story about periods…not really), when I noticed two girls pointing at my leg. It didn’t often upset me but on this occasion it did.
Now I need to bring you back to my birth - I was lucky. I survived.
I was born with the umbilical cord wrapped 4 times around my neck and my Mum had a very tough labour. I think back then labour was a lot tougher than it is now but for my Mum it was her fifth child at the age of 44 so not easy. After my mum lost a kidney and I got a ‘dodgy’ leg. The consequence of the cord being around my neck was I somehow ended up with a huge miss match of veins on my leg, it covered most of my upper thigh. As a young child I gave it no notice, as I hit puberty it changed, and I changed. It bulged more, it got bigger, it wasn’t a pretty sight but to me it was me, it was who I was. Then my first period came along and to this day I can still remember the pain - it wasn’t the period it was my leg. My birthmark was like a bunch of grapes except its intertwined with veins and blood vessels and as luck would have it, it is on the upper part of my leg so everything to my knees looks fine.
With the onset of my periods my veins came under more pressure and my Mum used to wrap bandages on my leg when the pressure got too much. Later I moved to wearing what I can only describe as a horrendous brown compress on my leg - I hated it. I dreaded my periods - and my history here was very chequered, my close friends in school would laugh with me that I only got them on important occasions like my birthday, Christmas etc. I was in no way regular. Maybe I convinced my body not to have a period because of the pain in my leg …who knows. My first operation could only happen at the age of 16 and two more followed after that - now it looks like an old bruise and had given me no issues for many years (only in pregnancy). When I trained for the marathon last year I did have a time when it give an ache and I was really scared ( no I have to be truthful I was utterly petrified !) it was going to develop into something more BUT I was utterly determined no way was my leg getting in the way of that goal - so I dutifully pushed through the pain.
Returning to that beach in Italy at the age of 13, when people often stared at my leg or you knew they were looking I guess it was sometimes hard to take in especially as a self-conscious teenager…that day with my Dad I can remember crying hard and yes I felt very sorry for myself. My Dad however being truly unique for his age, saw this very differently. He told me it wasn’t my first challenge in life, that many more would come, and this would make me strong and resilient to what the future might bring. He told me I was a Warrior, that I fought my way into life and that was my badge of honour to carry with me. So I guess without knowing I was born resilient, like all of us, I learnt to handle challenges as they came along. No one gets a clear run in life - we all have hurdles to overcome throughout our lives. At 20 when I lost the hearing in my right ear again my Dad’s wise words came out. Life throws us challenges constantly, some easier than others and some are steep mountains that take great strength to overcome.
I think we are all Warriors, I think we all have a story or chapter (or chapters) in our lives that make us stronger. Women and Men alike. The journey of menopause is not always for the faint hearted and it’s not always plain sailing, but I strongly believe it can be the most empowering time of your life. Our main challenge is getting society to agree with this view and embrace it with us as opposed to the taboo that still exists on this subject. We should all be able to Like a Facebook Menopause page without worrying what others think, we should all be able to talk openly about the symptoms we experience, we should be able to buy tampons our ST’s without hiding them in our shopping trolley or going red when they hit the conveyor belt. If not for ourselves we need to do this for the next generation - for our daughters, daughter in laws, nieces, friends, all women.
Yesterday I tackled a task I had been putting on the long finger - the mundane household task of sorting not one but two baskets of mismatched socks. It's funny I really wasn't too excited about this task at all :-). However I spent over an hour in the process and I have to say it was one of the calmest hours ever ! I totally lost myself to the job at hand and became fully absorbed in it - it was a very effective one hour of total mindfulness where my brain wasn't thinking of anything other than matching socks. For me mindfulness needs to work for you - we do not always need to be sitting cross legged on a mountain top, it is more effective if we can bring it into our everyday habits.
Mindfulness and/or meditation = superfood for your brain.
Mindfulness is well researched for its benefits to our wellbeing and can be used as a way to train your brain to patiently observe your anxiety. Think of it as you would a parent observing a toddler’s temper tantrum - you can observe and watch the behavior but need to remain calm and passive until the tantrum is over.
Daily routines can be used as opportunities to practice mindfulness, to focus on the present, on what is happening right now. For mindfulness to become part of your life it must work for you, it must be something you get benefit from and not something you dread. In that respect, start small, let it find ways into your life and it will work for you. When sitting in traffic, just be - for a few moments, right where you are – not on the way to somewhere, or the way from somewhere, not late, not early. Just there, in that moment.
When we stop and sit in “the now” we can slow down what we are experiencing and take time to savour and enjoy what life has to offer. Being mindful lets our minds be present, and become clearer. The realization that this very moment is all there is – everything else is merely a thought, projected into the future or excavated from the past – is the start of letting go of worry. Thich Nhat Hanh sums this up nicely when he reminded us ‘anxiety comes primarily from our inability to dwell in the present moment’.
Stress fades away and our minds become calmer. It’s all about taking life in smaller bites, not hour-by-hour but minute-by-minute. Just focus on the next 60 seconds, minute by minute.
Stop constantly doing and simply STOP.
Begin with simple ways to be present:
§ Concentrate on the process of making tea – slow down and pay attention to the movement of your hands, the smell of the tea, the steam from the kettle, the sound of the water pouring, and finally, the taste of the tea.
§ Washing your hands – pay attention to the water, the smell of the soap, the slipperiness of the lather, the movement and sensation of your fingers and palms. Pay attention to only these things for a few moments – this is a meditation of sorts.
§ Eating: notice the textures, the colours, and the aroma of your food as well as the taste, slow down the action of eating and focus on the sensation of the food on your palate.
§ Do a Digital Detox for 1 hour during the day .
§ Remember to breathe.
Finally as Ruby Wax states in Frazzled:
‘My definition of mindfulness is noticing your thoughts and feelings without kicking your own ass while you’re doing it…If you treat yourself with compassion and resist obeying your demanding thoughts, they become quiet.’
I had the pleasure of spending a morning with Fiona Hedigan recently of FLORA+FIONA. When I think of Fiona, I simply think flowers, divine smells and the most beautiful smile ever. Fiona’s home wafted of freshly baked scones and bergamot infused tea, her work space looks onto her garden and as I sat there I questioned her as to how she ever gets any work done !
I sat dreamily staring at pink infused tulips and golden orange daffodils. I would get no work done with such a view. I would be lost forever in gazing at the beauty of her garden and listening to the busy chatter of the many birds that visit.
The morning flew, the scones were divine, every smell sensation in my nose and head were fully awaken by the many smells Fiona got me to try…bliss comes in her small bottles.
Years ago in London a colleague I worked with used to joke with me that I was ‘mad into smelling to get well’ . I was indeed and I still am. I love essential oils, I love what they can do for your mind & body. When you spend a morning with someone who is more passionate than you about something…well all I can say is your left smiling, rewarded with increased knowledge and if possible greater passion. Did you know the power of high altitude lavender - I never even know there was a difference….the purest form of lavender when it is grown on high mountain plateaus - imagine the sleep that would give you.
‘The Lavender and Rose farm is up in the Alpes- Maritime above Grasse in France. Visiting it was a sublime experience….one of life’s great gifts. We drove up narrow winding roads, along steep ravines high into the mountains to Jacky and Evelyne’s farm. It was Rose harvest time and the air was perfumed with roses. We walked through the fields surrounded by roses...It was intoxicating! Rose is a very powerful oil. It gives you courage and comfort all at the same time. It is known as the” Mother” oil… as we know… it is all about the Mother!!’ Fiona
What Fiona & I intended to talk about I am sure got well mislaid as we jumped from one oil to another and one subject to another. What we both agree on is how effective essential oils are for anxiety, and with oils less is more - they pack a bunch. I often burn bergamot at home and it only takes about 4 drops for the smell to waft nicely around the house.
Some Practical Home Tips from Fiona
Lavender - add 2 drops on tissue and then wipe over your pillow, this will aid a good nights sleep.
Bergamot - when you travel or stay in a new place this is a lovely oil to bring with you, add 4 drops in a hand basin in your room/ensuite and let the smell familarise you to your surroundings. It will uplift you at the same time. This is a really great oil for anxiety and lifting mood.
Rosemary & Lemon - wake up oils, add a drop of each in the corner of the shower and the steam will send the smell wafting into the air.
Epsom salts - I always thought I couldn’t add oil to epsom salts but Fiona has shown me how you can add a drop of your favourite essential oil into the epsom salts before you add them to your bath.
This is only the tip of the iceberg of the many uses of essential oils we discussed so my next plan is to get a video with Fiona so we can all benefit from her amazing knowledge and love of essential oils.
If you have any specific questions on the use of oils please drop me a message.
When we think of alcohol we often think about feeling more confident, nights out, sore heads...what we totally forget to think about is our body's best friends. The Liver.
I can't talk about alcohol without impressing the importance of the liver - at least once a week I have a conversation with women who forget about the liver and it's importance to our daily functioning. Personally, I see the liver as the body's ultimate protector to illness and disease. The liver works constantly and performs the most efficient job ever...we simply don't stop to think how amazing this organ is. So before I talk more about alcohol read my prior blog on the liver.
Alcohol, I'm Irish..I really wish we didn't have the negative relationship with alcohol that exists in this country, that is a whole other story. However for me I grew up with alcohol - My Parents own a wine shop and at the age of 12 I was thought how to taste wine in France with my Dad...did I often try to swish it longer in my mouth as opposed to spitting it into the tasting bucket...Yes I did :-). That I guess was a natural teenage instinct as I got older. To this day I still love and appreciate a good red wine.
However, this love affair is now totally one sided - it does not love me. When I was younger I could have a few glasses but today one glass is often enough to make me feel the ill effects the next day. As I have gotten older I have become more sensitive to alcohol - this is very common and happens to most people.
So what does alcohol do to your liver and your hormones ?
If you do have a big night some tips to minimise the side effects
So for me it's the 80:20 rule. It's ok to have lapses - it's making nutrition choices that you can support 80% of the time. This is a good rule to follow - we can't spend our lives good every minute so if you can adopt this rule it's a great start. Also like I said above I know my sensitivity to alcohol and we are all different - in Perimenopause no one size fits all. We are all unique in this journey, we will all experience different symptoms and challenges along the way. Listen to your own body and what it is telling you and make your choices based on these internal insignals...our bodies send us symptoms to tell us what needs attention and to help us on the journey.
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