Last May in a room full of warm hearted, funny and gregarious women Lesley let a roar from the back of the room about her jump into the world of Jazz....as I was talking about Passion & Purpose. Only the week before I had read a great article on how music is one of the most powerful tools to keep the brain healthy and thriving.
I was intrigued and hooked by her story. As we read earlier on My Second Spring this week, Menopause despite some pesky symptoms at times can be the most creative time in your life. Read all about Lesley's nudge into Jazz below and the 'catch in the voice that tears your heart in two'...listen to Leonard Cohen or Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah and you will know what I mean! That song never fails to move me. Not too sure my dog shares my love of singing this song out loud! She's just hidden under the desk :-)
Catherine is probably more familiar to me as a Mum at the school gates than in her professional guise as Perimenopause expert extraordinaire but I’m very glad I jumped out of my comfort Zone and opened my big mouth in the Radisson at ‘Perimenopause Unplugged’ back in May, which led me to connect with her and share my story of the JAZZ GALS conception.
As an actor I’m comfortable with performance, mainly drama, the odd bit of comedy and tragedy mixed in for good measure. I would have sung songs in plays along the way, but deep inside I’ve always held a torch for the smoky, bluesy heroines of the New York and Chicago Jazz scenes.
I can blame a boyfriend from my college days for that. On my 18th birthday I was presented with a stack of tapes – yes tapes, remember them, cassettes - of Billie Holiday, holding court over various troupes and orchestras – and I never looked back.
Now THIS was music! THAT was a voice unlike any other, a voice that weaved a spell with its casual phrasing and the unmistakable catch in the voice that tears your heart in two.
One dry stretch between acting jobs I happened upon a sign on a shop window advertising a 12-week Jazz Singing course with Edel Meade. It stopped me in my tracks.
And there it was, there was my niggle.
Because don’t we all have that?
The voice in our head speaking from our inner passions that we so frequently ignore?
‘You’ve always wanted to do this’ an excited voice screamed in my head, and I thought, ‘Why not?’
And so, I took a deep breath and signed up.
Jazz haven, JJ Smyth’s (now sadly gone) was the venue. I remember locking my bike outside, wondering what it would be like, a bit like the first day of school. And on that windy Tuesday evening I entered a room of 11 strangers and we all embarked on our 12-week singing adventure. Each week we’d learn a new song. Our homework was to listen to as many versions of the song as we could - which opened my eyes to the freedom of the form. Clicking on the off-beat and teasing each phrasing within the limit of the music bars suited my rebellious heart. And nothing feeds the soul as much as finding your very own version of a standard. I had landed, I found home.
On the cycle back, the people I passed from Aungier street to my front door would be treated to my jazz improvs of the song of the week. God help them!
Some songs I loved, some I hated. If ‘The Look of Love’ comes on the radio now, I leave the room! ‘Good morning heartache’ has a grove worn in my heart – check out Jamie Cullum and Laura Mvula’s version for sheer perfection.
And on the last night we sang for each other and we clapped and bowed and said goodbye. For like all good things, it had come to an end. And just like that it was over.
And now what?
What was going to fill my time between acting jobs? How could I make the dinner without practicing my songs for the week?
So, when the next term swung around I signed up for the higher level. A new group, a new batch of songs - a different venue - the beautiful Unitarian church on Stephen’s Green. If previously I had found my home, now I had found my religion.
You see, this gang of women were different, they were special.
There was a shine off them – I was inexplicably drawn to them and each week filled me with a need. More than the need to sing and be heard but a need to spend time with them and to share our singing journey.
As semi stalwarts of the game, the bar was raised and we were united in our desire to improve as singers. There were highs and lows. When we nailed a song, we celebrated. And on rare occasions we’d miss the mark, the sounds in our head not quite translating, and frustration would raise its head. But when the class was over, in the shelter of the church doorway, we’d be there for each other.
An arm on the shoulder, a silent nod, bolstering each other.
Each week the bonds growing stronger.
And so, it went. Another 12 weeks around the sun. Songs, support, satisfaction - and a surprise announcement from the pulpit (as such) that Edel was leaving Dublin and the classes would be suspended for a year – silence. So off we went to the pub to ‘wake’ the course. We downed wine and swigged gin and promises of ‘ah we’ll have to keep in touch’ were made – yeah, I’ve heard that one before. But this time, it was genuine. For hadn’t we carved our names in each others hearts, wouldn’t it be a sin not to follow through with this?
Once again feeding the niggle, I made a suggestion to keep on going ourselves and to commit to a concert as a deadline.
And thus, the Dublin Jazz Gals were born, all from a tipsy promise to organise a charity Christmas concert for the Because I am a girl campaign (how fitting).
And we did it! Booked the rehearsal room, the venue, the musicians.
And I’d be lying if it was just about the music and the songs. For me it’s about the connection, the patchwork make-up of this new tribe I’ve found.
One particular evening after rehearsal perfectly encapsulates it for me.
Over pizza we talked about our week, how our lives were going and how our dreams were panning out and as each bit became more personal and from the hip, I looked around the table and realised there were ‘delegates’ in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. What a breadth of experience and knowledge we were for each other. I wish we had podcast it!
And there you have it. But word of warning. Be careful what you wish for! As I write I’m in the midst of preparation for a cabaret night.
And it’s all down to the path I’ve set before myself, starting with that ad in the shop window. The niggle that became the nudge… and I couldn't be happier.
Lesley Conroy is an actor, and communication coach. Check her out on linkedin
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.
Several times in the last two weeks I have heard people talk about how confusing and complicated health and well being is in today’s world. There is no rule book on how to best maintain your health. This has pros and cons – the positive being every day science discovers something new, some new way to help our bodies, some new benefits of food, a new remedy for specific ailments etc.The downside is it makes it very confusing to try decipher all this information and for those of you who are time poor this is even more of a struggle. That is when it’s time to consider a wellness coach, a mentor, someone who will take the ambiguity out of all the information on Dr Google and other sources, someone who gives it to you straight and simple.
That is my goal, in my sessions with clients my one aim is to empower them with the knowledge that they can then go away and implement strategies to address the specific issues they are facing in perimenopause.
In today’s fast paced digital world addressing your health can seem akin to climbing Mount Everest – Daunting! Faced with time pressures, financial concerns, low motivation, anxiety, all make it difficult to make real changes that will bring well being and more importantly that will last.
If this rings a bell with you then consider a session for the following reasons:
1. Managing your symptoms and diet seems like a daunting task.
It feels like you are at the bottom of a very big mountain and the thought of climbing it is daunting….you’re not sure where to start, and the idea of relieving your symptoms, addressing your menopause symptoms feels too exhausting (because your already exhausted by lack of sleep), it all feels too far away and unreachable. This is where I can help, I look at where you are at right now and gently work with you to better health not just for the next 4 weeks, or 4 months but for lasting change. Small changes make that mountain climb easier, it’s not big changes, it’s all about the small tweaks you make to your daily habits that count. You don’t have to face this hurdle on your own, and you don’t have to change your entire lifestyle in an instant to make progress. ‘Progress not perfection’ Stephen Flynn The Happy Pear
2. You have tried before but hit a roadblock.
You have tried before, you have gotten over maybe 1 or 2 hurdles along the way but changes haven’t lasted. The idea with a consultation is that we work together to set achievable targets, we agree and make small tweaks to you daily habits and address issues along the way as they come up. My goal is to empower you to make permanent changes that will ensure you are living life to your fullest potential and help alleviate the challenges you are currently facing.
3. Your menopause symptoms have been going on for what seems likes ages.
Night sweats, insomnia, whatever the symptom - you have been experiencing it for a good few months and you have made no progress to resolve it. A consultation will look at your entire health history and your concerns holistically, a complete picture of your current life situation and symptoms which mean a completely personalized and effective wellness plan can be designed.
4. Your health challenges feel complicated and overwhelming.
Menopause is not straightforward, it is not a mapped out journey on straight terrain…it is a roller-coaster! It is constant change and upheaval, physically & mentally…the key is how you look at these changes. You may be struggling with depression, anxiety, IBS, weight issues, low libido…a myriad of issues can be happening, and these can seem overwhelming. My goal is to look at these issues, look for root causes and develop a wellness plan that covers all your life not just the physical symptoms that may be disrupting your life. The whole picture has to be taken into account….food, exercise, mental health, hormonal health and much more.
5. You are time poor.
Dr Google, Social Media…the sheer volume of information out there is just overwhelming. Getting the time to go through all the possible aids/cures for night sweats or any other symptoms takes time, and put that on top of another disrupted night of sleep and a busy work day ahead….not easy.
I am still learning every day, new research comes out every day and I love learning about everything related to health and wellness as it’s my passion. I eliminate the need for you to become an expert in menopausal health J that is my expertise, that is my passion. Armed with my knowledge I work with women to outline very personal effective strategies to address the challenges they face. That means you get access to a personalized plan that straight away will start to work. Every day I spend time reviewing, absorbing, researching the latest news in relation to menopause – this is my job. I am able to discern the latest research in health and wellness, and also commit time to you, when it suits you, to ensure this knowledge can be shared and that your feel empowered on this journey…master of your own ship.
6. Hard to keep that mojo going.
You may feel too exhausted to make changes, you may simple have given up, you have tried everything and still you are in the same place or worse even….this isn’t where I want you to be. You will get the help needed to revitalize your life and re-energize, to get your mojo back. You will feel excited about embarking on a wellness plan – you will feel like you are ready to hit this face on, ready for the challenges that you face. Keeping in touch throughout your journey, making tweaks as we need along the way, adjusting your routines as required. It’s all about keeping you motivated and feeling supported as you move through this chapter in your life.
7. The true cost of menopause…you feel like you are throwing good money after bad.
You have already spend loads of money on weight loss plans, books, supplements, etc and feel at a dead end. I’m all for the practical, down to earth simple approach – what is feasible, what is over the top, what I have seen work, what hasn’t…the goal is to take the ambiguity out of all the information now available and to help you stop wasting money in areas that just aren’t working for you.
We get one shot at life, we need to ensure it's the very best...whatever it takes we all deserve to Bloom and be our best, feel our best, feel energized by life. Take the steps you need to make lasting changes to ensure you are living life to it's fullest, to your fullest potential.
This totally reflects what I constantly say to all women - we need to prepare and yes there should be a 'talk' for women once they hit 40 I think and it should be covered in schools - girls/women would be prepared and the fear wouldn't be so big if you knew what was ahead.
Personally I know my symptoms are mild (right now )given the preparation I did probably since I hit 44 and the many tools I have built up through knowledge & study over the years.
Bringing you the latest research and health tips to help you navigate perimenopause and beyond