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Posts Tagged ‘coping with change’

Imagine what life would be like without worry.   I remember that heady freedom I felt as a child  riding in the car with the windows down, long before child restraints became mandatory, my nose stuck out the window smelling the freshly cut grass, the wind rushing through my hair and a big smile on my face, ready for anything.

I thought that by this stage in life I would have worry all figured out.  I recall jumping onto a plane as a young woman full of nothing but excitement, anticipation and wondering whether I’d order a red or white wine once we took off.  I loved listening to Midnight Oil and Angels songs throbbing on my big old Walkman as the plane soured into the air. Taking off was my favourite part of the trip – so thrilling to feel the plane’s  power, energy and oomph as we climbed into the big blue sky.

These days flying is a very different matter.  The loud rock songs and delicious beverage decisions have vanished from my mind, and in their place are whispers of:  that guy in front of us looks a bit shifty – he could be a terrorist;  what was that grinding noise in the plane’s engine;  what if my son vomits all over the smart-looking woman next to him; my ankles are feeling puffy – I hope it’s not deep vein thrombosis;  did I switch off the iron before leaving the house?  And on and on it goes, relentless and immobilising.  Tapping my toes to Peter and Doc has become an exquisite and bittersweet memory.

Worry can act as a giant eraser, rubbing all the colour and beauty out of life.  I noticed this at the end of the school holidays when I visited a local café with my sons for breakfast.  After a long summer holiday I was feeling unusually relaxed and virtually worry-free.   We sat at the same table as last time – the very first day of the holidays – and I was amazed at the striking coloured graffiti on the wall in front of me.  I commented to my sons and one responded with: “It’s been there all along Mum”.  I disagreed as I’d never seen it before…  So when the waitress came along laden with cappuccino and milkshakes I told her how much I loved the new artwork.  “Oh, that was done before we opened the Café, it’s been there for quite a  while…”  Last time I was in the café I was so tired, stressed and full of anxiety that I didn’t even see all of this colour, movement and artistic expression, right in front of me!  It was an eerie moment of self awareness.  My worry was robbing me of all the best bits in life – the beautiful, special and the meaningful bits.

Yet when I reflect on the times I’ve had to face something really challenging, such as a medical diagnosis that could be fatal, I realise that hiding beneath the heavy layers of shock and despair was a tiny glimmer of hope.  Whether it was a line in a song on the radio,  a conversation overheard in the hospital lift, or simply the uplifting presence of a friend by my side – I caught a little glimpse of light that ignited something in my spirit. I knew I would get through this dark valley – there was a way through and a wellspring to sustain me.  Surely, this little glimmer can be ignited now too, when worry springs up uninvited like a weed threatening to strangle all the joy and colour out of life.

Big problems aren’t always solved with big solutions.  Do you know that a mustard seed is only 1-2 mm in diameter?  A wise man once said if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can move a mountain. It sounds like a crazy concept, I know, but there’s something in it.

So when those worrying whispers start up in my mind I look for the mustard seed of faith, wrapped in whispers of:   all will be well, you will get through this, things will get better – nothing stays the same, God loves you and nothing can separate you from his love, nothing is impossible, you have a purpose, don’t give up, never give up, just put one foot in front of the other and keep on going…

Seeds have an uncanny knack of taking root and growing.  If you dare to have that first little bit of faith and take a look a few years later, you realise that the seed has taken root and it’s growing taller, green shoots becoming stems and branches.  I’ve heard that in ideal conditions a mustard tree can grow to 3-5 metres tall.  Pretty impressive for a 1-2 mm seed.

So never underestimate small beginnings.  The wise man who told this story knew exactly what he was talking about.  He faced insurmountable challenges of his own with remarkable courage and grace.  Moving mountains seems easy compared with what this wise man actually did.  He transformed sickness into health, despair into hope, pain into comfort, oppression into freedom, prejudice and hate into compassion and love, and ultimately, life victorious over death.

I’m hopeful that one day I’ll be truly carefree again – window down and the wind in my face – strands of hair getting stuck in my teeth.  Maybe I’ll even take to the skies with the Oils or the Angels throbbing in my ears – wondering whether to order the white or the red – worry gone at last and freedom firmly in its place.

 

mountain

 

 

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Today I want to lift the lid on a phase in a woman’s life which is often considered ‘secret women’s business’. As a consequence many are left to suffer in silence. My hope is that by sharing my experience, someone else may relate and feel a little less alone.

As women we constantly evolve, grow, change and move on to the next chapter. Just as we become comfortable with the current version of our selves, along comes another phase.  Our bodies are both beautiful and miraculous in their capacity to bring about new life. We are strong and powerful.  With a flash of cleavage we can leave men speechless.  On a good night when we are in our prime, we can stride into a party and know that all eyes are on us. We are clever too – just as capable of getting the top job as any of our male counterparts.  We can do it all.  I am woman, hear me roar.  We are confident, productive and ready for anything.  But then along comes middle age…

As 50 approaches it’s as if a thick fog mysteriously rolls in and settles around us, rendering us colourless and, at times, completely invisible. As our ovaries sink into their gradual decline, the tide of hormones recedes and the woman we once were seems to vanish.

It’s around this time that we enter a phase of life which rarely features in glossy women’s magazines or reality programs.  I remember Mum whispering behind her hand that some unfortunate woman was acting strangely as she was ‘going through The Change’.  I recall the mysterious fanning of flushed faces and moodiness, but saw little other evidence of what this perplexing time in a woman’s life was all about.

So today I will lift the veil of mystery and talk a little about what it is like to be a ‘Menopausal Mama’. At 51, I’m right in the thick of it. If you (or your partner) are there too, you’ll know only too well what I’m talking about.

I’ll start with the ‘hot flushes’ which commonly accompany menopause. Firstly, they are not just hot, they are like being ignited from the inside out, particularly when they frizzle you awake at 3am.  It’s like encountering the Towering Inferno in your intestines.  The word ‘flush’ is way too pleasant a word and doesn’t come close to capturing the intensity.  For me it’s like being on fire, and then add feeling dizzy, disoriented and having difficulty remembering your own name.  The word ‘hot flash’ is sometimes used also, giving the impression that there is something akin to super hero status about this symptom. Believe me,  there is nothing akin to Wonder Woman happening here! On top of this there is the irrepressible desire to burst into tears about anything from the latest terrorist attack to the lid being left off the toothpaste and oozing all over the basin just cleaned that morning. If a ‘hot flush’ takes hold during a business meeting or even at the supermarket checkout, there is no hope of saying anything that makes any sense or of retaining any of your composure.

Then there is the issue of ‘moodiness’…. For most of my life I’ve prided myself on being a ‘nice’ person. I live in fear of upsetting anyone, do all I can to please others and mostly accept others as they are. However, during this Menopausal Mama stage, the niceness has left the building. People are becoming so intolerably annoying.

Cruel, thoughtless, narcissistic type-people have always disappointed me, but now I have to hold back from giving them a good slap and consciously avoid any close contact. Plus now the Smarty Pants I Know Everything types infuriate me too.  Particularly the ones who have had little life experience in a certain area but have done a course and proceed to dish out advice about issues they know little about at a heart level.  I’ve developed an animal instinct for sniffing out dishonesty, a superior attitude and falseness. Along with this, is an insatiable longing for authentic souls, who are brave enough to say what they really think, who genuinely care about other people and who are humble and kind.  The habits and expectations I’ve tolerated in others for years no longer seem to fit and sit around awkwardly like my discarded size 10 red jeans at the back of the wardrobe.

There is also the Complete Mental Blank moment which hits without warning. One moment you’re conversing intelligently and informatively on a subject, and then, whammo, all thoughts are inexplicably wiped from my mind and there is nothing there but blank space. Menopause doesn’t just kidnap your attractiveness, it abducts your mind as well, leaving you with intermittent dementia and dwindling confidence.

Living as an invisible, perspiring and angry woman is challenging, to say the least. If only Happy, Cool and Serene Me could re-appear and live in harmony with the world again.  If only well-meaning people could once again pass me by without attracting such violent reactions.   But is there anything to learn from this difficult yet inevitable phase of the female life?

It’s early days yet for me, but one thing I’m learning is that being a Menopausal Mama forces you to face the truth about your life and your relationships. It’s a time for taking off the rose-tinted glasses and taking a good hard look at your life in the glaring sunlight of truth.  Cracks and hidden doubts are fully visible, in all their confronting ugliness.  I know that the friendships I retain during this period will be true friendships, built to last the test of time, and all of those relationships fractured with dishonesty, deceit or lack of respect will simply fall away.

I’m also learning that being ‘nice’ isn’t always the best path to walk. It may be the easiest and the one which causes less conflict, but ‘nice’ can at times be another word for fear, avoidance, denial and dishonesty. Menopausal Mamas are no longer pretty young girls who bat their eyelids and wait for the world to pay them attention.  They are fearsome ladies who already know their value, whether or not anyone else agrees, and who inhabit their life and make their own fun, regardless of who sings their praise or strokes their egos.

And on the days when looking at life without the flattering filters becomes downright depressing, I tell myself that ‘this too will pass’. It’s a passing phase just as puberty and pregnancy were, and one day the fog will lift.  In the meantime, I hold tightly to the people I love the most and to God who created we women with all our uniqueness and wonder.  I hope that those I love will keep on loving me through this storm and that God will extend an extra measure of grace and understanding to all of us who are living life as Menopausal Mamas.

 


As Long As Your Eyes Are Blue by Banjo Paterson (first published in 1891)

Wilt thou love me, sweet, when my hair is grey

And my cheeks shall have lost their hue?

When the charms of youth shall have passed away,

Will your love as of old prove true?

For the looks may change, and the heart may range,

And the love be no longer fond;

Wilt thou love with truth in the years of youth

And away to the years beyond?

Oh, I love you, sweet, for your locks of brown

And the blush on your cheek that lies

But I love you most for the kindly heart

That I see in your sweet blue eyes.

For the eyes are signs of the soul within,

Of the heart that is leal and true,

And mine own sweetheart, I shall love you still,

Just as long as your eyes are blue.

For the locks may bleach, and the cheeks of peach

May be reft of their golden hue;

But mine own sweetheart, I shall love you still,

Just as long as your eyes are blue.

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On my bedroom wall as a teenager I had a poster of a baby chicken with broken shell scattered around his feet, his confused beady eyes gazing at the camera and the words: ‘Now What Do I Do?’ emblazoned underneath.  It captured the uncertainty of youth perfectly and I smiled knowingly whenever I looked at it.  

Long after the poster became torn around the edges and tossed in the bin, I remember it fondly.  There have been many times in my life where I’ve felt just like that chicken, bewildered and wondering: ‘Now What Do I Do?’

One day in particular stands out in my memory.  I lay under a scratchy hospital blanket staring with unblinking eyes at the newborn baby in the crib beside me.   My beautiful baby boy.  My emotions swung between passionate protective love and panicky terror.   I was terrified he would cry and I would need to take action.  But what type of action was needed?   I couldn’t work out which type of cry meant hungry, which meant tired, which meant too hot/cold and which meant he needed a nappy change.  The nurses seemed to know straight away, and they immediately flew into action in their firm and assertive way.   They knew my baby better than I did.   He was glorious but I felt so ill-equipped as a Mum.     I stared at him wide-eyed asking myself silently:    ‘Now What Do I Do?’

Landing in Hong Kong on my first solo overseas trip many years ago, I felt a mixture of elation and fear.  Scanning the crowded airport lobby I felt I had landed on another planet, rather than another country.  How would I tell the taxi driver where my hotel was?  Where did I have to go to find a taxi?  Should I just take the first flight back to Sydney?  ‘Now What Do I Do?’

Another ‘chicken moment’ happened on the leafy balcony of my first home unit.   I had collected the keys from the real estate agent and shared a bottle of champagne with a few friends, but now they had left and I was finally alone in my new little home.   The unit was empty except for my second-hand bed, and I had nowhere to sit except on the floor.    I gazed into the night sky and asked breathlessly: ‘Now What Do I Do?’

There have also been darker times.   One of the worst was the evening the doctor called to say I had cancer.   With trembling legs and a frozen heart, I gazed at my two little boys playing on the floor beside me.  The only coherent words that came to me that evening were: ‘Now What Do I Do?’

I also recall lying on a cold trolley bed outside the operating theatre before my first hip replacement, staring at my toes poking out from the hospital blanket.  Somebody had ‘helpfully’ told me that the surgery involved the surgeon basically cutting off your leg and putting it back on again.   I imagined my toes being disconnected from my body.  Would my leg ever work again?  What would major surgery be like?  Was it too late to escape?  ‘Now What Do I Do?’

Most recently, I’ve started a new job in a school after many years working in a legal firm.   Each day I face new challenges, meet new people and learn so much.  My pulse races and my head spins and I hope one day soon all the ‘newness’ will feel comfortable.   I constantly ask myself:  ‘Now What Do I Do?’

It seems to me that change is inevitable.  Life is a process of perpetual motion.  Travelling through life takes us through deep valleys of pain and breezy hilltops of joy.   When we keep moving, we keep growing and we stay fully alive.   Challenges keep us young in heart and mind.   Perhaps it is only when we refuse to keep moving that we finally grow old.  Change isn’t comfortable, and at times I hate it, but it is necessary.

When I reflect on the times I’ve asked: ‘Now What do I Do?’ I realise I have eventually figured it out.   Each time I’ve despaired over the injustice of my situation, or worried about my inadequacies to face the challenge,  I’ve gone on to learn another valuable lesson.

Through the difficult times, when cancer visited and major surgery loomed, I’ve had to dig deeper.   ‘Now What Do I Do?’ has been a cry to God who, true to his word, has always given me the comfort and strength to carry on.  My favourite verse from the Bible, which I discovered around the same time as I had the chicken poster on my wall, is:   “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), and it has always been the perfect antidote for those frightened ‘chicken’ moments.

I doubt that most of us escape the moments of self-doubt and confusion which change invariably brings.   So if you find yourself feeling like the chicken, asking ‘Now What Do I Do?’ remember that change is good for you, give it time and you will figure out what to do.    If you’re facing something really difficult, God will be there to comfort you too.  Just ask him ‘Now What Do I Do?’.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear”   Mark Twain

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Sometimes looking at my youngest son is like looking in the mirror.   He gets impatient, emotional, thinks very deeply about things and really hates change.   Once we drag him, kicking and screaming, to try something new he handles it brilliantly and is really pleased with himself.  But it’s taking the initial plunge that sends him into a spin.  And I know just where he gets it from.

As an over-thinker and chronic worrier, I’ve had to force many changes on myself.   Thanks to the restlessness and curiosity of youth, I found the courage to jump on a plane and head over to London to travel and work for twelve months in my early twenties.   This trip was a baptism of fire, but after a shaky start I found my feet and grew to love living life with a sense of adventure.   This has stayed with me, despite returning home and re-adjusting to ‘normal life’ again.

One sunny day last year when I sat organising our much-anticipated family ‘world tour’ with a bubbly travel agent, a storm cloud descended on us suddenly as  my son screamed: ‘I’m NOT going!  I HATE holidays!  Why would anyone want to leave Australia?’   Stomach lurching, I stared at him in disbelief.  Of course, when he finally found himself walking the streets of Europe, he sheepishly admitted that ‘this actually is okay Mum…‘ and his many euphoric grins along the way said it all.   He conversed happily with waiters using his guidebook French, Italian and German as if he’d been travelling all his life.  He now dreams of returning one day.   But it would have been easy that first day to dismiss our holiday as a bad idea.

So now as I approach my final week at a job I’ve enjoyed for the past twenty-six years, I’m again feeling the old anxiety, hearing the neurotic self talk peppered with ‘what-if-I’m-making-a-huge-mistake’ as I gather my wits, knowing another plunge into the unknown is looming.

I’ve learnt over the years that familiarity, loyalty and longevity in a job are rare and desirable qualities.   My distaste for change has worked in my favour in my choice of employment and I have no regrets.   The friendships formed over the years, the sense of belonging  and even the familiar surroundings have sustained me through some difficult times – times when I struggled with serious illness, loss and grief.   Walking in to see the same smiling faces, the same computer screen blinking at me and hearing the same cheerful receptionist announce my calls has been a blessing indeed.   

But somewhere deep in my bones I know it’s time for a new beginning.  Leaving the comfort of home, I set off on a journey.   It’s a weary climb up the steepest part of the mountain and pretty soon I’m standing shivering at the very top.  I feel frozen, standing still, with the cool wind rushing by, making it hard to catch my breath.  I know what I have to do.  I’ve climbed up this far, I can’t go back now. I wriggle my toes and get ready to take that step.

I shut my eyes and know that, despite my doubts and fears, God already has his arms out ready to catch me.   He won’t let me fall. 

It’s time to take the plunge!

20 years from now you will be disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the one’s you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.  – Mark Twain

Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change. – Jim Rohn

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 “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”  – Ecclesiastes 3:1

                                                                                                                                   Perched at the top of my “list of favourite things to do” is travelling.   At nineteen I travelled with a group of girlfriends to Fiji.   We left in January, the year after we had finished school, boarding our Air Pacific plane with great anticipation.  My eyes were like saucers when our bus drove through the humble villages, passing ramshackle huts and captivating native children, with wide welcoming smiles and dusty bare feet.

Our resort on the Coral Coast looked just like a postcard – luxurious bars and restaurants, dreamy tropical pool and expansive ocean views.    We dumped our bags, pulled on our cozzies and sarongs and headed for the sand, ordering pina-coladas with little pink umbrellas to go.  

Even a hurricane which hit on our second day didn’t dampen our mood.    Evacuated to the second floor corridor of the resort for the night, I learnt how to drink kava and laughed hilariously at the way it made my face go numb.   When the sun finally emerged and the fallen palm trees were carted away, we again pulled on our cozzies and headed for the beach, until cocktail hour when we slipped into our party dresses and danced into the wee small hours.   My tan grew darker, and the fun grew by the day, until the dismal day when we trudged toward the bus to begin our journey home.

Fast forward fourteen years and I landed in paradise once again, but this time with my new husband.   We sailed out to Treasure Island staying in a bure by the ocean, before returning to the same resort on the Coral Coast.   The sight of our room decorated with dozens of hibiscus flowers, ‘his and her’ sarongs draped across our bed, and chilled champagne at the ready,  remains etched in my mind.   The Fijian people, with their warmth and sense of fun, added to our own joy, and our honeymoon was unforgettable.   What could be more romantic than a Fijian beach at sunset?

Whilst immersed in the rosy glow of love, I also basked in the beauty of the natural world.   I noticed the landscape so much more than I did at nineteen.  Chris and I swam and snorkelled in the aqua waters, marvelling at the colourful coral and diverse sea-life.    We ate sumptuous meals, talked, laughed, dreamt and played.  

Now another thirteen years have slipped by, and we are planning another trip to Fiji – this time as a family of four.  I’ve booked the resort on the Coral Coast once again!   I wonder what Fiji will look like this time, and what I’ll notice that I missed before.   I’m sure there will be less dancing all night, and maybe a little less romance, but there will be special moments spent with our sons – innocent children on the verge of growing up.

Going back to Fiji reminds me of how quickly life rushes by, and how many stages we go through.   What is so important at one age, matters little at another.   What we notice about the world varies so much from decade to decade.   Each stage has its benefits and challenges – to be enjoyed and overcome.  As those old verses in Ecclesiastes 3 remind us, there is indeed a time for everything.  Yet time doesn’t stand still.  When I head back to Fiji I won’t be a teenager, or a love struck newly wed, but I’m going to savour every unique moment, and enjoy the adventure of discovering something new.

A Time for Everything (continued)

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

(from Ecclesiastes 3)

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