Saturday, March 16, 2019
“Do we have any hazel nuts?” said my fourteen-year-old son Yohannes.
“Umm . . . I don’t think so,” I said. “Why?”
“Where are you?” he asked.
“I’m at the ranch with Laurèn.”
“I want to make Nutella,” he said.
“Yes. I need hazel nuts.”
“You could try a bit of almond butter and . . . “
“Okay. I got it.” He hung up.
I arrived home after a day at the ranch that lasted too long. The countertop, splattered with nut butter and chocolate, looked like a battlefield with spoons and forks as the weapons. The faux-Nutella sat in a large glass bowl. Yohannes had used the entire jar of almond butter, and a bag of chocolate chips lay annihilated on the counter.
“Yohannes!” I yelled. He came upstairs.
“Did you try it?” he asked enthusiastically.
“WHY did you use all the almond butter?” I asked.
“I didn’t,” he answered.
“Do you know how much that jar cost?”
“That jar was like thirteen dollars, and the chocolate chips were probably another gazillion. You could have taken a trip to the Nutella factory in Italy for less than that!!”
“Mom?” he said, “you okay?”
“You only needed a couple of tablespoons! What are you going to do with all of that?”
“I’ll freeze it,” he answered.
Clearly I had taken leave of my senses and could not be trusted to interact with other humans. I waved my hand at him and went to unpack from the ranch. When I turned back, Yohannes was gone and so was the faux-Nutella.
In the freezer I found the glass bowl of chocolatey goodness—with no lid or plastic wrap! I did what any sane and attentive mom would have done. I yelled and stomped on the floor over Yohannes’ bedroom. He showed up in the kitchen (brave kid).
“What were you thinking!!” I asked. Not waiting for an answer, I took the bowl from the freezer and threw the whole thing into the garbage.
“What are you doing?” Yohannes asked.
A reasonable question, to which I replied, “AUGGG!!”
“I could have put it in a container,” he said.
“But you didn’t put it into a container, did you?! It’s just going to get freezer burn, so I’ll throw it out now and save myself the trouble later. Do you even watch me? Where do you get your ideas from? I don’t even know who you are anymore!”
I stormed up the stairs, slammed my bedroom door, and sat on the floor and sobbed.
“Peri-menopausal rage” — I’d heard it called on “Not Your Mother’s Menopause”, a podcast by Dr. Fiona Lovely.
Me? I don’t have PMS. Why are you looking at me that way?
No . . . pffft . . . I’m not crying because my Starbucks card ran out and I forgot my wallet.
You think I’m over-reacting?! Ohhhhh… I’m picking a fight with you?? YOU used my favourite coffee mug! WHAT. DO. YOU. HAVE. TO. SAY. ABOUT. THAT?
Really, you think you're having a rough day? Well, my uterus is sliding out through my vagina. HOW DO YOU THINK THAT FEELS?
Rational thought runs into a wall; the brain gets electrified from too many signals at once; the thing that triggers the rage becomes an insurmountable problem; and conspiracy theory abounds as you imagine loved ones laying awake plotting ways to make you S-N-A-P.
Scientific evidence is plentiful on the changes that occur in the brains of peri-menopausal women. In The Wisdom of Menopause, Christiane Northrup writes that “differences in relative levels of estrogen and progesterone affect the temporal lobe and limbic areas of our brains, and we may find ourselves becoming irritable, anxious, emotionally volatile” (p. 38). But, she also says that PMS and the ramping up of symptoms during peri-menopause are a call to check in on your inner guidance — it could be that we need to tune in and take control.
Of particular interest is that research cannot differentiate between the hormone levels of women who experience PMS and those who don’t. Every woman shifts gears, but not every woman drives the emotional rollercoaster that causes her family to be afraid and nauseous during the sudden descent (into hell).
So, it’s not the hormones alone.
Why — during one week do I come home and crash headlong into a rage over something as insignificant as homemade faux-Nutella, and in another week I’d pop a slice of bread into the toaster to sample the product of my son’s creativity? Why do I become the Tasmanian Devil a few days before my period, and Tweety Bird a few days later? But not every cycle.
Dr. Northrup summarizes it this way, “it is the particular combination of a woman’s hormone levels and her preexisting brain chemistry along with her life situation that results in her symptoms” (p. 43). God help me! The symptoms of PMS are “begging us to look up and see what’s not working in our lives” and attend to it (p. 40). If we don’t, there is an urgency during peri-menopause and the symptoms escalate.
Any psychologist will tell you that anger is not the first emotion. I didn’t go nuts because the jar sat empty on the counter, or because it was worth more than a case of peanut butter, or because Yohannes doesn’t watch me and “do as I do.” NO, I went berserk for (at least) two reasons: First of all, I was tired - I’d taken an emotional beating and truly just wanted to get into bed (but couldn’t); and secondly, my inner guide took a holiday — no actually she was gagged and kidnapped some time ago —so I’ve been winging it, and not listening to the wisdom that my ill-contrived behaviour is trying to convey. Selective deafness.
So, if you are reading this and you are still in your thirties (or forties) heed the wisdom of your inner guidance system and make necessary adjustments—every bloody month.
Lovely, Dr. Fiona. “Not Your Mother’s Menopause”. Audio podcast. 2018. https://drlovely.com/podcast/
Northrup, Dr. Christiane. 2012. The Wisdom of Menopause. New York. Bantam Books.
Thursday, April 13, 2017
April 13, 2017
I went for my nearly-annual check-up today. Prior to seeing my doctor, the nurse asked me, “Is there anything specific you’d like to talk to the doctor about today?”
“Yes. I’d like to talk about the syphilis vaccine - the one for people over 50.” I smiled--being proactive felt great.
“Ummm… the syphilis vaccine?” she said, staring at her computer screen.
“Yeah. I’ve seen signs for it at every pharmacy.”
“You have?” she asked.
“My pharmacist said he would give it to me, he just needs the ok from the doctor.”
“You talked to your pharmacist about it?” she asked — just staring at me.
“Of course,” I said with nonchalance.
I waited a half an hour for my doctor. I heard some talk in the hallway about a vaccine, but I was making a grocery list, and sketching outfits I would like to make, so I didn’t really pay attention.
My doctor came in, smiling, and apologizing for running late. She has been my doctor for several years, and also looks after my two daughters, so she’s fairly aware of our family “story”.
“So…what vaccine did you ask the nurse for?” she asked.
“You know ... the one for people over 50...umm ... oh, it’s related to chicken pox.”
“Oh,” she said and started to laugh. “The nurse told me that you wanted a vaccine for syphilis, and I told her that there was no such thing.” She continued laughing. “I knew you were in here, and it just didn’t make sense. I told her that she must have heard you wrong.”
Omigod! A light bulb blinked on in my head. “Oh No! I did ask for a syphilis vaccine,” I said, “I meant shingles—they are roughly the same length…you know when you picture the word in your head, AND they start and finish the same.”
“And you’d be surprised how many symptoms they share.”
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
My two friends W, J, and I walked onto the porch of my cottage after a crisp but sunny spring afternoon spent down by the river drinking wine and sharing stories. We walked up the steps of the cottage side-by-side-by-side. I reached out, pushed the key into the lock and W said to me, “Did you have a boob job?” In perfect synchrony we all looked at my chest. I cupped my hands beneath my boobs and heaved them up. We broke into another round of lose-your-breath hysterics.
“What are you talking about?” I said.
“A reduction,” she said. “I remember you being bigger than us.” She turned to J for confirmation, “They used to be bigger, right?” Unfortunately J shook uncontrollably and made a small clicking sound in her throat—characteristic of her laughter gone internal. She would fall over soon and then turn blue. We stood by, ready to resuscitate.
We had been friends since 1985. I’d reckon that our breasts weren’t the only things to have changed.
Back when Laurèn and Yohannes were little, they climbed into bed with me each morning when the clock said 7-0-0. It didn’t matter what time they actually woke up, or if they snuck into each other’s bedrooms; they did not enter my bedroom a second before 7:00 am. (Such a control freak!) Anyway, on one morning they curled into each side of me as I lay half-coherent. They jabbered over top of me and leaned in with their elbows planted on my chest as if I were the dinner table. I felt a small hand press into my chest and pat around.
I opened my eyes—“What-cha doin’?”
“Where are your boobs?” asked four-year-old Yohannes.
I raised my head and looked. He was right, my t-shirt lay completely flat. I found my boobs resting (peacefully, I might add) against my ribs on the side of my body. I scooped them back into position to wide-eyed stares, and then I let them go; they slunked over the edge and both kids broke into giggles. And then, to my horror (and quiet amusement) they each pushed one breast back up and let it go again and again, laughing uncontrollably.
Recently, Ward told me about a conversation he’d had with seventeen-year-old Faven.
“I’m not going to have breasts like Mom’s when I get old,” she said.
“Oh,” he said, “Why is that?”
“Have you seen them?!” she asked, incredulous. “They have fallen down.”
“Well, I suspect that is normal; I don’t think your mom did anything to cause that.”
“IF that happens to me I’m going to get a boob-job. Do you know what that is Dad?”
“Ummm, I think so.”
“You can get your boobs put back into position if that happens,” she told him, and then added, “I wonder if Mom knows.”
A couple of weeks ago, I went to the chiropractor. I had been at an interview for a volunteer job, so didn’t have on my normal t-shirt and jeans. When Dr. Kevin came in, I told him my troubles—well, only those related to my spinal health—and I lay face down on the table. After a few adjustments, I turned onto my back. The chiropractic table is tilted slightly toward the head. I wore tights and a sweater dress with a round neckline. As I settled on my back I became awkwardly aware that my breasts, contained in a not-quite-push-up but not-quite-full-coverage bra, began to follow gravity. I lay still, flexing my pectoral muscles underneath the sagging breast tissue hoping to hold them in place. I held my breath and closed my eyes. You know how small children cover their eyes when they play hide-and-seek?—If they can’t see you, you can’t see them. I was employing that tactic. I felt my breasts droop like a bowl of Jello turned on its side. If aging were only as sweet!
Sagging is an inevitable consequence of aging, affected by the hormonal changes of menopause, but also by size, gravity, smoking, weight gain and loss, and lo-and-behold . . . vigorous exercise. Yes, the more freedom you give “the girls” the more likely it is that you will need little people to push them back into position or, God forbid, big people to prop, sling, or stitch them back in place.
That is the down-side.
But here is the great news: menopausal mammaries are shape-shifters—not like in Harry Potter when Professor McGonagall changes into a cat, or when the Boggart turns into your worst fear. It would be very awkward indeed to have your breasts turn into a cat or a Dementor right in the middle of your chest. Breasts already have the ability to cause eye-popping attention, that would just be over-doing it.
But shape-shifters they are nonetheless. These pliable sacks of tissue can be folded, squashed, plumped, thrust up, forced down, and pressed into any mould of your desire. Look no further than Madonna!
Many of the undergarments these days border on ridiculous. Take the balconette bra—so named after a railing or balustrade in front of a window. The bra’s occupants have a clear view over top of that balustrade and even risk toppling over. Ouch!
Here’s another tempting option—the bandeau bra. A fresh new take on the french word that means: “band worn over your forehead”. Warning: Your chest has to be the same shape as your forehead to wear this one.
A popular variety, the contour or molded-cup bra, is one where the cups have been formed by a machine to fit the shape of your breasts. I suspect they used a mammography machine and live subjects for that.
In the olden days, we used to stuff our bras with kleenex if needed. But our modern-day counterparts are too good for that, they buy a padded bra—one that already has the kleenex in it.
Another old-time favourite was the tube top, as if the breasts “inflate” the tube. I mean if that could actually then serve as a flotation device, that would be cool.
Lastly, I’d like to talk about the shelf bra. I know it gets tiring to carry them around all the time, but seriously, who would stop and rest them on a shelf?! I can see it now…you got your nice comfy chairs in the mall, and instead of a cup holder there would be a pivoting shelf. You sit your little hiney into the chair and pull the shelf in front of you, plop your weary pilgrims onto the shelf, and whip out your phone to take a seflfie. Hi Mom!
The bra that I was wearing on that historic spring day when my friend accused me of having a breast reduction, was none other than The Equalizer (aka the sports bra). It takes your breast tissue and compresses it across your whole chest—so that no one can tell where one boob ends and the other begins. It’s the unibrow, but for breasts.
Truth was, my breasts were reduced—in the same way that my butt, thighs, and waist were reduced. Weight loss. Odd that my friend didn’t ask me “Have you had a cheek job?” “Did you get the fat removed from your knees?” or, “I swear, your arms look smaller than they used to, did you have the skin tightened over your triceps?”
Breasts, and their accoutrements are somehow Just More Noticeable.
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Life is nothing if NOT uncertain. True story.
And just when you figure it out, it WILL change. Fact.
So it goes with trying to use cruise-control through peri-menopause. Take for example men-stroo-ey-shuhn, which is defined as: “the periodic discharge of blood and mucosal tissue from the uterus, occurring approximately monthly from puberty to menopause in non-pregnant women” (dictionary.com)—aka the “period”.
I had my last period in October—over one-hundred days ago. Then on Christmas eve Santa made a special delivery. How he shimmied down the chimney holding that, and slipped it into my stocking(s) without me noticing, I will never know. And such festive colours!
Did you know that during a normal period, average blood loss is only two tablespoons? I know! But, hold onto your measuring spoons because peri-menopause marks one of the times of heaviest flow in a women’s life. Halle(effing)lujah! And here is the reason why. I haven’t missed any periods, my aging body just forgot to let the lining go, and stacked one layer on top of another, like a blanket on top of a fitted sheet on top of a mattress pad. When the uterus wakes up and remembers its job, it is extremely irritated. It looks around and says, “Who filled up my nice cozy womb? Don’t you know I’m going for minimalism decor?!” In its anger, the uterus contracts, giving its owner labour-like cramps, and the feeling that the sky is falling.
Missing two-and-a-half periods—though pleasant—is not really worth it. One can no longer even refer to the phenomenon as “a period”; it is more like an apostrophe that has been booted out of a contraction causing a very quick and uncomfortable expansion. It feels as if an invisible hand has turned the valve on a fire hydrant, thus releasing a powerful gush. Seriously!—walking around with a gushing red fire hydrant between your legs makes life a lot more complicated. For one thing, it is definitely not very sexy, no matter how you dress it up. Moreover, the risks of hypothermia go up exponentially, should the gush begin when you are out in -20 degree weather walking the dogs. Also, dehydration…just think about it.
So, what’s an aging gal to do?
Why not hormone therapy?— in the form of birth control pills (contraindicated in anyone over 35), or progesterone (side effects include: abdominal cramps, depression, dizziness, headache, anxiety, cough, diarrhea, fatigue, musculoskeletal pain, nausea, bloating, emotional lability, and irritability—a cake walk given the other benign symptoms of peri-menopause).
Since heavy bleeding is considered when one uses more than twelve regular pads or tampons in the FULL course of one’s period—I’ve decided to buy shares in Kotex™. Either that, or I’ll get me a pad-ded room!
Saturday, October 8, 2016
Let me first point out the IRONY of this post…directly following “Fitness Gamble” from May. In reference to soccer, here is what I had to say:
"Before each game, I coached myself, “play smart, slow down, let the ball do the work”. But truth is, I love the feel of side-by-side sprinting, and gaining an edge over the other player and meeting the ball first. Furthermore, a game with no physical contact would be boring indeed. I don’t seek it, but when it finds me, I am ready to engage, mass-to-mass, sweat upon sweat, legs entangled and then free. I am a competitor."
I chose not to play outdoor soccer this year, and found myself enjoying hiking and biking. However, after six months of not playing, and during a particularly self-isolating part of my year, I decided to go play a game. I yearned to do something I felt good at, and I wanted the camaraderie of the amazing women I’d played with.
As you may know, I sustained an injury. A recap (August 29th):
The forward and I sprinted along the side of the field; she had possession of the ball; my job was to keep her to the outside, or take the ball away. Within scoring range, she pushed the ball ahead of her, and in a burst of speed, I got to the ball first. I touched the ball once, and she “took me out” from behind. She didn’t aim for or touch the ball at all. I fell hard, and landed directly, and with force, onto my left kneecap. Yes!—she did get a penalty called against her. I have heard many people say things like, “But soccer isn’t a contact sport! Is it?” to which I reply, “Have you not watched World Cup, or the Olympics?” There is legal, illegal, and accidental contact.
Here's the thing, in the moment of side-by-side sprinting, equal forces are at play: one player wants to score, and the other wants to prevent her from shooting. Competitive players act in ways that they would not condone in others. There is a loss of conscious and rational thought; there is only the ball, between you and a goal. I have always been a competitive player, and though I play a different game than I did in my twenties, if someone plays competitively against me—I am all in. 😏
So, I knew the risk, and played anyway.
I walked into physio this week feeling down about my perceived lack of progress, amongst other things. My physiotherapist Rhonda is realistic, and optimistic. I think she benefits from having her expectations, of her patients’ progress, in the realm of possible. I had been treated by Rhonda for three previous injuries; each time, through her unwavering guidance and my diligent work, I healed and then strengthened beyond my prior state.
As I “warmed up” on the bike by swinging my injured and still deformed leg in a shuddering arc, up and down, but not around, tears dripped from the corners of my eyes. My inner coach, who is not always helpful told me to “pull yourself together, do you want people to see you crying over NOTHING?” I wanted to scream at my inner coach, but just then Rhonda appeared, and she had a student in her shadow. I wiped my palms down my face removing the glistening tracks.
“How’s it doing?” she asked, nodding toward my leg.
I looked at my knee, “It’s okay,” I said.
“Can you go all the way around yet?”
“No.” My foot swung like a weight on a pendulum, and Rhonda’s head bobbed up and down.
“It looks like you will be able to go around backwards first,” she noted, and I nodded. “Put the seat up one notch, and try to go all the way around.” She walked away.
“Maybe I should have brought my platform shoes,” I said. She laughed.
I lay on the treatment table, and Rhonda measured my range of motion. She explained to her student what my leg looked like when I first came. Like a proud Mama I whipped out my phone and showed him pictures.
“Spectacular hey?” I said. He said he’d never seen anything like it. My range of motion had improved from 60 degrees—two weeks after the injury—to 110 degrees this week—five weeks out. (135 degrees is normal flexion) Rhonda then talked with the student about my body parts as if I wasn’t even there.
“There are times when the injury to the bursa is so severe that it won’t go back to it’s original shape,” she said. And then her and the student took turns feeling my bursa. “Feel here,” she said.
“Ohhh…” he responded, and grimaced.
What? What are you feeling? “Is it scar tissue?” I asked, but got no answer.
“And if it doesn’t heal?” he asked.
“Some people just live without full range of motion in their knee. But, for athletes, the bursa may have to come out,” she told him.
Come out. What? Hello, I’m right here. Are we talking about Madam Pomfrey removing it in the Hogwarts hospital wing, or like . . . surgery? Have I ever mentioned that I throw up after surgery?
Later Rhonda looked at me, and said, “When you walked in today, you were walking funny.”
Duh! . . . I’ve got an injury here.
“Can you walk down there and back?” I did, and she watched me, her head tilting the way a dog’s does when we talk to them like they are humans. “Why are you dragging your leg like that?” she asked.
Well . . . I’m either auditioning for a part in a “Mommy turns Zombie” movie, or training for the three-legged race in the upcoming “Unusual Athlete Games” set in Narnia!
She stared intently at me, her bionic eyes boring through my skin and fat and into my muscles. “Try this,” she said, and lifted her leg up, knee bent—the way you would if you were climbing onto a rock, or a raised box. I mimicked her. “Yes! Good,” she said, with the enthusiasm of a mother watching her baby take its first step. “You still have your hip flexors,” she told me, “you need to over-exaggerate the use of your hip flexors when you walk. Walk down there again, using your hip flexor.”
I did it. I felt uncoordinated and foolish. Every second step, I willfully lifted my left leg.
“Much better,” she said.
“I guess that will prevent me from falling down now,” I said, and she tilted her head again. “When I get tired, my dragging foot gets caught on stuff. Last night when I picked up my daughter at gymnastics, I caught my foot on a mat, and went smack, face first into the ground.”
She raised her eyebrow, and then walked away, “See you in two weeks,” she said.
I gathered my things, and left. My right leg moved effortlessly while my left leg rose as if it were on a string controlled by some force just out of sight. I felt like a puppet-human hybrid. I realized that I could perhaps conjure puppet strings for any part of my body-soul.
Friday, May 6, 2016
There can be no doubt that aging forces us to make decisions regarding fitness. The main questions: get active? stay active? or modify activity? A crystal ball would come in handy. I have remained active my whole life, and I intend to continue. But, in what form? My main competitive sport has been soccer; I have put thousands of miles on my body over thirty-plus years of playing. I’m pretty sure my odometer has rolled over…a few times.
Why, or how a fifty-plus-year-old woman plays soccer is a curiosity to many? Not everyone understands it, and I have been asked a time or two, “YOU play soccer?” To which I respond, if only in my head, “Yeah. Better than you.”
When I began to coach my eleven-year-old son’s soccer team a couple of years ago, he confessed to me on the way to our first practice that he was getting teased at school because his mother agreed to coach. He’s a confident kid, and I had his permission to coach. But he felt pretty nervous going to the first practice. Yohannes had “grown up” on the soccer field with me. I had coached him at ages three, four and five. He watched me coach his sister’s team for several years, and he came to many of my soccer games. I knew he wasn’t worried about my ability, and by the end of the first practice, he stood proudly at my side, because none of the other boys worried about it either.
A few years ago, I sustained a lower spinal disc injury—bending over to pick up a pair of my ten-year-old daughter’s shoes. They were really heavy! It took months of physiotherapy before I returned to the soccer field. At my monthly massage, my therapist asked me how my back felt. I told her that it felt fine, except when I fell down.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“It’s difficult to get up quickly after I fall down," I said. "When I put my hands on the ground by my feet to push myself up, I can’t because my back won’t bend that way anymore. I have to roll to the side to get up, and by then, the opposition has taken the ball.”
She paused thoughtfully; I assumed that she was trying to think of exercises to help me improve my mobility. Instead, it became obvious that she had probably never seen a game of soccer before. She said, “The thing that I don’t understand . . . is . . . Why do a bunch of grown women want to knock each other down?”
I laughed, “We don’t just go around the field pushing each other over. Falling and hitting the ground is part of the game.” (Maybe more for me than others.)
Some people just don’t get the beauty (or point) of physical sport. I’m okay with that.
As one gets older, it’s a mixed bag. The last tournament I played in nearly killed me. I had to stop on the way home to pick up my daughter Laurèn at a friend’s house. When I arrived, the mom and dad sat at the kitchen table enjoying a glass of wine while the kids jumped on the backyard trampoline. They asked me to join them. I briefly contemplated saying no, because I knew that I could not bend down and take off my shoes. I just wanted to get home and lay down. But, I kicked off my shoes, shuffled over to the table, and lowered myself into a chair with a thunk and a groan. “Are you okay?” they asked. “Yup. I just finished a soccer tournament, I’m a little sore.”
That was an understatement. What had I been thinking?
Truthfully . . . I only strained one muscle group. It just happened to be the muscles that allowed me to stand erect, to bend and tie my shoes, to put one leg in front of the other (aka: walk), and to reach my arms out to pick something up, or even wash the dishes. Other than that simple little muscle strain in my back, and the fatigue, dizziness and headaches from exertion, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, I felt great—quite “fit” actually. I still had it all goin’ on.
I was forty-five—but on the field, I played much younger (we all do!). Before each game, I coached myself, “play smart, slow down, let the ball do the work”. But truth is, I love the feel of side-by-side sprinting, and gaining an edge over the other player and meeting the ball first. Furthermore, a game with no physical contact would be boring indeed. I don’t seek it, but when it finds me, I am ready to engage, mass-to-mass, sweat upon sweat, legs entangled and then free. I am a competitor.
During our final two games, we played the same team. They were lithe, fit, and young; we were robust, able-bodied, and mature. If the spectators had been at a horse race placing bets, they would have picked the fountain of youth over the well of experience. They would have lost their money, and incidentally, so would have I. The winning was a testament to our teams’ defensive tenacity. We stuck to them like a teenage boy dancing his first slow dance. Our opposition wasn’t interested in dancing, and they fought to shed us like a cobweb on a nature walk.
Our goals, to play soccer, have fun, and win—if it was in the cards—were met. The younger, faster team expected to win, and possibly even to teach us a lesson. It wasn’t to be. They left both games congratulating us, and shaking their heads wondering what had just happened. I know their dressing room chatter was not likely reflecting their awe at our prowess. Our dressing room, on the other hand, was celebratory, complete with Jello shooters!
The differences between them and us may not have been so obvious on the field, appearance aside. But after the game, as they were peeling off their sweaty sports bras and matching briefs, and slipping into lace undergarments and skinny jeans, we were peeling off our protective undergarments and bemoaning the realities of aging, while putting on sandals and sweatpants. We were already icing and applying antiphlogistines (A535) to our muscles and joints, and popping ibuprofen to get ahead of the aches and pains.
It was after the fourth game in forty-eight hours that the difference in our age became apparent. All of the players had to be 35 or older; but when it comes to sport, each year difference is not additive—it’s more like dog years (seven years for each one—for all you non-dog people). Regardless of how much physical fitness I regularly participated in, I pretty much came out of that tournament, and many soccer games, beaten and depleted. Recovery takes an inordinate amount of time, and bounce-back is inversely related to age. My full time job, taking care of home and family, is hampered, because I don't sleep well, and each game takes me about three days to physically recover from. And the price seemed to be getting higher.
For the past five years, in between indoor and outdoor seasons, I simultaneously think, “I can’t do it anymore” and “I don’t want to quit”. The field has been the only place where I am truly in the moment. As I lace up my cleats, I set aside my problems; as I “get my game face on”, the difficult and painful experience of parenting a child with special needs falls into distant memory. I no longer care who has homework, whose fault it was, or how I am going to make it through this period of my life. I just play the game, to the best of my ability, alongside a team of ageless and delightfully-spirited women.
Can I really give that up?
My main physical priority going forward, is to be able to walk through fields, hills and mountains as long as possible. I am at an age where I wonder what damage my choices of today will have on my joints of tomorrow. For that reason, I quit running years ago, making soccer my only impact sport. But, now, I wonder how it is impacting me.
I grew up around music. My parents played in a dance band for many of my formative years. In the mid-70’s our house underwent a renovation to include a large music room, complete with gold shag rug covering the floors and the walls. Even though I did not inherit the musical genes of my parents, I do love music, and it often guides and inspires my living.
In 1978, Kenny Rogers recorded a song written by Don Schlitz called “The Gambler”. I can’t be one-hundred-percent sure that my parent’s band sang it, but how else would a twelve-year-old girl find her way to it? You know the words, sing along:
You’ve gotta know when to hold ‘em
Know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run.
Saturday, March 19, 2016
Many things change in (peri)menopause, none of which are particularly pleasant: hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, heavy bleeding, insomnia, mood swings, decreased labido, dryness, and urinary incontinence—to name but a few. Most of these changes are silent—which should not be confused with not apparent. Those in the near vicinity are well aware that we are going through something.
I don’t think we should shy away from tough, or embarrassing topics. If we can’t talk about the things we are going through, they will cling to us like static. Invisible, but forcible. Also, I won’t see your face when you read this, so if you are feeling grossed out or afraid…I won’t know. Some people imagine their audience naked—I’ve never figured out how that would be helpful. So instead, I imagine my audience drunk.(Now would be a good time to pause and fix yourself a drink.)
When women hit middle-age, the changes caused by menopause resoundingly crash into those caused by aging—creating a “menopage” in the story of our lives. Middle-age is becoming a less relevant term; age seems to be more a state-of-mind than a numerical expression. The Huffington Post1 revealed that middle-age starts at fifty-three. Moreover, you’ll know you are middle-aged when you enjoy naps, moan when you bend over, get frustrated with technology, spend an inordinate amount of time talking about your joints, and choose comfort over style when it comes to clothing. Apparently I’ve been middle-aged my whole adult life!
At fifty, I feel like I’m making good lifestyle choices. I am healthy, active, engaged, and I appear to have weathered the storm pretty well. However, you know what your mother told you:
Never has that been more true. My plumbing ain’t what it used to be; there is leakage into all parts of my life.
The expression—I laughed so hard I peed my pants—is not literal. Actually peeing your pants is never funny.
And yet . . .
Let’s wade into this socially awkward topic—put on your Wellies, it could get wet.
There are many specialists who deal with malfunctioning plumbing. Natural, medical, and manipulative. My doctor recommended pelvic floor physiotherapy. I had just one question for her: WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? She described, at length, the probing, manipulating, and strengthening possible through physio. I became nauseous and light-headed, and had to lie down. While the doctor monitored my blood pressure, she told me that millions of women had this problem, and that loss of bladder control was a normal function of aging (who is aging, I am in my prime?), and that hormonal changes of peri-menopause could make it worse. (I think I should get another opinion—I am neither aging nor menopausing. And she calls herself a doctor!)
I ignored the problem for another year. But, it became increasingly difficult to play soccer; I dribbled all the way down the field, and not just with my feet. I had to play every game while wearing a pad the size of a small mattress. Oh. My. God.
I booked an appointment for physiotherapy. I had done physio before, so I had an idea about assessment, strength testing, exercises, and the use of props. The therapist came in, and while testing my muscle strength, we talked casually, as if gathered around a coffee table and not my pelvic floor. “Okay, squeeze,” she instructed. “How many children do you have? […] Hold it there. How old are they? [… ] Now cough. Where do they go to school? […] And relax.”
She could find nothing wrong with my muscle strength. She left, and I got dressed. She came back and handed me a brightly coloured plastic egg—the kind that kids get at Easter, the one’s covered in chocolate with surprises inside. The only surprise it held for me was what she wanted me to do with it. “Put it in a condom, and insert it “down below””, she said. “Then run up and down the stairs, or do jumping jacks. If you feel the egg slipping, you need to squeeze your pelvic floor muscles tighter.” I stared at her. Are you kidding me? What am I training for—a “ladies of magic” night show? Other women do box jumps or power squats; I do pull-ups with my pelvic floor.
Physiotherapy didn't work. I read more about stress incontinence. There were other things that made it worse: coffee, alcohol, and chocolate, for example. Things within my control. But, I knew that if I stopped drinking coffee the bladder wouldn’t be the only orifice that became incontinent! I had a family to consider.
My doctor referred me to the Pelvic Floor Clinic. A young nurse named Anna took me to an exam room; I changed into a blue gown, lay down on the exam bed, and positioned a leg into each stirrup. Anna did all of the same strength testing as the physiotherapist, but this time I had a full bladder.
She left the room momentarily, and returned with several plastic bags. “These are pessaries,” she told me and pulled one out of its bag, “They can help with stress incontinence. Would you like to try it?”
I propped myself up on my elbows—a somewhat challenging endeavour, given that my legs were still splayed open. Anna held a baby-doll pink, circular object in her hand. It looked to the untrained eye like a small umbrella canopy, one that could have been used by Bernard to shelter the glamour-mouse Miss Bianca, in “The Rescuers”.
“What exactly is that?” I asked.
“It’s a pessary,” she said again, as if the word defined itself.
“And, what will it do?” I asked.
“When inserted into your vagina, it will push against the urethra whenever you strain, and stop the flow,” she said.
“Oh.” I said feeling a warm flush come over my face. I lay back down. The drop ceiling was classic clinic white. The panels had small pockmarks, as if just recovering from acne; each tile was framed by a polished silver grid that eerily reflected the contents of the room. Anna. Me. The pessary.
“Okay, I’ll try it,” I said.
Anna slipped the device into place, and I sat up. She asked me to jump up and down and cough, legs in a straddle, while standing overtop of a towel. I looked from the towel to the young nurse and wondered, Is this the only job you could get, watching older women with failing sphincters and spurting bladders jump up and down? I grasped the back of my gown and began to jump. It was just like personal training—but not! Up. Down. Cough. Look. Repeat.I passed the first test.
We then went into the hallway. She asked me to mimic the activities that I do in soccer that cause leakage.
“Pardon me.” I said.
“You know, just pretend you’re in a game,” she said.
Let’s review: I had a full bladder; I was naked from the waist down; my gown was wide open at the back; and it was a public hallway. I imagined myself running barefoot down the hallway, sprinkling pee all over the floor like a hose released under pressure, and falling and sliding through my own urine, as if in a horror-house slip-and-slide.
“Okay,” I said—that’s a great idea. I held my gown in my fist and ran, looking more like a fairy in a briar patch, than Beckham across the freshly mowed pitch. I passed that test too.
I was sent to the bathroom to see if I could pee with the pessary in place; everything should work normally when relaxed. I pissed the third test.
Anna sent me back to the room, and instructed me to see if I could find the pessary and pull it out. I closed the door and began the search. Given the confines of the space within which it was installed, I assumed I would just reach in and pull it out. That did not happen. Anna returned. She coached me. “Put one leg up on the bed,” she said. I still could not feel the pessary. I lay back down on the bed. Anna could not remove it either.
“Oh well,” she proclaimed. Oh well? I thought. “You really only need to take it out every three months, so you can simply come back and have it removed and cleaned then.” “What!?” I stammered. Do they have express service? Do I just cruise up to the “secret” door and knock three times? And then when the door slides open, do I lie down on the bed and press the button marked “Pessary Removal”? SERIOUSLY!
I walked out with a silicone dam wedged somewhere between north and south. It reminded me of a time when my roommate, who had just returned from a doctor’s appointment, came skipping into the room, “I’ve got a secret, I’ve got a secret,” she chanted with impish cuteness. She had just been fitted with a diaphragm. Seems to me that her secret was a lot more fun than mine!
That night, I had a soccer game and was keen to see if the device would help to restore me to my former water-tight self. Success! Now I know how a toddler feels—one who goes to bed in a diaper and wakes up dry in the morning. “Look Mommy, I dry!”, she says as she pulls her bottoms down. (I spared my teammates my excitement.)
Stress incontinence had never been a topic at our post-game drinking circle. I had, in fact, contemplated quitting soccer several times because the thought of leaking out, or being injured and taken to the hospital—where they would find out that I had to wear incontinence products—was mortifying. I hoped that with the pessary, I could continue to play—dignity intact.
The fact that I couldn’t remove the pessary caused me a great deal of consternation. Frustrated, a few days after insertion, I said to my husband Ward, “I can’t get this damn thing out! They are probably going to have to cut me open from here to here to remove it”. (belly button to pubic bone—sometimes I can be a bit dramatic)
“Why do you have this thing anyway?” he asked. “Is this because of soccer?”
“YES,” I said.
“I don’t understand why they can’t just put porta-potties on the side lines.”
Staring hard at my doctor-husband, I said, “Do. You. Even. Know. What STRESS INCONTINENCE is?”
“Umm…maybe not,” he said hesitantly.
“I BASICALLY PEE MY PANTS AT EVERY SOCCER GAME! I would need a porta-potty strapped directly to my body, and for some reason they don’t allow women to play soccer with a potty strapped on to their butt!”
Now he stared hard at me, (stuck with a picture in his mind, I’m sure) “Really, you pee your pants?” (He shook his head) “It sucks to be a woman.”
“ARG.” I stormed off.
Later in the week, I enlisted Ward’s help to get the device out. I figured he was familiar with my “equipment”, so surely he could find the pessary and pull it out. This is an activity I would not recommend for new couples—it is not exactly on the list of sexy and romantic encounters, nor could it be considered foreplay. I felt desperate. He was not successful, so I went back to the clinic to have it removed. They managed to find it, wayward and wedged in some other orifice. They pulled it out, and fitted me with a different size, and attached a string to it for easier removal. The pessary never worked for me again.
Instead, I have to chose a pad for every activity that I undertake. Also, I have had to re-define the word activity because as the years have gone by, the incontinence—which follows my fluctuating hormones—has become unpredictable. One day, no leakage at all; and a few days later, I am not able to walk and fart at the same time. So much for multi-tasking. Soccer still provides the most challenge. A full-out burst of speed can create something like an open tap. I do not understand where all the fluid comes from.
After one game, I weighed my pad—I know, gross right? But having studied kidney function in my previous health care life made me really curious. The saturated pad weighed over 300 grams. One millilitre (ml) of fluid weighs one gram. I had peed over a cup during my game. How is that even possible? The normal kidney produces one ml of fluid per minute. Our games last 50 minutes. How could I leak SIX times more than a normal kidney produces? Fucking over-achiever!
Of course I empty my bladder before the game.
Of course I restrict my fluids for a few hours leading up to the game.
It just doesn’t matter.
Every day I need to decide—does my schedule of activities require a piddle pad, or a puddle pad?
By sharing this kind of personal information, we find out that we are not alone in our suffering. Recently, a good friend of mine was supposed to come over for dinner, but she had a horrible cold. I sent her a message on the day of dinner to see how she was feeling. She replied, “I wish I could come. This cough is bad. Just peed my pants. Awesome!”