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The Portals of Aging

My first self-portrait in January 22011

My first self-portrait, January 2011

 

Recently I was asked to write both about my experience of being in my fifties and my menopausal experiences.  It’s difficult for me to write in my authentic voice about this.  My first reaction is to start doing research and then educate you, my dear reader.  If I approach the question academically, then it removes me one step from my feelings.  If I think about it, I don’t feel it; however, most of these experiences are visceral, not cerebral.

 

Looking back two years at my first self-portrait, you can see how shy I was then, how inhibited I was about sharing myself, how uncomfortable I was in front of the camera.  I’m different now.

 

I am standing on the boundary of a new territory. Turning 60 in April feels like a threshold event.  I used to think that 60 was REALLY old but I don’t feel as old as I thought I would.  I feel like me only wiser, more purposeful, less angst-ridden.  I know who I am.

 

I’ve experienced many Steppingstones* on the spiral journey of my life.

 

First portal:  Maiden

 

The feelings I’ve had throughout my journey as a woman are as complex and varied as the stars.  I didn’t get my period until I was nearly 15.  I was so worried that something was wrong with me.  I wanted to be like the other girls.  I wanted to know what they were talking about.

 

As a Maiden, I had romantic and foolish notions about becoming a W-O-M-A-N!  Once I started my period, I was repulsed by the mess and the (omg) thick, uncomfortable pads and (OMG!) belts and buckles.  I was worried about the smell and the “accidents” and bleeding all over my sheets at night.

 

When I turned 30, I started getting terrible pre-menstrual symptoms.  I went to see my doctor because I didn’t know why I was having extreme mood swings with such terrible irritability.  HE informed me that PMS “is a disease we have been treating for 10 years.”  I never went back to see him.  I was offended that he referred to being born female as a disease.

 

I was at my physical peak in my early 30’s.  I trained in martial arts for five years, could run an 8 minute mile and lifted weights in the gym with the college football players.  I feel sad to remember that I still thought I was fat when I was at my most lean and fit, but body dysmorphia is a topic for another day.

 

Second portal:  Mother

 

I am in awe of the sacred blood of women, the life-affirming blood we possess.  We bleed without dying.  We can create new life and become a Mother.  I’m happy that mothers are beginning to teach teach their daughters to celebrate their menses and are creating special rituals for them. **

 

In deference to all the women who struggle with fertility issues, I hope this passage is not too painful to read.  I almost want to apologize for the ease with which I was able to get pregnant.  For years I tried not to get pregnant but when I felt ready to have children, it didn’t take long. I was 35 when I had my first daughter and 38 when I had my second.  At that time I didn’t know I was tempting the gods by waiting for so long.  I was fortunate that conception wasn’t a problem and for that, I am truly grateful.

 

I loved breastfeeding.  I was amazed that my body could nourish my child.  What a miracle.  And yet, It’s nothing less, and  nothing more than planting a seed, growing a tree and harvesting its fruit.  The essence of life as we know it is in the nature of our existence.

 

I loved my 40’s.  I was a mother of young children who worked, exercised and maintained a garden.  I had so much energy.  When my children were 4 and 6, I quit working and stayed home.  Motherhood was all-consuming.  I took them to dance classes and piano lessons, and became their Girl Scout leader.  We did a lot of fun things together as a family, too.

 

Third portal:  Crone?  Not yet!

 

My daughters began going through puberty about the same time I began having menopausal symptoms.  My first hot flash occurred on my oldest daughter’s 15th birthday.  The girls experienced puberty going forward, confused by their changing bodies.  I felt like I was going through puberty backwards and was equally confused by my changing body.

 

These physical changes are life altering.  The body is in charge.  No amount of wishing makes it any other way.

 

Oh, the mood swings worsened as I lurched through my cycles and became irregular.  Night sweats caused insomnia.  I woke up at 2 a.m. nightly for months. And then, the weird stuff I never heard about began – sensitivity to smells, motion sickness when never before, and lactose intolerance.  Simultaneously, weird stuff I had heard of before appeared – the loss of libido, dry and wrinkling skin, chin hairs, and age spots.

 

After a year of not sleeping, I caved and tried Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).  It turned out to be heavenly.  Suddenly I had a life without hormonal mood swings.  My depression dissipated.  I stopped taking the pills after five years because of the health risks, but it sure was a sweet ride while it lasted.

 

There was a pivotal moment one night in my early 50’s.  My husband and my oldest daughter were working and my youngest was away on a cross-country team trip.  I was Home Alone in the evening for the first time in eons.  I realized that soon both girls would be driving, branching out and moving away as children will do.  For over thirteen years I stayed at home with them.  My life revolved around them.  I thought, “If I don’t do something before they are gone from the house, I will go nuts with an empty nest.”

 

I kept my eye on the want ads and one day I applied for a part-time job.  Next thing I knew, I was working again.  With dismay, I realized that both girls were still at home and I had twice as much to do.  They still needed me. I had forgotten what it was like to try and juggle everything.

 

On the job, being older was a perk.  I had experience that I could share with my younger co-workers.  I didn’t “sweat” my peculiar boss because I was old enough to be his mother.  He just didn’t intimidate me.  I had skills and education that helped me build an awesome program from scratch.

 

A lot of friends told me it was “all downhill after 50,” but my physical downhill hit at 55 in Kathmandu, Nepal. I was in a hotel bathroom, looking down at my thighs and appalled that they had turned into cottage cheese.  I thought rather innocently that, “I must be retaining water from the airplane trip.”  Not.  We went from Nepal to Bhutan where there is no flat land anywhere, except for the airport runway in Paro.  My knees were killing me by the end of the trip.  My knees and legs will never be the same.

 

I worked in that position for four years before I stopped wanting to work for someone else.  I discovered that when the ovaries quit producing estrogen so does the overwhelming urge to take care of other people, animals and plants.  I had no clue until I read The Wisdom of Menopause by Christiane Northrup.   She explained that when the hormones disappear, so does the desire to meet everyone else’s needs.  I found this rather shocking and I believe it’s been an unpleasant shift for my family as well.

 

The new third portal:  Queen

 

Thanks to Donna Henes***, I know now that I’ve entered into the stage between Mother and Crone.   Because of improved nutrition and medical care, women are living longer. This is a significant time of transition for many women.  I, too, am becoming the Queen of Myself.  I’m not yet a grandmother nor am I elderly.

 

Eighteen months ago, I quit my job and I started my own business. I brought all of my skills and experiences together when I finally figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up!

 

“Ridiculous is the new remarkable.” ~Seth Godin

 

Photo by Kylie Bellard

Photo by Kylie Bellard

To be continued……

 

*Steppingstones are defined by Ira Progroff, in At a Journal Workshop, as a process for working in the Life/Time Dimension.  “The Steppinstones are the significant points of movement along the road of an individual’s life.”

**Mindful Menstruation  and Moon Mothers –  Jo MacDonald

***The Queen of Myself by Donna Henes

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42 comments

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  1. Sarah | Holistic Hot Sauce

    Love the Queen image. I’ve always learned that once you’ve ceased bleeding for 13 months you are officially a Crone – which actually IS the Queen of which you speak. Unfortunately the word ‘crone’ has such awful connotations in our culture (brings to mind the horrible hag who gave Snow White the poisoned apple) that it is hard to accept that archetype when we know we are still vital and full of so much to offer.
    So – Queen. Why not?
    Sarah | Holistic Hot Sauce recently posted..Happy New World. What Next?My Profile

    1. Loran Hills

      The Crone is “traditional” in the triple aspects for women, but now we are living so much longer that the label doesn’t really fit. Hopefully we can bring more positive thoughts and imagery to the Crone as we approach her in our journey.

  2. Tammy Vitale

    oh this is simply marvelous! MAH _ VA LOUS!!!! almost as good as those glasses!

    I never heard that about the nurturing part – but it explains so much (except grandchildren – imo it all comes back with grandchildren, tho I am glad I am not the main care giver any more!).

    I’m turning 65 in March – I figure that makes me officially old but you know it’s only a number and what we do with our time is up to us. I’m even working out so my knees sort of remember how they used to work! Glasses instead of contacts because after 50 years I couldn’t wear them anymore, and today: hearing aids. I was so ready for them. It has been such a struggle. Now I can relax in company and enjoy the conversation!

    But we NEED this kind of information out there – as you can see, I even learned something new. No ones tells us these things! Bravo!

    1. Loran Hills

      Tammy, I don’t think 65 qualifies as officially old yet!

      We do need more information and sharing about our process. We are all curious about what to expect.

  3. Priska

    For me mid life is as much of a turning point as adolescence and I admit to going through the same yet different ‘who am I’ as I did back then.
    In mid life rather than losing the urge to nurture, I yearned for genuine connection. Yes I’d outgrown putting others first but felt that I’d been focusing my energy in the wrong places for the wrong people and reasons out of fear that if I did not keep it all together life would fall apart.
    I fled a marriage from domestic violence when my daughter was three.
    For nearly three decades I was the main breadwinner, too busy worrying about making ends meet.
    I now have a desire to discover who I really am underneath all of that angst and worry that drove my whole adult life for so long.
    Working from home has allowed me to feel more connected with those who matter. I’m more patient and willing to be silly with my grandchildren than I was as a mother and feel closer to my partner without external work or children around.
    I’m enjoying connecting with other mid life women and listening to their stories. Thank you for sharing, not only through your story also through the two beautiful photos.
    Priska recently posted..Blogging Boomers are Blooming.My Profile

    1. Loran Hills

      Priska, a lot of people are talking about the yearning for genuine connection. Part of maturing means that we learn who we really do want to spend time connecting with and who, perhaps, may not be healthy for us.

      I’m glad that you now have the time and desire to discover who you are! It happens when it happens, or as a dear friend of mine used to say, “It takes what it takes.”

  4. Michelle M

    This is beautiful Loran, thank you. I learned many things, but one that really stood out was the hormonal changes at menopause that stops the drive to take care of others. That explained something that has been troubling me for years. I have, on a couple of occasions, been shocked at how intolerant of small children some older women are. I’ve wondered how they could be anything from dismissive to downright rude to me and my kids (who were just being normal children, not destructive or noisy) . I thought – “you were a Mum, don’t you remember what kids are like, can’t you be a bit more understanding and supportive”.

    But knowing that it is a change brought about by hormones helps me to be more understanding of them, and also to stop beating myself up about my parenting. And worse, I have at times, truly despaired for us parents of young children that there is so little tolerance left in our world.

    Thank you – now I have one less thing to worry about!!!

    1. Loran Hills

      Michelle, I wonder if those women were old and cranky or just plain cranky? Some people are rude no matter what stage they are in, but it could be that pesky change in hormones too. Personally I love little kids and get so much delight from just watching them.

      No worries!

  5. Donna

    Loran, thank you so much for sharing this!! I am entering the phase of menopause (the irregularities, hot flushes and flashes, night sweats, insomnia, irritability, low libido). It has troubled me that the past year I am so DONE with taking care of others. My youngest is almost 20 and especially in the past few months I have just had this need to be LEFT ALONE. I am so glad that this is a normal transition – I was really beginning to wonder what in the heck was wrong with me. I also have a greater understanding of my own mom when she was my age (and I about my youngest son’s age) and why there was a distance there that I did not understand. She was just needing to be LEFT ALONE, too. =) I wish we had been able to talk about these things more openly back then and I’m so grateful that more and more women are sharing their experiences now – it doesn’t have to be something that is talked about in hushed tones like it is something to dread or be ashamed of…

    I love your “ridiculous” glasses!! Awesomeness!

    Thank you again!

    1. Loran Hills

      Ain’t it grand, Donna? It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who wants to be left alone sometimes.

  6. Cindy

    I started reading Dr. Northrup’s Menopause book two days ago. I am at the beginning of perimenopause and realized I know nothing about this. The Wisdom of Menopause has been a great book for me. It has explained so much to me – my dropping energy levels, my lack of patience (at times), my need to be creative and an increased need to be alone. I’ve never had kids choosing instead to dedicate my life to work. I am interested to see how my transition varies from my friends who have kids. Thank you for sharing.
    Cindy recently posted..Themes for 2013My Profile

    1. Loran Hills

      Cindy, it’s so helpful to have someone at least explain the essentials, doesn’t it? Even without children there is a huge shift in energy and focus as we age. Happy discovering!

  7. gina rafkind

    So great to read this post after hearing that you were writing it……..it turned out so fab Loran……..so great to share your experiences with the rest of us………..and thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing………I think I could start reading some menopause type books!!! :) I think I actual have one by Susan Weed……I’m going to go dig it out……thx!
    gina rafkind recently posted..2012 Reflections + 2013 Evolutions ~ Part 2My Profile

    1. Loran Hills

      I’m sure Susun Weed is good too. It helps to get a heads up on some of this stuff, just to know it’s a time of transformation and that everyone has a different experience even when a similar thing is happening.

    2. Sue Kearney (@MagnoliasWest)

      Hi Loran, great article. I have a couple of thoughts. For me, the regal Queen-ness is an energy we can summon throughout our lives. As maidens, as mothers, as crown, standing tall, head up, tits out, owning my regality. I’m 62, and I had a croning ceremony a few years ago, and then I un-croned a year later. While I’m years past menopause, I’m active, I work, I’m of service. And yes, I have a crone’s wisdom, and a maiden’s enthusiasm, and a Queen’s stately dignity, and a mother’s need to create and create and create some more. All.At.The.Same.Time!

      Susun Weed’s book, titled something like Menopausal Years, the Wise Woman Way saw me through the end of my menses. I recommend it for all women, and don’t wait until your blood stops. It’s a powerful ally. Buy it, read it, own it. Just sayin’…
      Sue Kearney (@MagnoliasWest) recently posted..How to align your resolutions with your heart, so you get the results you crave…My Profile

      1. Loran Hills

        You are absolutely right, Sue. All of these parts are contained within us!

  8. Gin

    I loved this post, Loran – thanks for sharing this! I’m going through menopause now. I’m 51 and my peri-menopause years started sometime in my early 40s. But these past three or four years, as I really moved deep into this experience… well, it’s been an eye-opener in so many ways, and something I really wasn’t prepared for very well! My experience hasn’t been anything like what my mother or her mother went through, and I felt very alone until I started reading more and finding women who talked about their own experience. Thank you!
    Gin recently posted..crystal helpers…My Profile

    1. Loran Hills

      My mother sailed right through and then became a more pleasant person after her mood swings stopped. I don’t think many of us have known what to expect. The peri-menopause was not anything I want to repeat! I’m glad to be done with all of it. Well, almost all of it…..still gonna keep getting older. I’ll let you know when I think I’m officially a Crone.

  9. Arwen

    The hardest part of my life to admit is the years I tried to get pregnant. Yes, it was very hard to read that from you but at the same time, I was happy for you. :D I have been blessed to be a step mama to some great kids (my step son lives with me now in fact).

    This was such a thinking post. Thank you.
    Arwen recently posted..How Will You Change Energies Today?My Profile

    1. Loran Hills

      It’s why I prefaced that paragraph with an apology, Arwen. I know it’s hard. But I’m glad that you got the benefits of having children anyway. There are many ways to Mother.

  10. Petrea

    Wonderful post Loran. You are ceratianly an inspiration! I have these moments when I am reminded that I am 46 and panic momentarily when I feel like I am no longer a young mom (actually had my kids later anyway) then I laugh at myself realizing how much those thoughts dont serve me. Things are changing for sure – but then so is life around me as well!
    Petrea recently posted..Story of Your MuseMy Profile

    1. Loran Hills

      Ah, Petrea. 46 is starting to looking a little young to me now. :) Everything changes. We have to figure out how to adjust.

  11. Jo Macdonald

    What a great post Loran and so needed! I love how open you are, it is very inspiring. I am nearing peri-menopause now and even though I work in menstrual health I am still a bit nervous about what will come next, on the plus side it helps me feel more connected with girls I talk to as I can tap into their feelings of uncertainty around menarche. Thanks for sharing your experience and being a shining example of a fabulous Queen/Crone xx
    Jo Macdonald recently posted..5 Menstruation Symptoms you shouldn’t ignoreMy Profile

    1. Loran Hills

      We all bleed, but it’s different at every stage. I’m so glad for the work that you do, Jo.

  12. Dominee

    I really love your way of writing and how you took us on your journey. I don’t see 60 as old at all. I like to think I’m going to live to be at least 100, I imagine at 100 you have all of the BEST stories.
    I find myself wanting to be older, I guess I feel older than 27, I’ve been told I have an old soul and a lot of the time I feel it.
    I look forward to the wisdom of my years, and looking back and seeing what I know when I’m 50 or 60 and sharing how I got there.
    You are such an inspirational woman!

  13. Loran Hills

    Thanks, Dominee, I’m glad you found this inspiring!

  14. Donna

    I love this Loran – the journey to Queen-hood is fabulous…shame we don’t realise it until our mid-lives! Great article. xx
    Donna recently posted..Video: Get Comfortable With FailureMy Profile

    1. Loran Hills

      Better late than never, though!

  15. Sabrina S.

    Hi Loran,
    What a kick-ass post. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and thoughts with us. I love this image of becoming a Queen and your pic, so precious.
    Cheers from France.
    Sabrina S. recently posted..These days…My Profile

    1. Loran Hills

      Thanks, Sabrina! I believe it’s important to talk about these things with each other.

  16. Deborah Weber

    What a wonderful post to have discovered your blog with!

    1. Loran Hills

      Thank you, Deborah! I hoped it would resonate with somebody traveling over this way.

  17. Sherry Smyth

    You have so embraced being yourself, putting yourself in front of the camera (the world!) and saying “hello, here I am!” — love it!

    1. Loran Hills

      It’s taken a few years of practice to get brave enough. Thanks, Sherry, for commenting!

  18. Steph

    I am playing as well. Beautiful!

    1. Loran Hills

      Let’s go Old Skool!

  19. Donna

    You are rockin’ it, Loran! I SO love those glasses!

    1. Loran Hills

      Thanks, Donna! When I found those shades and put them on, there was no turning back.

  20. Dale Anne Potter

    AWESOME Loran! So NICE to meet you….I turn 60 in June.
    Dale Anne Potter recently posted..Time CapsuleMy Profile

    1. Loran Hills

      It’s just the beginning of a new beginning, right Dale Anne?

  21. Heather Luxion

    I LOVE the recent picture of you and I am so looking forward to taking this kickin-it-old-school journey with you. I loved this line as well: “I feel like me only wiser, more purposeful, less angst-ridden.” I’ve always hoped it’d be that way by the time I reached 60. Journey on!

    1. Loran Hills

      Thanks, Heather! We need to hear more about the positive parts of reaching 60, don’t you think??

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