While the flash fairies are busy setting up the new Flashfree digs, I didn’t want to deprive you of the latest and ‘greatest’ report on soy: it does not help menopausal symptoms or prevent bone loss.
Isn’t this contrary to what’s been reported previously, at least with regards to women with the ability to produce S-equol?
In this latest nail to the soy coffin, research appearing in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that part of the issue in proving or disproving the utility of soy for menopause is the lack of trials of long duration, consistent use of low doses of soy isoflavones, small number of participants and too much breadth and depth of age and menopausal status. However, the SPARE trial (Soy Phytoestrogens as Replacement Estrogen), aimed to change this paradigm by examining the effect of daily 200 mg soy isoflavones in tablet form in 248 women between the age of 45 and 60. All participants had been in menopause for one to five years or for six to 12 months. These women were studied for two years, were instructed to take the active pill or placebo tablet before breakfast, and stop taking any hormones for at least six months before the study started. Calcium was supplemented in women who were taking less than 500 to 1000 mg daily. Importantly, women taking the isoflavone tablets were actually receiving a dose equal to approximately twice that normally obtained through food in Asian diets.
At the study’s end, the researchers found that women taking soy or placebo were on equal footing and that soy did not appear to prevent bone loss or reduce bone turnover. Moreover, soy did not appear to have any significant effect on hot flashes, night sweats, libido or vaginal dryness. They also say that even though women who are able to produce S-equol in their guts were likely to benefit from soy compared to women who are not, they did not see any specific benefit when these women were studied separately. Although not considered a dangerous side effect, constipation was experienced by more than a third of women taking soy.
So, what are we to think? Some studies say soy is effective, particularly among S-equol producers while others, like this well designed trial, show that it is now. However, there has been some data suggesting that the ratio of specific isoflavones may play an important role, and there is no information in the published study about this ratio other than to say that the soy supplement used is similar to those obtained in health food stores.
When it comes to soy, the verdict isn’t quite out yet, although the studies that have been conducted to date can’t seem to tease out what’s what. As always, use caution and lower your expectations. There are other non-hormonal approaches that may provide greater benefit when it comes to bone loss and menopausal hot flashes and other symptoms.
Want to read more on soy isoflavones? Check out the Flashfree archives.
including the fact that this blog is moving.
Stay tuned. And have a phenomenal weekend.
Wednesday Bubble: Why shouldn’t you douche? Because the vagina is like a self-cleaning oven. Guest post by Dr. Jen Gunter
When I saw the talking vagina, I thought to myself, “wow,” who the heck thought up this doosie of a campaign? And, the vaginas are ‘ethnically correct.” Ethnicity aside, do I really want to buy a product from a talking vagina? In fact, I no more want to buy a product from a talking vagina then I want an anatomy lesson from talking fallopian tubes. But I digress…
Dr. Jen Gunter is a gynecologist and pain medicine specialist, and someone I follow on Twitter. When I saw her tweeting out this post, I knew I had to have it for Flashfree.
BTW, before you think about douching and ‘showing your vagina some love,’ you might want to read what Dr. Gunter has to say…
The folks at Summer’s Eve seem determined to convince women that douching is needed. This latest ad (see below) says some of the reasons are that the vagina is the cradle of life and men have fought and died for it. And of course, my favorite, douching is showing the vagina a little love. However, douching isn’t caring it’s damaging your vagina!
What this nifty commercial fails to mention that in the United States douches have to carry warning labels about the health risks, such as increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases, pelvic infection, and scaring of the fallopian tubes that can potentially lead to infertility. Warning labels just like cigarettes. In fact, that’s just how you should think of douches…cigarettes for the vagina.
Douches are damaging because the chemicals (yes, even vinegar) damages lactobacilli, an essential bacteria for vaginal health. Lactobacilli produce hydrogen peroxide, which is toxic to infections such as HIV, as well as lactic acid, which maintains the pH of the vagina and has other important bad-bacteria/virus fighting properties. Lactobacilli also bind to the cells in the vagina forming a physical barrier to infection.
When the vagina is lactobacilli-deficient, the risks of catching an STD, like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV, increase dramatically if exposed. Gonorrhea and chlamydia can scar the fallopian tubes, leading to infertility, and can also cause severe pelvic infections. HIV, well, we all know what that does. Women who are lactobacilli-deficient are also more likely to develop bacterial vaginosis, a bacterial imbalance that can cause irritation and an odor, and yes, you guessed it, increased your risk of an STD if exposed. The irony of douching to treat odor is that by destroying the lactobacilli you are actually increasing odor, because lactobacilli control odor-causing bacteria.
So think of the lactobacilli as that important coating on a self-cleaning oven. It needs to be left well enough alone so it can do it’s thing.
“Why do they make douches if they are so dangerous?” This is a question I get asked repeatedly.
My answer, “Well, they make cigarettes, don’t they?”
And hey, marketing dudes/chicks at Summer’s Eve, when the vagina wants a little love, it’s not chemicals women want but sex! Just saying…
Women who choose to go the alternative route for menopausal hot flashes have few evidenced-based options. Although acupuncture and standardized black cohosh have been shown to be effective in ameliorating hot flashes, others, including red clover and even soy, have been less successful. Consequently, herbal practitioners often turn to Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) herbal formulations or the lesser known (in the U.S.) Japanese multiherb medicinal formulations known as Kampo. Interestingly, the term Kampo refers to ‘the way of China” and the practice which is several thousand years old is based on TCM.
Kampo is prescribed by over 90% of Japanese gynecologists and is regulated by the Japanese Ministry of Health to insure manufacturing standards and product stability. One of the most popular Kampo agents for perimenopausal hot flash management is an 1,800 year old formulaton known as “keishibukuryogan” or in the US, as TU-025. Comprised of a combination of cinnamon bark, peony root, peach kernal and mountain bark, it active ingredient remains unknown. Japanese data from both the government and the manufacturer demonstrate a very low incidence of side effects and no estrogenic activity, which means that theoretically, it could be safely used by women who have had breast or gynecologic cancers. Nevertheless, its utility in American women has not been known, at least until now.
In a study published in the August issue of Menopause, 178 postmenopausal women were randomly assigned placebo, 7.5 g/daily TU-025 or 12.5 g/daily TU-025 for 12 weeks. All participants reported 28 or more hot flashes a week, had been in menopause for at least a year, had stopped using hormones for at least 8 weeks if they were already using them, smoked less than 10 cigarettes a day and most were slightly overweight or obese (based on body mass index). None were using antidepressants (which studies have shown may help alleviate hot flashes), nor did they have a history of breast or uterine cancer. While the 7.5 gram daily is the dose taken most often by Japanese women, the researchers upped the dose to 12.5 gm daily to account for a larger sized American woman.
In this trial, declines in hot flash scores (which measured both the frequency and severity of hot flashes) were significant but not statistically distinct between groups:
- Scores in women taking placebo decreased by 34%
- Scores in women taking the low dose TU-25 decreased by 40%
- Scores in women taking the high dose TU-25 decreased by 38%
The incidence of other factors related to hot flashes and menopause, including depression and sexual dysfunction also declined significantly across groups but were not measurably different between them. Sleep remained unaffected. At least 20% of women taking TU-025 regardless of dose, also experienced diarrhea.
The researchers say that unlike the Japanese experience, this particular study did not demonstrate any measurable clinical benefit in women taking TU-025, either for hot flashes, other symptoms or sleep. Moreover, the herbal formulation did not appear to be well tolerated in a fifth of women, who experienced diarrhea. Additionally, they state that although every woman in the study took a placebo for one week before taking the real medication or continuing on placebo, a strategy that is often utilized in clinical trials to minimize a placebo response, significant numbers of women taking placebo experienced meaningful declines in hot flash severity and frequency. Although the 34% decline is consistent with that reported in other trials, the effect is typically expected to go away before 12 weeks of therapy. Consequently, a placebo effect of this magnitude suggests that the formulation may not work as well in American women as it does in their Japanese peers. However, several women enrolled in the study also noted afterwards that they “enrolled to prove that herbal medicines work,” which the researchers say suggests the presence of a significant “meaning response,” i.e. the meaning that the brain assigns to placebo which causes some sort of physiological reaction.
So, is Kampo ineffective? There are few key factors require consideration:
- Traditional Kampo practitioners do not normally consider a woman’s menstrual status when selecting a formulation and in this study, participants had to have been in menopause for at least a year. What’s more, women who were confirmed with clinical depression were excluded from the study. Both of these factors introduce what researchers call “enrollment bias,” meaning that it is possible that other populations could have ultimately changed the results.
- Like TCM, Kampo uses evaluations of individual constitutional state, and TU-025 has traditionally been considered to be most effective in women who have stagnated chi, or energy flow, that is best characterized by subjective “coldness” and “metaphoric blood stagnation.”
- Finally, the researchers point out that there is no standard method for determining the proper dose of TU-025 in non-Japanese women and no guidance for amount and frequency. Consequently, it is possible that even the higher dose used in some women in this study wasn’t high enough or that the twice-daily frequency wasn’t enough.
Importantly, like ACUFLASH, the researchers write that trials of traditional Asian medicines need to account not only for these types of concerns but also for the nuances that distinguish Western and Kampo diagnoses.
Is TU-025 ineffective for American women with hot flashes? Under current study designs, it truly is. However, by incorporating other principals into standardized scientific trials, we may ultimately determine that like other alternatives, Kampo has a role in Western medicine. Stay tuned!
Want to read more on the same study? Reuters Health has a great writeup.
[Image: WildEarth Paw Prints]
Time to reprise an oldie but goodie. And a post that remains relevant for millions of women. The cougar narrative. You know, cougar, a woman who preys on ‘unsuspecting’ younger men.
So, are you embracing your inner cougar? Pimping your hide to expand your pride? Or like me, are you running as far away from the notion as you can?!
I’ve been somewhat amused and a wee bit miffed at the double standards placed upon women who “prey” on younger men. While their sugar daddy counterparts get away with endless forays into the dating world without nary a word, these women are dubbed “cougars” and frowned upon. However, have you ever considered that these younger men don’t feel preyed upon at all but prefer the company of a well-rounded, intelligent, sexy woman who can titillate their minds, souls AND bodies?
Perhaps the cougar ‘narrative’ and its fallacies should be put to rest.
If you have even a wee bit of doubt about what I’m saying, I’d like to introduce you to 73-year-old Rio de Janero resident Lina Merceis. Lina is the star of a documentary short entitled “Bye Bye, Cest Fini,” and the ultimate inspiration for any woman who believes that life ends at midlife and beyond. Lina, having suffered early disappointments in marriage and love, is now dedicating herself to herself. Lina deliberately chooses the single life, claiming that men are too much work. ‘Seductress to a slew of 30 somethings, she enjoys her lovers, acknowledges her occasional loneliness, and confesses to a good friend (as they sit on the beach eying the candy) that sex and fun are her life prescriptions not options. Not surprisingly, the young men who are fortunate to become one of Lina’s lovers are happy to oblige.
My friend Twitter friend Erika over at Redheaded Fury wrote an interesting missive a few years ago in response to a Denver Post article about ‘Cougars on the Prowl.’ Her point? That society’s caricature of the lonely older woman preying on younger men might not be entirely accurate. I think that Lina is a testament to that. More importantly, watching Lina onscreen taught me that life gets started when you decide, not when something (or someone) else does.
Take the reins ladies; there’s no time like the present to write your own narrative (and be proud of it).
When I saw a post on my Facebook stream linking hormonal imbalance to diabetes, I become intrigued, ever more so when I ran across the following headline in my daily newsfeed:
“Does menopause matter when it comes to diabetes?”
So, does it or doesn’t it?
According to the first piece that resides on the website of the hormone franchise, BodyLogic MD, imbalances of hormones other than insulin can promote insulin imbalances or resistance that is especially evident during menopause. Their hypothesis? Hormone replacement will correct these imbalances and prevent millions of women from developing diabetes.
In fact, there is evidence that as endogenous androgen levels rise and estrogen levels fall, there is a predisposition to glucose intolerance (i.e. a struggle to convert blood sugar or glucose into energy) and by default, diabetes. Moreover, estrogen therapy has been shown to reduce fasting blood glucose levels in menopausal women (fasting blood glucose or sugar measures glucose levels in the bloodstream and is a test for pre- and full blown diabetes). However, it is unknown if menopause itself is associated with high glucose levels or plays a role in influencing factors such as insulin secretion and insulin resistance that mediate glucose tolerance. Nevertheless, it is possible that menopause status may tip the scales in women who are already at high risk for diabetes or even influence activities undertaken to prevent the condition.
In a soon to be published study (August issue, Menopause journal), researchers compared perimenopausal women to women who had entered menopause naturally and those who had had their ovaries removed. All participants were between the ages of 45 and 58, and part of a larger Diabetes Prevention Program trial, meaning that they already had been diagnosed with having impaired glucose tolerance and fasting glucose levels and were at risk for diabetes. Of the 1,237 women studied, they had either been assigned twice daily diabetes medication (Metformin), twice-daily placebo tablet or an intensive lifestyle intervention to achieve and maintain a weight reduction of at least 7% (through a low-calorie, low-fat diet, and at least 150 minutes moderate physical activity weekly).
The results which also accounted for factors such as age, race/ethnicity, family history of diabetes, waist circumference and insulin resistance/response showed that for every 100 women observed, 11.8 premenopausal women developed diabetes, compared to 10.5 women in natural menopause and 12.9 in women with removed ovaries. Importantly, lifestyle changes appeared to impact these number: women who had undergone ovary removal and lost weight and exercised, only 1.1 for every 100 developed diabetes.
The conclusion? Natural menopause was not associated with an increased risk of diabetes even though the women in the study were already at high risk for diabetes. This implies that in women who not at risk, the likelihood of developing diabetes, would be even lower. However, the investigators say that a modest association cannot be completely ruled out.
What you need to know is that hormone mongers may tell you that you need to start taking hormones to prevent diabetes in menopause. The results of this well-designed scientific study suggests otherwise. And even suggest that lifestyle changes can solve this particular challenge.
As always, be cautious, ask questions and do your research. Menopause and diabetes? Nah, definitely not a definite; this one’s a reach.
When writer/author Sarah Bowen Shea first pinged me on Twitter about her post, I was a bit skeptical. I had never had a conversation with her nor had she ever been on my radar. And let’s face it; I get a lot of daily solicitations because of Flashfree and my interest in menopause. However, when I clicked on the link, I discovered that not only did I love her writing, but that I loved her post. Moreover, a lot of you have been asking for posts on early menopause.
I hope that you’ll show Sarah some love after reading this post and head over to her blog, Another Mother Runner and check it out; if you are interested in running, you may find some gems lurking in the lines!
Despite being the one behind our sometimes-outrageous TMI Tuesday status updates (hotel sex, anyone?) on our Facebook page and writing the chapter in The Book about peeing, pooping, passing gas, and periods, I’m hesitant to pen this post. It’s about…menopause. My top three excuses? 1. My mom never had “The Talk” with me, so I’ve never been fully comfortable talking about, ahem, menstruation (or lack thereof). 2. There isn’t enough good slang for menopause (let’s rectify that, ladies!). 3. I am not 100% comfortable with being 45 years old…and getting dogged with early onset menopause. (There, I typed it. A first step, right?)
But I’ve decided to broach the topic because several fans have told us they wish we’d talk about it. Here goes: I’ve suspected for several years that early onset menopause might be coming my way because I had secondary infertility due to elevated FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) levels. My doc said the two aren’t necessarily linked but they often are. Always a glass-half-full kinda gal, I didn’t dwell or worry—until last summer, when I started bleeding like crazy. If I’d gone swimming in shark-infested waters, I would have been fish-food: Heavy bleeding for a week, then 10 days off, then another heavier-and-longer period, then an 8-day reprieve, then another bleeding session…you get the bloody (literally) picture. Never one to rush in for medical advice, I merely grumbled, contemplated buying stock in Playtex, and fared forward until a good running friend urged me to see my OB/GYN. The doc did some bloodwork and said nothing was wrong except that, well, lookie there, my hormone levels showed I was already in menopause. (Gulp!) But she said menopause was a slippery thing: The real marker was absence of a period for one year.
My rash of periods had stopped by then, late August, so, again, I just kept keeping on, this time free of cooter-plugs. (Sorry: I have to work some bawdy slang into this post, don’t I?!) I’ll admit: I was floored when the doc delivered the, “you’re in menopause” line. It made me feel so…old. While it had been great to get served in bars when I was 19, suddenly seeming older than my real age bummed me out. Moaning about my situation to my pal Molly, she made me see the bright side. At least I hadn’t had to go through years of night sweats, migraines, hot flashes, and thinning hair—I’d taken the express train to menopause without suffering any real symptoms.
I quickly rallied and absent-mindedly kept track of the passing months, waiting for the one-year anniversary of my last period. (Again, a catchy slang phrase is needed here. Bleed-iversary? Red-letter day?) This summer, as it drew nearer, the date felt like a finish line I wanted to reach—yet didn’t want to cross. It would feel so final, and I worried what the lack of estrogen might do to my body. (I’m already convinced it’s why I’ve had so many foot pains and issues this year.) Then, last week, I was like a sprinter who stumbles right before breaking the tape: Yup, you guessed it, I got my period again. (Best response? A dear 41-year-old friend, who always makes me laugh, said, “Our bodies are like old cars—they sputter.”)
Now I’ve hit the reset button. I’m somewhat relieved and, oddly, somewhat disappointed.
About the author
Sarah Bowen Shea is a freelance magazine writer and the co-author of Run Like a Mother (Andrews McMeel, 2010). She is mother to 3 children (a 9-yo daughter and 5-yo boy-girl twins) and avid runner who has completed seven marathons and countless other races. When she’s not writing, running or mommy-ing, you can find her on her website: www.anothermotherrunner.com or on Facebook tribe: Run Like a Mother: The Book. Sarah and her family live in Portland, Oregon.
For some time now, experts have made the connection between body mass index (BM() and hot flashes during menopause, theorizing that body fat offer protection against hot flashes since androgen hormones are actually converted into estrogens in body fat. On the flip side? Women with lower BMI should have more frequent hot flashes. However, this hypothesis — formally known as the “thin hypothesis” – has recently been questioned, especially among researchers whose studies have shown the opposite: that a higher BMI leads to more hot flashes because the fat acts to insulate the body and prevent heat dissipation. In the middle of this argument are women, overweight, underweight, normal weight, who may have an opportunity to prevent hot flashes before they worsen or at least ameliorate them.
To more thoroughly tease out the underlying causes of hot flashes as they relate to body composition, researchers evaluated a subset of 52 women participating in the larger Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN, an ongoing trial at seven sites across US that are examining women’s health in middle age). These women were African-American or non-Hispanic Caucasians between the ages of 54 and 63, mostly overweight, in menopause and reported experiencing hot flashes or night sweats. None were taking hormones or antidepressants, and still had their uterus.
In the study, published online in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, broad measures of central abdominal fat/total percentage of body fat, BMI and waist circumference and blood hormones were taken. Over two, 48-hour periods, participants also wore a monitor to evaluate the frequency and severity of hot flashes and were asked to both complete electronic diaries and press buttons on their monitors that would notate when they were experiencing symptoms.
The result? A higher percentage of body fat, BMI and waist circumference were associated with a reduction in the frequency of hot flashes only in women who were 59 or older. Moreover, this association was restricted to Caucasian women in the study compared to their Black peers. However, in so far as the interaction between estrogen levels (and sex hormone-binding globulin) and body composition, researchers found that higher levels reduced but did not fully eliminate the distinctions in hot flashes and age.
So, why the differences compared to other studies? Others have looked as self-reported hot flashes via questionnaires while this one actually took physiological measures of hot flashes via the monitors that the women were wearing. The researchers also looked specifically at the link between size, weight and proportions of the women and hot flashes rather than risk factors of any or no hot flashes.
Importantly, data are starting to emerge that show how BMI/adipose fat and the relationship to reproductive hormones varies by age and menopause status, with higher estrogen levels related to older, menopausal women and lower to younger women. What’s more, while body fat may act to produce estrogen in older women to play a role in regulating body heat and dissipation, it seems to play a different role in younger, overweight women, predisposing them to hot flashes. Finally, wellbeing also appears to play a role in symptoms: in this case, women who were anxious reported more hot flashes and hot flashes tended to increase anxiety.
Should you care?
Although the sample size is small, the is first time that researchers have considered how age and race affect the way that obesity may affect hot flash frequency. It’s worthwhile filing it under “useful information,” especially when it comes to perimenopause and preparing to deal with full blown symptoms as you enter menopause.
A special thanks to my pal Ivan Oransky, executive editor of Reuters Health and author of Retraction Watch for giving me a heads up on this study. Thanks Ivan!
Early last year, I wrote a post for Women Grow Business based on an interview I had conducted with the incredible Author/Chef Mollie Katzen. Entitled “The Incredible Disappearing Woman: Lessons on Dealing with Ageism,” the post focused on ageism in our culture and the fact that as women age, they often undergo a culturally-driven disappearing act in both their personal and professional lives.
During our interview, Mollie discussed a five-step strategy to insure that women continue to matter, a strategy that is self-respectful, empowering and focuses on playing up one’s strengths without resorting to smoke and mirrors. Hence, I was a bit dismayed to run across a post on Talent Zoo the other day that addresses a similar theme but in less empowering vein. Mind you, I was not dismayed because of the topic but rather, because of the content, which for the most part, encourages women to play up their sexy and physical appearance while mostly ignoring their inner core. A few examples:
1) Expand your group of friends…by hanging out with people who with different perspectives.
That’s great advice, right? However, the author offers “because different perspectives will make you a more interesting person, and that’s sexy, which always gets noticed.” Hmmm, “sexy always gets noticed.”
2) Become friends “with a bit of lycra in your fabrics and dresses that need nothing more than a cool scarf to be a complete outfit.”
While you’re at it, since 40+ is obviously old and over the hill and subject to gravity, why not grab that Spanx and corset? Just sayin’.
3) “Innocently flirt.”
Flirting, the author says, makes others feel good about themselves and you should practice this even on people you don’t find especially attractive.
4) Be a real grownup in order to embrace “cool confidence.”
Okay, admittedly, I don’t even know what this one means.
5) “Work out with weights,” and, “lift a lot more than you think you can” since “nothing will get you fit faster and give you more body confidence than some muscle tone, and that means lifting real weights way past your comfort level.”
Wow. Just wow!
Let’s try this one again, shall we? Mollie-style:
From a social perspective:
- Posture! The first sign of “older” is often stooped shoulders. Standing tall conveys confidence and strength. “Anyone who is not attracted to that is someone you don’t need in your life.”
- Keep a focused gaze. “Looking sharp sharpens, Mollie explains. “Glazing over glazes you over.”
- “A smile is the best and cheapest face lift. Especially when it is genuine; your smile, not theirs.”
- Breathe deeply. Then speak. “When you do speak, let your voice come from your abdomen and be fueled by that deep breath.” (This isn’t easy, btw.)
- “Don’t ask your sentences unless they are questions.” (Remember Valley Girl by Frank Zappa?)
- “Try to find the love in all situations.” Mollie explains that in most cases, this needs to come from within. “Recognize that sometimes that love can take the form of putting up a boundary. Recognize also, that putting up that boundary can be cloaked in warmth and humor, even while you are being assertive.” She adds that “true personal power can be a warming and loving representation.
- Develop your own centeredness and use that for balance.
And, in business:
- Stay centered in your “standard,” meaning you should anticipate what other’s need and provide it. The customer matters as much as you do.
- Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Buck societal aversion to age by avoiding dogma and overcoming prejudice. Rather than giving in, evolve your business in ways that positions you for longevity.
- Leverage your power to empower. The more that women are able to embrace and not tear down, play up one another’s strengths and share wisdom, the likelier the total universe of women is to be empowered and enabled.
- Look in the mirror…often. This is what you look like at 40, 50, 60 and that image is not based on preconceived notions. In other words, the buck stops at your insecurity and no one elses’.
At the age of 40, I felt better than ever — more self assured, comfortable in my own skin and comfortable in my career. I hardly felt invisible. At the age of 50, I am realizing that I don’t care as much anymore, that I’ve worked hard to earn my rite of passage. And that in some ways, I look and feel better than ever.
Trust me, you don’t need the tricks to stay in the any game. Use your knowledge, self-worth and inner beauty to solidify, maintain and stay visible.
Yes, this one if for da guyz. Who may or may not be dealing with their own aging issues. Who says that Flashfree isn’t an equal opportunist when it comes to gender issues?
This one’s a redux. Because men? You’re worth it.
[Used with permission. Dan Collins. http://www.dancollinscartoons.com%5D
In Laura A. Munson’s poignant “Modern Love” post, ‘Those aren’t fighting words, dear” she writes about the crisis of self that may seem familiar to many in midlife who are watching or have watched their husbands or partners implode. In the post, (which I highly recommend if you’ve not read it) Laura writes:
And I saw what had been missing: pride. He’d lost pride in himself. Maybe that’s what happens when our egos take a hit in midlife and we realize we’re not as young and golden anymore. When life’s knocked us around. And our childhood myths reveal themselves to be just that. The truth feels like the biggest sucker-punch of them all: it’s not a spouse or land or a job or money that brings us happiness…
The premise that happiness comes from within is not a new one. However, the midlife spin on it can be a wake-up call of epic proportions, when we start reaching for a gold ring that actually resides out of sight. Yet, why are we yearning for what was rather than what is to be? Aren’t life’s many transitions, including the one that our partners and each of us are facing, movements into the next phase of productivity or change or growth, rather than a loss of self?
I’ve had many conversations with women who are facing or have faced situations that are similar to Laura’s. Overwhelmingly, they say that women tend to themselves a little at a time so that the crises never quite reach the precipice. That many women are able to deal with their physical and emotional changes incrementally so that the ultimate metamorphosis — who they are during and at the end of their lives — is not a monumental shock.
Dick Roth, in his wonderful book “No, It’s Not Hot in Here,’ devotes a chapter to men in midlfe. He says that men should repeatedly ask themselves three questions:
- What won’t pass away when my youth does?
- Who will I be after my career is over?
- Who would I be if everything else was gone but my mind and feelings?
Referencing the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Roth adds that the protagonist’s lack of self-pity and ability to cherish his soul provided him with the foundation to overcome his physical confinement (the author, who was completely paralyzed by a stroke except for a single eyelid, was only able to communicate by blinking this one eye).
Cherish your soul. Sounds a lot simpler than it is. Or does it?
As much as we expect our partners to understand what we are going through as hormonal changes wreak havoc on our psyches and our bodies, we must also be willing to offer the reverse, to acknowledge the changes and struggles that our partners are going through, their self-confinement, and perhaps their inability to cherish or tap into their souls.
Midlife doesn’t have to be a four-letter word. What rings true for women, also rings true for men.