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Selective hearing in puppies

landscape_116737369My 5-month-old golden Labrador girl displays a multitude of talents. In exchange for a tasty morsel, she will sit, lay down, stay, come, roll over, give a paw and play dead. She is not quite so good at reigning in her enthusiasm for meeting new people. She forgets to keep all four paws on the ground.

When striding across fields she loves nothing better than to run headlong through the long grass, ears flapping in the breeze. As soon as I call her back, she usually comes running, rear legs threatening to overtake the front set, skidding to a halt, eagerly awaiting a treat. Once I keep up my end of the bargain, she sets off again, hunting for the next thing to chase.

Today’s walk was a longer than usual so I took some sustenance with me. I have a weakness for crisps, especially cheese and onion flavour, my guilty pleasure. So there we are completely alone in the fields, peacefully enjoying a break in the weather, when a bird launching itself skyward from its hidden nest startles us. Without a backwards glance, puppy is off at full speed, gone.

I call her name, yell “Biscuit!” at the top of my voice as I run after her, clicking the training clicker (that usually works when my voice doesn’t), but puppy is having far too much fun to pay attention to her frantic owner. Breathless I sit on a nearby fence, deliberating my options. I settle for sitting still while she runs off her excess energy. I slide my hand into my jacket pocket, retrieve the crisps and pull open the pack. Inhaling the cheesy aroma, I delve into the pack; select the perfect first Crisp just as a bundle of golden fur launches itself into my chest. Unable to steady myself, I fall backwards over the fence into the wet grass behind me. With a whoosh, the air leaves my lungs as I stare up into the smiling face of puppy.

She may not be able to hear me calling her from across a field but she can definitely hear me open a packet of crisps. Selective hearing? Definitely.

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A Sticky Situation

Overthink

Many years ago, while working in the women’s healthcare industry, I decided that I would not put up with menopause when it came calling. The minute the first flush hit, I would be off to the doctor for a Hormone Replacement therapy (HRT) prescription. I would not be one of those women who, red-face and sweating, stripped off layers of clothing and threw windows open, only to complain a few minutes later that they were cold as they reapplied the layers. Absolutely not in my future thank you very much. I had a plan.

As I approached my mid to late forties, my mind unchanged, the first few signs of change appeared. Undeterred by the bad press surrounding HRT and breast cancer, I firmly believed that HRT was the only way forward for me. In consultation with my family doctor, he confirmed my suspicion that each of my symptoms were indicative of declining oestrogen production. It made perfect sense to rebalance my body with the missing hormones. As I have all the plumbing still in place, I needed two hormones to keep everything healthy. Starting with the smallest dose possible, a transdermal patch the size of my thumbnail, combined with the mini-pill to be taken during the second phase of my cycle, I left the pharmacy full of enthusiasm. After all, based on my work-related knowledge, I had made a logical decision. Feet up and coffee in hand, I began to read the patient information leaflet to refresh my memory.

Being prone to anxiety at the drop of a hat, and skilled at building the proverbial mountain out of miniscule mole hills, this was not a good move. The leaflet read like an A to Z of ways I could die as a result of sticking these pieces of plastic to my body. My gut reaction was to throw the box in the bin, batten down the hatches and ride out the impending storm. However, my scientific head regained control and began to work out when to start the pack, noting the dates in my calendar, setting alarms and reminders. How very logical and organised.

Feeling optimistic that the patch would reduce my symptoms (sweats, flushes, insomnia, anxiety, aching joints) I eagerly awaited the next cycle, ready to slap on a patch. Perimenopause had other ideas. My cycle was no longer the regular ticking clock it once was. Mine had clearly lost track of time. On the verge of randomly starting a pack, the absent cycle eventually reappeared one morning at work. Why do periods always turn up when you’re at work and have to scrabble around for the emergency tampon lurking at the back of the desk drawer?  Armed with my patch and the instructions, I skipped off to the ladies loos. Following the instructions to the letter, I selected the appropriate area of skin, made sure it was free from moisturiser, peeled off the backing and stuck it on. Marvelling at the tiny square of plastic I readjusted my clothing, strode back to my desk, a woman taking control of her symptoms, a woman on HRT. How long would it be before I saw improvements? I was prepared to give it three months to do its thing before tinkering with the dose. I had the knowledge and a plan. What could possibly go wrong?

Life had other ideas about my plan. In fact, I’m certain it was sniggering. The patch was exceptionally sticky and developed an affinity for things other than my skin. Hours later, the little plastic square had migrated to my knicker elastic, hanging precariously as it looked for its next destination. Fortunately, I spotted it just as it released its grip and began to free-fall towards the loo. With Jedi reflexes, I snatched it out of thin air and firmly slapped it back on again. Pesky plastic!

This incident was the first of many. Every time it went AWOL, I managed to find the little sticker (I am being polite here) and return it to its rightful place. All except for one incident.

While holidaying in Orlando, we decided to give the roller coasters a miss for one day and relax in one of the water parks. I spotted the ideal flume ride for me. It had just the right amount of speed and thrills combined with a reasonable drop at the end to make it fun. The queue was not horrendous and soon it was my turn. Tucking my elbows close to my sides, firmly crossing my legs, I launched myself down the tube. It was every bit as exciting as it looked, the last drop being the equivalent of a three-storey building. The run-off channel brought me to dramatic halt as I sent an enormous fountain of water over bystanders.

Giggling hysterically, I clambered out while surreptitiously trying to remove my bikini bottoms from between my butt cheeks. This was a common occupation near the flume ride exits. At least my bikini top had stayed put, unlike the poor girl in the next lane. As I finished rearranging the bottoms, I realised I was missing something. Oh heck! My HRT patch had come off in the run-off channel. What was I going to do? Had it washed down the drain or had it attached itself to some unsuspecting soul? Embarrassment got the better of me. I did not wander back to the ride, demanding everyone stop while I looked for it. Nor did I search my fellow holidaymakers for my errant patch. I simply chalked it up to experience, one that generates a little smirk when I think back on it.

HRT and I were not to remain friends for much longer. Following a reappraisal of my menopause management plan, I dropped the medical approach and focussed on  neglected parts of me, my mental and spiritual health. I’m glad to say, this approach seems to be working out so far, and I no longer have to spend hours trying to remove sticky fluff from my butt.

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I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger…

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I have an ear-worm today. This song has been driving me mad since 5:30am. Thank you dawn chorus for the early wake-up call! I’ve sung it in my head, out loud while watering thirsty plants, and whistled (well my version of whistling) on my morning walk with the pup. I’ve driven myself round the twist with it. YouTube came to the rescue and played it all the way through. Hopefully this will silence the incessant worm.

The chorus prompted a train of thought, what would I tell my younger perimenopausal self to help her feel less anxious and afraid of all the changes. So here is my list in no particular order.

  • Do not, under any circumstances, Google your symptoms. This will return results showing you have days to live. Dr Google never went to medical school.
  • Embrace the change and go with the flow. The more you resist, the worse you will feel.
  • Speaking of flow, it is possible to flood through several layers of sanitary protection and ruin a car seat! You are not dying. You are not having a uterine haemorrhage. This is an early indicator that perimenopause is paying you a visit.  Cold water and table salt are good at cleaning up the mess.
  • Palpitations are horrible. You are not dying of a heart attack. Give a couple of coughs to settle them.
  • Muscle twitches are common at this time. You are not developing MS. Do some mindfulness meditation and try to relax.
  • Bruxism (jaw clenching/tooth grinding) can start at this time too. Who knows why. In your case, you’ve spent your adult life gritting your teeth. Those poor jaw muscles have clamped down on the nerves supplying one side of your face. You are not having a stroke.
  • See-sawing hormones can wreak havoc on your gut. As you’ve been prone to an irritable bowel all your life, it should be no surprise that perimenopause can make things worse. No you have not developed colon cancer. Drink more water, eat more fruits and veggies and buy a smoothie maker. Have fun creating your own recipes! Oh, and have that sigmoidoscopy for peace of mind. It is not nearly as awful as you think.
  • Your libido will take the occasional sabbatical. Be patient. It will come back again, and no, you are not a dried up old prune!
  • Head zaps are weird and disconcerting. The more tense and anxious you are, the worse they become.
  • Tinnitus is an odd one. How many of us knew this would be on the list of menopausal symptoms? Not me for sure. Again, relax more and do fun things. Having more fun seems to turn down the volume.
  • Anxiety for no tangible reason. Well, what can I say? With all the above going on simultaneously, is it any wonder you feel as if you are dying, losing your marbles, game over. Once again, relaxation is key. That and seeking professional help.
  • Admitting you need help is an act of courage. To accept help from a psychologist will be a big leap of faith for you. Jump with all your might. You will not regret it. It will be the beginning of a wonderful journey towards the person you will become.
  • Do not mourn the loss of youth and fertility. Rejoice in your second Spring, your wisdom years. Remember all those wonderful Terry Pratchett novels you love? Be a super-hybrid of Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax and Magrat.
  • Learn to say “no”. It is liberating and quite entertaining to watch the expressions of surprise on the faces of those who always expect you to say “yes”.
  • Do not believe your mother when she says she did not know you were being bullied at school. She did know. This is called “Gas-lighting”. Look it up. And while we are on the subject of not believing your mother. Ignore her jibes about your weight. You are in the green zone in all BMI charts. What you have is an undiagnosed diastasis (abdominal wall separation). See a women’s core and pelvic floor specialist and watch your shape change.
  • Embrace your innate spirituality, cuddle your inner child, laugh, take risks, wear purple, and finally, relax and enjoy the ride.

 

N.B. My advice to anyone worried about signs and symptoms similar to my list, always talk to your doctor.

Wishing you all a Happy Friday

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Inspiration in ennui.

This morning I am at a loose end to the point where even my tedious but necessary admin work is up to date. This is a dangerous state for me. I start pondering all sorts of things from the mundane (what to cook for dinner tonight) all the way to the downright weird. Today’s thought stream is more of a raging torrent when I have nothing in particular to focus on. Cue a session with the Headspace app. There’s nothing quite like a ten minute mindfulness meditation to calm the thoughts and give the mind space to just be.

Towards the end of the meditation, there is a short section where the mind is allowed to wander off and do its own thing. Mine decided to wander off in search of inspiration for a blog post, this blog post. I asked for inspiration and found it a few minutes later in my inbox. Just one email, but with an intriguing title – The Sending to Coventry Game
Reading the first few paragraphs reminded me so much of my own experience at secondary school. The girls in my form used a variety of attacks, from taunting me about my clothes (domineering mother sent me to school looking like I was still at primary school), name calling, kicking, punching or lobbing fireworks over the toilet stall, to pretending I didn’t exist, enlisting the entire class in their games.
Every morning I would be physically sick at the thought of another day at school. My mother and my teachers trotted out the same tired, useless advice every time I tried to get help. How is “just ignore them” or “put on a brave face” helpful to a person? Is it any wonder I lost faith and trust in the adults around me? All it did was teach me to grit my teeth and deny my own feelings. Whilst I did not suffer physical scarring, my self-confidence was quite a different story.
I have menopause to thank for finally kicking my butt into action. I had no idea that I literally gritted my teeth. After several trips to see a chiropractor to help relieve the pain in my jaw, she recommended I have an informal chat with one of the other healthcare professionals in the practice, a psychologist.
At first I was extremely sceptical. I didn’t believe the mind could be responsible for physical pain. Additionally, I felt that psychology was mostly airy-fairy stuff, lacking solid proof of efficacy. It is a measure how just how desperate I was, and how much I trusted my chiropractor, than I took her advice.
Before my first appointment my anxiety levels were at an all time high. What if she thinks I am losing my mind? I certainly felt like it. What if she can’t help? Will I have to lie on a couch and talk about my childhood?
The actual experience was slightly different. To answer my own questions, no she did not think I was losing my mind. I was going through the menopause and it was prompting me to address my past traumas. Yes she could help. She did not have the ubiquitous couch in the consulting room. Instead she had very comfortable armchairs, flowers, and a box of tissues. And the childhood? Yes, she expected me to talk about this at great length.
For the first time in my life, I had permission to talk about all my feelings. I was allowed to be angry, sad, happy. I was actively encouraged to feel my own feelings without judgement. I have to say I was terrified of feeling sad and letting my tears flow. What if they never stopped? What if I howled like a baby waiting to be soothed? What if, in my anger, I let rip with some choice swear words? What if, after all the years of bottling my feelings and disconnecting from my emotions, what if I just couldn’t do it?
With Dr Siskin’s gentle help I found the keystone and pulled. Down came the wall. Over the next few months everything came out during my weekly sessions. Gradually I began to feel better in myself, less anxious and afraid of the changes in my body.
With my mind more open to psychological help I was able to work out why my jaw was so sore… I had gritted my teeth in order to bite back my feelings as opinions and to keep my face neutral. Menopause was demanding a change. Part of my therapy involved freeing my voice, letting my feelings show and honouring my emotions.
I found this relatively easy to practice with my husband and children but not so much with my mother. Along with the bullies, she is the reason I buried my feelings in the first place. She brooks no opposition to anything. Her way or the highway. Well I had a new option, agree to differ and trust my intuition to guide me.
So where am I today. My therapy is at an end by mutual agreement. I felt I no longer needed the weekly sessions and Dr Siskin agreed. I no longer look for approval from my mother. I will never get it and I don’t need it. Much to my kids and hubby’s amazement (and occasional irritation) I have found my voice. I sing when I feel like it, a true hairbrush diva, and I try to make time just for me every day, even if it’s only ten minutes.
So here I am, at a certain age, not caring a jot about what anyone thinks of me. I probably don’t want to know and it’s none of my business anyway.

 

 

Catherine Dean

Finding gratitude under strange circumstances

Being the daughter of a mother with narcissistic traits, as well as being bullied at school, is quite a melting pot of troubles. I was physically and mentally bullied at school. Teachers and parents were no help. In fact, the way they dealt with me made me feel like I deserved it, I did something wrong. Add to this the fact that in my mothers eyes I was not good enough. The reasons for my deficiencies varied from day to day. Weight, clothing, studies, career choices. The list was endless. She made me feel worthless. To this day she still tries to undermine my confidence.

As a child I was not allowed to show any emotions. Being happy about something was being smug. Feeling sad? Not allowed. Socks needed to be pulled and teeth gritted. Not all emotional display was banned. Displeasure was mother’s default mode. When provoked, she could out-tantrum a three year old toddler. Her temper was legendary as was the hardness of her hand. She readily dealt out corporal punishment for the slightest infringement of her rules.

I couldn’t wait to leave home. University provided the perfect opportunity to escape. I met life-long friends there and discovered that my upbringing was far from normal. As a young woman I vowed I would never be like my mother, never treat any child I might have the way I was mistreated.
It is because of that vow that I have two kids who readily share their ups and downs without fear of ridicule. They know they are loved no matter what. Unconditional love. We have fun together. Emotions and feelings are expressed freely. Of course they have tested the boundaries. This is part of life as a family. My parenting skills are always under scrutiny from mother. Meh! (She hates this expression!) Her way totally sucked. Mine is not perfect but seems to work for us and that’s what matters.

So what has all this to do with affecting ones menopause? Well the trouble with bottling up feelings and emotions (as taught by mother) is that eventually there will be a reckoning. Mine came at the start of perimenopause. In my last blog, I said I would write about the connection between my childhood experiences and my menopausal symptoms. So here goes.
All the horrible, scary symptoms I experienced were from unprocessed feelings and emotions from childhood. As a very logical, proof-driven person, I found it hard to understand. Fortunately I was introduced to a wonderful woman who totally understood what I was going through and why I was terrified. This was my leap of faith. This lovely lady was a psychologist.

Turns out my poor body had been trying to get my attention to care for it and nurture it. The more I ignored my feelings and bottled my emotions the more extreme my symptoms became. With the help of Dr Siskin, I faced my childhood issues and learned to speak ‘me’. I think it’s easier to learn Klingon than ‘me’. Instead of being scared of every physical symptom, and heaven knows there’s plenty of them during the change, I learned to read them. It took me around two years of therapy to get there but I did, and so can any of us if we choose to. I found additional  help by reading books by Louise Hay, Dr Christiane Northrup, and Susun Weed.

And there you have it. The short version. I’ve shifted from empirical scientist to spiritual adventurer and I’ve never been happier. Earlier this week I reached an important milestone in my life. I’ve not had a period for over a year now so that makes me postmenopausal. I have plans to celebrate my third age, second spring, cronehood. I have no plans to go quietly, with decorum. Life is for living so let me at it!

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Welcome to CathDean.com

First ever blog post

How come it is so hard to put pen to paper when you finally decide that you want to try your hand at writing? In this case the pen and paper is me making good use of my iPad and some cool apps.
So far I’ve managed to find a variety other things to do since attempting to sit down and go for it. Play with my five month old golden Labrador retriever. Clean her paw marks off the back door. Clean her nose prints off the glass doors.
Righty. Let’s get on with it.
My main reason for writing this blog about the fun and games of riding the menopause roller coaster, is to try to take the fear out of this normal life event for other women going through this momentous time.
My own transformation began when I was 45. At the time I just didn’t recognise the signs for what they were. I managed to ignore most of them by trying to be super-mum, super-wife and employee of the month, every month.

It strikes me as odd that there’s such a lack of education for women going through perimenopause. When we were prepubescent youngsters we had personal education lessons to tell us about our bodies and changes to expect during puberty. And who could forget the cringe-worthy films on how babies are made?!
If we are fortunate to become pregnant, there are a range of classes to choose from to educate us on prenatal care, birth and caring for our new babies. Midwives and health visitors are a wonderful source of information and a shoulder to cry on when we’ve reached the end our tethers.
Why is it that there is nothing for women when we approach the biggest change our bodies will go through since puberty? Having spent the first few years of my own change in a state of fear and anxiety, I can’t help thinking that I would have been more relaxed and accepting of the weird and scary things we go through if I’d known what was coming.
We’ve all heard about the flushes (or flashes, depending on where you live) and the sweats. But what about all the other stuff? I’ve wasted months in a state of red alert, convinced I am about to breathe my last. So far I’ve been dying of a stroke, a heart attack, bowel cancer, and a perforated uterus. If only I’d known about teeth clenching, palpitations, irregular bowel habits (yes, I did get this checked out) and ultra-heavy periods! And these are only the tip of the iceberg.
If you run a search on menopause symptoms there are a few excellent sites listing upwards of thirty five different symptoms!
At one point I could put a tick next to most of them and add a few new items. My family doctor saw more of me than my family! The western medical approach was to give me hormone replacement therapy (HRT), a beta-blocker and an antidepressant. I rattled like a maraca and got worse instead of better.
Like many women going through this, I wanted the old me back again. Today I am happy to say that I gave up getting the old me back and took a leap of faith and courage towards a new me. It dawned on me that Western medicine is not the only way to help women through the transition. There is no panacea but there are a multitude of things you can do to help support yourself through the change.

I’d like to share my experiences with you in the hope that it will help at least one women feel less afraid.

Next week I will reveal a little more on how childhood trauma had a dramatic impact on how I coped with the start of perimenopause.

Wishing you all a wonderful week.

Cath