Happy Summer, But Why Am I Still Thinking About Winter?

"My scars remind me that I did indeed survive my deepest wounds.  That in itself is an accomplishment.  And they bring to mind something else, too. They remind me that the damage life has inflicted on me has, in many places, left me stronger and more resilient.  What hurt me in the past has actually made me better equipped to face the present."
- Steve Goodier

Happy first day of summer! Sunny skies, warm temps, lush green grass, and a multitude of blooming flowers. Can it be only a few months ago that we were wondering if spring would ever arrive? Thankfully it did and it now appears that the summer-like weather is here to stay (hopefully)!

Earlier in the week, I decided to take advantage of the perfect weather and walk on a trail that I hadn't been on for awhile.  Much had changed since I had last walked there in April.  Trees had fully leafed out, greenery covered most everything, and plants that were nonexistent then were now starting to encroach on the pathway.  As I looked around, all I could see and hear were the beautiful signs of summer.

But yet...

I still remember the harshness of winter.  I can easily recall the long cold days when darkness came too early.  The streak of grayness when it seemed the sun had forgotten to shine. I remember the unrelenting nor'easters of March.  The great delay in warmer temperatures and blooming plants.  I don't think about it often, but I do remember.  Is that wrong?

Should we look back and think about winter when we are in the middle of a glorious summer? Is it self-defeating to take ourselves back to an unpleasant time when we have the current pleasure of good times? I'm not sure.  I certainly don't want to dwell on the cold winter, but is it good to remember that it happened? Does it make us enjoy this summer more knowing what we had to go through to get here?  Is it helpful to know that not too long ago we had a horribly long, cold winter but we survived it? 

If we are to develop resilience, then we need to look back and reflect (not ruminate) on what we have overcome. When winter comes around again and I am feeling like it will never end, I can reflect on the fact that I felt this same way last year and winter did end, and I did survive.

Nature can offer guidance on this.  As I walked through the woods in early April, I could see all of the signs of spring- budding trees, early flowers blooming, birds chirping.  But I could also see the signs of a destructive winter.  Large trees pulled out of the ground, branches broken and dangling over the path, piles of debris from storms.  

 Nature does not try to hide the difficult season it has been through.  The forest bears its scars forever. Trees that are down will stay in that spot until nature reclaims them as part of the earth.  Branch piles remain until they break down into rich soil.  Damaged and misshapen trees continue to stand or lean until they grow tired.

But as time moves on, nature eventually does its work.  Greenery grows, groundcover thrives, and the forest begins the process of reclaiming itself.  The damage becomes less obvious.  The new growth conceals the sharp edges and jagged branches of the damaged trees.  But if you look closely, the scars of winter remain. Nature manages to quietly acknowledge the past while continuing to move forward steadily into the future.

There is a purpose to that. Nature's clean up crew is slow and subtle.  It wants us to see the process, to see the work.  Nature wants us to know that there was once destruction, but "I am doing a new thing!  I am restoring the forest, bit by bit, day by day!"  If we only focus on the beauty and don't look back at the difficulty, we miss the sacred process of renewal, and we miss the gift of restoration.  

Winter may have left its mark, but we have triumphed.  Spring did its thing! Renewal is underway! 

Winter is the example I use here and thankfully we know each year that it will end (eventually), but your personal winter can be any difficulty you've experienced and the end isn't always as guaranteed. When we look back on hard times, we have a choice in how we view the story.  There is power in revisiting the negative event with fresh eyes.  By looking back with purpose we can see:

1-  What we have overcome
2-  What we learned from the experience 
3-  How we have been restored (or how we are still being restored)

This is how we build resilience. When we experience negative events but can look back and see our personal growth, it helps us to view difficulties differently in the future.  Resilience reminds us that we have been through tough times before and we have survived.  It reminds us that we have reserves of strength that we are not yet aware of,  that we are capable of dealing with far more than we think we can, and that we can bounce back from situations that seem insurmountable at times.   

The scars of winter may remain, but the flowers of spring are already starting to grow.  Wait and watch for the restoration and take time to congratulate yourself on surviving another winter!

*Speaking of summer--if you still need to buy a swimsuit, read my post before you go. Consider it a public service announcement ;-).


Sleep, Wherefore Art Thou Sleep??

I seem to be awake a lot at night.  Is anyone with me on this? From what I hear, this is part and parcel of being a "woman of a certain age".  Grrr...haven't women suffered enough? Do we really need sleeplessness too?

Up until about a year ago, I would have told you that I slept well.  In fact, I might have bragged a little about how well I slept.  After years of sleep interrupted by pregnancy and small children, I had finally hit my groove of being able to sleep through the night.  We had purchased a new memory foam mattress several years back that had changed my life, I had found the perfect pillow, my children were now (finally) sleeping through the night, and I had been put on daily allergy medicine (may cause drowsiness zzzz....).  My bedtime ritual involved putting on my comfiest warm pajamas and socks, climbing into my cozy flannel sheet lined bed, saying goodnight to my husband, rolling over once, and then sleeping until my alarm went off in the morning.  Granted, this was never a long night's sleep- six hours seemed to be the max and I'm sure exhaustion had a lot to do with it-- but it was a pure, deep, peaceful sleep.  The glory days I like to call them.

My how things have changed!

Awhile back, I started having occasional nights where I would wake up in a sweat.  Besides the obvious fact that I was covered in many layers, I started to suspect that there were some hormonal issues at work.  Thankfully those nights didn't come around often, but when they did they were very disruptive.  How could someone who had been cold her whole life suddenly wake up in a sweat? It was rather disorienting.  Kind of like waking up with a different face.  Who am I if not the cold one?? Then, there was this slow but steady increase in my daily base temperature. It wasn't hot flashes exactly (although I have had some of those too), but rather like I was growing warmer by the day.  Was this a new thing?

My nights started to become very unpredictable.  Sometimes hot, sometimes cold.  Sometimes perfectly comfortable, but still frustratingly awake.  I no longer rolled over once and went to sleep, I started tossing and turning a lot each night.  I decided it was time to make some changes.

First, it was the flannel sheets.  As much as I loved the softness and the feeling of getting into a warm bed, I could no longer handle the warmth at night.

Then, it was the comforter.  We had a down comforter for several years and decided maybe it was time to trade it in for a lighter version.

All of the tossing and turning was really bothering my back, so my doctor recommended sleeping with a pillow between my knees (which by the way is NOT what you want when you are hot and tossing and turning).  This restlessness and back discomfort also led my husband and me to suspect that it was time for a new mattress.  Goodbye to my favorite life-changing mattress!

The new mattress did not seem to fix the problem, in fact, I was having even more difficulty sleeping. Perhaps it was time for a new pillow.  Farewell special pillow of my past! Welcome to the long line of new pillows on my bed (or tryouts as I liked to call them).

As I finally settled into my new mattress, pillow, and bedding; I realized that the morning light was really starting to bother me and waking me up well before I was ready (especially after not sleeping well at night), so a sleep mask was added to my nightly routine.

Maybe because I always slept well and didn't notice, but I now also realized my husband snored.  Not all the time, not loudly; but enough to be irritating.  A gentle nudge was usually enough to stop him, but I can tell you when I was tossing and turning the snoring didn't seem all that mild and my nudge wasn't always so gentle.  Ear plugs?  Separate beds?  Different rooms? What's next?

As all of these changes piled up, it became a bit ridiculous.  My bedside had become cluttered with the detritus of my sleep issues- sleep mask, socks (sometimes need them, sometimes can't stand them), water (all that sweating is dehydrating), Kindle for middle of night reading, phone for when the Kindle doesn't work, extra blanket (you never know), various types of sleepwear (depending on what my personal thermostat was), extra pillows, ice packs, hot packs, fan, and the inevitable tangle of sheets and blankets. I finally had to accept--

It's not you, my sweet bed, it's me.  And a nasty case of declining estrogen.  Yikes, it appears I am in the PERIMENOPAUSAL ZONE!!

"Perimenopause is the time period when the ovaries begin to decline in function and continues until menopause has been reached."

Your mother may have referred to this time as "the change of life". This phase covers an undetermined amount of time that starts and ends at its choosing. It could last as long as ten years.  TEN YEARS!!  A few of its delightful symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, disrupted sleep, weight gain, and mood changes. I won't even mention the other very specific things that happen to a woman's body :-0!! Doesn't that sound like fun?  I can tell you that my mood definitely changes when those things are happening to me!

While it is my desire to take all of this in stride, it is not always easy.  I can change the kind of clothing I wear to accommodate my ever-changing temperature, I can keep the thermostat at a refrigerator setting, I can happily switch to wearing pants with adjustable waistbands if I have to, but to give up a good night's sleep is almost too much to ask! I know women are strong and that's why we are given the gift of childbearing, but it would seem to me that the additional but related "gifts" of the starting and stopping of menstruation and ALL that goes along with it are just too much.  Insomnia too?  There must be a mistake! Surely God didn't intend for us to suffer all of these indignities in addition to normal aging issues?? Gravity and wrinkles would have been enough!  Clearly, some of these ailments should have been directed to the men, right? Why should us women have ALL of the fun?

The best way to get through all of this is with the support and humor of your girlfriends.  They understand (or they will soon understand) why you wear a tank top in the middle of winter and accept that your house is the temperature of an ice box.  They will pretend not to notice when your midsection swells and will be with you as you shop for looser, floaty styles. They will nod knowingly when you complain about not sleeping and will kindly offer you tips on undereye concealer.  Your girlfriends will tell you the things you hate to ask your doctor about, but really, really need to know.  They will be with you as you laugh and cry (and sometimes pee) with greater frequency, sometimes in the same minute. Your girlfriends will be the ones to share tips on what herb to try, or what medicine to avoid.  They will clue you in on what things helped them or what made it worse. We will all get through it together somehow- maybe just a little sweatier, crabbier, and sleepier than we once were.

 My advice to the men in our lives-- read up on what to expect, be understanding and supportive, try to do what we say,  don't dare change the thermostat, stay away from our chocolate, and whatever you do, don't cross us! All of that not sleeping makes us a little bit crazy :-).

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