It seemed so obvious that I haven’t written on this topic before; but maybe what I feel I know about migraine and other “sudden-onset” pain involving heat and inflammation is not as obvious as I have been thinking. For the longest time, I’ve considered the kind of pain that is often rammed very tightly into the upper part of the body, like something that is trapped inside and desperate to get out, to be an expression of the frustrated “feminine aspect”. Its trying so hard to gain our attention yet this is often the very thing we deny it; so around and around it goes, becoming the most chronic thing in our experience, affecting our quality of life and making us feel small and defeated when this is the every oposite to its intention. Its a classic case of a breakdown in communication; which is ironic given communication is everything it is “about”.
The feeling that wells up to siren point in a woman, especially at key points in her cycle and during menopause, is a longing to express, to be heard, to be taken seriously, to be released from the humdrum, to be appreciated, to be afforded equal opportunity, to be at true unfettered liberty to be herself (whatever that might be) and to explore all that she is in human form. It’s a longing to unearth the depths of wisdom that she suspect lies buried inside of her without the endless insistence that she prove or justify that stockpile of knowledge; she just knows what she knows.
When I have these kinds of episode “come up” I am far better able to navigate what is occurring in my cells when I apply the broadest understanding to what feels so blocked and frustrated “in” me. Yet I routinely hear from friends who suffer from migraines or any other kind of sudden pain episodes that they are mystified why they are happening, or they brush them off with well-practiced speeches about how they are so-called “women’s problems”. Well there really is no such thing; or there wasn’t, until women stopped being listened to, including by themselves. A friend presented at the doctor’s with such an episode this week and was prescribed THREE sets of pills to take, which her husband is now pressuring her to take though she really doesn’t want to. We self-medicate ourselves to numbness, ignoring what our bodies are telling us, while the imbalances in our lives go on and on unspoken.
Until I spoke to her, that friend hadn’t even consider that the frustration she is feeling in her career as a teacher where she has had to drop a pay level just to stay in work, over the fine art practice she hasn’t had time to keep going for the past 30 years of career and, perhaps, even the husband who doesn’t seem to be that supportive might be contributing to her sudden-onset backpain. Its not all down to “bad” life circumstances since all women are presented with an opportunity to review what they are about at this time of their life, just as hormones shift gear and priorities change. Things that were pivotal to them for decades (including children) are possibly not there anymore and yet, the way we have set up our culture, they are expected to continue behaving pretty-much the same as ever. If they aren’t in the kind of relationships that leave space for growth, this can present major problems when new urges to express selfhood come roaring up from their soles like a kundalini fire of rebirth, telling them that the next half of their life is theirs for the making. Part of them (perhaps a buried part…) registers this as excitement, for all that it is a little scary to survey a whole new landscape of possibility extending over the next 40 or 50 years. However, society doesn’t have it this way; it tells women they are “done for” as soon as they are over that age hill…and so the conflict plays on in their bodies until they hardly know how to read those unsettling signals coursing through their veins.
It’s an awakening, a quickening, not a death, that is occurring but we are so entrained to regard newness as threat and age as the very nemesis of a woman’s ability to thrive (though this is back to front thinking). Even if we don’t interpret the changes in ourselves as such then those around us are very likely to since people who think they know us really don’t tend to like disruption in what they have become used to relying on. Suddenly, we are being accused of having the midlife crisis that is so parodied by our sit-coms and and yet, really, we are re-finding a part of ourselves that we only thought we put on ice while we prioritise raising families and paying mortgages. Now those tasks are done, we are back to claim what is ours…only those around us may shake their heads in disapproval. No wonder our bodies are in conflict!
When I speak to friends who are bewildered by these sudden onset episodes of pain, rather than asking what they have taken for it I give them opportunity to consider how their daily lives are feeling, what are their frustrations, what opportunities are they getting to express themselves and who is listening to them. There is almost always something lurking there when that rock is turned over and they go away thinking along different lines but with their mood somewhat lighter after such a conversation.
Better still, I do what I can to encourage them to find new ways to express themselves, to allow suppressed creative urges to come through them. I get them to consider exploring ways they can be more independent than perhaps they have been, even if this is only in some small way that they are thinking or seeking permission from someone else before they make the smallest decisions. So many women give themselves away like this over the years without even noticing, even seeking tacit permission off their children before they allow themselves to consider themselves at liberty to do things or feel relaxed. These are ways that small evolutionary steps can be taken to provide room for a woman to reconfigure herself ready for that next portion of her life. None of them are intended to blow-apart the long-established relationships that anchor their world and yet so many people fear what these kinds of questions may unleash within a marriage or family setting. The opportunity to open up this forum of consideration does not put any solid group of people under threat but will allow the family dynamics to evolve and grow in ways that benefit all parties….yet so many women feel even the smallest changes to the ways their lives are configured will be unwelcome in their home and so they suppress these urges inside them, pointing them inward like the barrel of a loaded gun.
As a watchful child, I noticed how my mother had this kind of fire rising in her from around the time of her perimenopause and I observed it become an ever more formidable flame, the outspoken devil-may-care aspect of her that turned people off and put wariness in the eyes of even those who knew her well. It sparked many moments of miscomprehension and fear in my father, who liked his world predictable and well-orchestrated to his own tight set or rules. In the end, she brought it into check and it became the cancer that railed and vented on the inside of her body until she succumbed to it much too young to have made the most of her brief widowhood. She taught me such a lot by doing it the way she did; showing me what powerful womanhood looks like and how not to push it deep-down inside.
The heat that comes up in us can feel like a primal scream trying to gain our attention…for that is what it is. It reminds us of a time before child rearing, before strict gender roles, before many of the constructs we have turned into the hardest expectations, rules and limitations of our man-made culture.
Oestrogen is the “yang” factor; it’s what pushes down the lid on the innate feminine urge not to be pinned down but be elusive and free to roam, to express, to create, to do as she pleases. It’s what made continuance of the species possible; so that we wouldn’t keep wandering away from the egg, leaving the nest and then…ultimately…taking that process inside of us, making it the work of two decades or more to bring up our children. Its what kept us by the fireside preparing food, caring for husbands, keeping house. When oestrogen is in her body, a woman can become more “yang” than a male; fierce and protective, she guards the very concept of the nest like its all that matters to her…but then the wheel of life turns around and, suddenly, something else happens and it is meant to (though we have denied it for far too long). Face it, until quite recently, not that many women were living long beyond the point when those tables turned around and those that did were often leg-tied to vast family responsibilities or the kind of poverty that kept them from noticing. Now we live longer, have more security and can take the time to register our frustrations as the fanfare of the rebirth they were always meant to herald in…with all the years stretched out in front of us to make the most of that potential, assuming we don’t frighten ourselves to death at the sight of so much possibility. Its a sad truism that is is often our own power that scares us the most; and this affects women so much more than men, something which underlies the vast territory of chronic illness that seems to swallow so many women from their middle years onwards. In other words, we clip our own wings out of a profound fear of what it would take for us to fly.
Which is why hormones so often come up amongst the likely offenders when mystery illness starts to happen to a woman; and, in a way, this is right on the money. Because when a woman reaches the middle of her life, she is freed from her procreational responsibilities (if these are what she took on) and so oestrogen backs off to a level where there is just enough for optimum health (though our toxic environment has made it necessary for her to have more than “enough” just to ward of the plastic xenooestrogens that are rife in our water, food and atmosphere; a whole other topic). Without so much oestrogen, hormone balance now tips in favour of the “yin” and so a new, stable, mid-line balance of yin and yang is made possible (without all the ups and downs of the menstrual cycles); if she choses to accept it. If she does, she gets to model to the world what true balance looks like; which expresses as wisdom in action; the creative practicality of the wise woman that used to hold the respect of the tribe but which is now made jest of by our media, our comedians, our whole culture-at-large. The “old crones” that were once the mainstay of our communities have never been more out of fashion; nobody admits to aspiring to be that anymore (although I do, and I know others who think likewise).
Our culture has been set to value the “lidded” woman, the younger woman, the one who keeps to her place in the family, taking care of her husband like he is a child that forgot to leave, fulfilling her care-role for elderly parents and people in the community, giving her time for next to nothing, pursuing creative urges that are labelled “hobby” and offered peanuts in return, treated like a latter-day witch and with a certain amount of disdain for a growing interest in alternative health or her weird friends that collect crystals. This is why hormone balance has become so coveted; since there is a vested interested in maintaining the status quo that looks like what I have just described, where the women is expected to be 90 per cent as she always was and only 10 per cent the part that she suspects is her most authentic aspect but which her family find inconvenient or embarrassing. It’s why HRT was invented; to keep the little wife in her coop and the dinner on the table.
But what if she is meant to be feeling that hot prickle, that rising heat like a dancing flame that, in its way, is making her feel more alive than she has for years. What if her cancers, her migraine, her strokes, her weight gain, her sadness, her dimentia….all of these and more, are as a result of trying to push that back into the pressure-cooker of herself until it becomes the grenade that is deployed from inside?
What if it is only the fact that she feels so pushed down that makes her bullish and desperate in a way that is abhorred and made fun of by those (often men or “yang” entities such as corporate settings) that feel threatened by the menopausal female and the flames seen flashing in her eyes?
What if to a degree that suits her (which will be different for every woman; possibly different every day) she needs to be free enough to explore her urges, to untie the routines from her leg in order to explore the next phase her own way?
What if making that break for financial independence through something she takes on as a job or a project, regardless of how much money has been saved together in the family pot, is just something she needs to do right now to show she has it in her? And what if she needs to give vent about how unfairly she feels treated in return for the creative or healing work she does, which is often rewarded as though it is a silly little hobby or underpaid because she has a supportive husband and is thought not to need the dough? What if our next big evolution depends on many wise and creative women standing this new ground, insisting they are fairly rewarded for what they bring to the table through innate skills that are much needed by our world?
What if it is time to recognise and honour that this is the feminine version of power rising up in all of us (regardless of gender; there is much to be gained by the men that work with this upsurge in their partners and in themselves)? What if this collaboration is just what is most needed as the next learning curve for the whole of the planet at this most-particular time of its life as we all stretch towards our next big evolution? What if we greet it as a formidable, uprising, energetic impulse that has been suppressed far too long to the detriment of all of our health?
These times are always when I write the most of all…finding I have just so much to say that I can’t stem the tide, it will “out” itself so here it is (and there’s more below). Giving this aspect its full and most varied expression feels like a cooling balm running through my veins yet this isn’t an attempt to “simmer me down” but to allow “out” what wants to come up and through me as part of my own evolution; it needs to rise up that spinal column to be felt by each of my energy centres in turn. When it reaches my crown, it says “you are a master of many things the world has yet to label or make currency of” and that, in giving it vent, I give courage to all those other women who are discovering the mastery of many things that lies waiting to be claimed inside of them. This is the wisdom born of ages that we carry in our female cells and it is time to demand the right to include this kind of innate wisdom in or culture, without the say-so of the scientific community or those who think they know everything they need to in a strictly empirical kind-of way. The feminine doesnt conflict with that; but it is a complement to it all and we have been missing it out for way too long.
The feminine is the portal to a vast sea of possibility that can never be fully known and, when we open it, we unleash the much-needed salve of this world since it is in the “not knowing” that we find ourselves most fully and in the most balanced way. The mature woman knows innately how to do this…if she lets herself; and so she brings herself into balance, having already mastered what it is to be the practical human being for the first half of her life. Then, by bringing herself into balance, she helps to bring the rest of the world into balance too; demonstrating through the wisdom of her ways how this is done and can be used as a way to thrive like never before. This process can only start to happen when we listen to those first screams to be “let out” that our bodies so loudly shout out to us; and then, in listening, we hear an answer that is eagerly awaited by the whole of the rest of the world.