• Catherine Hansen MD, MPH

The Most Important Person

"When we truly care for ourselves, it becomes possible to care far more profoundly about other people. The more alert and sensitive we are to our own needs, the more loving and generous we can be toward others" (Eda LeShan)

When, on earth, do we have time to nurture ourselves? Between loads of laundry, field trips, college applications, ailing parents and dinner? Women ask me this question every day. It's difficult to answer. But I know, despite the screaming of children, the ringing of the phone and the dinging of incoming e-mails, that I must consider what it is telling me. For me. For my family. For my patients.

This quote motivates me to take control of my life and I invite you to join me. For most, success will be found by eating well, exercising regularly, maintaining a close network of friends, finding reward in daily work (or changing what you do) and pouring out a little extra love even when our "feel-good" hormones are at an all-time low. We know that estrogen, oxytocin, seratonin and dopamine all decrease with age. For some, replacing those hormones or medicating deficiencies will be needed and, for that, we have a host of safe, viable options available. For others, this natural state of aging is managed without even noticing (really!).

I invite you to consider your role models. I'm inspired by my patients every day. The ones who have overcome incredible odds to be sitting in front of me, explaining their stresses, their challenges, how they pay their bills by working 3 jobs, how they have survived broken marriages, single-parenting, abuses of vast and horrific proportions. Women rock! I tell them all the same thing - this is YOUR time. Something has brought each of them to a place where they are ready to accept that they can't do it all. They are asking for help. They feel alone but their challenges are not unique. Trying to be everything to everybody is wearing them thin and they suffer along with the family they are charged with leading. I applaud these women for realizing that they need to focus on different priorities. I learn from them. Sometimes I even cry with them.

Many women present because they have finally realized they can (and want to), do better. As our hormones transition, there is a real and measurable shift from nurturing others to nurturing ourselves, documented by the changing chemicals in our brain. When you learn to understand the effect those chemicals have on your behavior, you will ultimately learn when to trust the instincts they propagate and, hopefully, when NOT to. Sometimes the things we load on our to-do lists legitimately need to be done, and on schedule. Sometimes they don't. Maturity, wisdom, life experiences and gut instincts help us to know the difference. Over 65% of divorces after the age of 50 are the decision of the female spouse. Some are women who have finally decided to put themselves first. Others suffer for decades wishing they had.

I was once asked, "who is the most important person in your life?" and, as I searched deeply, knowing I was being analyzed for the answer, I indicated that I couldn't name just one. Secretly thinking I would prove myself an overachiever by putting forth multiple names, I confidently answered, "my mom, my grandmother, my spouse and my kids, in no specific order". The response slapped me in the face. I was reminded that "I" am the most important person in my life. I hadn't even considered HER!

Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain (if you haven't read it - get it today!), explains that after the tumultuous years of peri-menopause, the mature brain stabilizes and we are better able to process and manage the emotions that continue to bombard our circuitry. We aren't about the drama anymore. The monthly ebb and flow that were ramped up during the teen years, flattened slightly during our reproductive years, became downright unbearable during the transition into menopause thankfully settle into a calm, flowing and almost relaxing pool. The average age of menopause is 51 years with the onset of hormonal shifts in the early 40's.

Almost 50 million women in the U.S. are between 40-60 years of age. It is time for us to re-write the rules. We need to re-define our relationships, re-vamp our identity, respond to the, very real, re-wiring of our brains and re-ignite our passions, whatever that may be. If we aren't sure, we need to be silent, pray and listen. The answers are there. Believe that they are.

A sense of accomplishment outside the home becomes more important to women during this transition and those with rewarding careers have better self-acceptance, independence, function more effectively and report better physical health. If a woman does not, yet, have a career or independent interests, this is the time that allows her the freedom and self-confidence to pursue those dreams. If she has not been "allowed" the time in her busy life to know those dreams, she can finally sit back and consider her own wants, needs, desires and pursuit of something more fulfilling. This is HER time. Everyone else has learned to wipe their own bums, make their own coffee, complete their own class assignments, serve their own dinner and get a drive to practice. If not, they will.

Throughout my life I have changed hormonally to the mid-lifer that I am and in the process of aging, I have integrated all of my experiences, internalized the results of my good and bad decisions and I have come to be me. The real me. The fully grown version of me. My husband reminds me to, "wear it!".

I don't fear age because it brings wisdom. Wisdom is something I used to associate with grey hair and wrinkles, of which I have both, but now see as the reason we age. To gain wisdom. To become who we were meant to be.

If we were meant to care for those around us, and of course we were, then we need to bring a fully functioning, grounded, centered, calm and balanced woman to the table. We will ALL be thankful we did.

A Journey to Rediscover Intimacy is now open, learn more: EWCircle.com/intimacy

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