One day, it seemed, I woke up and realized, I am my mother.
I take high blood pressure and cholesterol pills and have the same green plastic pill box with compartments for each day of the week. My back aches like hers did.
My aging skin takes buckets of moisturizer to look dewy. The pounds are not just creeping on, they’re piling on. Sleep? What’s that?
I can’t even remember where I put the cinnamon, much less events for the memoir I’m midway through. It seemed like just yesterday I was 35 and climbing the corporate ladder. This past summer, I hit a milestone birthday: 60.
How did I get here? I asked myself, and I found it’s the same question my friends were asking themselves. Maybe you can relate. In talking with my friends, I realized the more important question was: What am I going to do about it?
What am I going to do to make these next few decades, the last third of my life, healthy and happy? How can I return to being the me I was in my youth, fit, healthy, more relaxed?
My doctor told me her biggest concern is heart health, because cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death and disability for American women. Ideally, she’d like me off my blood pressure medications, and that meant weight loss. (GROAN.) Besides a healthier diet, she recommended I do at least 30 minutes of cardio exercise a day. (GROAN AGAIN!)
I’ve been recalcitrant, but it’s time for that to change. Baby steps: small, manageable, with a high payoff.
MY COMMITMENT TO RETURNING TO A HEALTHIER HEART
I’ve committed to making three major changes to support a healthier heart.
- To get those 30 minutes of cardio in every day, I’m going to do some things I love. First, I’ll walk our bigger dog, who strides far more quickly than our little maltipoo. On rainy days, I’ll plug in my favorite rock and roll and dance. That’s right, dance. All by myself. For 30 minutes. That’s only 10 songs, and I’m going to listen to them anyway, so why not move while I listen?
- I don’t eat a lot of fat, but I do love carbs. From now on, my Sicilian self will still eat pasta, but far less often and only whole grain. I don’t love protein, but I found some delicious-sounding recipes on websites like WebMD (boneless, skinless chicken breasts stuffed with a little herbed goat cheese? Mmmm!) to whet my appetite for lean protein. And I stocked my freezer with my favorite fish. Thanksgiving dinner included two desserts: I talked to the friend who was bringing one of them, and she agreed to substitute a green vegetable.
- Sometimes, I just don’t want to take the time to cook vegetables, so I’ll just pop a potato in the microwave. More carbs. To combat my laziness, two or three times a week I’ll steam up some fresh green vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, so all I have to do is reheat them for dinner. And now that it’s winter, I’ll make a pot of healthy vegetable soup every week or so.
I’ve got some good goals to aim for, too.
By March, I want to feel flexible enough to climb on a camel during our long-awaited vacation in Morocco.
By June, I want my doctor to reduce my blood pressure medications.
MY COMMITMENT TO RETURNING TO A BETTER NIGHT’S SLEEP
My sleep pattern got disrupted during perimenopause, almost a decade before I hit menopause. I could sleep for four or five hours, but then I’d awaken and be unable to doze off again. In my 40s, it was night sweats.
I was lucky; when I hit menopause I didn’t get more than a couple of hot flashes. But I am still more likely to get overheated at night than I did when I was younger, and that interrupts my sleep.
Here are the things that work for me:
I wear a sleep mask so the lights from the computer, TV and alarm clock do not keep me awake.
- A fan in the bedroom at night, even with air conditioning. The cool air helps with overheating, and the whirring is white noise that lulls me to sleep.
If I toss and turn for more than 10 minutes, I get up and go into the living room. Keeping the lights dim, I sit and meditate or do a relaxation exercise. Within the hour I am usually sleepy enough to go back to sleep.
I have no caffeine after 2pm.
MY COMMITMENT TO RETURNING TO CARING FOR MYSELF
I’m married and my husband is used to having someone take care of him. We are both semi-retired and working at home. He practices law part-time, and I am writing a memoir.
But I’m the primary shopper, cook, and organizer of all household tasks and chores. When we first retired, I prepared three meals a day for us. My entire day was taken up with those three meals, as well as organizing all the things needed when you move into a new house.
My writing was done in fits and starts. I made little progress. Sound familiar?
When you take care of a family: kids, a husband, aging parents, you’re usually last on the list to be taken care of. That adds tension, stress on your heart and insomnia. See the connection?
A few months ago, I told my husband I would cook one meal a day: either lunch or dinner. For the others, he was on his own. This gives me the necessary time to do the things that are important to me: my self-care.
I also off-loaded some of the household tasks. I still have to remind him, but at least he does them. The other day, he made his very first pumpkin loaf to welcome a new family to our neighborhood!
Did I come up with these all by myself?
Nope. I initiated discussions with all my friends. I was surprised to find that more than a few them also felt they had lost themselves over the years and wanted to return to the women they used to be. By talking, sharing information, and exploring ideas, I came up with the things that I thought I could achieve. Small steps, in keeping with my life.
How about you? Have you started a dialogue with your women friends? What steps are manageable for your life? Share your story in the comments; I’d love to hear your successes.
Pfizer, has mounted RETURN TO YOU, a program to help women live better, healthier lives. They’re actually finding ways to connect us with one another and also with health experts who have a deep understanding of the challenges we face.
To read other inspirational blogger stories check out the Pfizer Return to You page on BlogHer.com.