“Compassion and tolerance are not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.”. Dalai Lama
This blog is about being compassionate to ourselves and I believe that we don't practice it enough, myself included. Two weeks ago I found out I have Primary Lymphoedema, which is when the lymphatic system gets blocked up when it's purpose is to get rid of fluids and toxins. I have it in my abdomen, (it's usually in the arms or legs), I was born with it and is exasperated by hormonal changes and abdominal surgery. It is a chronic condition and if not treated or managed it can lead to cellulitis and swelling gets larger. In addition, I also have a frozen pelvis as a result from sepsis, which means my pelvic organs are congealed in scar tissue and I am post menopausal for the last 4 years and I am 49. As you can imagine, at times it's been very difficult, but I am also very grateful to have the tools and resources (family, friends, professionals, skills) to reach out to get the help and support I have needed, even in times of crisis.
Why am I telling you this?
I am sharing this with you because since I transitioned through puberty, I thought I was going mad, a hypochondriac and embarrassed by the continuing swelling of my tummy. I went to numerous professionals over the years, told them my symptoms but they never dotted the lines until my symptoms reached a crisis point. However, the impact on me and my family has been huge.
Subsequently, I have had conversations with friends and clients and the story seems so familiar, particularly when women are post menopausal and they realise the impact their hormones have had on them throughout their lives, particularly transitioning through puberty, becoming a new mum, peri-menopause, menopause and post-menopause. I use the analogy of being drunk for 35 years, have had the hangover and now I've got the flashbacks.
What has struck me as I reflect, is how accepting we are, even though we know something is wrong, we get that little bit of assurance or dismissiveness from professionals, or when results don't show up anything and we plod along. But we don't plod along, because we are tired, feeling anxious, feeling depressed, feeling unwell, in pain whether it be our joints, muscles, organs, feel unheard and we end up taking it out on ourselves and those around us. If the experts don't know what is wrong with us, how are we supposed to know? Along with our hormonal symptoms, we have careers, families, relationships, a life that we are managing day to day and then throw other environmental factors and it's no wonder it can be enough to destabilise us and everything, at times, can come crashing down around us.
What can change?
By having more conversations with other people who are similar to you
Find a GP you trust, who will listen and have a honest conversation
Find a women's physiotherapist
Look at your nutrition / exercise / hydration
Keep a diary of your symptoms, notice any patterns
Professionals become curious about your patients symptoms
Keep fighting your corner
Being non-judgemental and setting aside your own experiences or agenda
Being aware of when our loved ones need to talk
Giving someone space to explore what is going on by asking 'tell me more'
Asking yourself or someone what will help to make it better
Offering support whether it be emotional or practical, for example going with someone to see their GP or specialist
By exploring all treatments and options available
By reassuring your loved one they aren't going mad
By becoming educated about how hormones can affect us whether you are female or male
By being honest and empathetic
Learn about self-care tools like breath work, relaxation techniques to help you tolerate your distress and symptoms
Include your family and friends in conversations by being honest
Becoming consciously aware of how you are and thereby responsible for managing it
I also believe that not enough is not talked about hormone changes that happen with men, but that's another blog. All of these things I have listed can help you practice to be compassionate to yourself and others.
How has coaching helped me?
Coaching has had such a positive impact on me. I practice being consciously aware of my symptoms and managing my conditions by looking at how different things will be helpful or useful to me. I notice the emotions I experience and I look at what things will help me to feel better. I learned I can't predict the future, I make plans but they can be adapted to allow for any of those last minute events that can still annoyingly happen unexpectedly. I have learned to manage my own expectations and that I can't control other people or make them think what I want them to think, feel or do. I practice gratitude and take pleasure in the small things. I am happy to share my vulnerability (hence the blog) as it means I accept myself. I identified what my values and strengths are and use them on a daily basis in my personal and professional life.
Something that I found useful that I would like to share is that after my recent diagnosis, I wrote myself a letter from my compassionate self. I can't tell you how helpful it was, as I've also been able to include in my letter about making a plan of how to go forward, reach out to those around me including friends, family and professionals. I imagined my life what it would be like if those experiences didn't happen to me and I concluded that I'm glad they did because I hope I've become a better version of myself and in my professional compassionate capacity I can share my own experiences with permission, coaching skills and techniques with you.
However, that does not mean I would wish this process on anyone but by sharing coaching psychological tools, I hope the impact is that you become your own self-coach, you don't feel that you are on your own and there are people / professionals out there who can help. I would argue that by becoming consciously aware of how we are, we can take responsibility for our own way of being.
I've included a list of professional helplines and resources that you can signpost to. This is not an exhaustive list and I would suggest that this list is to get you started becoming curious about what else is out there which can help make you and your life better.
Take care, Paula
Resources and useful links
This is the British Menopausal Society's website where you can find lots of useful information
This is an example of women's physiotherapy available and in no way am I endorsing them, it is an example of what to expect if you find one in your local area
All you need to know about lymphoedema.
A fantastic book that can be shared with loved ones as it is written with humour of one person's experience of menopause and the impact it has had on her, her family and her professional life.ME & MY MENOPAUSAL VAGINA: Living with Vaginal Atrophy
This book looks at examining the reasons for taking oestrogen and how it can be an effective treatment for women.
Avrum Bluming MD
A link outlining what atrophy is and possible treatments available on the NHS
This is a NHS website looking at how employers can improve the work environment for women experiencing menopausal symptoms.
Other useful links:
Provides listening services, information and support for anyone who needs to talk, including a web chat. CALM's helpline services are open 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year.
Money Advice Service
0800 138 7777
Provides free and impartial money advice. Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm.
Free 24-hour helpline for women who have experienced domestic abuse, run by domestic violence charity Refuge. It is run by female advisors. The women's helpline is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can contact them online and they will ask for a safe way to respond to you. Relate 0300 003 0396 relate.org.uk
Provides help and support with relationships, including counselling, telephone counselling and anonymous live chat. We're not sure what Relate are doing over Christmas, and it might vary depending on which branch. It may help to find your nearest Relate and contact them directly. Samaritans 116 123 (freephone) email@example.com samaritans.org Samaritans are open 24/7 for anyone who needs to talk. You can visit some Samaritans branches in person. Samaritans also have a Welsh Language Line on 0808 164 0123 (7pm–11pm every day). Shout 85258 (text SHOUT) giveusashout.org
Confidential 24/7 text service offering support if you are in crisis and need immediate help. Shout's textline is available 24/7, if you are struggling to cope and need to talk. The Silver Line 0800 4 70 80 90 thesilverline.org.uk
Provides support, information, friendship and advice for older people (over 55) who may feel lonely or isolated. The Silver Line's helpline is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.