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My Relationship With My Weight


1 Minute Read

I was born feet first at midnight with a caul which was said to indicate a child of mystery and magic, A puny miserable lactose intolerant creature I spent the first year of my life in hospital, puking and unable to thrive.

My mother had a wonderful statuesque figure and after selling her rings to pay bills decided to be a nude photographer’s model in order to be able to keep me alive. As I reached twelve months, she was told to take me home as they did not believe I would survive.
She met a woman on the steps of the hospital who recommended unpasteurized donkey’s milk and that turned out to be the nectar of life for me.

Like many children of the 50s, we ate dinner plus a pudding. And my Mom was a good wholesome yummy cook. Macaroni cheese, cottage pie, French toast and syrup, white bread with butter and apricot jam and peanut butter. Rice pudding, trifles, ice cream and chocolate sauce. A starch. a protein and a veg then pudding and lots of full cream milk to drink.

We were fairly active and played outside, as well as cards and board games, drawing and painting. We also did cultural activities and had weekend drives and generally a good family life with mom, dad three siblings and a bunch of assorted pets.

A shilling a week provided for sweets on a Friday at the local café. Penny chocolates were my personal favourite.
 Everything went well up until my 13th Birthday when I was sent away to boarding school.

I thought it was going to be a great adventure but loathed every second of it. The restrictions and rules and the emotional trauma, which took place around leaving my family.

So I filled the empty spaces in my heart with Romany creams and gained 15 kg in one term. During a three month period, I became a little barrel on legs. In addition, my skin stretched suddenly and I had livid stretch marks on my breasts, stomach and thighs.

Although outwardly the comic and the card, inwardly I was deeply unhappy. Alas, the more I expanded the less visible and loveable I felt. I fell for a gorgeous Portuguese young man but it was unrequited and that made me feel even worse.

Sport was a nightmare as was the gym. Chafing thighs and plus I felt like a mammoth.
 A year later, my family moved to the area and I was released from prison but continued on through my teenage years being plump.

Around 15 when I left school, I started smoking and taking Nobese, a diet appetite suppressant and Veinoids to lose weight. And so began the see-saw and metabolism destroying journey of the next 30 years. Weight watchers, Weighless, the Dr Atkins diet revolution. Bran and yoghurt.

Yes, I did lose weight. I also fainted often and regained those same15kgs over and over again. I got married at 23 stopped smoking and entered a new phase of more-than- plump. My husband loved me and we were social. I worked hard in the beauty sales industry and we built a life and everything that goes with it.

My mom, my gran and my aunt came and co-lived with us and everything was hunky-dory. At 36 I fell pregnant with our first and only child. Fast forward with motherhood and a career and an extended family. I gradually got heavier year by year. I had already decided that was it, no more dieting. Thirty years followed with me holding onto my “baby fat”’ and eventually weighing in at just under 100kg which was way too heavy for a small163cm frame.

I moved to Cape Town, got divorced six years ago after 39 years and my former husband died three years ago. Had seven moves and then on my 64th Birthday, my new partner and I set a goal to lose ten kilos as an incentive to go on a cruise. The biggest loser would sponsor the other. Being competitive by nature, this turned out a grand idea.

I had also been to a seminar when I was 61 and set a five year ahead goal to reach a target 30 kilos or almost five stone lighter. We did a firewalk, which helped imprint this intention.

How did I lose this 30 kilos? First of all, I took a product called Wondernut that is an emetic. Because I had lost the same 15 kilos again and again. I started noticing my clothes were looser on me. I felt more energetic so I started walking every other day – 5,000 steps on my phone. As well as drinking warm lemon juice every day and consciously drinking more water.

I found that my sweet tooth started to go away. And I was eating three meals a day rather than snacking. That helped with weight loss and stabilised my moods. The latter was slow as I travel and socialise a lot.

A year later, I had lost ten kilos even with an erratic lifestyle. I feel so much more comfortable in my body.

After a few more months of losing weight, I went out and bought new clothes from exchange shops. At the end of 18 months, I could swap size 22 clothes for size 12 ones.

This was just fantastic. I started yoga and Body20, a modality with an electrode enhanced jacket that gives the equivalent to a five-hour work out in 20 minutes. I am a star pupil!

I just enjoy my life so much more. And my relationship with my body is so enhanced. No chafing thighs, no puddles under my breasts. I buy new underwear and feel so much sexier.

Have I changed as a person? Am I happier? Did I have body shame? No to all of those. I just feel healthier and better. I eat what I like without the devouring urge. Hurrah.

The end result is at 67, I am now 30 kilos lighter, exactly the amount, I wrote down in my forward vision. The new partner is no more, The body is lean and gorgeously toned. I have been at this weight for over a year now, I walk, hike, I love life and wear stylish clothes. I am fit and healthy. My inner being is now my outer JOY. For me, everyone is perfect just the way they are but for me, this does feel better.

HOTSTUFF – Embracing The Menopause


6 Minute Read

As an Energy Medicine Coach, I’ve spent pretty much the last 25 years helping others find their way. Now, it is time for me to forge mine anew.

And my path is based upon a personal story that, up until now, I’ve hidden away in a very dark little closet…

Eight years ago, I was facing a hysterectomy following a failed procedure to cauterise the fibroid that was causing me many dire and unspeakable problems. And this op was not to be a keyhole job; I was facing the whole kit and caboodle. Not only did I not want to lose my womb; as a self-employed single parent, I simply could not afford to take time off work.

I pleaded with the consultant to offer me an alternative, but she was adamant. She said that the only chance I had of avoiding surgery was if the menopause were to suddenly appear. This, she said, would basically starve the troublesome fibroid into extinction. However, blood tests had revealed this was not going to be happening anytime soon; in fact, she guessed it would be at least five years. This consultant insisted that I couldn’t wait another few weeks, let alone a few years.

I’d spent a long time and a lot of money trying various approaches; Ayurveda, Chinese herbs, Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Healing, Health Kinesiology, Hypnotherapy and The Journey process, but nothing had made the slightest bit of difference. This – for somebody whose whole life had been spent immersed in all things holistic and alternative – was utterly demoralising. I felt like a failure and a fraud.
But there was still a little voice nagging away at me saying there was a way. I just needed to find it. A big part of me thought further research was futile, but in sheer desperation, I nevertheless burnt a lot of midnight oil trying to find something I hadn’t tried.

Eventually, I stumbled upon a little-known ancient tantric birth control technique, which was purported to stop periods. As a very well-read energy healer, I’d never come across anything like this, and frankly, I was extremely sceptical. 

But it was a chance… perhaps my only chance. A shot in the dark, which my logical brain told me I was stupid to try, but nevertheless, my intuitive brain won the battle and I postponed my op for a month to give it a go.

I never had another period again. Within four months, I’d gone through a ‘mini menopause’ and was out the other side. Job done.  And no op.

After the many years I’d spent struggling with debilitating symptoms, I was utterly flabbergasted by what I’d achieved. And yet I nevertheless kept my story pretty much to myself. I just wasn’t ready to out myself as a post-menopausal woman in a world whose judgment I feared.

Instead, I decided that an adventure was long overdue, and I took myself off to Bali – ostensibly to write a book about my healing work. I meditated, did lots of yoga, drank fresh juices, and slowly but surely, immersed myself – ‘Eat, Pray, Love’-style – into this strange and fascinating culture. I watched sunrises and sunsets, lost a stone, grew my hair and took a young lover. And my little sabbatical just kept being extended month after month.

My young beau – a European who’d lived in Bali for over half his life – introduced me to his neighbour, who just happened to be Ketut Liyer, the real-life healer who was featured in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. He was instrumental in turning around the life of the now-famous author Liz Gilbert, whose book turned into a best-seller and a Hollywood movie which transformed Bali almost overnight into the veritable metropolis that it is today.

Ketut and I hit it off immediately. We flirted, joked and talked long into the afternoon. It culminated in me giving him energy healing. Before my eyes, this elderly man who was ravaged with dementia transformed into a coherent and lucid shaman who taught me such a lot during the week I ended up spending with him and his family.
It was, in so many ways, the time of my life but after almost five years of living between Blighty and Bali, and with my young lover having turned his attention to a lovely young Balinese girl to whom he is now married, I began to find my nomadic lifestyle somewhat lonely and rather unsettling. So I returned home to pick up the pieces of my old life.

Of course, life had moved on and so had I. I didn’t feel as if anything ‘fitted’ me anymore. It was time to shed an old skin, turn over a new leaf, and start getting real.

Drawing upon the intensive healing experiences I’d watched Ketut and other Balinese shamans craft with such dazzlingly efficacy, I created The Bespoke Retreat Company to offer private, tailored healing intensives for clients seeking deep and lasting transformation.

After a year of taking all kinds of people from Burnout to Brilliant in literally a few days, I was asked to create a retreat specifically for a woman who was struggling with the menopause. She knew nothing about the energy technique that I’d used on myself all those years ago; but it had an almost instant effect upon her and has since transformed her life.

And with that, a new arm to my business – Hotstuff – was born.

Contrary to the ease with which I’d sailed through it, the menopause for most women is a very big deal indeed. My retreat client had told me she was absolutely at the end of her tether. The symptoms can be seriously debilitating, and affect not only the woman herself, but her relationships with loved ones, friends and colleagues too. 

I’m told that doctors receive less than an hour’s training in the subject, and the commonly accepted medical model asserts it is all about hormones, which is only a part of the story. The modern menopause is bound up with a plethora of complex layers, including diet, lifestyle and the psychological implications of a society that seeks to denigrate ageing as something unacceptable. 

The power and devil-may-care chutzpah that come in the wake of menopause are secrets that have been hidden from women for millennia.

And yes, this does bring me well and truly out of the closet and into the open about my own story!
 
But, this is often the case. When we’re finally on track, there is almost always a personal story underneath it. This inevitably takes us into our own vulnerabilities and invites us to be transparent because we receive our own true powers after we share ourselves fully with the world.

And so here I am: Lynn Jackson, Energy Medicine Coach, Retreats expert and post-menopausal instigator of Hotstuff.

It’s been a pretty circuitous route, but it all happens for a reason, and – at the age of 60 – I feel I’m finally stepping into my power.

I thank AoA for the inspiration, and hope my story will serve to inspire others.

Lynn Jackson is an energy healer and retreats guru who specialises in menopausal issues via her ‘Hotstuff’ menopause initiative. lynnjackson.co.uk & bespoke-retreats.co.uk

She is running a 12-week Menopause online course, which starts on 3rd June, and includes a group retreat in a fabulous Elizabethan manor house on 20/21 June.

Why Keith Richards Had it Right about Sport! 


1 Minute Read

The first sport I did was serving orange quarters to Amazonian Australian girls who were on the teams. As these things tend to go, the same girls didn’t just make one team; they stormed onto all of them. As a small, migrant child dispossessed of hand-eye co-ordination, I was forever doomed to be the last one left standing when the captains chose their crew. Looking back perhaps they felt the same way when I played most of the parts in Shakespeare. I don’t really think so.

Most of these kids had emerged from the womb already swimming. Besides the dread of the weekly school lesson, there was the nuclear cloud of chlorine that hovered above the pool. It was impossible not to inhale which was pretty much my major take-out until we learned privately when I hit the ancient swimmer’s age of eight and they took the chlorine down by about fifty shots.

That’s pretty much how it went in Australia in the 1970s. Unless you were any good – no let’s make that very good at something – you were excluded. By Year 10, I’d adopted the waiter’s trick of spitting on the oranges and excelling at something none of them were interested in: cross-country running. Meanwhile, they were too busy chugging ciggies as they walked the course. I should have taken note back then.

I ran for a few years after that – until knee pain sent me to a specialist who took one look and said: ‘Well, you’re not built like a runner are you? You’ve got hips. Go swimming instead.’ Determined to turn my diminutive, curvy body into something it was resisting, I persisted. Away from the gaze of school bullies, I perfected my freestyle until I moved to London where people did not do laps in swimming pools. They floated on their backs and kind of gurgled like toddlers.

And then along came strapping Sean from NZ and a love affair with weights. Trainers are like medical professionals, you are not allowed to covet them. And for about 20 years, I trained like a boy, watching with amazement as my muscles became more defined and grew. I delighted in wearing sleeveless tops and flexing my muscles at every opportunity. It was death or glory, I chose the latter, I even learnt to ski at the age of 47 having figured out that since my life was probably half-over, injury would not be so bad.

A life spent sticking to the Mediterranean diet, a good measure of genetics and things ticked along nicely until I was about 52. Up until then, I had not given the slightest consideration to the possibility that my investment in myself could go down as well as up. My first oversight.

The second was menopause.  Okay, I had no control over that one but while I expected the sudden bursts of tube rage, I didn’t anticipate that every past injury and some new ones would all surface at once and suddenly instead of a fighting machine, my body would become a nagging old aunt.

I started to feel very, very tired. I now realise I should have adopted the Keith Richards fitness regime way before. With barely a couple of glasses of wine a week and the same healthy diet, the GP informed me two months ago that I was ‘highly methylated’ with dangerously high copper and stupidly low zinc. I got capsules for that. I also acquired a physio for the hip bursitis – that’s a menopause thing apparently – and Pilates Reformer classes for the neck. I briefly tried opiates but my tolerance maxed out after two days. Go figure.

I recently opined to my mum who has never been ill in 89 years but then she stuck to gardening, that I should have stuck closer to the Middle East staples of cigarettes and alcohol with minimal exercise – my cousins don’t eat. The rather delicious irony in all this is that because the pharmaceutical painkillers either don’t work or hurt my stomach, my effective painkillers these days are vodka or scotch and the odd cigarette.

Two nights ago, the osteoarthritis in my neck reached beyond a level of tolerable pain, I helped myself to a couple of vodka shots and felt good enough to dance to random You Tube tracks for four hours.  I’m not sure that particular recipe will work long-term, but right now a modicum of the Keith Richards’ methodology is working just fine.

AofA People: Alan Dolan – Breath Coach


6 Minute Read

Alan Dolan, 55, is a breathwork guru. He’s known for this transformative work with the breath. He lives in Lanzarote. He says that ‘the deconstruction of the smoke and mirrors is the most worthwhile work that I have ever undertaken’. breathguru.com

Age (in years)    

55

Where do you live?         

Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain

What do you do?

I´m a self-employed breath coach

www.breathguru.com

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

55 has been something of a turning point. Whilst I´m beginning to notice the more tangible signs of ageing I know myself better than ever before. With this has come acceptance (mostly), understanding and compassion.

As I’m able to feel more compassion towards myself I find that I am automatically feeling more compassionate towards others which is a rather lovely position to be in. This relatively new level of open-heartedness has changed my experience of life and living. As my emotional spectrum continues to expand and I feel boundaries and perceived limitations disappear, I’m both elated and humbled.

On the one hand I see the infinite potential of what it means to be a human and on the other I see the sameness and ordinariness of that experience. I like Adyashanti´s perspective of ´enlightenment´ as being a process of deconstruction as opposed to adding anything into the mix. The deconstruction of the smoke and mirrors has been the most worthwhile work I’ve ever undertaken. I’m ok. I have always been ok and I always will be ok.

The misunderstanding of thinking that I have to be anything other than what I actually am has for the most part been embodied – and with that comes peace. And on the days when I feel anything but peaceful I remember the dynamic nature of having a human life and how the waking up process is ongoing. There doesn’t seem to be an end point only increasing awareness and presence coupled with decreasing identification with ones thoughts and emotions. Such a paradox. Unconditional acceptance of what is together with increasing clarity re what I am and what I am not.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?     

Self-acceptance, which I’ve found to be the precursor to self-love

An additional 30 years of experience and the wisdom that comes from that.

An increasingly global vision. The apathy and angst of my early years has been replaced with the acknowledgement of a shared responsibility for what we have created globally and a desire to contribute to the awakening that is happening within our species.

A more open heart

Perspective

Gratitude – for ALL of it.

A sense of awe at the ever-present intelligence at work all around us. The magic and the mystery of existence.

The ability to be present and live from the now. Historically, I´ve been quite future-oriented. I find myself much more in the now these days taking time to experience each moment as the truly unique gift that it is and finding delight in the fact that as we spend more time in the Now so the quality and depth of each moment becomes more apparent.

What about sex?

Surprisingly it just seems to get better. I didn’t expect that as I thought it was pretty amazing to begin with. I’m more grounded and connected to my body these days and with that comes increased sensitivity and intensity. I’ve done a lot of bodywork and yoga over the years and now diving even deeper via Breathwork. Bottom line is that it seems there is more light and shade as well these days and I enjoy the dance between the two. Last year, I began to explore tantric practices which brings a meta-context and intention to all things sexual.

And relationships?

There´s a direct correlation between the relationship one is having with oneself and those which are experienced with others. As my sense of self becomes clearer so I have more appreciation of meaningful connection rather than going through the motions at a more superficial level.

How free do you feel?  

As I’ve explored and become freer in my body I´ve noticed that I feel freer generally. As within, so without if you will. I recognise and value my sovereignty and am more comfortable with bucking the norm if I feel it´s appropriate. I recognise the parts of me that need validation and approval and understand why those aspects still hold sway with me. Being in the world but not of it is easier said than done. In my experience, the layers of self-imposed restriction, self-abandonment and self negation continue to be peeled away.

What are you proud of?

I think my journey to date and the fact I´ve come back to me in a sense. The word communion has been coming up a lot recently both in terms of deepening the connection I´m experiencing with myself and in relationship to others also.

What I´ve created and continue to create with Breathguru. I tend to be an early adopter so when I began promoting Breathwork in 2004, it wasn’t really on the map. Cut to 15 years down the line and it´s very much in vogue in the UK and around the world. I played a fairly major part in that process and I´m excited to see the results of all that attention and energy.

What keeps you inspired?        

Lots of things

Nature

The magic and mystery of existence

Individuals who are making a difference – I just read when the Body Says No by Gabor Mate which blew me away – he´s really challenging the status quo re our attitudes to addiction and I love him for that. Compassion in action. Its time.

When are you happiest?

When I´m in on or near water.

And where does your creativity go?         I

Everywhere. The whole thing is one big creation both singularly and universally.

What’s your philosophy of living?            

Be Love

And dying?

I’m not sure I have a philosophy of dying although death and dying is definitely on my radar much more these days. I can tell you that I value my life more than ever before and even though I have a new vision I´m beginning to create I can honestly say I feel ready. I ask myself that on a regular basis these days.

Are you still dreaming?           

Always.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

I just asked a Belgian Venture Capital firm for 2.3 million quid. That felt quite outrageous and absolutely appropriate at the same time.

Qigong – Moving with the Times


1 Minute Read

The spelling of Qigong belies its simplicity. It can be ‘googled’ and you will find Qigong, Qi Gong, Chi Gong and Qi Kung (the list continues!). The correct way of spelling the name of this gentle, yet often challenging, movement system remains a mystery; however the effects on our health and wellbeing are backed by a growing body of evidence. They are also attracting mainstream interest from public health bodies, private companies and social care organisations.

The BBC programme ‘Trust Me I’m a Doctor’ (Series 2; 19th October 2018) compared Tai Chi to Zumba as a form of aerobic exercise by measuring flexibility of capillaries (they became more subtle and elastic so Tai Chi has a positive effect on blood pressure), chemical markers of inflammation (these increased in line with other forms of aerobic exercise – antioxidants also increased) and heart rate (this doubled so reached the same rate as the people doing Zumba). This is backed up by a paper published in the BMJ 24th March 2018 which compared Tai Chi to aerobic exercise. Similar physiological results were found and in addition, class attendance and adherence to home exercise was higher than in standardly prescribed exercise (patients found Qigong/Tai Chi more enjoyable and less painful) and physiologically had similar or greater benefits. Tai Chi and Qigong are so similar that the research can be applied to either.

Qigong is my daily practice of choice and I learnt it when I was training to be a Shiatsu practitioner. We were taught Qigong to maintain our own energy levels whilst treating others. Qigong is translated as Qi Harvesting (the Chinese character for Qi translates as air or space and so ‘breath working’ is another translation), it is far simpler to learn than its better known ‘sister’ Tai Chi and very adaptable. This makes it ideal for settings such as rehabilitation and palliative care.

As a teacher, I have taken my Qigong practice into many settings over the past 20 years; an NHS pain management and rehabilitation department, companies, schools and community settings. I run annual retreats and specialise in designing personal Qigong forms so that individuals can target specific health, emotional, spiritual or psychological needs. I have also facilitated Qigong groups in a hospice setting.

End of Life Qigong

St Christopher’s hospice is a flagship palliative care venue in South London. Known for its passionate commitment to making the end of life creative, fulfilling and of course, as pain-free as possible, I was invited to run Qigong classes there twice a week. I joined the Complementary Therapy team in 2016 and stayed for a busy year. The commute from North to South London finally wore me down despite practicing Qigong every morning on Waterloo East station! I sadly resigned at the beginning of 2018.

The classes were well attended and those who practiced even once a week gained great benefit.

Testimonials

‘I was sceptical, but I now use some of the movements on a daily basis to control my symptoms.’

‘I was surprised that my arm moved so much more easily after the class.’

‘Deeply relaxing.’

‘It felt as if I wasn’t doing anything and yet I feel like I have exercised well.’

There are many forms of Qigong, the one I taught at St Christopher’s Hospice is called A Fragrant Buddha and it can be viewed here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxTcm0fZSYk&t=49s

The Power of Images

Integral imaging is a technique now used by top sports coaches to improve performance. Imagining a ‘move’, for example, a tennis serve, before acting, increases accuracy, focus and so is efficient energetically. And it is the same in Qigong – the titles of the movements ‘White Crane Salutes’, ‘Parting the Clouds’ are suggestive in themselves, sending messages of beauty, as opposed to pain, through the nervous system and lessening the ‘flight or fight response’ so often alerted in this cohort of patients. When the bodily systems are soothed in this way, other ‘messages’ such as ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘ that will be too painful’ are overridden so that the physical body can do what it is capable of doing rather than be restricted by negative belief.

Sensing Paradise

The Fragrant Buddha form has a simple story attached to it – one travels through a landscape whilst moving in time with the natural breath, the suggestion is of sunlight on water, fish swimming slowly, bowls of delicious fruit and so on. The sensory awareness that is so often lacking in hospital and hospice environment is made available internally and again, the nervous system is soothed.

The Change factor – Mindfulness

Moving with the breath gives the same sense of peace as the time tested Buddhist practice of observing the breath, however, for people who are worried by their diagnosis and usually in pain, the addition of small movements and sensory images add an extra diversion for the distracted mind.

Do what you can Do!

Often people at the end of life believe this is the end of their journey – in tune with St Christopher’s philosophy, the practice of Qigong encourages adaptability and continued exploration and richness found in what you CAN do, not what you cannot. All patients expressed surprise at their progress and increased flexibility even though it felt like they were making very little physical effort during class.

The Loving Circle

Qigong has a ‘calling in’ feel to it. I concur with the speculation that Qigong originated in the movements and dances of shamanic priests calling in beneficial weather, spirits or resources on behalf of their communities. Qigong is rooted in the belief that we are magnetic to Qi, it is there for us, just waiting to be called. A favourite way of starting the session would be to sit like satellite dishes attracting love, peace, clarity, and to acknowledge that we were X (X = Number of people in the circle) times stronger than if we were alone.

Resources and References

St Christopher’s Hospice www.stchrispophers.org.uk

Open Age – lots of London venues offering Qigong very cheaply www.openage.org.uk

Sally Ibbotson www.willesdenbodywise.co.uk

Comparative study Tai Chi and standard aerobic exercise Wang C, Schmidt CH, Fielding RA, et al

NHS Networks – website for Tai Chi and Qigong practitioners working in the NHS www.networks.nhs.uk/nhs-networks/yai-chi-chi-kung-for…/news

Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation Vol 19 No.3 pp. 172-182 ‘Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong: Physical and Mental Practice for Functional Mobility@ Bill Gallagher MS PT CMT CYT

Support Care Cancer (2012) ‘A Systematic review of the effectiveness of qigong exercise in supportive cancer care’ Cecelia L.W. Chang RTH et al.

The Journal of Rheumatology 2003; 30; 2257-2262 ‘The efficacy…of Qigong movement in the treatment of fibromyalgia’ a randomized controlled trial. J.A. Astin Ph.D.

Menopause and Mining your Diamond


1 Minute Read

Today we do not expect young Western women to start their periods without education yet many women find themselves approaching Menopause with no idea of what is happening, unsure where to turn, hiding symptoms and feelings to their own detriment and to the detriment of those around them.

If we look at the baby boomers, we were the first generation of women to have clear access to our own bank accounts, birth control, divorce, university education and so much more. We are the mothers who have hopefully taught our daughters not to be ashamed of their bodies and menstruation. We are the women who have fought for rights that allow us to access sexual health services, equal pay and we still have work to do.

Now it is the time to shine the light on Menopause and equally important perimenopause. Menopause is the time when a woman has not bleed for an entire year. The peri-menopause can be anything from one or two years before this event or even as much as ten years prior to that last bleed.

Perimenopause for some women is a walk in the park but for others, it can be a roller coaster with maybe only one or two symptoms but sometimes many more.

There are at least 35 symptoms to ‘choose’ from and it is possible that you will experience at the minimum a couple. To understand what is happening to our bodies we need to be able to recognise that perimenopause is a rite of passage, it is normal and when given access to the right information we can make this a transition to celebrate.

It is only now that we are growing in numbers that we are able to challenge attitudes such as this:

A menopausal woman is ‘an unstable oestrogen starved’ woman who is responsible for ‘untold misery of alcoholism, drug addiction, divorce and broken homes’
Brooklyn GYN Robert Wilson 1966

So if this was the general attitude in the 60’s and 70’s when our mothers or Grandmothers were hitting menopause how are things changing today?

Today the wonderful news is, just like menstruation, we are starting to talk about it in mixed circles, at work, with our girlfriends, in front of our children.

No need to fan ourselves discretely, we can name it, it’s called a ‘hot flush’ and yes we are sleeping with the bedroom window open in the middle of winter and no we are not ‘fading’ or going into the ‘good night’ gently. We are wearing what we want, embracing our silver hair, we are starting new careers, we are celebrating our wisdom and most of all we are talking about that once taboo subject and making it a passage worth celebration.

However, before that can happen for all women there is still a lot of work to be done and as ‘Elders’ we have a duty to own this time and reframe it so those younger women coming behind us can have a healthy attitude to ageing and embrace the wisdom that comes with the territory.

As we menopause, our womb shrinks to an almost prepubescent size. During our menstrual years amongst the many and varied services our uterus provides, is a service of elimination. Not just of womb lining but of toxins from our body which is only one of the reasons why the quality of our bleed will change from month to month.

Once menopaused we are no longer bleeding so it makes perfect sense for the uterus to shrink down and thus leave no space for toxins to accumulate. This is part of the process of perimenopause and comes with changing hormones, changing feelings, changing body shape and changing needs.

This is a time when we may not recognise our selves and it may be equally difficult for those around us to recognise us too.

This is a time for us to retreat and spend time doing things for ourselves, to ask our selves questions we have not had space to dream of until now. This is a time to change our priorities, to create space just for our selves, just because we can.

If we allow ourselves the sacred space of retreat we will unearth what it is we need, we will dig up our old dreams, the ones that got forgotten in the rush to adulthood and responsibilities of life.

Diamonds are created in the earth by intense heat and pressure and so it is with our wombs. Intense heat and pressure, the compression of our uterus, the opportunity for change give us a diamond of our own. A bright shining light right in our centre which can be a light to shine for all those women coming behind us, a light to shine for those who can recognise it and a brilliance to illuminate our own lives each and every day.

If you would like to know more about my work you may enjoy my workshop. For more information take a look at www.hilarylewin.com, find me on Facebook or sign up on Eventbrite here – Menopause Mining For Diamonds

Me, Myself and Lyme


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Earlier this year I launched my second novel, Anatomised, which explores the impact of Lyme disease. There’d been a nine-year hiatus since the publication of my debut novel: A Portrait of the Arsonist as a Young Man. Convention says the second book can be harder to write than the first as the author sometimes hits a creative brick wall, so a time-lapse between the two isn’t unusual. A decade, however, can start to look more like retirement than a creative break.

Anatomised was definitely much harder to write than my first book, though my problem wasn’t in the fresh-ideas department. On the contrary, I was brimming with material and raring to go – until I was bitten by a tick and everything in my life unravelled. I found myself trapped in a black-windowed, monolithic building on the corner of Survival Street at the intersection of Life and Death. The terrifying symptoms of Lyme disease were initially mistaken for many other life-changing conditions, misdiagnosed as two strokes, a possible brain tumour and multiple sclerosis. Meanwhile, the raging infection was undiagnosed and untreated. It was therefore given time to take hold, spread, cross my blood-brain barrier and even destroy parts of my brain. As my own lights dimmed, the devastation of Lyme disease lit up the MRI scanner.

Within months I lost my livelihood (fiction mentor and creative writing tutor at two universities). I lost the ability to walk, to stand, to read, to write, to even think straight. There seemed little hope of me writing anything more than my own obituary. I was forty-four, had been riding the crest of a wave, and then I was sucked under, lost to a freakish riptide.

As a novelist and historian, I’m often asked about autofiction; the place where autobiography and imagination overlap. Anatomised is fiction, but it has facts at its heart. It tells the story of a middle-aged couple whose lives are turned upside-down by a mysterious illness that threatens to crush their dreams. It explores dark subject matter, but the main protagonist is a stand-up comedian so there are lots of lighter moments as it moves between harrowing, humorous and heart-breaking.

Just before I got sick, I was poised to write a romantic tragi-comedy set on an idyllic holiday island. It was to be pure, if dark, escapism; a beach read; a philosophical “Mama Mia”; a masterpiece. In my wildest dreams it would top the Times bestseller list, be optioned, turned into an award-winning film, a standout musical, a Chekhovian play, a Netflix TV series, and I would make a fortune that King Midas would be proud of! But soon after my long brush with death, after discovering the huge and rapidly growing numbers of patients experiencing Lyme disease around the world (a majority of whom had no voice), I parked the rom-com, re-set my moral compass, shifted my creative focus, and prepared to set off in a new direction. But first I had to get better.

It took over two years to be diagnosed and treated for Lyme, and then several more years to make a gradual, if incomplete recovery. Miraculously, I started to form coherent ideas and words. Sentences flourished, paragraphs piled up. It was as if I’d risen from a tomb, like a Lyme Lazarus, and I’d come back to the living with an important story to tell. The question was: should this tale be factual or fictional, memoir or novel?

Writing a semi-autobiographical novel allowed me to safely revisit the past; to explore exactly what went wrong, and still goes wrong for Lyme patients, from shambolic diagnostic processes to denial of treatment. Mistakes were made through ignorance, accident or inexperience, at other times through old-fashioned obstinacy and obstructionism. Sadly, similar errors and misjudgments are still being made with Lyme patients across the globe – every day. Anatomised writes some of these wrongs and wrongdoers, setting the record straight in the hope things will change for the better, because they must.

The process of reliving trauma in such detail was overwhelming and exhausting, but it also provided purpose and motivation; a reason to drag my ravaged, aging body out of bed. After a Eureka moment, when I suddenly understood how the story would end, I knew I was on the right track. Ironically, although I was reinventing the past, I never looked back.

Could I have written this story as straightforward memoir? In theory yes, in practice no. The truth is Anatomised did begin as non-fiction. I initially wrote 30,000 words as memoir but I gave up. The life I’d left on the page felt dead and flat, like the tragic two-dimensional outline of a Hiroshima Shadow left on the walls of buildings decimated by the atomic bomb. I pressed delete and wrote another 15,000 words of creative non-fiction, first from the viewpoint of my wife and then a close friend. There was life in this reawakened memoir and moving silhouettes, but still there was no depth of field. Facts remained facts, cold and cadaver-like. When I sat down to write, I sank further into the quicksand of the past, experiencing what I now believe to have been post-traumatic stress disorder. Lyme almost killed me, and now I was destroying myself all over again.

On the verge of giving up on writing (if I’m honest, on life itself), I stumbled across the names of Jack and Alice Mann that I had jotted randomly in a notebook, intended as material for a totally different story. Searching for safe emotional distance, I started to write in the third-person, viewing the rollercoaster ride from their shoulders. The fictional floodgates opened. Creative lightning lit up my sky. I wrote feverishly and unfettered for a year. My imagination muscles were flexed, my fingertips burned. Never in a million years would I wish Lyme disease on another person, yet I had to give it to Jack. I watched the comedy of the Manns’ lives unravel into tragedy as if my own survival depended on it; not so much a thinly-veiled autobiography as a heavily-draped curtain on a stage (quite fitting for a forlorn stand-up). Even though Jack and Alice were imaginary, I felt a colossal guilt and apologised to them daily in my head. I still do.

It isn’t rocket science: writing is good for a person. It is self-coaching, self-counselling, self-soothing. It is selfish in its taking from the world, like a sponge sucking water, but it is selfless too in its wringing out and pouring back. Sometimes it’s even mixing metaphors, because writing is gardening for the soul. It is weeding bad things out and planting new things in. But each writer must find their own allotment, the form and shape that best expresses their voice and vision; what they feel or think most profoundly and honestly about the world they live in. For me, fiction rather than memoir is the place I most effectively hunt down truths about what it is to be a human being. Fiction allows a writer to move ideas beyond the realm of “what happened” into the exciting realm of “what ifs”. Ostensibly, Anatomised is about Lyme disease. Arguably, it could have been written as a memoir entitled: “Me, Myself and Lyme”. In novel format, I wanted to confront Lyme, but also to escape it. I needed to surprise myself as a writer, and therefore the reader. Even though dark places exist within, behind and between the pages of Anatomised, readers aren’t absolutely sure what is real and what isn’t, and that’s how it should be. A story reflects its own truth.

All writing has the potential to be liberating. You may not write the wrongs that make the whole world sing, but the process can be psychologically curative; a meditative medicine for the mind. It can provide consolation, comfort and sometimes liberation. It’s true, you can’t cure Lyme disease or other chronic illnesses or traumas with words alone, but you can share your story. You can use what’s broken to reach out and illuminate the darkness. As Leonard Cohen wrote: “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.

I remember the first story I had published. I’d just thrown away a perfectly successful career as a medieval historian in the pursuit of an impossible dream to become a fiction-writer. When one of my short stories won an international literary prize, my love-affair with writing fiction rather than fact took root. It began to pave the road to creative writing, lecturing posts, the publication of my debut novel, a collection of short stories, editing anthologies and interviewing famous novelists at literary events, including Nobel Laureate, Kazuo Ishiguro. I wrote that first short story under a pseudonym Cassi Hart, an anagram of “catharsis”. Fifteen years on, now in my fifties, the Muse of Catharsis has left her mark on me and on the skin of my pages, like coolness from the softest of calamine kisses. And her kiss doesn’t age.

Anatomised took four years to complete and, despite good reviews, it probably won’t appear on many shopping lists let alone a bestseller list! That’s a shame, as some of its profit will go to international Lyme charities that offer patients a lifeline. It may have been the hardest story I’ve ever had to write but the process soothed my soul, it made me wiser. It probably saved my life, and who knows…maybe it could help save others?

So, as we grow older and wiser, here’s to writing wrongs, flexing imagination muscles, soothing souls, and hunting down the truth of our lives; in fiction, in fact.

Article Copyright: A F McGuinness

Andrew McGuinness is an award-winning author. His traumatic experience of Lyme disease has formed the basis of his new novel Anatomised

Website – www.afmcguinness.com

Buy the book here.

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