Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How to Handle Regrets in Later Life

As we get older we carry regrets, shame and remorse about things we've done and things we've failed to do.

You might think you are the only person with a secret stash of shame about past actions but take comfort in knowing everyone has done things they regret.

In the journey of life we have all made mistakes and hurt people mostly out of immaturity and selfishness in pursuing our own needs or acting out of painful emotions and unformed values.

Mistakes and bad choices usually centre around the three biggies of life: relationships, career/finances and health/lifestyle.

You can regret and feel ashamed about past sexual experiences and relationship heartaches, past financial mistakes and misguided career choices and bad habits and unhealthy eating which has led to illness. Maybe you regret an accident that spun on a split second decision.

You can also regret what you failed to achieve such as having children or wishing for more children; the failure to have a happy marriage, be successful, rich or famous or fulfil childhood dreams to develop a talent.

You can torment yourself by mulling over past regrets and wallowing in shame and self-loathing but it is a completely futile exercise because no amount of wallowing can change the past.

And such anguish is damaging to yourself and those around you. You cannot be your best in the present if you are mentally and emotionally beating yourself up for the past and feeling guilty and ashamed with family and friends.

Various schools of psychology offer three different coping strategies for dealing with the past. When you use all three together, they become a potent force in overcoming regrets and allowing you to embrace resilience, renewal and redemption.

The first coping strategy is emotional release. It is essential not to repress but rather to express painful feelings and get them out of your system and process hurts, disappointments and grief. Experience fully your grief and remorse over your losses and the hurt you caused others. Crying is healing and so is journaling.

Most people need help in processing painful emotions from people who are gifted with empathy, understanding and compassion. One to one counselling or group therapy is a way to healing and growth. When seeking professional help, be discerning in choosing a counsellor or a support group.

The second coping strategy is reframing. After you have expressed your feelings, it is essential to reflect rationally on the trauma or mistake and think it through from fresh perspectives. View yourself with understanding and compassion and choose to forgive yourself; accept a pardon for your mistake and stop the self-punishment.

Use mental disciple to accept that it has happened and that no amount of wishing will change it. Stop tormenting yourself by churning over the painful event. Choose to forget it. Make a conscious choice to let go of regret and shame.

See the positive side of the trauma or mistake. What good has come out of it? Funny how good can come from the worst situations. Consider what you have learned from this pain and how you have grown and deepened and how others how benefited too. Be grateful for grace.

Remind yourself of all the good things you have done in your life that outnumber and overshadow the bad.

Counselling or a support group can help with reframing as you receive input from caring, trustworthy people who can focus on the positive and show you forgiveness, acceptance and compassion.

The third coping strategy is to take action or change your behaviour. What can you DO to make amends for the wrongs you did in the past? Can you make it up to people you have hurt? Can you say sorry and reconcile?

Now you are older and wiser, show love to your family and friends every day. Share the joy of the present and build happy memories for the future.

Can you help others in some way? Can you help the younger generation avoid the mistakes you made or help other adults deal with similar traumas, grief and mistakes?

The opposite of feeling shame is feeling good about yourself. How can you be a better person and make a contribution to a better, kinder world? Find yourself a worthy cause and use your time to make yourself and others happy in the present rather than waste your time wallowing in the past.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Forever Young: 28 Days to the New Me

Some people want to look good naked. I just want to look good in a dress.
I have gained weight to become a Size 12 on the top and Size 14 on the bottom, that awkward pear shape with a heavy bum and thighs (and the belly has expanded too!). I can wear separates, a top and pants, and disguise my thunder thighs but dresses are just too tight.
Well-fitted dresses are feminine. Looking good in a dress, curvy but evenly proportioned, is what makes us womanly. I want my shape back.
So much for my vanity, I also want optimum health. After years of focusing on my intellect and ignoring my body, I am finally ready, at 53, to discover a new level of vitality. I want to be agile and nippy as I dash and weave through the crowd in the Tube and city streets, dodging back packs and stragglers.
It is harder to stay slim as we age because the metabolism slows down and the body insists on storing fat. But it doesn’t mean that being overweight in midlife is normal, natural or inevitable. It just means weight is harder to manage.
There is a healthy weight range for your skeletal frame and height. It is reassuring to know this range is quite wide and generous. For example, for my height of 5 foot 4 with a light frame, my weight can range between eight and 10 stone and be considered Okay. Between 10 and 12 stone is Overweight and more than 12 stone falls into the category of Obese.
It is stating the obvious that being overweight has a host of unhealthy consequences such as lethargy, the risk of diabetes and constant strain on the heart, organs and all body systems as you lug the extra lard around.
In my 20s and 30s, with an efficient metabolism, I could eat carbs all day and never gain weight. I stayed around eight and a half stone, a dainty size 10. Now I am a hefty 10 and a half stone. I don’t want to go back to my tiny figure but I would be happy with nine and a half stone, a comfortable Size 12, with no bits that jiggle; a flat tummy, pert bum and firm legs.
So this is my mission and I am devoting a month to regaining a slim, fit body and getting on track with super healthy eating and an active lifestyle.
Doing a detoxifying diet focuses attention on the digestive system, giving it a rest from hard-to-digest, acidic foods and replenishing it with nutrients while releasing a build-up of toxins through the lymphatic system, bowel, bladder, and skin.
This is a new frontier for me. I am someone who has pretty much ignored my body until now. But I am developing a new respect for my body, as an entity in its own right with its own intelligence that keeps the whole complex business going despite my neglect!
In my sudden discovery of my body, fortunately I have the guidance of talented trainer Morne and his beautiful, intelligent girlfriend Natalja who run the program called Forever Young supervising clients through a 28-day Detox program.
Morne and Natalja are keen to help overweight, menopausal, sedentary old chicks like me break entrenched habits and overcome food cravings to discover a whole new level of health, fitness and vitality.
And so, the Show begins!
On Monday, the first day of my Detox I have a severe reaction. By 1 pm I am throwing up and blindsided with a migraine. What have I done to make myself so sick? Eaten something horrible?
No. All morning I had feasted on fresh fruit; delicious sweet raspberries, strawberries, blue berries, cherries, apricots, apple, banana and a few almonds! Followed by a big healthy green salad!
By the time Morne arrives later in the day I am reeling with nausea and ready to call it quits, swearing off Detoxing forever, resigning myself to hauling around extra poundage and accepting mediocre health.
I was used to tea and toast with a generous spread of jam and peanut butter propped up in bed as my pampered start to the day, followed by a mid-morning coffee and biscuit at my desk. Now that’s not much for a girl to ask is it? Simple pleasures really.
It was as if my body was behaving like a toddle throwing a tantrum demanding my Carb Fix and rebelling against digesting the sudden onslaught of healthy natural food.
Morne has a better explanation. He says when I stopped eating ‘bad’ food, that is, processed, hard to digest bread with a sugar hit, my body saw a break in the traffic and seized the opportunity to purge toxins.
Now what is all this about toxins? I have been down that track before with Jeni Edgley at the Hideaway health retreat in the lush Gold Coast hinterland where I endured the seven-day cleanse complete with daily colonic irrigations. Now that is commitment to releasing toxins!
Older and wiser, I am now sceptical about New Age theories. Really, just how toxic could my system be on my new meat-free and dairy-free diet?
Since becoming a vegan earlier in the year, I have gone overboard on the soya milk, with great slurps in my tea several times a day. It turns out the brand I like is high in sugar! I have also devoured meat-substitute products, which although better than meat, are still processed, not natural sources of protein.
And okay, I admit I am addicted to bread, pasta, corn chips, potato chips, oil-soaked wedges, dark chocolate and the occasional glass of Red.
Morne points out very politely that I am eating a lot of ‘dead’ foods that lack enzymes and nutrients, which promote toxicity and acidity and a build-up of fat in the cells. (Might explain the thunder thighs!)
My home-cooked eating habits, while better than most people’s junk food intake, are low in fresh, living nutrient-rich fruits and veggies and also lacking water. Most of us fail to drink sufficient pure water to keep up the supply to the body made up of 70 per cent water.
Morne eases me through my Detox Crisis and encourages me to persist by writing up my goals.
The first question on the form is ‘How do I feel about my physical self and current state of health?’ I have to admit I am in denial and delusional about my weight gain, imagining I am still as slim as I was in my 30s.
I am also in denial about my lack of fitness because I seldom put it to the test! Gyms can be dangerous!
But I am starting to worry about ageing and getting lethargic and sick as the years roll by. While my health is okay now, I realise I need an ‘intervention’ to prevent illness in the future.
For everyone who has coasted through their 40s and made it to early 50s with few complaints, it is essential to take charge to prevent serious health problems in later life.
I decide that NOW is the time to grasp the nettle and create new healthy eating and exercise habits for the rest of my life.
I want to lose at least one and half stone (eight kilos) and become lithe and agile again and fit into pretty dresses and suits (and give my pants and t-shirts a rest!)
I want to be revitalised so I can work out in the gym and get fit and strong for all the strenuous activities I aspire to over the coming years (not all at once) such as travelling, hiking, cycling, kayaking, swimming, tennis, horse riding, snow skiing and dancing.
I want to WORK productively without stress and bad habits for three more decades. Like most people, I have to balance my time in front of the computer screen with physical activities.
I want to be fit, healthy and slim for another reason; to be an example of good health as a vegan and activist for ethical eating so I can influence others to Go Veggie. It is part of my world domination plan.
I want every human being on the planet to stop killing and eating animals. We now kill 57 billion animals every year for food, causing our fellow creatures immense pain, suffering and death, when tragically meat-eating is entirely unnecessary and unhealthy and the cause of most illness and disease and the abhorrent meat industry is the root cause of most environmental damage. Visit Viva!
Morne suggests that I visualise my future self, the New Me, whenever I feel discouraged and lose motivation. So I have a mental picture of myself looking Ab Fab!
But in my wretched state that first day, as a touching role reversal, my lovely husband, Andrew together with Morne, a big muscular body builder, went shopping at the health food store to buy all the Super Foods I need for the program.
By Day Two my body has stabilised and accepted the deprivation of my tea and toast ritual and is gearing up for all the life-giving goodies. I’m a little light-headed but the vast quantity of food and water ensures I’m not hungry.
I clear out my food cupboard and fridge and make up my own delicious salad oil with a potent combo of Hemp seed oil, Flax oil, Bragg Liquid Aminos seasoning, garlic and lemon juice. I start to really enjoy the Big Salad in a whole new way, crunching and munching and savouring the taste sensations then follow up with veggie soup.
The program allows you to eat carbohydrates for dinner, but NO bread or pasta. I can get my carb fix from brown rice OR potato, not both at once. Bliss! I love my spuds! And I eat lentil burgers, tofu or hummus for protein.
Day Three, Morne visits for a pep talk and takes my measurements. Reality bites. How depressing! My weight has crept up to 68 kilos and I aim to shed at least eight kilos. And my waistline is missing in action! And those bat wings are ready for take off!
By Thursday, Day Four, I am laughing at the irony of this so-called ‘diet’. I am eating so much more than normal. The point is to consume vast quantities of super healthy, life-giving fresh fruit and veggies to replenish and revitalise the whole body.
And it sure is time-consuming chopping up all the good stuff. I just grated an apple, beetroot and carrot to add to my spinach leaves, bean sprouts, red peppers, tomato and avocado. And that’s just for me!
This afternoon it’s veggie soup and lots of water. And I’m off to the health food store for more supplies and my favourite bargain store, Argos to buy a juicer.
Friday morning, though usually confounded by gadgets, I persist and get sorted with the bits and bobs of the juicer and make a delicious brew of apple, pear, ginger with spinach leaves and cucumber. Now I know what you’re thinking, something like ‘How vile!’ but to my utter surprise, it is delicious because the sweet of the fruit overpower the greens. There’s a lesson in that, Sweetness Rules!
Slow food is the antithesis of fast food. A Macca’s burger can be purchased in minutes and wolfed down in seconds. Healthy food takes time in shopping for fresh ingredients (I am now the smiley Sri Lankan man’s favourite customer at the Fruit and Veg store around the corner) all that peeling and chopping, then the munching and crunching and the big clean up! But maybe this is how it should be, since food is the essence of our survival. Maybe meals should be a purposeful ritual as they is in so many other cultures.
Saturday, out shopping at Westfield at Shepherd’s Bush with beautiful daughter, Justine, I bust out from my regime and have a decaf soy latte, known to gay waiters as the ‘Why Bother’ cup of coffee! Usually I love the creamy texture but after a week of pure alkaline fruit and veg, it tastes acidic and icky.
In a masterstroke of forward planning, I buy two new dresses in Size 12, to slide into when I reach my goal weight. Now some people might buy new clothes as a reward at the end of a diet, but, always the optimist, I preer to give myself a tangible incentive!
We meet Andrew in the city for dinner at funky Leon’s on the Strand and Jus and I have the veggie and bean curries and brown rice, proving it is possible to eat out and stick with healthy dishes. We see the delightfully entertaining stage show, Legally Blonde. I sit clutching my water, while Andrew indulges in ice cream at interval!
Sunday sees me at Gina’s birthday lunch sharing in a superb healthy feast, once again proving to myself it is possible to socialise without falling off the wagon.
Monday brings me to my first treatment of electrotherapy. I am rigged up to a machine with 32 pads placed over my body and experience a gentle pulsating sensation for a 40 minute session as the currents stimulate the tissue to break down fat and release toxins into the lymphatic system.
This is Morne and Natalja’s secret asset in the quest for weight loss and super health and in conjunction with the pure diet promises to be powerful. I am privileged to be the first client to use the new kit! And I am glad to have some extra help from technology!
But most of all I am grateful to have human help along the way. Changing comfortable habits is tough but essential to growth. I feel more balanced mentally and emotionally as well as physically after just one week.
Thanks Morne for kick starting me on the road to health! Read more about the program at Elixir wellbeing

Monday, August 9, 2010

Middle-Aged Invisibility

Women complain that they become invisible in public from the age of 45. Middle-aged women are ignored by service staff everywhere, especially if they are part of a couple. The man automatically seizes the focus of attention from waitresses, sales assistants and even strangers hanging about in airport terminals.

Travelling with my husband from Australia to London provided an opportunity to observe this absurd phenomenon, which would be highly amusing if I was not on the receiving end. When you are treated as invisible, it is not so much like having a super power, as downright insulting.

On our last connecting flight from Zurich after a long, weary journey, my husband struck up a conversation with the businessman seated next to him. He chatted for five minutes, which was pleasantly polite, but when he continued the conversation for the entire flight, while ignoring me, I was hurt and teary.

His choice was short-sighted. It was me he would be cuddling up to in the B & B that night, not the big-noting Canadian. It is the wise husband who has a brief courteous exchange with a fellow passenger then turns his attention back to his wife!

When we made it to the Hire Cars at London Airport, I stood guard with the luggage while my husband approached the counter where there were three services to choose from. He called out to me “Do you have a preference?” I didn’t want to leave the luggage to walk up to him with a discreet answer.

We were travelling on a budget, so I replied loudly “The cheapest one I suppose.” In that split second, a young woman seated nearby shot him a smile and he smiled back, sharing a joke at my expense. I flushed, not with a power surge, but a twinge of betrayal and a jolt of embarrassment.

News flash. Husbands, it is not your job to amuse people in public places especially when your wife is the butt of the joke. It is not your job to be a charming people-pleaser. It IS your job, the one you signed up for, to show respect to your wife.

Australian balladeer John Williamson reckons that being True Blue is standing by your mate when she’s in a fight (or a tight spot at an airport or during an awkward moment at a cocktail party). It means showing unwavering loyalty to your best buddy even when she’s behaving badly!

I believe such an act of kindness is called extending grace. You offer undeserved support and smooth over her social blunders because she’s your Number One ahead of all casual acquaintances.

Granted, you can not control other people. It seems that women of all ages, from teenagers to old ladies, are biologically programmed to flirt with men of all ages, shapes and dubious features. My middle-aged husband, despite his salt and pepper ‘George Clooney’ spikes is apparently still attractive to younger women.

Most men with a pulse are suckers for a random female smile or stray flirtation, while pleading naïve innocence. However a clever husband resists the fleeting ego kick of momentary female flattery in preference for the flesh and blood woman by his side (even if she has more curves than the stick-figure in jeans). The mature man knows the difference between snacking on junk and feasting on wholesome nourishing meals!

When we arrived at the Real Estate office, I clued up my husband to let me do the talking as I had been emailing the office for weeks. I engaged the attention of the forty-something woman for five minutes before her eyes shifted to Him seated on the couch behind me.

She proceeded to lock eye contact, explaining the availability of rental houses in earnest, even moving to sit next to him to show the local listings up close! Despite my campaign of rapport-building emails, I was snubbed as a second-class citizen and tag-along wife.

So this is the curse of being a woman over 45. You are regularly treated with disdain by other women. Whatever happened to the sisterhood? Or perhaps this fierce competition and ruthless rivalry for male attention is symptomatic of a desperate divorce-wrecked society?

As if female disdain is not bad enough, male interest in middle-aged chooks is zero. Middle-aged blokes can apparently impress young chickie-babes but we are invisible in public to all males under 70 who can still master bladder control and possess their own teeth. Spunky young guys just see Mother.

The one consolation Baby Boomer wives can hope for is loyalty from a True Blue husband who appreciates the flirty gal he married all those years ago; his travelling buddy for life who will patiently pose for his happy snaps, laugh at his corny jokes and stroke his salt and pepper hair long after the skinny thing in denim has turned her pearly whites on another deluded middle-aged ‘George Clooney’.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Letting Go of Grown-Up Kids

Leaving home is a process. Sometimes we must rip off the band-aid fast and feel the sting; other times ease it off gently.

Number One son, Daniel had launched himself into adult life in spectacular style a few years before. He is now a successful entrepreneur and acclaimed public speaker. Eventually it was Justine’s turn.
The first time our beautiful daughter left home she was 17, straight out of high school as a dazzling, award-scooping High Achiever.
In a blaze of glory she moved to Brisbane city, an hour’s monotonous drive from our Sunshine Coast home. We helped her transport her stuff to the tiny flat with her gal pal and toasted her freedom with a cup of tea over bulging cardboard boxes.
I wandered around our empty house howling, bereft. My grief was premature however. She missed her friends and drove that tedious stretch home every weekend. We relished the whirlwind of her arrival and were dizzily swept up in her hectic social life.
The next year she moved back into her old room to go to college. In Australia we call this moving out and moving back home syndrome a case of Boomerang Kids. How long does a kid act like a boomerang? For some families it lasts throughout their twenties as depicted in the amusing Aussie TV show Packed To The Rafters. But not for us.
Like a magnet, Justine attracted a glittering array of exuberant teenagers. Every night giggling, glamorous, leggy girls would file through our corridor as my husband Andrew and I sat in our PJs watching episodes of Cold Feet, waving and smiling feebly at the youthful parade, feeling frumpy, self-conscious and obsolete.
Our Super Girl landed a plum job in a flash and hoards of the young and beautiful took over the house when, in a neat Baby Boomer twist, we the parents, took off to live for a few months in London and travel the States.
While we gallivanted, Justine and four girlfriends experienced sorority life in the House of Babes; her obligatory taste of communal living with all its delights and challenges!
When we returned from our globe trotting, our baby girl, at the tender age of 20, was ready to leave home for good. The pretty bird had found her wings and was poised to fly the nest, to pursue a career as a film actor.
When we waved her onto that plane, faces streaked with tears, this time we really did confront the bleak silence of the Empty Nest Syndrome.
But leaving home properly is an essential rite of passage en route to adulthood. It is a sad irony that parents, especially mums, if we do our job right and raise strong, capable, independent adults, are destined to be abandoned; at least in that initial wrench.
In Changes That Heal, psychologist Dr Henry Cloud outlines the stages of human development. First, children bond with their mothers, then they must separate from them in order to ‘individuate’; in order to break free from enmeshment and become independent, mature individuals.
As mums, we must encourage our adult kids to leave us. Cheer them on. Take the lead. Be gung-ho. It is the toughest, most brutal call to cut the umbilical cord once and for all. But cut we must.
Some mothers refuse to let their kids grow up. They don’t understand that standing up for themselves in their late teens and early twenties is just another stage of growth. Young adults are hard-wired to leave home as surely as babies must crawl and cruise and walk.
Some mothers cling to the cosy dependency of infancy. They want the bliss of bonding forever. But that kind of smothering only breeds resentment and inhibits maturity. If grown-up kids fail to individuate and master every aspect of adult life, they can form unhealthy co-dependencies in marriage.
If parents are courageous and wise enough to encourage them to leave without guilt or fear, we will be blessed with a new kind of mature relationship when our children blossom into assertive adults; an equal relationship, full of mutual respect and honesty.
In an exhilarating surprise, Empty Nesters discover that we are simultaneously faced with the opportunity to have another shot at becoming strong, independent individuals ourselves in what author Gail Sheehy, in New Passages, calls our ‘Second Adulthood’. I wholeheartedly suggest parents seize their second chance with both hands.
So months after Justine had flown off and made her own nest in Shepherd’s Bush, we knew the ‘leaving home’ ritual was complete and it was safe to take off ourselves. So we landed, dazed and jetlagged, on her doorstep but the very next day started house hunting and instantly found ourselves new digs in West London.
Our little girl officially reached adulthood and returned to Australia to a 21st birthday surprise party thrown by her flamboyant boyfriend, Andy. He gave beautiful Venetian masks to all the young guests dressed in stunning evening wear before limousines gracefully transported them to a charming restaurant in the lush hinterland. Justine celebrated her milestone in grand style. Once again we cried with overwhelming pride.