Everyone who either is or spends time with a menopausal woman knows the classic question, "Is it hot in here, or is it me?" While this query can be viewed as a somewhat humorous response to the vagaries of hormonal fluctuation, it can also be seen as a symptom of how much we, especially women, mistrust the cues that our bodies send us.
A few days ago, I posted on Facebook that I during my morning bike ride, it had felt like I was riding into the wind in both directions, and a friend responded with what he called "The laws of wind and bicycles:
1. The wind is always in your face.
2. When the wind is at your back, you think you are strong, not that the wind is at the back.
3. Be strong."
(Thanks, Bob!) I thought that this was funny and true, kind of like the "is it hot or is it me" question. But this morning as I was riding down my road with the wind definitely in my face in one direction and at my back in the other, I suddenly realized that for me, and perhaps for others, that second "law" was inside out. I tend to believe that when the wind is in my face, or the pavement runs slightly but imperceptibly uphill, so that I am going slower than my usual speed, there is something wrong with me. I remember one ride on the Minuteman Trail in Bedford, where the start of the trail is a very long, very slight slope, when I spent the first 20 minutes worrying that I was coming down with something or devolving into laziness, until the slope evened out and my bike computer was again registering 10 mph. Crisis over.
One would think that having to work a little harder to maintain speed (or to keep cool during a hot flash) would be a totally neutral occurrence. Winds and slopes (and hot flashes) happen; they are an immutable fact of our physical environment and not the result of divine punishment or moral turpitude. But somehow, my inner judge manages to twist things around so that a physical circumstance becomes a critical comment on my value as a human being.
As I felt the wind in my face, I immediately felt the truth of this observation about myself, but I felt a bit puzzled as well. If you had asked me a few years ago whether I had any self esteem issues, I would have swiftly and definitively replied in the negative. Despite being fat my whole adult life, I had never let my size or how I felt about it stop me from doing anything I really wanted to do, either physically or intellectually. I had never been afraid of intimacy, nor did I refuse to go swimming or to do any other activity that required wearing skimpy clothing. I have always felt that I could do or achieve anything I put my mind to (except losing weight!), and that people would accept me on my own terms if I accepted myself. So the discovery of the inner judge, who is neither forgiving nor compassionate, was a bit of a shock.
An inner judge is not at all helpful -- quite the contrary, in fact. Criticism tends to make our spirits shrivel and clench, a position in which it is very hard to do anything but shrivel and clench. I'd much rather have an inner therapist, who would ask "How do you feel about that?" instead of criticizing. In the work I've been doing with my outer therapist, I think I've been getting closer to banishing the judge and inviting in the therapist. But best of all would be to have an inner mommy, who would say "Good try," and "You'll be able to do a little better another time."
Having an inner mommy is having the ability to self-soothe, which is what I am very busy exploring right now. If I could do that, I wouldn't have to use food to comfort myself. I could unclench and unfurl, open-hearted and ready to take in whatever life threw my way and learn from it or let it go. I'm not quite there yet, but I'm getting closer all the time. And next time the going gets a little hard, I'm going to chalk it up to the wind in my face and switch to a lower gear.
A hui hou.