Well here it is, three months after I turned 55, and blam, here I am, too old to invest in a diva cup, but bleeding like a young thing.
But here’s the thing: on my 550th period or what have you, I’ve learned something new. Yesterday, I was complaining about cramps, being tired and having a sore throat. In the Time of Covid, a sore throat is one of those EEEK moments.
But then I started reflecting, and I texted Susan — “I complain about a sore throat every time I have my period, don’t I?”
“Yup,” she said. “It’s so weird.”
Whenever I feel crappy when I have my period, I just sort of vaguely handwave “hormones.” But I tend to assume that hormones translates into grumpiness, fatigue, sleep problems and hot flashes (like my classic experience on Sunday, where I strode around in a tank top outside in 10 degree weather, complaining that my thin cotton tights felt like snowpants).
So I finally looked it up. And apparently, flu like symptoms around your period are a thing — and more specifically, SORE THROATS are a thing for some people.
How come I never knew this? I talked about the flu thing with a colleague a few years ago — a cardiologist, no less — and she said she had that too, but had never heard any medical colleagues talk about it.
So, A) I’m not imagining it. When I menstruate, I feel like I’m getting the flu or a sore throat, almost every time. It’s a Thing. And B) I don’t have covid19. And C) apparently the universe is not done teaching me things through my period. Oh, universe, you trickster.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto. This is what a 55 year old who hasn’t hit menopause yet looks like. Her cat opened that closet door.
Earlier in the week I was talking to a mom with elementary aged children and she described how they try to get out at least once a day. Sometimes she calls it gym and off they run; sometimes she goes out alone to give herself space.
Now that the snow has melted in my area of the country, going outside is hugely appealing. There’s something about being outside under a big sky that recharges the brain and makes working outside seem fun and invigorating, even if the only thing you’re doing is yanking weeds by the handful.
Maybe because we couldn’t move freely outside at the start of the pandemic it became even more important to bring the outside in. if it wasn’t blowing a gale or pouring rain, I’d open the windows every day.
I don’t have a lot of houseplants because we have people in our house with allergies, but I love looking at something green and growing when everything looks bleak during our very late spring.
I read an article about starting vegetables from root ends and now I have five celery plants sending up lovely vibrant shoots. I’m told they will turn into fully fledged celery stalks in about five months, so every week I start another in hopes that by midsummer I’ll have enough for a substantial fall harvest.
I’m planting a garden for real this year. I remember when we had strawberry beds: they were a lot of work to keep weed free. According to WebMD, the energy expended by gardening and yard work generally is pretty good:
Shoveling snow: 400-600 calories per hour
Heavy yard work (landscaping, moving rocks, hauling dirt): 400-600 calories per hour
Raking and bagging leaves: 350-450 calories per hour
Gardening: pulling weeds, planting flowers, etc.: 200-400 calories per hour
Mowing the lawn: 250-350 calories per hour
About five years ago I heard a presentation by a neuroscientist who said our best brain work can take place outside under a big sky with the sun shining. At the very least we can give ourselves a big mental boost by being in the open air and we can give ourselves a great physical boost by walking, playing, or working outside.
With all the concerns about being inside re: the risk of transmission of COVID-19, our best bet for staying physically and mentally well can come from being outside, safely distant from others, or by playing with others who are within our bubble.
It’s been a long grey winter and spring for us, literally and figuratively. I’m looking forward to embracing the outdoors more fully this year.
(CW: discussion of weight, fatphobia, body image).
Despite my lifelong body image issues, I am in the “thin” category when it comes to being a #thinally. I am squarely average. I am in the range of the average North American woman – size 10-12″, except for those times when I’ve restricted myself for a prolonged period of time, and have been around a size 6-8. I’ve rarely been a size higher than a 10.
I’ve never been treated differently, rudely, or been the butt of someone’s joke, because of my size. I may still have an Imposter Syndrome when it comes to fitness. But I have privilege in this area. I am aware of this.
That’s why when I see people making jokes about others’ weight, even if it’s someone like Trump, who is reprehensible for a whole host of reasons that have nothing to do with his appearance, I bristle just a little. I read Ama Shriver’s post on Instagram today and I agree with her. As Schriver says in her IG post: “There are many things President Donald Trump has done wrong. “Hell, Evette Dionne (@freeblackgirl) on Twitter put it best when she said “you don’t have to resort to being fatphobic to express dislike toward someone”. She goes on to say that “…almost immediately, the hashtag #morbidlyobese started trending on Twitter and the fatphobic comments were awful….In the last 24-48 hours, I have seen so many fat advocates and allies speak out about why these things are wrong and just how these comments can hurt your fat friends who have to constantly engage with and read your comments.” Shriver mentions @_sophiack_’s post on Twitter, where she wrote, “Would love to see some thin allies speaking up” and Shriver says she feels the same way.
Well, I agree, and I am speaking up. Stop using fatphobic comments to insult people. Stop using them to compliment people also. Stop worrying about the Covid_19 too.
I felt the same way, years back, when Rob Ford was the Mayor of Toronto. There were a lot of reasons I didn’t like him as Mayor. I didn’t like his policies around “inefficiencies”. I didn’t like his idea to cancel all marathons in the city, and move them to parks (as if that would ever work), but I never liked the arguments about him relating to his weight. I think any time you criticize someone based on their appearance, it cheapens your argument anyway.
Lately, I am more aware when hearing these types of insults and jokes in places I wouldn’t expect to find them. Very popular sitcoms from just a few years ago, for example. Backhanded compliments about Adele, who can’t win anyway – she’s either too thin or too fat.
I try to catch myself when I openly lament that my jeans are getting too snug. However I choose to deal with that, I know it’s not helpful to anyone to vocalize that concern. Let that shit stay in my head, or better yet, pass through like a feather, in meditation.
Typically, I try to speak up when I hear racist, fatphobic, generally out of touch, and potentially hurtful comments, often hurtful to the people that are saying them, themselves. I find it difficult to do so. It is often uncomfortable, no matter how delicate I try to be. My heart may race a bit. It may ruin the evening for myself if I feel like people didn’t get what I was trying to say. But I imagine my discomfort is nothing compared to fat people having to hear silly fatphobic comments and criticisms, day in and day out. So for that reason, I pledge to speak up. I am a #thinally.
(Today’s guest post is by friend of the blog, reader of the blog, and sometime swimming blogger Roberta Millstein. Full bio at the end of the article…)
I started swimming with Davis Aquatic Masters, better known as DAM, shortly after I moved to Davis in 2007. I was thrilled to have coach-led sets and a group of people to train with – so much more fun, and ultimately much more productive, than trying to swim on one’s own.
I quickly fell into a routine and decided that, rather than constantly reciting to myself all the many physical and psychological benefits of swimming, I would just understand that swimming three times a week was A Thing That I Would Do. Period. Only the most serious of reasons would cause me to miss a workout. And I stuck with that. Travel, serious illness, a grad student’s exam that couldn’t be scheduled at any other time – those were about the only things that would cause me to miss a workout.
Until, of course, we finally started to realize the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 16, DAM strongly recommended that seniors stop going to workouts. I watched several people leave sadly. It was an eerie, surreal practice. I remember I went home and said to my partner sadly, “I think that might have been my last DAM workout for a while.” And indeed, by the end of the day, DAM had sent out an email cancelling workouts for everyone. Even though the County and State official stay-at-home orders wouldn’t come for a few more days, that was really the beginning for me.
I quickly made a new vow – on the days and times that I would have swum, I would now use the stair stepper. It’s a workhorse of a thing that my partner bought used for me many years ago, and over time we’ve both used it on and off. Most recently, I’d stopped using it because of a knee injury, but I thought maybe my knee felt well enough to start again. I have rather a strange routine with the stair stepper – I listen to the same four playlists over and over, playlists that morphed from mixed tapes that I had made decades ago. Probably most people would have long ago tired of listening to the same music, but I find that it focuses me: these are the songs that I stair step to.
I also decided to try something I’d always been meaning to try: yoga. DAM sent around an email with a link to “Swimming Specific Yoga.” I figured I’d do that on most days when I wasn’t using the stair stepper. I added in a few dumbbell exercises afterward to keep my arms strong. I’m sure that’s some sort of yoga violation, but I’m not really aiming for authenticity here.
In retrospect, keeping my time schedule was exactly the right choice. It has kept me grounded, along with the usual morning and evening dog walks, weekly class and lab meetings, and local political meetings. I’ve not experienced the “I don’t know what day it is” or “I slept in until 11 AM” that others have reported. If anything, I’ve found myself too busy because I find it hard to be productive with so much looming uncertainty, so my to-do list has lengthened. But getting exercise is all the more important for that, not less important.
I tell myself that, much as I might like to think I am a water mammal, it is actually good for me to be getting a bit more land exercise, and that is no doubt true. I tell myself that this is an opportunity to work on some other muscles and skills, and that is also true. I’ve definitely enjoyed the yoga and find it relaxing and energizing, even as there are some things I can’t do. I try to be careful because I don’t want to get injured. My knee still isn’t quite right so I am taking it easy with the stair stepper too.
But it’s not the same as the cool, clear feeling of entering the water and feeling it glide over you. It’s not the same as the satisfaction of a hard workout that you only did because your teammates were there suffering through it with you. And no one is there asking where you’ve been if you missed a few workouts, or telling you about a trip they took or are about to take, or commiserating about coming back from an injury. Swimming, despite appearances, is actually quite a social sport. I miss my lanemates and hope that they are well. (The DAM coaches, for their part, are working very hard to make sure that we still feel connected).
The latest word is that DAM is going to try to re-start in some fashion on June 14, County regulations permitting. I imagine social distancing swimmer-style: fewer people in the pool at once, maybe with signups, maybe fewer hours per week? We shall see. I look forward to it no matter what form it takes.
Roberta Millstein is a professor in the Philosophy Department at UC Davis, specializing in philosophy of biology and environmental ethics. In ordinary times, she enjoys walking and hiking with her poodles, swimming with Davis Aquatic Masters, and her 10-minute bicycle commute to campus.
 We should all be so lucky to have this be the worst of our problems.
I pretty much need maternity fitness gear now. Some of my workout clothes only just fit me still – below I am in a cycling top and shorts (I folded the top of the shorts down to make room) a good week ago. I highly doubt folding the shorts down would work even now, just 10 days later. I can still wear one pair of my old leggings. But that’s it, everything else will not come over my belly or be very uncomfortable.
Finding nice capri yoga pants was easy. They are the comfiest things ever and everyone should wear them always, pregnant or not. The way they give way at the top is divine. Great for breathing room! For tops, I just bought a couple of long, flowy running tops that will cover my bump (you can see a picture of me wearing one in this post), and finding actual maternity options seems to be easy enough as well.
But I’ve been trying to find maternity fitness shorts and been straight out of luck. It’s mid-May now and summer collections are everywhere (not to mention it’s very warm here already!), but maternity fitness shorts are yet to appear. I’ve found exactly two models but they were sold out in my size. Searching online, I’ve found some (limited) options across the pond in the US and am envious. But not in Europe. Capris and leggings, no issue, but what is a pregnant person who wants to work out in real summer weather to do? I don’t understand. Are we just supposed to stop being active? There is a non-zero chance I actually won’t feel like exercising once it gets really hot, but at least I’d like the option, please.
I also don’t understand why. At first I thought it was because of body image issues. I read so many stories from pregnant people who feel unattractive in pregnancy because of the changes their bodies go through. But there are plenty of other maternity shorts, some of which are short-short, so that can’t really be it? Unless it can, because people aren’t comfortable working out with their changed bodies? I’m worried that that’s what it is after all. Any other ideas? Bonus points for anyone with tips for where to buy maternity workout shorts in Europe – I would be forever grateful!
Scrolling through my Facebook Memories, the other day, I noticed a status update from 6 years ago where I stated that “Happiness is a feeling, not an image.” Sage wisdom? Trite nonsense? I believe this, wholeheartedly, now. But at the time, was I trying to convince myself of this statement? Probably a bit of both, if I had to guess.
I remember when I was dating years ago, before I met my husband (at 42) that someone said that when you are looking for a potential partner, you should focus on how you feel with them, more than how they look, or how you look together. Fortunately, my husband is very handsome and we look smashing together, but more importantly, I have felt noticeably happy when in the company of my husband, from our first date.
However, we live in a very visually-focussed world. Most of us are not immune. We all have different ideas of how we want to present ourselves to the world.
There was a time in my youth when I acutely remember catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror and not being pleased with what I saw. I was working at Cotton Ginny at the time, unpacking clothes from a box, and saw my reflection in the mirror and I didn’t like it. I was probably about 15. The specifics of what I didn’t like aren’t important. But it didn’t match how I felt, or thought that feeling should look on the outside.
When I was a kid, I had chubby cheeks, thick glasses from the age of 3, sometimes unruly, curly/frizzy hair. None of those things bothered me. I was a VERY happy kid. I loved hugging people. Even kids I barely new in the schoolyard at recess. I was naturally curious and did well in school. I made friends easily and teachers liked me.
Around the time I turned 11, as is often the case, with girls especially, I became very self-conscious. This sudden self-consciousness took up so much of my energy through my teens, that I’m sure it contributed to my gradual, declining interest in school, which heightened around Grade 10 and continued until the end of high school. I wasn’t thrilled with how I looked and I wasn’t happy. This sounds so trivial, wasteful, and silly, from an adult perspective, but I’m sure it’s true. My lack of confidence with my image, contributed to my problems with anxiety and I know (without having a degree in psychology) that the type of anxiety I experienced sapped a lot of my energy. Closed me off a bit from living fully and thriving in all areas, including academically and in athletics.
I recently read that a teacher who taught both math and science in my high school passed away. I don’t have a lot of specific memories of teachers other than my political science teacher begging me to come to class, and this math and gym teacher reminding me that it was just as important to look after your body, as it is to look after your mind. At the time, I was still doing well in math and still had a terrible relationship with gym class. I remember his advice in a positive way. He seemed to genuinely be trying to inspire me to be more athletic. As an adult, and as a fit female in midlife, I wonder if there might have been different ways to encourage athleticism to girls like me. For example, the only time I remember enjoying gym class was when it turned into an aerobics class. I loathed any team sports. Perhaps kids like me could have been allowed to do more of what they like in gym class.
One of the things I decided I wanted done in my teen years, was a nose job. I had a big nose and I didn’t like it. 47 year old me would say that is ridiculous. How un-feminist of me. How unevolved. How immature. But it wasn’t uncommon in my circle of friends and family. And when I was about 27, I managed to save enough money, found a plastic surgeon I heard was good, and I went for it. I felt relieved to some extent at the time. I preferred my new nose. Although, it didn’t heal quite the way it was supposed to, and I had it “tweaked” a year or so later. For the most part I was glad I had it done. The reason I mention this, is because I know in hindsight, it didn’t make me happier. There were still things I didn’t like about my new nose, for one thing. It was still pointed out by strangers, on occasion, as a prominent nose. But also, and of course, I know this now, it was never about my nose. It was about my perception of my nose. What my society told me about my nose. Part of me wishes I had the type of personality that would have OWNED the nose I was born with.
I often talk about how, when I started running, it changed my life (that and adopting my dog, Barley). And it wasn’t only because I felt fitter and stronger. It was because I felt good in my body. I felt a strength and confidence that came from within. That flowed outwardly and I’m sure made me seem happier. I remember a snap shot that was taking of me on route, during my first full marathon. It is a goofy picture for a number of reasons. But I still loved that picture. I was running a marathon! I was a runner! That trumped any goofiness I found in the image.
I know that when I was dating, that the times I attracted dates that were better suited for me, and definitely when I met my husband, Gavin, I was in periods of my life, where I felt happy because I felt good in my skin. And that feeling usually came from doing the things that lend themselves to real happiness. Exercising, spending quality times with friends, laughing and talking, learning things at work or elsewhere that stimulated my brain. Those things might make me seem happier, and therefore, might translate to a more vibrant image, but the feeling of happiness is not derived from the image itself.
I am an over-sharer on social media. I change my profile picture regularly. I don’t think this is because of vanity. I change it because I like to change it to the way I feel at a given time. I like to embrace that I am OK, and happy with however that image looks, because I am happy with where I am in life now and being OK with sharing my image is part of recognizing that.
And when I catch myself in a pose, whether at the gym (in the before times), doing a heavy back squat, or laughing with friends, or having dinner with my family, I want to remember the substance, the good times, the feeling of happiness, recognize my ability and strength in that moment, that just happens to be caught in an image.
Today, I am mourning the optimism of March 11. The last ‘normal’ thing I did before the pandemic shattered so many parts of our home life was to sign my kids up for summer camps. In a moment of inspiration, I also signed my 5.5 year old up for a ‘learn to ride a bike’ course. I was focused on the future. On planning. On aspirations. I look wistfully back at that day, and I miss the part of me that was able to plan so coherently. Any future orientation is difficult at the moment.
On March 12, school closures were announced for our jurisdiction. The day after that, parks and recreation programs were shut down. The day after that, most private and indoor recreation spaces chose to shut down (the climbing gyms, the trampoline park, the pools). A couple of days after that, even the playgrounds and most outdoor recreation spaces were covered in caution tape.
Our family is very active, and also very activity oriented. My kids are 3 and 5 1/2, and in ‘the before times’ we went to the climbing gym as a family every week. Our kids were always in swimming classes. The kids had yoga at school, and physical education every few days. We have the kids in skating classes and circus camp, and our kids are fearless at every playground play structure within a 3km radius of our house. The kids had unstructured outdoor time more than once per day.
Any one of those options feels unfathomable right now.
The first phase of the pandemic shut down hit us hard. Many of our activities were in spaces that could not be modified to accommodate physical distancing. The kids had a number of birthday parties cancelled, their climbing classes were cancelled, their daycare was closed, and many of their friends disappeared from the neighbourhood. Some friends left the city to help with physical distancing from their front line worker parents, and most others retreated to backyards and indoors.
Our initial coping mechanism was to head out on long walks and bike rides. Big parks, long trails, and stay away from the main roads. As more and more businesses succeeded in shutting down or moving online, the trails and sidewalks became too crowded. We now tend to prefer alley ways, because they are wide enough to accommodate physical distancing. 5.5 and her dad initially headed out on a 5km bike circuit with her training wheels still on her bike. They did this most days for a week, while the 3 year old and I would head out with a balance bike and a jogging stroller, and would combo bike/walk and push until everyone had received their requisite vitamin D.
Within 2 weeks, we started to work on removing the training wheels for 5.5. My partner removed both pedals AND training wheels, and turned the bike into a balance bike. After about 3 days, we put the pedals back on the bike. We pushed the bike up to the school yard (by this point, there was caution tape on all of the playground equipment, and plastic bags covering the basketball nets, but the open concrete space remained open). My partner turned his back on 5.5 while he put his jacket down on the school steps, and he turned around to see the kid pedalling past him. She had figured it out without the requisite parent running along behind the bike, and no one could suppress a smile.
So much for the ‘learn to ride a bike’ course.
All things considered, we are doing great. We get to spend time with the kids when they would normally be cared for by other people. We get to witness the firsts, and be part of the excitement. They are growing up in tangible and exciting ways. My 3 year old is much more confident on a balance bike and scooter, and my 5.5 year old is working on tricks with her bike. The kids have learned to play together. They are working on throwing balls and chasing butterflies. They are excited to look for weeds in the garden. They re-draw the chalk obstacle course in the driveway after every rainfall. They climb fences, and chase bubbles as is appropriate to their age. Yesterday, they got absolutely soaked through jumping in puddles in the rain – and proclaimed it “The best day ever”. We try to get out every day, and encourage dancing along with any and every viewing of Frozen II.
Thanks to a recent New York Times article, I now know that the recommendation for kids ages 3 to 5 is 3 hours per day of physical activity. That is a lot, for an age group who sleeps about 12 hours and eats about 6 times per day. I suspect that we make it occasionally, but I doubt that we hit the target more than 3 times per week. But for now, we are doing just fine.
Yesterday, on May 15, the city announced the official cancellation of all summer camps. I am still mourning the optimism of March 11. The future filled with Nature Camp and Learning to Ride a Bike and sending my 3 year old to swimming lessons without a parent in the pool. We are doing okay in this new world where we are forced to live in the moment. I barely look at the forecast these days, because what would be the point? I’m not looking forward to the future, and I am okay with focusing on today. But I play over March 11 in my mind on a regular basis, and grieve the future that was but will not be.
Jenny Szende is a philosopher, writer, climber, cyclist, and mother based in Toronto.