Ocean Swimming In Winter: The Best Cure For The Menopause Blues

Sometime over the past few years, I lost my spark, and even though I wasn’t sure if menopause or the medication I took for my anxiety were the culprits, or even the amount of time my husband and I had spent together in lockdown together, I was desperate to retrieve it.

Woman swimming on her back in the ocean
Photo by Haley Phelps on Unsplash

Impatience and irrational outbursts of anger had become a big problem that were linked (I suspected) to menopause and poor sleep, hormone fuckery, the inability to control my body temperature, and my secret fears about the life-altering changes that lay ahead.

And, clearly, emotional eating and drinking weren’t working…

And so, as we approached our seventh week of lockdown — and I found myself subconsciously plotting my husband’s death — I decided enough was enough, and determined to find another outlet for my anger.

Admittedly, I laughed when a friend suggested swimming through winter, but I didn’t completely dismiss the idea when in the past, swimming has had a calming effect on me.

It wasn’t an obvious choice. Public indoor swimming pools had been closed down in lockdown and we were in winter in Sydney, and albeit I was aware of the health benefits of swimming in cold water, I needed more convincing.

After two years of comfort eating in lockdown, the idea of contorting my body back into tummy flattening swimmers didn’t fill me with joy

And despite living in arguably one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, I hadn’t been to the beach in a while. Two years ago, our summer was spoilt by the blanket of smoke from bushfires, and last year, my age caught up with my body — with, firstly, a painful case of bursitis in my foot, and secondly, a malignant melanoma on my arm, which entailed surgery and stitches and put an end to my weekend dips.

However, those health issues did provide an epiphany of sorts, (or the cliched “wake-up call”), about the importance of living each day as if it’s my last, being grateful, getting back to nature, and enjoying the simple things in life, blah, blah, blah

And so, I decided to take the plunge

The water temperature is not warm in winter, nor indeed at any time of the year in Sydney. In fact, the only way to swim in temperatures comparable to the Mediterranean or Hawaii’s Waikiki beach in Australia, is by heading north taking your chances with the crocodiles and box jellyfish.

Hence, I admit that the thought of my first winter swim in one of our local ocean pools— originally built to protect swimmers from dangerous surf, currents, and…ahem… sharks — was hardly appealing, and in the end it was vanity that swayed my decision. Because, surprisingly, there are benefits to the crazy activity of swimming in cold water:

  1. It improves the body’s circulation
  2. It reduces stress
  3. It boosts the immune system
  4. It rejuvenates the skin
  5. It gives you an immense feeling of smugness
  6. And it eradicates any middle-aged body image issues, because NO ONE over 50 looks good in a wetsuit

Furthermore, really “cool” people like Julia Baird, Kathy Lette, and Benjamin Law swim through winter

Convinced, I ordered myself the most fetching spring wetsuit I could find in my size, a very unflattering swim cap, a pair of new goggles, and I set about preparing myself for my new adventure.

Admittedly, alcohol may have been involved as I psyched myself up for my first swim

As one of those swimmers who lingers longer around the steps than actually in the water, I knew I had to get into the water quickly for any chance of success, but as my teeth chattered and I felt the need to wee again, I strode as purposefully as I could into the shallow end and all feeling left my lower body.

Luckily, the trickles of iced water that broke through the armour of my wetsuit restarted my heart several times

The temperature of the water was around 17 degrees, but felt closer to zero. However, my new wetsuit did a commendable job of protecting me as I submerged my body with far less grace than a submarine into the icy-cold beneath me, grateful for the odd trickles of iced water that broke through the rubber and restarted my heart several times in between my underwater expletives.

Holding my breath, fully aware of the importance of keeping my heart rate up as I doggy-paddled frantically in the direction the “real” swimmers on the other side of the pool, I prayed silently that none of the lifeguards would jump into save me as a group of kids in bikinis laughed at my progress.

But I made it

And more importantly, the anger left my body as my brain switched its focus from the inadequacies of my husband to my survival. And although the smile of relief on my face nearly cracked until I located a warm spot in the water where the kids had peed, by the end of my second length I remembered why I had married him again.

Photo by Haley Phelps on Unsplash

Midlife Rant: Over-Exposure And Self-Importance

Embed from Getty Images

So, two things that have got my already shrinking ovaries in a twist this week, other than the sub-zero temperatures of the winter that has hit Sydney this week: the first, the story of yet another self-important breastfeeding mum who insists it is her right to whip her boobs out and bare all in a public place; and the second is the metamorphosis of Caitlyn Jenner.

Firstly, you should know that I am an intolerant, judgmental bitch at times and that I understand that not everyone will agree with my opinions here. But this sort of media hogwash clogs up my FB page, often spoils my first coffee of the day, and prevents me from reading about real news, like the story about those idiots who got married on their first date.

So…breastfeeding in public.

Sorry, ladies, I hope you know that I will defend the rights of women to my dying breath, but this is one of those topics where the miserable old fucker in me gets on her soapbox. And yes, I do realise that I could justifiably be accused of hypocrisy since I used to expose my own pert breasts to anyone and everyone on the beach in my early twenties, and pretty soon I’ll probably have the nipple melanomas to prove it.

What can I say? Things/times change.

For the record, I’m one hundred percent behind any mother who breastfeeds their baby and I have absolutely no issue with them breastfeeding in public either. But, I also believe that there has to be some modesty and consideration for the opinions/beliefs of fellow customers, when it comes to breastfeeding in a public eating establishment. Not everyone feels comfortable when forced to watch an infant munch noisily on a milk-laden, straining boob while trying to eat their Egg Benedict, and making conversation with aged parents, teenage sons or awkward husbands (who may never have seen a boob bigger than a golf ball before).

And yes, you can argue that perhaps that awkwardness is their problem, but there I have to disagree.

Of course, there should be more feeding rooms to facilitate breastfeeding for new mums, just as I think a thin muslin to veil the rogue nipple is a compromise that demonstrates a respect for those not in the early throes of wonder at new life.

Breastfeeding is a beautiful, natural thing to do and I loved partaking of it when I had boobs my own babies, but it is not a sport to be Whoop! Whooped! publicly, and albeit not a sexual act, it still involves getting what some consider your private bits out in public; which is most other cases is against the law.

That is why we have to trust women to make their own judgment calls about what is considerate and appropriate behaviour towards others.

And, Caitlyn Jenner…

A TransGender-Symbol Plain1
A TransGender-Symbol Plain1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sorry, Caitlyn, but my discomfort at having to see your new self, wrapped only in a satin corset on the cover page of Vanity Fair, has less to do with your choice to over-expose the ‘new you’, than being completely fed up with having to look at members of your family on the cover of every fucking women’s magazine over the past five years.

And I still haven’t fathomed out how you all got there in the first place.

It is wonderful that you have now become a role model for transgender people and I’m all for evolution and change and anyone who makes the world more aware of the inner struggles of people, such as yourself, who have dealt with discrimination or the lonely life of ‘difference’ in society. But I hate the fact that while you have talked about your private struggles with your sexuality in the past, you have still taken something that was apparently so personally painful to you and in true-Kardashian style, turned it into a media circus that, frankly, paints an unrealistic outcome for the majority of transgenders.

You will argue that it is to help others, and I hope that your public story does help change the lives of others for the better, but the way you have handled your metamorphosis, complete with aforementioned Hollywood styling, still smacks of fame-whoring and self-importance to me.

I admit to having watched the odd episode of The Kardashians in the past – for research purposes, obviously – and out of all of your fame-hungry extended family, your personality always appealed to me the most. You came across as a likeable, quirky kind of guy, stoic even, and you seemed to share a genuinely closer connection with your daughters than your wife did.

Which is why it saddens me that you feel the need to sell out again, at the expense of what could have been a truly, new dawn for you, with some well-deserved privacy, a reality check and your children’s sensitivities at the top of your priorities.

Midlife Mayhem – Am I A Hypochondriac Or Just Getting Old?

The subject matter of good dinner party chitchat has found a disturbing niche, now that we’ve hit our forties. Although ‘life was supposed to begin’ at this stage of our lives, we seem to be stuck at the ‘recognition of our own mortality’ roadblock far earlier than we anticipated. Whereas in my twenties we used to wax lyrical about alcohol consumption, sexual prowess and the female orgasm (apparently they were mutually compatible then), and in our thirties we circum-navigated career goals, marriage and babies, discussions these days seem to have stagnated around our health, or lack of it. I blame all those self-righteous health magazines and the Internet for our health obsession, but maybe it is just another symptom of the ‘midlife crisis’.

The ‘midlife’ alarm seems to resonate somewhere between your late thirties and mid forties, and serves as a reminder that you’ve reached the ‘half time’ point in your life and there’s not much time left to score some real goals. For some, those goals might be a new philosophy of life (Madonna and Kabbalah?) and for others they might involve a sea change. But at this stage in the game of life, sometimes your fitness doesn’t necessarily live up to your promise. It is a worrying indictment of our age group that in our circle of friends, more people take Statins these days, than drink alcohol.

Take my own health. Over the past six weeks, I have experienced debilitating lower back pain (I’m guessing it’s NOT a sports injury), the cold virus, severe toothache and the monthly peri-menopausal utopia caused by my female reproductive zone being forced into retirement. The old man’s sympathy has extended to ‘you’re getting old’ when I’ve sought comfort, whereas I suspect that I could be the first human, still walking, to suffer from cancer of every major organ. All other ailments aside, I am obviously suffering from mild hypochondriasis.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I have been assigned the ‘time-waster’ label by my GP, although, contrary to popular opinion, this hypochondriac is rarely spotted at the surgery. Consulting a doctor is a double-edged sword – if I go, she might tell me there’s nothing wrong with me (when I know that there is) and if I don’t go, and there is something wrong with me, I’m going to die anyway. A visit will have been precipitated by the ‘doom and gloom’ of self-diagnosis on the Internet, and the standard appointment time invariably stretches to double time as my telephone book of unrelated symptoms are analyzed. All roads lead to cancer when you pump a symptom into Google. 

There was a time, before cancer began ravaging acquaintances and freaking the rest of us out, and when it was fun to smoke, drink heavily and consume vats of any ‘type’ of fat, that conversation at the dinner table covered world politics, the career vs children conundrum or religion. But these days, world news has lost its x factor in comparison to the anguish caused by faulty bodily functions. ‘Man talk’ now encompasses ‘piles’, ‘wind’, and ‘bloating’, while ‘girl talk’ dissects issues of ‘bone density’, ‘vitamin supplements’, and ‘muscle mass’. Can someone explain to me how, scientifically, you can still put on weight when both your muscle mass and your bone density are decreasing? You might want to note that we’re saving ‘death’, ‘erectile dysfunction’ and ‘loss of sexual libido’ for our fifties and sixties.

So if I’m not really ill, why do I spend more on health than retail therapy and possess the energy levels of a dying battery? My svelte, septuagenarian next-door neighbour is still surfing, so maybe my physical well-being is being compromised by a poor mental outlook to aging, and my dwindling estrogen is not the culprit after all?

In one of his more lucid moments (Friday night; 2/3 of a bottle of Penfolds, Bin 28), the old man compared retirement to Buddhism. Apparently, once you retire you stop worrying about premature death because your philosophy of life changes and you finally appreciate that it is a positive state of mind that brings happiness, not wealth. Retirement, (and the reason our neighbor is a living advertisement for Viagra), provides the luxury of free time, time to focus on happiness and make yourself that ‘better’ person you always dreamed of being, physically and mentally, rather than focusing on what is missing, when you are a small cog in the large wheel of the rat race.

Hypochondriasis is ‘health anxiety’ in disguise and it’s pretty common for us midlifers. It is a bonafide illness and we can seek help for it; middle age is not, unfortunately.

Dinner Party from Flickr.com courtesy of Alastair R

The 7 Gals of Menopause (back) from Flickr.com courtesy of HA! Designs – Artbyheather