Life moves fast. That’s a truism for everyone, but this tumultuous year, time seems to have whizzed by on steroids. Still, I don’t want to tumble into 2018 (yikes!) without one last glance over my shoulder at the year that was.
Maybe my glass is half-full, but one word that comes to mind in describing the practitioner side is “innovation”—an unusual flurry of it. New treatments for menopausal symptoms, such as Intrarosa, have recently been introduced; it looks like Addyi may have new energy behind it; and new products, such as the women-designed vibrators from Dame, have come to market. I’d like to believe that this problem-solving innovation is a result of our many voices expecting answers along with a growing social awareness of both the normality and challenges of menopause.
“Community” is another word that comes to mind as I think about 2017. Not one, but many communities of women (and men) who are passionate about de-stigmatizing menopause, making it a normal, even exciting, transition to a different, yet still fulfilling life, and to keeping love and sexuality squarely in the middle of it. These include professionals like Dr. Pam, whose documentary we recently mentioned, and Mary Jo Rapini, just one of many colleagues whose work is all about living mindfully and abundantly.
I’m also thinking of online communities, like RedHotMamas—and this blog as well—that create an entertaining, informative space to address all things menopause. Here’s a list of the Top 50 menopause blogs from Feedspot. (Spoiler: We’re number 3!)
A natural outgrowth of our MiddlesexMD community is our new podcast, The Fullness of Midlife. In this series of interviews, we explore diverse stories, perceptions, and insights with the women (and men) who cross our path. Check it out! You’ll be entertained and inspired.
Then, of course, there’s you—the community of MiddlesexMD women who share your stories with me personally or on this blog. Who write to ask about our products. Who listen to our podcasts. You are the reason and motivation for everything we do here at MiddlesexMD. I am gratified and humbled every day by your trust, your stories, and your spirit.
So here’s to another year of opportunity, fulfillment, meaning, and challenge.
We had a power outage for a few days mid-month. If you want to discover the stuff you’re made of, experience a small tear in the fabric of life, like losing power in winter. I discovered that I am made of tissue paper.
It was a temporary and brief interruption. An inconvenience. But as the hours dragged on, I became increasingly impatient. Appointments didn’t happen; work piled up; my phone couldn’t charge; I was entirely offline. I couldn’t afford to lose this time! I called the power company. I checked for updates obsessively. I ignored the fact that teams of (mostly) young men were working around the clock in bitter weather to get us all back online.
Then, after power was restored, and I had rescheduled appointments and comfortably reordered my life, I came across a blog post from my colleague, Mary Jo Rapini (who was a recent guest on my podcast, too).
She lives in Houston and, while her house was unaffected, she regularly interacts with those who lost everything to Hurricane Harvey. For these survivors, life can’t be so easily resumed—it isn’t a matter of flicking on a switch. They are living in temporary housing or with friends and relatives. Significant parts of their lives—homes, pets, photographs, precious possessions—are gone forever. Many, if not most, of those affected will deal with PTSD for a long time.
That story is repeated for thousands of people throughout the world—in California and the Middle East and Africa. I can’t really imagine being in those circumstances, and I suspect that tissue paper doesn’t hold up so well.
Mary Jo’s message cast my small discomfort in a new light. I was complaining about a paper cut, while others not so far away are recovering from an amputation. It was a helpful reality check.
“Love is a verb,” says Mary Jo. Love manifests itself in actions large and small. Hidden and heroic. It reveals itself in the work that only you can do in this world, whether that’s taking care of grandchildren or founding an orphanage.
Love and gratitude is what this season is all about. I’m taking that more seriously these days. For starters, I’m grateful for that power outage.
This is my quiet moment—the pause between the years, the time of taking-stock. One thing I know for sure—I have a lot to be grateful for this year!
It’s been more than ten years already since I decided to specialize in the sexual needs of women in midlife—women like you and me. As I mention here, I wanted to provide clinically sound, research-driven information to women who are caught in the throes of the menopausal transition. I wanted to address our sexual issues head-on, without embarrassment or beating around the bush. I also wanted to provide a safe, tasteful environment in which you could actually buy the products I was recommending—vibrators, lubricants, moisturizers, dilators, vaginal weights.
That was the rationale behind MiddlesexMD. I envisioned a space in which to communicate with a lot more of you than I could see in my clinical practice. A place where you can ask questions or start a conversation and where I can discuss whatever’s on my mind—from research on new drugs and therapies to tips on maintaining sexual intimacy. And we did put together a shop, where you can find those safe, tested, high-quality products, and have them mailed to you in discreet packaging.
It’s been a journey, that’s for sure—rewarding, challenging, busy, and sometimes unexpected. In 2013, the North American Menopause Society awarded me the “Certified Menopause Practitioner of the Year.” Late last year, I published my book, Yes, You Can: Dr. Barb’s Recipe for Lifelong Intimacy. The book uses my recipe for sexual health and draws from the accumulated wisdom on MiddlesexMD—your questions, the blog posts, and my own thinking.
Response to the book has been wonderful. It was a banner year for interviews on various media outlets about the book and my work. I’m grateful for these opportunities to communicate to a broader circle of midlife women that they have options, that sex can still be rich and fulfilling, and more importantly, that they are not alone.
When I began this endeavor, I couldn’t have anticipated how gratifying it would be to meet such resilient, independent, inquisitive women who are tackling life’s challenges gracefully and well. I’ve been honored to share this journey with you and to provide some support and information that may make the experience easier and, I hope, more joyful for you.
So, my friends, here’s to good health and good sex. Thank you for sharing your journey with me.
Many of us are very goal-oriented. We like to make lists and to tick items off those lists. We like order; we don’t like chaos.
Unfortunately, life is messy and sometimes chaotic.
At no time is this truer than during the holidays. All the demands of the holidays—the shopping, cooking, partying and gathering—will simply be heaped on top of our already overflowing schedule. We know that the price we pay will inevitably be snappishness, exhaustion, maybe the scratching of old scabs and regurgitation of old hurt.
In the interest of helping all of us not only to survive, but maybe even to enjoy the holidays, I offer you a mini-tutorial on a practice that has been known to help everyone from cancer patients to Fortune 500 executives. It’s even known to improve our sex lives, which is why we highly recommend the practice of mindfulness on our website.
Mindfulness is a straightforward concept. It’s developing the ability to pay attention to the moment—not to zone out, but to develop a facility of focused attention, without judgment or emotion, on the present. Mindfulness was a Buddhist concept, but in 1979 Jon Kabat-Zinn, a psychiatrist at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, adapted and developed it into a formal eight-week program for patients “who weren’t being helped” by traditional medicine. His program incorporates meditation, mindfulness exercises, and yoga.
The results were impressive. Patients experienced less pain, and they healed faster. The practice relieved stress and improved the immune response. The concept of mindfulness meditation quickly seeped into the broader zeitgeist.
Now, I know that it’s one thing to read about a spiritual practice, helpful as it may be, and entirely another to actually incorporate it into daily life, especially in the midst of holiday frenzy. The essence of mindfulness, however, is simple and almost intuitive. Best of all, it takes almost no time. You can practice mindfulness while you’re rolling out pie crust or brushing your teeth. It quiets our “monkey mind” and brings us back to the moment, which, after all, is the only moment we really have.
“Life is available in the here and now, and it is our true home,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and globally famous spokesperson for mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness practice doesn’t take effort, and it doesn’t take time. It just requires a focusing of thought and awareness. The basic meditation is to focus on your breath: Just paying attention to breathing in and breathing out. Your breath doesn’t have to be long or short. You just have to follow your in-breath and your out-breath.
You can think, Breathing in, I’m aware of my body; breathing out, I release tension in my body. You mentally pay attention to any parts of your body that are tensed—your lips, your neck, your back—and consciously relax that part. When you wait in line or stop for a light, you have a bit of time to practice this focus and release. And then smile, says Thich Nhat Hanh.
This principle can be applied to whatever you’re doing: cooking, cleaning, taking a shower, taking a walk. You bring your attention lightly but completely to the activity you’re engaged in. You don’t think about the next thing you have to do or the fight you had with your spouse this morning. Those thoughts are like the clouds crossing a bright, blue sky. You observe them without emotion or judgment and let them go, returning to your focus on your breath or your walk or the pie crust.
As you practice mindfulness, you may become conscious of the moment before you react to something. When you are aware of that moment, the moment before you react, then you have a choice about how you will react, whether in anger or kindness, fear or trust, passion or forbearance. If you’re aware, then you have a choice.
"Between stimulus and response there's a space, in that space lies our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and our freedom," writes Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning.
I’m thinking that if ever there was a good tool for avoiding those uncomfortable confrontations during the holidays, this might be it. If you’re aware of the moment of stimulus, when your brother makes a snarky remark about your son’s tattoos, for example, then you are given a moment of choice about how you’ll respond. And a moment to breathe in, breathe out without tension or judgment.
Even though it’s effortless, developing this practice isn’t easy. I guess that’s why it’s called a “practice.” I do know that improvement, however incremental, helps me to live with gratitude and gracefulness.
And during the holidays, I simply can’t get enough of either.
As Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “The real miracle is not to fly or walk on fire. The real miracle is to walk on the Earth, and you can perform that miracle at any time. Just bring your mind home to your body, become alive, and perform the miracle of walking on Earth.”
Amen to that!
Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. —William Arthur Ward
The good thing about holidays is that they give us an opportunity to reflect (if we’re not too busy preparing for them) and to cultivate good old virtues, like generosity and gratitude. Holidays encourage us to express things, like love and appreciation, that we don’t get around to in the normal course of daily life.
Thanksgiving, of course, is a time for gratitude.
So this holiday gives me a great opportunity to tell you that I’m really grateful for the many people who support and value the work we do here at MiddlesexMD. This work wouldn’t be possible without all you supportive people.
Six years ago I refocused my clinical practice to serve the sexual health needs of women in midlife because I discovered that so many of us were struggling with the physical and sexual changes brought on by menopause. Women, I learned, needed advice and guidance but didn’t know where to look for it.
Now, MiddlesexMD has its own website, newsletter, and blog. We have an online boutique with an array of tasteful, helpful, and woman-tested products to help keep the sexual flame alight. In fact, we’ve become one of the go-to resources nationally for information about sex at midlife.
That’s pretty impressive, if you ask me.
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. —Albert Einstein
As I see it, MiddlesexMD is sort of a miracle. The amazing thing is that so many people are involved, interested, and in so doing, have contributed to its success. We have a small army of people who spread the word about what we’re doing, and give us support, encouragement, help, and advice along the way.
We turn to members of our MiddlesexMD advisory board frequently on this blog. We have a fabulous board whose members represent some of the leaders in the field of female sexual health. Despite their own busy practices, they’re always willing to share their expertise with MiddlesexMD readers. So—members of our great MiddlesexMD advisory board—thank you!
We also have a creative and hardworking internal team that plans, organizes, and runs all the disparate parts of this venture and helps to keep me sane and focused. I’m incredibly grateful to the amazing team that operates behind the scenes. MiddlesexMD wouldn’t be here without you.
Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. —William Arthur Ward
Finally, no foray into social media is successful unless people spread the word. MiddlesexMD is successful because other practitioners tell their patients about our site and because readers “like,” tweet, "share," and tell their friends about us.
To all of you who spread the word—thank you so much. And don’t stop!
Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic. —John Henry Jowett
Finally, let me leave you with a little Thanksgiving Day doctor-ish prescription. (You knew this was coming.)
Studies repeatedly link gratitude with higher levels of satisfaction with life. Grateful people are happy people. They pay attention to the positive stuff. They focus on the good and deal with the bad, sad, or difficult when it comes along. This isn’t denial or wishful thinking. It’s a choice that gradually becomes a habit.
So, along with a healthy diet and regular exercise, I’m prescribing a dose of gratitude every day before breakfast. It’s cheaper than pharmaceuticals, and who knows, it might even make sex better, too.
What are you grateful for right now? Who makes your life joyful? Have you told that person how you feel?