Change as a Verb
How do I make my way through this transition with care and compassion?
I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in over a month, and a few days ago, I cried on and off all day, feeling emotional upset that was simultaneously real and disconnected from what I was experiencing. The symptoms of perimenopause — The Change — are alive and active.
I’m on edge, trying to sort out how to make my way through a transition that could last months or years and come out the other end as a healthy human being. I have moments when I believe this process will destroy me, yet I know it will not; women everywhere, for millennia, have made their way through this transition. It is doable.
Resistance embodies an unreasonable assumption: that my being and body can be what it was before this transition started.
While I don’t have a choice to experience The Change, I do get to choose how I participate. How do I want to do it? Who do I wish to be as I do this? I can be frustrated and angry about this change happening to me and choose to fight the experience. Yet my resistance embodies an unreasonable assumption: my being and body can be what they were before this transition started. I’m looking for another choice. I’m looking to participate in the changing of me in ways that nourish who I am and who I will become. I’m pondering change not as a noun, something outside of me, but as a verb: action I undertake and embody.
I feel unease and tension when standing at a threshold of choosing to think and be differently or take new action. In my book, Nest City, I describe how thresholds reveal themselves in a variety of ways:
They can be a long, slow, and hidden presence in our lives or they can appear suddenly. A swift change of life conditions, in the form of a super typhoon or fire for example, are easy thresholds to identify and compel us to take immediate action. Thresholds that take time to notice are no less significant, for they equally power us up to be better citizens who create better cities. 
I can feel a threshold when it’s there; I experience frustration, anxiety, discomfort, or fear. Even simple unease signals that something is awry, that I have a choice to make, and that choice is inevitable. In Nest City, I concluded that “The tension we feel when standing at a threshold is an evolutionary slingshot — an opportunity to grow.” I did not consider that perimenopause, a transition I would experience one day, is a threshold that would signal an opportunity for my growth.
Here I am, asking a question of me that I have been asking of us: How do I make my way through this transition with care and compassion? This question invites me to relate to The Change not as something happening to me but as changing, something that is happening within me.
This question invites me to relate to The Change not as something happening to me but as changing, something that is happening within me.
A changing me
My identity, my sense of self and belonging, and the thresholds in my life are intertwined. On a mountain hike in 2020, I realized that my body could not finish the beautiful hike I had started. I chose to surrender to and accept my injuries and the emotional tenderness that came with accepting my reality — I could not physically do what I set out to do. I was heartbroken. (My body is still recovering.)
I had to rethink what it meant to care for myself: notice when it’s time to give in, give myself permission to give in, care for my physical body, care for my emotional body, and allow and explore tenderness. My body crossed a physical threshold of no longer being able to do what it has always done, whether I wanted this or not.
My sense of self also crossed a threshold. Instead of “giving up” and maintaining emotional distance from my physical reality, I chose “giving in” and explored the emotional territory that comes with misplaced expectations: loss, sadness, anger, grief, etc. While I was alone for the hike, I was not alone in the repair and recovery that followed as friends and family sat with me while I nursed my physical and emotional wounds. I chose to participate in the changing of me, and the people close to me participated too.
Nights of crappy sleep? After my first child was born, I noticed how better I experienced life with a good night’s sleep. Whatever challenges presented themselves with children, work, and life could be handled constructively on a good night’s sleep. Sleep has been a cornerstone of how I make my way through life, a practice I take seriously. For an unknown amount of time ahead of me, this foundational practice for me is unavailable. The story I tell myself — I need a good night’s sleep to be the “me” I want to be — is now an old story.
The more I cling to the old story that I need a night of good sleep to be functional, the more I pull myself into despair. I have no choice but to experience this transition. Instead, I choose to release the old me who is falling away, be an explorer, and experience delight as I meet the new me as she is revealed, even when she is an exhausted, teary mess.
I feel a ruthless clarity emerging within me. I see it over the past year as I’ve stepped away from activities that no longer align with the direction my life and work are moving — and stepped into more alignment. I read it in the words I’ve written about social habitat. I hear it in my words when conversing with clients and colleagues. Every moment I spend with the City Makers community confirms the clarity I feel: the best work we do happens in a community of relationships.
I am worried about having the energy and focus required to do the work I want to be doing. How will I serve my clients well when I have a foggy and slow brain, impaired from lack of sleep? Will I be able to be the person I want to be for my friends and family? Will I be able to finish editing my manuscript? Some text in the manuscript has some insight for me:
We create the conditions for our own changing when we foster connection, conversation, relationship, and community. When we rethink how we gather with each other, we invite ourselves into the process of changing ourselves.
These words of mine compel me to ask: Where are the social connections, conversations, relationships and community that provide me with care and compassion — and give me opportunities to practice care and compassion with myself and others? A handful of choices emerge to help me explore this question:
- I choose to create the conditions around me for connection, conversation, relationships and community (not isolation)
- I choose to create the conditions for transition, to rethink what I believe (not hunker down)
- I choose to live and work with purpose and clarity (not urgency)
- I choose to explore myself and the world with delight (not despair)
- I choose to live on the edge of the unknown, in the mess of it all, with joy, delight and integrity
In a conversation with a friend last week, and skillful holding on my friend’s part, I realized: I’ve done this before. When my first child was born, several years of little and crappy sleep ensued. I lived through this experience and succeeded in setting the stage for my children’s becoming and my own, too. I loved being a mom, my little family life and nourishing friendships, and my work, too, even on little sleep. My babies thrived, so why not my baby manuscript now? My work and relationships with people close to me thrived then, so why not now, too?
Just as I didn’t know whom my babies would become or where my work would take me, I can’t predict “who” my manuscript will become or where my work will take me now. Twenty-five years older, however, I make choices with more precision because I have a more clear sense of direction — a sense of ruthless clarity.
I had a second realization with my friend: I have more than sleep to rely on as a practice. Long before children and the understanding that sleep is a foundational practice for me, I started journalling as a teen. At 20, I started to go for long walks to explore the city and nature and found myself having meaningful conversations with myself. Both of these activities continue to be available.
At each iteration of my life, I notice practices that support me as I grow into my next “me.” At 28, I started to take sleep seriously. In my 30s, I began a contemplative practice that involves various forms of meditation. In my 40s, all of these practices shifted and deepened. At 53, I’m now recalibrating my practices to adapt to my changing conditions. I’m not leaning on a three-legged stool, but something far more robust and less wobbly than I first thought.
Not only can I rely on journalling and walking, I can continue a relaxation and energy activation practice that helps me ground and center myself (think guided meditation). I’ve also started paying more attention to the relationships around me that deeply nourish me. (Case in point: the friend who held space for me as I pondered my fitful sleep situation.) As I write, I realize that this, too, is a practice: making meaning of my experience.
I’m not down a leg on a three-legged stool. I’m down a leg on a multi-legged stool. Fitful sleep is less than ideal, yet I have many other practices to compensate for its absence in the foreseeable future. There is ruthless clarity in this understanding too. I’m not giving up on sleep; quite the opposite. I’m giving myself more space in the evening and morning for sleep, in case sleep wants to happen then. In addition, I’m making space for all of these practices. This is a given.
Wherever I go, I often ponder another question: from what to what? It is a useful question when naming from what and to what in a linear context, for example: “Let’s explore changing the text in this bylaw from this to this.” It helps us be clear about the change we are talking about. “From what to what” becomes less valuable when thinking about a complex living system (like me) because I do not know who or what I will become. Instead of a definable change, like a text change in a bylaw or The Change underway with my body, I expect unpredictable changes to my sense of self. It feels preposterous to define and confine myself. If I was unable five years ago to say who I would be at 53, why would I pretend to imagine who I will be a few years from now at the end of this transition?
I am not a linear or mechanical project; I choose to be open to the unfolding of life, the becoming of me. When I think back over the last five years, there are numerous small and large transitions, moments where I make choices that have made me who I am today. The making of me is not a leap from one version of Beth to another version of Beth. The making me is a series of iterative choices, each time knowing only if I’m moving in the direction I wish to move, never knowing more than that.
As I relax into the perimenopausal transition now underway — a transition I knew was coming but did not know what to expect — I make choices about how to participate in the process of changing. As my life unfolds, the practices I choose to support myself as I experience life also unfold. Sleep, as a practice, is not unavailable but rather a practice that requires adjustment on my part.
The process of change involves changing. When I find a lack of sleep problematic, it signals that I am changing and that it is time for me to participate again in changing. The iterative project of me continues, the ultimate practice of being me.
The making me is a series of iterative choices, each time knowing only if I’m moving in the direction I wish to move, never knowing more than that.
- What changes are you experiencing in your outside world?
- What changes are you experiencing in your inner world?
- What practices support you to be your best you?
 Beth Sanders, Nest City, p. 161.
This article first appeared at bethsanders.ca