In my 30s and 40s, I listened to older friends talk about the hot flashes and disrupted sleep associated with menopause, and I sometimes thought: “It can’t be that bad. So what if you feel a flush of heat? Big deal!”
I’m eight years post-menopause, and I was both right and wrong. There are so very many things worse than hot flashes and disrupted sleep, but after nearly a decade during which I have periodically been awakened every hour by an adrenaline rush followed by drenching sweats, or alternatively have been up for hours unable to sleep at all, I now know that menopause is no joke.
It’s been fascinating to discover how little control I have not just over my body, but also over my mind. I began to notice that getting up to get a glass of water wasn’t always a conscious choice. It was more like a reflex. I wasn’t thirsty because I lacked hydration; I was nearly desperate for water because I was about to experience a hot flash. I regularly jump up from my desk not because I have something I need to do, but because I feel like I want to jump out of my very skin. Without fail, the hot flash follows within minutes. Once I realized that I hadn’t decided to get up, I came to understand that I lacked any control over my impulse to do so.
It’s like my mind had become controlled by an alien.
Over time, I have become able to observe and choose whether or not to act on my impulses, but it always takes effort to just sit and wait out the intense need to get up. I have learned that only through a dedicated act of will can I control my actions. I was and am truly at the mercy of my mind.
Many people struggle to change their actions, despite their deepest wishes, which is why we need solutionaries who can address and change the systems that cause us to harm ourselves and others.
Solutionaries can’t change what happens in our individual minds, other than potentially raising our awareness, but they can change what’s available to us by transforming societal systems. For example, cars without safety features and airbags are no longer consumer options. The result has been vastly fewer deaths from car accidents even though many people still impulsively speed, drive while under the influence, or text while driving (issues that other solutionaries may be able to address through various means).
If our goal is healthier, happier people and a cleaner, safer environment for ourselves and other species, there are many systems we can and should change. One of the primary systems that needs an overhaul is our food system, which is largely unhealthy for people, cruel to animals, and environmentally unsustainable. How might solutionaries go about making changes to food production? Some might address the political and economic systems that have created subsidies for destructive food production. Others might address the schooling system, which for 100 years has utilized curricula produced by the Dairy Council (the aim of which is to encourage dairy consumption), and change what’s taught in schools about nutrition as well as what’s served in school cafeterias. Still others might address the food production system itself, developing plant-based and cultivated (cell-grown) meat, dairy, and eggs that cause far less harm while keeping costs low and taste as good or better than factory-farmed and slaughterhouse-derived animal products.
Once transformed, most everyone will go along with the new and better systems. And they won’t have to endure an internal battle, because the new systems will be aligned with common human values like compassion and kindness. It’s not as if people wake up in the morning thinking, “I’d like to harm myself and others today,” and yet economic, political, energy, production, transportation, infrastructure, and other systems are designed in ways that cause us to harm ourselves, other species, and the environment.
It’s not easy to change ourselves or our societies, but I believe the latter is easier. All it requires is learning to be a solutionary, a powerful, transformative, collaborative process. While it certainly can be challenging to think and act in a solutionary way, doing so is rewarding and gratifying, builds community, and results in the best kind of positive feedback loops: ones that build thriving societies.
There are so many things we can’t control. I may not be able to stop the impulse to jump out of my chair due to an impending hot flash, just as someone else may not be able to stop their impulse to eat junk food, drive too fast, or spend hours scrolling through their Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram feeds. The body snatcher that is our seemingly controlled mind is a mighty force that’s difficult to resist. With awareness, will, and the support of our communities, we can exercise some control over our actions. But it would help if our societal systems supported our efforts, too.
It may be of no consequence to the world whether or not I jump up and get a glass of water before a hot flash overtakes me, but it is of consequence to the world whether or not each of us examines the role we play in helping shape a healthy society for all. We can and must create better systems that do not prey on our most destructive impulses but instead promote health and well-being. So let’s acknowledge what we can’t control, and take steps to transform what we can.