I slide under the covers at ten.
At midnight I open my eyes, look at the clock, uncover myself for thirty seconds – the time it takes for the hot flash to vanish – and I resume sleeping.
Repeat at two. Then at four. Between five and six I finally get up and slide out of this misery.
Well, not really misery. Besides the disruption to my REM sleep, I don’t feel tired during the day. I appear to have mastered the art of falling asleep right after the heat has abated and, last night, I even went for three long hours without waking up. I decided a priori hot flashes were not going to bother me. Well, I had decided a lot of things, none of which came to pass the moment I entered (rather forcefully) menopause.
A couple of years ago I researched meticulously the side effects of menopause: the causes for hot flashes, the weight gain, the mood swings – you name it, I knew what to expect and how to combat it. But my body decided to go get itself a spot of cancer and all my plans became useless, which goes to show how over-planning is a waste of time. Now, I try to go with the flow.
The estrogen suppressant medication I am taking to lower my chances of a cancer recurrence comes with three whole pages of side effects, including death. Most are experienced by a minority of patients but, if the minority hits 1%, you have the right to be informed. Hot flashes are the most common so, yes, they have made an appearance, mostly at night, but I am determined to take the mind over matter approach and don’t let them have the upper hand.
The little white pill I gulp down every night doesn’t force you into menopause per se, rather it blocks the estrogen from reaching certain pathways – but, as I was on the cusp anyway, with my estrogen levels falling, the consequence of starting menopause was pretty much a done deal. It had to happen eventually, with the slight detour of not being able to combat some of the unpleasantness with many of the remedies that are at the disposal of women who didn’t have cancer. Bugger.
If it wasn’t for the three pages of scaremongering side effects, the pharmaceutical companies could market the little white pill as a miracle drug for weight control, at least for some of us.
“I could eat anything I wanted and not gain a pound” a friend of mine who took it for three years told me recently. I can attest to it. No matter how little or how much I eat, my weight will not budge from the low side of thin. Might as well enjoy it while it lasts. Once I stop taking it, I will join the army of middle-aged women fighting the bulge.
Then there is the matter of mood swings. About 25 years ago, I went on the birth control pill and, within two weeks, I would weep every time anyone did so much as approach my desk at work. Fast forward to now, and an innocuous story in the New Yorker with a tinge of sadness can send me into convulsive sobs. Until my brain made the connection that my fragile emotional state was caused by a chemical imbalance, I was taken aback. Once I made the connection, I again took the approach of mind over matter, determined as I am to stay away from more pills to combat the effects of other pills. So far, the mind is succeeding.
According to Dr. Christiane Northrup , author of the seminal “The Wisdom of Menopause”, every woman who experiences hot flashes should experiment with different potential triggers. Incidentally, women in Eastern and Latin American cultures suffer from hot flashes with much less frequency than Western women do – read what you wish in the statement but stress might be playing a part.
If you are fighting your personal war with menopause symptoms, this is what I noticed works for me:
- As my skin doesn’t get red nor do I wake up completely soaked, I found that ignoring the hot flash – not complaining about it and just letting it pass with some equanimity – makes it less bothersome.
- If I have an alcoholic drink, they will get worse. Hard liquor is way worse than beer. Caffeine is supposed to be a trigger but having my coffee in the morning is such a pleasure that, if it triggers a hot flash or two, I haven’t really noticed it. Spicy food is a known trigger too.
- On days that I run I have fewer.
- On days that I run my mood is more stable.
- If I feel the blues suddenly coming on, the first instinct is to curl on the couch with the dogs and end up moping for the rest of the day. Or, worse, weeping. Nudging, cajoling or forcing myself into a workout of any kind, or a walk, restores the balance. All it takes is some self-convincing and half an hour of exercise.
- Meditation also helps but only if the blues is not too severe, and cooking always takes my mind off things. My fridge is unusually full these days.
- To combat dry skin, hyaluronic acid is amazing. If I owned stock, I would invest in any company that makes it.
My mother, ever the sage, laughs it all off and tells me to just get on with it. She went through a hot menopause and she lived to tell the tale. As my friend, Kim, suggested, our mother’s generation “did get on” with things without stopping to analyze every single emotion the way we are used to.
Maybe the better solution is a fine balance between ignoring some of the annoyances and honoring the changes. The dewy look is back in fashion and I don’t even have to fake it.