Hey – we may as well have fun as we go sliding into old age, right?

Posts tagged ‘menopause’

Most. Expensive. Hot Flash. Ever.

I should have known I was in trouble last Thursday when that pop-up zit appeared on the edge of my lip out of nowhere. Up at 5AM to catch a flight north for work, I stared in disbelief at the mirror. Just when I thought the menopausal acne was behind me… But the road to menopause is full of surprises.

Acne. Mood swings. Bloating. Hot flashes. Mood swings. Exhaustion. Hot flashes.  

Yes, hot flashes can be surprising, as they come and go and change and morph throughout the years leading up to “official” menopause, defined as twelve consecutive months with no “monthly friend” (I’m on a six month roll right now – woo-hoo!!). Not only do hot flashes arrive unexpectedly, but they vary widely in intensity. I’ve had some big ones – rolling heat waves that start in my chest and roll upwards until my scalp was tingling.  I’m talking about strip-off-your-clothes-in-mid-winter major hot flashes (indoors and at home, of course). We’ll be watching television quietly at home, and suddenly I’m flinging off my sweater or sweatshirt in a panic. Poor Hubby barely raises an eyebrow anymore when I start peeling off my clothes. Then the hot flashes will subside for a while, with just the occasional night sweat. Mild night sweats have become fairly routine, but they’ve never been debilitating for me. 

I know I’ve been relatively lucky. I’ve heard stories of horrendous night sweats, where women wake up so drenched they have to change the sheets. Women who had to keep spare outfits in their offices to change into because a hot flash would ruin their clothes. But not me. My hot flashes are just the nuisance type. Annoying, but manageable. Kinda like me. And it was all under control.

After Thursday, I’m not so sure anymore…

It happened at the Charlotte, NC airport Thursday morning. I caught the 6AM puddle-jumper from home to Charlotte (a 50-minute flight) to connect with another flight north to my office, where I was due to attend an important meeting shortly after landing. I was wearing comfortable dress pants and a colorfully patterned, lightweight polyester knit top. I had a 3-hour layover, so there was no hurry as I strolled from one end of the airport to the other. I felt the hot flash begin, and I knew it was a strong one. I was not only hot, I was also very light-headed, felt faint, and my hands were shaking. I stopped, and I started to feel better. Wow. That was a good one. I figured I’d get something cold to drink and I’d be fine, as usual. I stopped by a little tourist shop along the way, mainly because it was extra cool in there. I strolled around a bit, not to buy anything, but just to enjoy the coolness for a minute.

An employee in the shop looked at me rather oddly, and instead of saying “good morning!” or “Can I help you?” he said “Is everything okay this morning, ma’am?” That struck me as an odd thing to say, and then I thought my mega hot flash must have made my face red. I told him I was fine, and decided I’d better go get that cold drink and sit down somewhere.

As I walked out of the shop, I felt something on the side of my face. I put my fingers up to my left temple, and discovered water was running down my face near my scalp. I was covered in sweat. I’m not talking about a soft dewy glow here. I am talking about big drops of water. Dripping down the side of my face. Good lord, the guy must have thought I was crying, or just…well…a crazy lady drenched in sweat at 8:00 AM. I grabbed a tissue and wiped my face. My scalp was sweating. My hair felt damp and limp. Whoa. This was no normal hot flash.

I grabbed a yogurt parfait and a cold drink, and got settled into a seat at a quiet gate. As I sat back against the chair, my back felt cold and clammy. I sat forward and my shirt was clinging to my back. Good grief – I was soaked! I put my hand back there, and sure enough, my shirt was not just damp – it was wet with sweat. The chair was wet. From me. Gross.

I analyzed my options, and wearing this shirt for the rest of the day was not one of them. I had to buy something. I was heading into a meeting less than an hour after landing, and I couldn’t go in wearing a bright t-shirt that said “North Carolina Rocks!” A golf shirt was not dress code compliant. Maybe I could get away with that some other time, but not now – not when I’m trying to convince my employer that I can be away from the home office and still maintain a high level of professionalism.

That left me with two stores: Lacoste (expensive) and Brooks Brothers (more expensive). Lacoste had a sale rack, but nothing on it would work – too clingy, too sheer, too heavy (being warm triggers hot flashes). Why spend $50 on a sale shirt that I know I’ll never wear?

So I went back to Brooks Brothers and spent a ridiculous amount of money on a very nice cotton pinstripe shirt with ¾ sleeves. Beautiful fabric. Lovely tailoring. Very professional. Looks great. It is easily the most expensive shirt I’ve ever purchased. The sales tax brought the total over 3 figures. For a shirt.

All because of a monster hot flash at a really bad time and place.

And that’s the story of my first sweat-through-my-clothes hot flash. I don’t need to have another one. Truly, I don’t. Once is enough.

But just in case, I’ll start keeping an extra dress shirt in my office (and in my carry-on when I’m traveling).  

Because I simply can’t afford any more hot flashes like that one.

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Where Did My Brain Go?

As long as I’m on the subject of hormones…  I find the second-most irritating symptom of menopause (after the raging emotions) to be the loss of mental function in general.  This is more than being absent-minded – I’ve been absent-minded all my life. 

But lately, it’s like I just go into a “brain-fog” with no warning.  I’ll be driving home from work and suddenly realize that I don’t remember getting off the highway exit, and yet here I am, driving down the side street to my home.  Apparently I drove it safely and legally, as I heard no honking horns or blaring sirens.  But I don’t remember doing it.  It’s not that I was thinking about something else – I wasn’t thinking at all. 

I’ve been in conversations recently, and I’ll suddenly realize that I’ve “tuned out” and I have no idea what I’ve missed.  I’ve become good at using my “interested” face and appearing to be listening – nodding, smiling, jotting a few notes.  But I didn’t hear an entire block of speaking.  Well, I heard it, since my hearing isn’t gone, but I didn’t process it.  Again, it’s not that I’m daydreaming, which I’ve always been very good at – my mind is just blank. 

It’s pretty creepy, actually, to realize you’re losing time (without the assistance of alcohol!).

And even when I’m not losing time, there are moments when I just can’t kick my brain into gear.  I’ll pick up a new bag of (low-fat) chips, start to pull it open, and then just stop.  What was I doing again?  Do I need the scissors?  No, I just have pull it open – and still my hands aren’t moving.  What the hell?  Do I want these chips?  Is there something else I’d rather have?  Is it too close to dinner?  Oh, for crying out loud – open the damn bag!

And choosing clothes for work?  There are days when it’s agony, because I can’t make a freakin’ decision.  Do I want the black pinstripe pants?  Did I wear black pants yesterday?  What shirt should I wear?  Does that pattern go with the pinstripe?  Will it be warm enough?  Maybe not…  But this brown sweater would do.  But then I have to pick different pants.  Do these need to be ironed?  What shoes would I wear?  Do I have trouser socks that match?  No, no – I already had my black shoes pulled out to wear.  I should wear the pinstripes.  Maybe add a jacket over a short-sleeved shirt?  But which jacket?  Does this match??  A-r-r-g-g-h-h!  By now, I’m late for work. 

Never good with names, I now meet people and forget their names within seconds of meeting them.  Even when I’m trying to remember – even when I made up a word-association to remember.  Or I mix up the word associations in an embarrassing way.  For example, I use word association to remember the name of a consultant our company is working with.  He’s tall, good-looking and conservative, and his first name is Don.  So I’ve associated him with Don Draper of Mad Men, and it helps me remember his first name.  But twice recently I’ve referred to him as “Don Draper” to colleagues, who then look at me as if I’ve lost my mind.  And perhaps I have.

So I did a little research, and sure enough, one of the symptoms of menopause is “foggy thinking”, absent-mindedness, short-term memory loss, lack of cognitive ability, etc., etc., etc.  Something to do with hormones (of course), and probably stress.  It can be a vicious cycle, actually.  Get frustrated at the brain-fog, stress out, which makes the brain function more poorly, which cause more stress, which makes the brain function even more poorly, and pretty soon, you’re driving home without remembering the trip, and wearing blue socks with black shoes. 

It’s not all the time – it comes and goes.  Some days, even weeks, I’m perfectly fine (or at least as good as I was before menopause arrived).   And then one day, or string of days, I’m just out of it.  I have to struggle to maintain any kind of focus and momentum.  It’s scary.

The good news is that it’s temporary – once menopause goes along its merry way and finishes with me, my cognitive ability should improve again.  How long will that take?  One article tossed around 3 – 12 years…..  3 – 12 YEARS??????  Oh, come on!!  I have a life to lead in the meantime. 

My husband thinks I’m just careless and should “try harder”, my co-workers wonder what’s happening, my boss thinks I’m not paying attention, my friends and family think I’m losing it and wonder why I let weeks go by without calling or emailing.  How do I tell them I sometimes have trouble remembering just how much time has gone by.  Did I call my mom yesterday?  Or was it last Friday?  Did I talk to her at all this week?  Maybe…but maybe not.   Damn it.

So how do I get better (other than waiting YEARS for menopause to pass me by)?  Most articles agree that three things can help – moderate exercise (oh crap, I hate exercise), a diet that includes many small meals during the day to keep the brain “fed”, and easing up on the stress load. 

Okay – so today I threw new batteries in the Wii and will try to get back on board with morning workouts.  My diet’s been better lately, but can certainly still improve.  And I’m trying to lose the same 20 pounds I’ve been trying to lose for more than a year (down 4 in two weeks), so I’m trying to limit snacking, which now may not be helping my brain.  And stress.  Ah, stress.  Let’s see – major system conversion going on at work, just finished a traumatic and exhausting move, trying to lose that damn 20 pounds that have settled into a happy “meno-pot” in my belly which makes all my clothes uncomfortable, and can’t remember anything.  What stress???  I guess I can get some “down-time” in there somewhere, between work, marriage and church activities.  Maybe get up between 3 and 4 AM to do some journaling?  Try to squeeze a yoga class into my hectic schedule?  A little more prayer? 

Somehow, I have to figure out how to get through these brain-fog spells without losing my job, my marriage, my friends and my sanity.  So I guess I’d better find the time to relax, eat better and exercise.  If I can only remember to do it….and why….and…what was I saying again??

Hormones Gone Wild…

I cried at a movie trailer last week.  You know, those two minute movie previews you’re subjected to in the theater before the real movie starts? 

And I am not talking about having dewy eyes or a little sniffle.  I’m saying that, less than 15 seconds into this preview, tears were welling up, and a few seconds after that, they were pouring down my cheeks.  I tried to stop it – told myself how stupid it was – tried to think about something funny to stem the tide – but it was no use.  So then I tried to at least hide what was happening by lowering my head.  But when Hubby glanced over, he couldn’t miss the tears that were now running down my neck and into my décolletage.  And he started snickering.  Which made me giggle.  But I still kept crying those big crocodile tears, laughing harder all the while.  Mind you, this was a trailer for “War Horse” – a Spielberg movie about, you guessed it, a horse in a war.  One shot of the horse snorting majestically, and I was reduced to tears.  Yes, I love horses, but this was stupid.   

You might think that I was shocked by my inappropriate and spontaneous emotional reaction, but I wasn’t.  I’m used to them these days.  And so is my husband. 

Hormonal mood swings are nothing new for me, but they used to at least be so predictable.  Hubby and I both knew that I was more likely to burst into tears over some imagined insult during that “time of month.”  Or perhaps break into hysterical laughter that I couldn’t stop.  Those few days every month often had me dancing on the edge of some form of hysteria, and opened the possibility that in the middle of the calmest, most normal conversation, my tone would abruptly change and I’d be lashing out verbally or stomping off to the next room in a huff. 

As I explained to Hubby when I’d see his confusion, it truly wasn’t something I could control.  I  hear the sharp words and sudden anger in my voice and literally wonder where the heck it came from.  It’s like being possessed.   It’s not a fun feeling.  But it was reliably predictable.  Watching the calendar helped, because if I knew when to expect those over-reactions, I was able to control them more successfully.  

But now that I’m in my 50s, all bets are off.  There is no predicting.  My period shows up whenever, which means my hormones ebb and flow whenever, too.  There is no “time of month” anymore, because I can go two or three months without having any actual period, but with multiple hormone surges showing up at random times. 

This makes for some interesting scenarios – like sobbing in the theater… over a preview.  It leads to totally irrational anger and responses to the anger.  I’m serious – I’ve had drivers cut me off on the highway, and I’ve actually considered ramming them as a possible response.  Of course I wouldn’t actually do that, but the idea that it is now one of the possible options running through my head (alongside flipping them the bird, honking the horn, giving a dirty look, etc.), is a shock. 

I remember my mother bursting into tears and sobbing over spilling a can of tuna fish into a basket of laundry when I was a young girl.  That’s not a happy thing to have happen, but it certainly didn’t warrant the anger and frustration and anguish that she displayed.  But now that I’m about the same age she was at the time, I understand it completely.  I can see myself having the same exact reaction.

A woman gave me the wrong change the other day, and, while I didn’t think I was angry about it, and it’s not something that would normally make me angry in the first place, I caught myself saying “I gave you a ten dollar bill” in a suddenly sharp and forceful tone that clearly said “you stupid idiot”.  I closed my eyes for a second and took a breath – then I smiled extra wide and thanked her profusely when she corrected the simple and harmless mistake, trying to make up for my nasty tone.  But I have no doubt that she muttered “bitch” under her breath as I walked away.  And who could blame her? 

Remember those old western movies and TV shows from our youth that always seemed to have a story line revolving around nitroglycerin?  It seems like someone was always taking a wagon past the Ponderosa or the Big Valley ranch with a tiny bottle of innocent-looking nitro that was at dramatic risk of exploding if it was dropped or jostled too much.  Yeah, well, that’s what menopausal hormones feel like.  Everything’s innocent and calm, and then BAM!!! – hormones gone wild.

Since my periods have been totally random for 2 or 3 years now, with no sign of stopping permanently anytime soon, I’m guessing my hormones are going to be raging for a while longer. 

Maybe I should have cards printed up that I can hand to innocent bystanders that say “I’m sorry for the over-reaction you just experienced – I’m mid-menopausal and I can no longer control or predict my hormonal responses.  It’s not your fault – but it’s not mine, either.”

My poor husband.  I know he loves me, and while he tries to be understanding, there are times when my wildly fluctuating moods frustrate and, even worse, hurt him.  I hate that.  So I continue to drink soy milk and whatever else might help, and I wait for these hormones that have been with me since my teens to just move on.  I’m too old to be this hysterical.  Hopefully I can manage to keep myself in Hubby’s good graces (and out of jail!!) while I work my way through this interesting part of the aging process.

Gravity Continues Its Pull…

I think gravity may be our biggest foe as we age, particularly for women.  The pull of this dastardly planetary force wears on us, and relentlessly drags our physical features into a downward angle.

I can blame myself for the extra pounds I carry, even though I still harbor some resentment to my menopausally decreased metabolism. And I know it’s my fault that I’m not in better shape (who has time?!).  But what do I do about the sagging, drooping, jiggling and flapping caused by our arch enemy – gravity?

It started with my chin(s).  Where the skin used to be taut under my chinline, it now sags and wrinkles and folds.  In fact, I feel like my whole face is somehow sliding downward into my neck.  How else do you explain where all that extra skin came from?  Why else would I feel the downward pull on my cheeks that leaves me looking like I’m perpetually frowning?  A co-worker stopped me a few weeks ago and laughingly said “I can always tell when you’re having a bad day!”  That wouldn’t have bothered me that much except for one thing – I wasn’t having a bad day.  I examined myself in the ladies room mirror a few minutes later and realized sadly that my apple cheeks were looking more like the loose bags that apples are sold in.  Apparently my skin was no longer able to hold my face up over my cheekbones, and I was developing a “hound dog” look.  Come to think of it, maybe that same phenomenon is happening to my “other cheeks”, too, as my derriere starts sliding down into my thighs…

Since that day, I’ve been making a conscious effort to pull my cheeks up (the ones on my face) and lift the corners of my mouth a little bit all the time.  Not into a fake, scary smile, but just enough to work those lazy muscles, and to keep folks from stepping back in fear of a non-existent bad mood.  My hope is that I can coax my facial muscles into accepting this “half-grin” as the new normal, staving off the pull of gravity.  But I suspect gravity will win eventually.

If I were given a choice of any free cosmetic surgical procedure I wanted, I think it would be the so-called “lifestyle lift”, where the extra skin that gravity has collected under my chin is pulled up into my hairline, giving me a single chin again and a markedly more youthful appearance.  I don’t know if I’d go through with it, but it would be tempting.

Hmmm.  I may have lied just now….  I don’t know if gravity’s pull really started with my chins or if it was my breasts.  Surely they’ve been fighting gravity for a long while now, and they’re losing.  If it weren’t for a good bra, the “girls” would be closer to my waistline than my neckline.  But at least I can stuff them into that bra and keep the gravity-defying illusion alive as long as I’m clothed.  But lying in bed on my back?  Yeah, well, let’s just say that my back  is clearly where the girls are trying to sneak off to.

But the newest affront from gravity made me gasp in amazement this weekend.  I was looking at a digital picture that had been taken of me with a group of friends a few weeks ago.  In the photo, I was smiling nicely, my chins didn’t seem too pronounced, and the sleeveless top I was wearing was a good color and style choice for me.  I decided that if I cropped the image, it would make a nice Facebook profile picture.  So I cropped a tiny square and was adjusting that window over my upper body in the photo, when I noticed something alarming.  There was something terribly wrong with my upper arm!  Was that dirt?  No.  A bizarre shadow effect from facing the sun?  No.  Was the satin fabric of my blouse reflecting a pattern onto my skin?  No.  I zoomed in for a closer look.  Oh. My. God.

Gravity's pull appears on my upper arms. Yuk.

 

It was the flacid skin of my underarm, sagging in defeat to gravity’s calling.  Crepe-like, folded in tiny lines being pulled downward, looking like elephant skin.  On my arms.  My ARMSMY arms.  My 53-year-old arms!  It looked as though I’d pulled a big leg of baggy pantyhose up over my arm and let it hang there.  A—r—g—h!!!

So this is how it’s going to be.  My skin will not only lose elasticity in my face (at least the cosmetic ads warned me about that one), but it will lose elasticity everywhere, drooping ceaselessly towards the Earth.  If I were in a more macabre mood, I’d probably see some correlation to death in there, returning to the primordial soup from whence we came…..

Are there ways to fight gravity?  We can’t always wear long sleeves, after all.  To a point, yes, it can be fought.  Exercise (God, how I hate that word) can make a big impact.  Tight muscles tend to generate tight skin.  And those scary sagging upper arms can definitely benefit from the simplest of workouts – curls and lifts with free weights.  That means it’s time to dust the barbells off (again) and start using them (again) and vow to stick with it this time (again).

Hey – I didn’t come to be Sliding Into Old feet first and laughing by being a patsy.  Gravity is pulling on me, sure, but dammit, I can fight back in this tug-of-war!  Can I defeat an entire planet full of gravitational pull?  No, I’ll admit I can’t.  But I can sure as hell try.  I don’t ever want to see those flabby old-lady wrinkles on my arms again in a photograph, at least not until I’m eighty.

Maybe long sleeves aren’t such a bad idea after all……….

Is Fifty the New Fifteen?

Last week, I had a pimple on my ear.  Right on top of the lobe, where the skin is thin, and where pimples hurt.  It was a surprise, but I didn’t think too much of it, and it was gone in a couple days after a few doses of alcohol (rubbing, not liquor). 

But then, a few days after that, I had an itchy spot on my back.  I was wearing an Irish wool sweater that day, so I figured the sweater was agitating my skin.  Then I thought my bra strap might be rubbing or pinching.  Finally, after hours of itchiness, I managed to reach the awkward spot, and I felt a big, round, tender bump.  It was another freakin’ pimple!

The next day, another appeared – right under my chin.  Great.  At least the other two offenders were out of sight.  This one was public.  Enough already.  I should not be dealing with zits anymore!

None of this would be that unusual if I was fifteen.  Or even twenty-two.  Maybe even thirty.  But I am fifty-two years old.  Fifty-two!!  I’m mid-menopausal, for crying out loud – what the hell am I doing getting pimples?  It’s the curse of the Baby Boomers – hot flashes and acne, all at the same time.  Yup – throw in the hormonal mood swings, and we’re just having a party, aren’t we?

And people wonder why women in their fifties are cranky.  Our bodies are turning against us in new ways every day.  Skin is sagging, bellies are popping, periods come and go on a highly unpredictable schedule, we break into sweats in the middle of the night, our heads spin like the Exorcist when the hormones get going, we’re exhausted, and somehow it comes as a shock to our friends and family that we’re irritated. 

Only women our age go through the check-out line with the following in our carts: multi-vitamins labeled “silver”, Midol, “age-defying” cosmetics, Clearasil acne lotion, a bottle of red wine, and a box of chocolate chip cookies for the craving we’re bound to have later that night (why fight it?).  All of those multi-generational products are for us.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this marvelous decade of our fifties is like “This is Your Life” rolled up into ten years.  A woman’s last hurrah before sliding into old age.  Think about it…

Childhood:  Is there anything more childish than a menopausal woman going through our hormonal ebbs and flows?  Tears one minute.  Screaming fury the next.  Totally sane after that.  I have literally stomped my foot in anger in the past year.  Seriously?  Where did that come from?  Aren’t I a little too grown-up for foot stomping?  Apparently not.

Prepubescence:  The preteen years are when girls form close same-sex friendships, and begin to assert their independence and self-identity.  Our fifties are when we have time, after raising our families and establishing our lives, to focus on our girlfriends again.  Our friendships deepen to new levels, as we start sharing our life adventures, and at this stage in our lives, those adventures aren’t always sunny.  Rather than sharing tales of who-talked-to-whom-in-social-studies, our friendships are now dealing with marriages, aging parents, career changes, divorces, adult children.  Instead of sitting together on the school bus, we’re meeting at the wine bar, but the connections are similar, and equally important.  And we giggle even harder now than we did then!  

Adolescence:  We were so happy to leave those stressful teen years behind – acne, romance, betrayal, raging hormones, stressing over our appearance, hanging out with the right crowd, rebelling against our parents, watching our bodies change.  And yet, here we are again – acne, romance (with any luck), betrayal (whether in marriage, employment, friendship, or just in our own bodies), raging hormones, stressing over our appearance (what does “age-appropriate dressing” really mean?), hanging out with the right crowd (political activism, neighborhood ‘clicks’, etc.), rebelling against our parents (or at least at our changing role in their lives), and, of course, watching our bodies change (don’t get me started…).  Yup.  Fifty may as well be fifteen in many ways.

Young Adult:  We may not “relive” our young adult years, but our fifties are when we reap the consequences of those years, good or bad.  Did the marriage survive?  Are the kids okay?  Was there a marriage at all?  If you didn’t have children, are you wondering who will care for you as you age?  Of course, some of us do end up revisiting the young adult years in a very unexpected way as we find ourselves raising our young grandchildren, or having our adult children or parents move back in with us.  And some of us are dealing with parents who are now older and dealing with issues that may require us to step back into a parenting role.  My own mom is very healthy and independent, but many of my contemporaries are not that fortunate, and they equate their relationships with their mothers to dealing with teenage daughters.

Elderly:  Along with looking back, our fifties give us a sneak peak to the future, sort of a prequel to the years that lay ahead.  We don’t have the strength and energy we once had.  We begin the process of adjusting to that new physical reality.  And as our parents age, we experience the realities of aging through their lives.  Suddenly retirement, Social Security, and long-term health care are no longer abstract ideas, but an impending fact of life. 

Yes, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that women in their fifties are living every stage of life at once.  Is it a bad thing?  Not always.  It can be challenging and frustrating and infuriating at times, but it does give us the chance to appreciate the journey we’ve made so far.  We have the wisdom of our life experiences to help temper the effects of the hormonal changes.  I may stomp my feet and burst into tears over some perceived slight, but, unlike when I was fifteen, I have the confidence to know that I’ll get through it and life will go on.  We’ve gained perspective, and as long as we hold onto that perspective, this journey back in time is okay, for the most part. 

But I really could do without the pimples.  Honestly.

She’s Havin’ a Heat Wave….

You know, I used to think those t-shirts were so cute that said “It’s not a hot flash, it’s a power surge!”  Yay for women!  That’s what I thought.  What a healthy, charming, and sharp-witted way to look at one of life’s major changes.  “I’m going to get myself one of those shirts when the time comes”, I thought. 

That was then.  This is now.  And now I’ve decided that telling women that hot flashes are empowering and fun is a lot like when parents used to tell their children they were going to an ice cream party when they were really headed into surgery to have their tonsils removed.  Why do we insist on lying to each other?   There is nothing empowering about a hot flash.  Yes, it’s a marker on the way to a new stage of our life as women, and that’s a transition that should be honored and acknowledged, blah, blah, blah.  But a power surge?  Hardly. 

There is nothing powerful about standing in front of a group of 50 business people as I did two weeks ago, about to make an important hour-long presentation, when suddenly I felt the telltale mini-wave of heat (I usually get a warning shot like that before the big one hits).  Uh-oh.  I braced myself for the next tide of warmth, and tried to ignore it with a happy smile and ice-breaking banter with the group.  But how was I supposed to handle the water dripping down the side of my face?  I’d brush it away quickly, and another would appear.  I’d brush that away, and another would be soon be there.  I shed my jacket, knowing I probably looked nervous to the group, which wasn’t exactly the impression I wanted to leave them with.  How could they know that my body temperature felt like it was hitting 110˚?  As I wiped away the fourth or fifth drop of sweat from near my left eye, I realized I had to say something, so I mumbled a few words about having “something in my eye – sorry!” as I tried to continue with some semblance of dignity. 

For several years now, I’ve been relieved that hot flashes didn’t seem to be a big issue for me in perimenopause (that stretch of years just before the real thing).  Yes, I had the very occasional hot flash, usually brought on by nerves or being in warm temperatures.  But they were quick little things, and just a minor inconvenience.  What was everyone complaining about?  The worst one I had until very recently was after a shopping trip on a raw winter day.  The store had been warm, and I was wearing a heavy winter coat and scarf.  By the time Hubby and I got home, I was boiling from the inside out.  He went out to get the rest of the grocery bags from the car, and by the time he came back in from the garage, I had shed coat, scarf, sweatshirt and turtleneck, and I was unpacking groceries in my bra as the snow swirled outside the window.  I just put up my hand and said “hot flash”, and he walked away chuckling.

But now that I’m in the midst of the real deal “Big M”, I’m learning exactly how difficult hot flashes can be.  I have days now when I cycle in and out of hot flashes twenty times or more.  Jacket off, ice water, grab a book to fan myself with.  Then I become totally chilled, and put the jacket back on and grab a cup of coffee.  Which then sets off another hot flash, and jacket off again…  Well, you get the picture.   It’s irritating, distracting, and exhausting. 

While some women describe becoming completely drenched in sweat during their hot flashes, I (so far and usually) just develop a sheen of sweat on my skin.  Normally, my skin just feels like I’ve been outside for a while on a really hot, humid summer day. 

Sometimes I am caught off guard by a full hot rush of heat that will cause me to start shedding clothing desperately (which is interesting when I’m in public…) and send me on a wild search for ice, ice water, a cool breeze, anything!  But normally I get a little warning shot first that lets me know what’s coming.  It’s a little spurt of warmth that just washes over my body in a flash.  I now know that it’s a signal for a “big one”.  Sometimes the real hot flash starts in my chest, and radiates up and out across my upper body.  Sometimes it starts at the top of my scalp and flows downward.  It feels like my thermostat has gone completely out of control.  If you’ve never had one, you really can’t believe how fast your body can heat up.  It’s like having my own little personal furnace, with the knob turned up to “high”.  It’s actually pretty impressive.  So for a minute or two, I’ll be boiling.  And then, just like that, it’s gone.

On a not-so-good day, those hot flashes just roll over me all day long.  On a good day, it will only happen 2 or 3 times.  Usually right after I’ve taken my beloved scalding hot morning shower.  And again after a cup of hot coffee (especially in the afternoons), and again in the evening while I’m relaxing.  One neat trick I’ve learned in the morning is that my hair dryer has a “cold” setting, so I can cool my body down with my hair dryer before getting dressed – it works – honest!

And at night?  Oh my Lord.  I have a small throw blanket folded on top of the blanket on my side of the bed, because I’m usually cold, and Hubby never is.  Over the past few months, that throw routinely goes flying in the middle of the night, as I wake up drenched in sweat.  I fling off the regular blanket and sheets, and just lay there, waiting for it to pass.  If I fall back to sleep right away, I’m sure to wake up 30 minutes later because now I’m cold from not having any covers on.  Then I pick up the throw blanket from the floor and start all over again.

Scientific studies have indicated that the primary reason that menopause can cause irritability and forgetfulness is not because of a particular hormone, but because of these night sweats that wake us up over and over at night.  Don’t believe it?  You try sleeping night after night in a room where someone turns the heat up to 95 and then down to 55 every other hour.   And stop laughing – it’s not funny.

Power surge?  Really?!?  A co-worker told me this week that she had hot flashes for a period of ten years.  I almost wept.  If mine keep up that long, I’ll be locked away in a padded cell somewhere, babbling incoherently from exhaustion.  I just hope it’s air-conditioned.

Losing My Mind, and My Keys, and My Cell Phone, and…

A NORMAL DAY

This was the path I took one typical June Sunday afternoon.  After enjoying a beer (hey – it was only 55 calories!), I stood to take the empty bottle out to the garage to the bin for returnables.  As I stood, I remembered that I needed to iron clothes for work on Monday.  I carried the beer bottle into the bedroom and set it down (just for a minute).  I set up the ironing board, and got the iron from the walk-in closet.  While in the closet, I stopped to organize some of my shoes.  Back in the bedroom, I noticed the steam iron was low on water.  So I headed to the kitchen for the little measuring pitcher I use for the iron.  While there, I remembered the dishes in the dishwasher were clean, so I started unloading it.  The coffee pot was sitting right there, so I got that set up for the next morning.   I grabbed the empty beer bottle from the counter and took it out to the garage.  While in the garage, I grabbed a fresh roll of paper towels for the kitchen.  When I finally got back to the bedroom, I had the iron in my hand before I realized that I’d never gotten the water for it.  On my way back to the kitchen, I figured I may as well fire up the computer as I was walking by.  I got to the kitchen, and stood there for a few seconds before I remembered what I was there for – water for the iron.  I filled the pitcher, went back to the bedroom, filled the iron, then decided I should pull the bedspread off the bed and fold it up.  Once that was done, I ironed pants and a shirt for Monday.  After hanging them up and turning off the iron, I closed the blinds in the bedroom and headed out to the computer.  About 20 minutes later, I needed to use the master bathroom.  Walking back through the bedroom, I noticed something shiny on the nightstand.  It was my empty beer bottle (the one I’d removed from the kitchen was my husband’s).  The item I originally wanted to put into the returnable bin hadn’t made it past my first pit stop.  I’d never completed my original mission, although I finished a number of unrelated odd jobs in the meantime. 

A remarkable story?  Hardly.  Outrageously funny?  Not so much.  But this type of scattered, fractured journey happens to me all the time.  Every. Single. Day. 

I can have keys in my hand one minute, and literally lose them the next.  I’ve become a master at retracing my steps – out of necessity.  When I reach for something and it’s not where it belongs, I automatically reverse my steps and check everywhere I’ve been.  When the logical places don’t pan out, I start looking in the stupid places.  Did I set the keys under the sink while looking for dishwashing liquid?  Did I drop them in the trash when I threw away that tissue?  Are they still in the door?  In the car?  It’s absolutely maddening.

THE WILD SEARCH

Just a few weeks ago, I lost my leather cell phone case, within no more than an hour of removing my Blackberry from it.  I’d already been looking for my favorite Red Sox ball cap, so now I was hunting for two items that seemingly vanished off the face of the earth while inside our home.  I brought my husband into the hunt, and we tore the place apart.  Logical places.  Silly places.  Under the bed.  Under the sofa.  Behind the cushions.  Dresser drawers.  Bookcases.  Suitcases.  Cars.  Basement.  I was seriously wondering if some mad man was breaking into our home and stealing stupid things just to drive me crazy.  After an hour, I suspended the search in frustration (and the firm belief that if you stop looking for something, you’ll usually find it).

Days went by, and I really wanted that ball cap (the cell phone case was replaceable if necessary).  Wondering if maybe I’d rolled the hat up and stuffed it in a jacket pocket (not something I normally do, but I was getting desperate), I started working my way through the coat closet.  On my fifth or sixth jacket…SUCCESS!  I found it!  Well, not exactly.  It wasn’t the ball cap I discovered in a pocket.  It was the missing cell phone case.  The hat was still nowhere to be found.  But the next day, the errant ball cap showed up.  At the bottom of the dirty clothes hamper, located as I went to do laundry.  Don’t ask.  Oh, okay, I’ll tell you – I’d set it on top of the washer, and apparently a vigorous spin cycle vibrated it off and into the hamper.

You know the dogs in the movie “UP!”?  Well, that’s me.  Deep in thought or conversation, and then, Look!  A squirrel! 

Think I’m exaggerating?  I’ve left this page twice since I started typing an hour ago.  Once to check my email and Facebook, and once to change the TV channel, grab a snack, and then look for the TV remote, which I’d left in the kitchen. 

I’ve always been a bit forgetful and addled (at least three different times in my life I’ve put the milk away in the pantry instead of the refrigerator), but lately it is getting out of control.  As the hormones start doing their 50’s dance, my brain cells are dysfunctioning  at an alarming rate.  Yeah, yeah, I should focus more.  I need to pay attention, write lists, concentrate, avoid distraction, etc., etc., etc.  As if I could remember to do all of that. 

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

A recent fact-filled article in Newsweek by Cynthia Cline (“This is Your Brain.  Aging.”) gave me at least some consolation.  It’s not just me.  We really do lose short term memory as we age.  Scientists have proven that the long, graceful neurons (okay, they didn’t use the word “graceful”…)  are lost as we age – as much as a 45% decrease in short-term memory and the ability to learn and remember new things.  The good news is that we continue to grow the short stubby neurons that control long-term memory.  Funny how everything that happens as we age involves the words short and fat.  That’s why I can remember the red dress I wore to my neighbor’s wedding when I was ten years old, but I can’t remember what I did with the TV remote five minutes ago.  It’s a medical thing.  It’s not my fault!  I wish that made me feel better, but the truth is, I’ll probably forget all about it by sometime next week….

And the worst part of the whole thing?  The remedy.  New studies suggest the best way to improve brain function is not the brain teaser games or crossword puzzles (although they certainly don’t hurt).  No, the best way to improve brain function is the same thing that improves all our other functions – good old-fashioned exercise.  EXERCISE!  Walking, running, working out – vigorous aerobic exercise stimulates the growth of new brain neurons.  No quiet reading and problem-solving for my mind.  No.  I need more exercise to improve my brain.  Terrific.

That’s just perfect.  I’m already battling my body and exercising in my frustrated efforts to lose weight.  Now I have to do even more of it to keep my brain from getting any foggier than it already is.  So fine.  Tomorrow morning I’ll be back at it with the Wii and walking at lunch and Zumba in the evening.  Even if the pounds won’t leave, I can at least be adding something to my body that’s good for me, like some sexy brain neurons.

Now if I could just find the Wii remote.  I’m pretty sure it’s here next to the sofa.  Hey, is that the book I’ve been looking for?  I should sit down and finish reading that, right after I get a drink of water, and then I’ll look for the…wait, what was it I was looking for?   Look!  A squirrel!

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