In a Very Hot Place

digital illustration

Not to shed crocodile tears, but don’t you feel sorry for my pain?

In the humid human jungle, there is a rapacious beast that cheerily attacks and devours the happiness of many a poor body.

Menopause. Yessiree, I’m sufficiently past the mid-century mark to be personally acquainted with the joys of middle- and slightly past middle-age. I managed, thanks to magical genes or good luck or some jolly combination of the two, to enter into the mysterious temple of Menopause well ahead of the dull-normal average age of 51. I guess my body just couldn’t wait for the fun. Forty years old? Yay! Sure, I can go right ahead and get on that crazy train.

My doctor thought I might just be a fanciful young’un, imagining I was wandering into menopausal territory at the tender age of forty. Until I described my hot flashes. She already knew about my newly accomplished slide to the bottom of a depressive slope, a thing that (while it is seldom developed in complete isolation from other qualities or characteristics of health issues) can sometimes also be a symptom of menopause. She was not one of those dismissive, demeaning doctors who would’ve opted to imply that I was some kind of hysteric or stupid person. So she did a little checking into my state of being in other ways and lo, what I was experiencing was indeed early onset menopause. Or perimenopause, to be more medically precise.

Anyway, I’m now well past a dozen years of this fun and am still here to tell the tale. What’s particularly interesting to me is that it’s not wildly improbable that I’m, well, okay. I think I might’ve bought, at least a little, into the popular mythology that makes menopause universally into a horror of monstrous proportions. I will never minimize the true suffering that some women experience during menopause, a very real horror. But me, I’ve spent over a decade in the strange land of menopause, and I’m still ticking along.

One thing that I have working in my favor, besides that I have relatively few symptoms and lots of blessed good luck, is that I have great support. I have always existed in the midst of a family, friends and acquaintances where topics of real and everyday importance are generally discussed in real and everyday ways. No big deal. Imperfections, illness, death, human failings, and yeah, menopause. These are all realities and unavoidable. Sometimes painful, sometimes inexpressibly difficult, ugly, terrifying, awful. But in all of that, normal. So why would we be so foolish as to pretend otherwise, to let them loom, magnified, as the sort of thing we can never name, let alone discuss, with others who are statistically likely to have shared the experience and might even have wisdom to share in how to survive?

I’m trying to be smart about protecting myself from the bone density loss that is typical of many women in menopause, taking supplements and keeping active as my doctors have recommended. As an exercise hater, this one isn’t easy for me. I do keep current with monitoring and treating my depression so that I am sad only what seems to me a pretty normal amount and about pretty average things, not depressed in extreme and unhealthy and perniciously persistent ways as I was before I began finding the right health regimen of counseling and medication to keep me on a better path. I use extra skin moisturizer and the occasional application of hair creme rinse because despite having been an almost magically oily youth (and having had to battle high-grade acne as a result) I do find that in my advancing years I now have fairly dry skin and hair.

The big annoyance that remains for me is that my internal thermostat broke when I turned 40. My body forgot how to regulate its own temperature, so now I can go in a matter of seconds from the freezing Undead-body temp I was so long accustomed to experiencing in pre-menopausal years to the miracle of my torso becoming a microwave oven and right back again in a few minutes. Sometimes many times a day. This fun, for thirteen years and counting. And yet I am not a wreck.

The best defense I’ve found thus far is a simple little device that is a hybrid of that grand old invention, the hot water bottle, and the slightly newer iteration of the athlete’s curative bag of ice, a flat water-filled-sponge-containing rectangular envelope thingy that goes by the euphonious rapper-appropriate name of Chillow (trademark registered) and can be laid across my overheated midriff when I can’t seem to get my inner temperature moderated. It’s no cure, but it helps, and help is far better than misery. Even a good old fashioned accordion-folded fan fluttered southern belle-style beats undue discomfort.

I would never be so self-indulgent or ridiculous to call my sufferings massive or anything nearly as important as those of women who endure the real pain possible with menopause and its related conditions. That would be both silly and hypocritical. I’m average, plain and simple and normal, in this experience, even when I’m not exactly on the middle line of the statistical charts. But I can assure you that if you are heading into menopausal territory or someone you know is on her way, there is a path through this particular jungle and you need not be devoured by the beasts met along the way.

See you on the other side of the [very sweaty] swamp.

digital illustration

If the jungle is ruled by a hippo, is it a hippocracy?

14 thoughts on “In a Very Hot Place

    • Honestly, I think myself very lucky indeed: hot flashes are pretty much the only obvious symptom I’ve had all along, and even those, annoying as they are (and potentially endless, apparently, in my case) have never been of the excruciating severity I’ve heard some describe. Being uncomfortable a handful of times a day/night is a relatively minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things! I guess I should just continue to be extra glad that I currently live in a house with air conditioning!!! 😉

  1. Hi Kathryn,
    47 was the age when the gator bit me. A year later it moved off and decided to terrorise another hapless female. But I do empathise with everything you describe. It was a year of abject misery and when it did leave it left its legacy. But I’m not going to bore you with that.

    As always I adore your illustrations. If I decided to write for small children I’d pick you as the illustrator.

    • You are so sweet, Talia!
      I’m glad that the heat-monster opted to let you go rather quickly. At this rate I’m kind of suspicious that I’ll be one of the lucky lottery winners who get to keep it around for life, but if I have no worse problems than that I should just be mighty grateful!!
      xoxo
      Kath

  2. I’ve always thought it a shame that you can’t control hot flashes and use them when you need them , for example, when it’s 20 below zero. I’m glad you’ve found a way to manage what seems a very long “pause” in your life.

    • Seriously, just think how much of the polar regions could be populated by wonderful women and the people under their protection!!! Heck, I could even have saved my friends in Edmonton so much winter misery! Since I *can’t* seem to harness the power of the heat, I keep hoping I can figure out some neat invention to harness the power of cooling in a way that will alleviate others’ hot-flash trials. 🙂

    • Glad you like my green guy. 😀 (Maybe the emoticon for a croc’s grin should be :E ???)

      As for the personal overheating, if you’re with me on *that*, I can recommend cooling the torso as the quickest way to cool the entire body, whereas with ordinary overheating, say, exercise-driven or summer weather imposed, I’d say cool the head to cool the rest. I use the aforementioned Chillow, though a therapeutic flexible gel pack that can be taken out of the freezer would work fine, too. My older sister had an internal remedy she preferred and I’m sure I wouldn’t find objectionable, as well: “Popsicles. Lots and lots of popsicles.” 😉

  3. I didn’t find it too bad, and am glad to be on the other side of it! I had horrible PMS in my 30’s and 40’s … now mood swings are nothing that a good sleep or a cat purring on my lap can’t cure. 🙂 XO

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