Saturday, September 17, 2011

Is it hot in here, or is it just me?

Can we really talk -- about something not a whole lot of people want to talk about, unless you happen to be my age and horrified about some of the ways your life is changing?

Let's put it this way: If men went through menopause, Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline would produce a synthetic remedy for it faster than you could say, "Make sure all major insurers cover that -- with no co-pay."

Because, to be honest, menopause is not for the faint of heart. It makes sense that it comes along when women are in their mid-40s to mid-50s, given that when it was first made a part of our biological code, women didn't live that long.

Now, 50 is the new 30, or something to that effect. And if it turns out that I do have a few decades of life left, I'm really happy about that. But I'm also afraid I'm going to spend it sweating and crying.

You see, that's largely what I do now -- I sweat, and I cry. Sometimes, those things occur simultaneously. Often, they happen in the middle of the night. Here's how that works: I wake up because I'm hot, or I wake up because I've been hot, and the searing hot flash has resulted in shaking chills.

I go downstairs and turn on the TV, and along comes a commercial or a "very special episode" of an old sitcom. So I'm not sleeping, and I'm sweating, and I'm crying. And -- yay! -- I have to be up in a few hours to go to work, where people are counting on me to be astute and creative. Oh, and non-sweaty. And awake.

Really, what is this? I know it's normal, but really, how necessary are these symptoms? Wouldn't it be enough for nature to send a more subtle signal to tell us, "Oh, by the way -- you can't have babies anymore"?

That's the one good thing about this. Not that I don't like babies; I love babies. But my own babies are 23 and 20, and that's just how I like it. I have a ton of respect for women who choose to have babies later in life; that's just not something that interests me. So: 87,000 negative side effects; one positive one. I see how this works.

The last time I saw my physician -- a woman in her 50s who has surely seen all of this from the front lines -- she confirmed that my estrogen levels were tanking. After listening to me whine about my symptoms, she gave me a list of ideas, ranging from "do nothing" (she clearly doesn't know me) to "take an antidepressant." (Whoa -- overkill. I'm not depressed. I'm pretty darned happy, except when I'm crying or sweating.)

We settled on a compromise -- an eensy little bit of hormone replacement, which I'd take for as short a time as possible to get me over the hump.

(Note: I've read all the warnings about estrogen, and I respect anyone who's chosen to tough out this mess without it. But this is how I reasoned my decision: I have two kids in college. I need to make money. I work a lot, and thus, I need to sleep. My family history is somewhat of a crap shoot: cancer on one side, heart disease on the other. So I hope that when it comes to risk factors, my dad's side of the family steps up and declares itself the genetic winner, as estrogen can help bolster heart health in older women.)

So here I am, 11 months into my tiny little blue pills. They replace only a fraction of the estrogen that's evaporating out of me, and at first, they seemed to help. But I think they've outlived their benefit, and I don't want to increase my dosage, so here I am again, wondering what to do.

I've heard mixed reports on herbal and other natural remedies, as well as bio-identical hormones. I've heard that regular, vigorous exercise can help. (Sorry -- wiping away tears of mirth!) I've also heard -- and I fully believe -- that a positive attitude can make a difference. So for now, I'm choosing to laugh my way through the caricature that I've become.

That's the best way to describe myself right now -- a caricature of a middle-aged woman. The kind you'd see in a comic strip or an old Carol Burnett skit. Think I'm being too harsh? Here are some menopause-behaviors I've exhibited in just the last week.

  • You've already heard about the sweating. Sorry I can't let this one go, but you have no idea how strange it is for me to sweat. I've never been a sweater, even on those rare occasions when I've chosen to exert myself physically. You know it's been unseasonably cold here all week, right? Don't ask my internal thermostat. It was 50-some degrees on Friday, and I wore Capri pants to work.
  • You've already heard about the crying, but today, it climbed to a whole new level. I attended Drake University's Sweetheart Sing to watch my daughter perform. The event was benefiting the Kids' Cancer Connection, and a mom whose little girl is a cancer survivor stood up to speak. Just a few minutes into her talk, the man next to me -- a stranger -- was asking me if I was OK and offering me tissues. This wasn't the dab-at-your-wet-eyes kind of crying; it was full-on, sob-caught-in-throat, running-nose crying. And in a public place, and wearing a silk blouse, and I absolutely could not make it stop.
  • I can't stand noise, especially repetitive noise. I've read that this, for some women, is a side effect. My husband was watching a televised football game one night this week, when he finally turned off the TV, I thought I would weep from the sheer relief of the absence of sound. Noise especially makes me want to climb out of my skin in the early mornings, when others feel the need to communicate with me by means other than sign language.
  • Completing normal chores is sometimes just out of the question. For instance, I need to go downstairs and switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer, but even thinking of that task is just too daunting. Instead, perhaps I'll have a cookie.
I think of the guys I know, and if these things were happening to them, forget it. My husband is personally offended when symptoms of a cold choose to afflict him. What would happen if his stomach fat seemed to increase by 74 pounds overnight and he felt the need to weep openly when waited on by a kind lady at the dry cleaner?

I don't know what the answer is. There's actually a lot I like about being my age -- the feeling of being comfortable in my own skin, so to speak, and the willingness to speak my mind and share the wisdom that life experience has given me. I laugh more, and I hug more, and I read and write more. And I've heard older women say that once you're through menopause, you experience a resurgence of well-being and energy.

I'll wait for that. In the meantime, through, if Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline does come up with that magic pill, I'll be lining up at my local pharmacy faster than you can say, "I don't care if insurance makes me pay for it myself."

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