I’m a bit under the weather today with what seems to be a fairly nasty head cold compounded by a lack of sleep caused by the cold. It’s a two-fold cold: that of being sick, and that which is caused by our window which has to be open lest one of us sweat to death in the night. Being under said weather puts me in a less than joyful mood and left to consider all the more pleasant aspects of my life — like menopause.
Just seeing the word on the page can cause a number of reactions depending on one’s particular set of circumstances:
- You’re female and under 30 so menopause can’t possibly have anything to do with you. In fact, the concept of one grey hair or chin whisker may have recently sent you to near hysteria;
- You’re male, and anything having to do with the female body that isn’t about cleavage, thighs, or hot sex may as well be written in a language unknown to man. That would be a male, and not mankind in general;
- You’re a menopausal woman and because you’re on a first name basis with menopause, reading about it most likely isn’t the first item of the day with your usual Venti Soy Decaf Latte, thank you very much; or
- You’re married to a menopausal woman and unlike awaiting the bouncing bundle of joy which is the result of a healthy pregnancy, you suspect absolutely nothing that cute could possibly come of this.
From time to time, I Google menopause just to see what comes up and it’s dismal. I suppose this behavior makes me Glutton for Punishment’s poster child, but it seems to be part of my two-year and counting adjustment to aging. Most of the initial hits are for sites selling or promoting HRT drugs. The others are large medical sites like the Mayo Clinic and WebMD and although basic information can be found on all of these sites, they essentially say the same thing: hot flashes are normal; we’re at greater risk for joint pain and osteoporosis; our skin will become more dry and less elastic; our midsections will increase in size; our muscles begin to disappear, our hair will thin in some places and grow in others less desirable; we will have difficulty with our teeth and gums; and most importantly — we will be at far greater risk for heart disease.
The good news is that regular exercise, improved diet, and reduced stress can lessen the effects of all of the above. By all means, let the happy dancing begin.
Let’s break this down, shall we?
Symptoms: They’re more severe and longer in duration for those of us with surgically induced menopause. It’s been nearly two and a half years for me, and there is absolutely no end in sight for this aspect of my menopausal experience. My face actually stings before the heat creeps from the back of my shoulders and neck around to the area below my chin. My heart races, but the jury is still out on whether this particular delightful feature happens at the onset of a hot flash, or afterwards. A light chaser of sweat is a weak attempt to cool me down.
Attempts to Alleviate: There is some indication that when I take my first drink of coffee, wine, or bite of spicy food that a hot flash immediately follows, but it’s not consistent. For example right now. I’m minding my own business, sitting on my Swiss Ball while pecking at my keyboard and lo and behold, the stinging is creeping down my upper arms, curving inward across my back and up my spine to my crown and around to my forehead. Sadly, there’s not a cup of coffee, glass of wine, or spicy bite of food in sight. Suffice it to say that because of these inconsistencies and personal love of all three items, I’ve given up worrying about it. I open the window I close the window. I kick off my slippers, I put them back on. I peel off my sweatshirt, I yank it back on. Occasionally, I do all three at the same time. Video of this could be entertaining.
With respect to exercise, I’m proud to say that I exercise more now than I did 10 or even 15 years ago. Hell, 20 years ago. It can be inconsistent for any number of reasons other than my being glued to my Mac most days, but I do use small weights, do use my ball for a variety of core strengthening exercises, and walk during the week. What I need is a routine I can commit to instead of my sporadic half-assed spark of the moment get it done before I forget type of exercise. You’d think having a career which required strict routines would make this easy for me, but I seem to have developed a proclivity for stubbornly persistent rebellion when it comes to routines now.
Conclusion: I still have hot flashes. You know how they say to keep your enemies close? Well, my hot flashes and I are up close and personal throughout the day.
Joint Pain and Osteoporosis
Symptoms: Scarily, this was noticeable right after the hot flashes began, and predominantly in my knees, ankles, and arms. Even now I deal with sore hip joints after sitting on this ball for a time. And after exercising? Ooooo-eeee! Sore. But I have been that way most of my life. My mother’s always had aches and pains, so as much as I’ve inherited semi-wrinkle free skin and a freakish ability to tolerate intense pain, I end up with sore everything when I exercise.
Attempts to Alleviate: I was given 800 mg. of horse-sized calcium tablets to take every day but like my exercise, I sporadically take it. I’m much better at making sure that dark green leafy veggies, milk and cheese are routinely in my diet and I enjoy eating those items much more than I do chewable tablets. Glucosamine, MSM and Chondroitin has also helped as long as I take it consistently. Consistently would be the key word there.
As far as the exercising goes, I don’t get as sore as I used to, but there’s still a distinct difference — especially when I walk up and down stairs. I’d like to think that because my 1-1/2 year old shoes with oodles of miles on them are just not protecting my knees the way they should and that I need a new pair, but I’d be kidding myself. Sure it can help, but I’m staring “use it or lose it” right in the face.
Conclusion: Line the ugly bottles up where I can see them every single morning and tape a shock value image right over the top of them. Then maybe I’ll consistently take my pills.
Symptoms: Flaking, peeling, cracking, itchy, crepe-like. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Summer or winter — it makes no difference.
Attempts to Alleviate: I’ve always been a lotion fanatic, so I keep lotion in my purse, on the kitchen counter, next to my Mac — in most places I spend time. I do have some that smell lovely and although that’s great, I go for the industrial strength stuff and slather it on. It goes on first thing in the morning, after I wash my hands during the day, and before I go to bed. It’s a bit like basting a chicken. Our water here is very hard and has a tendency to leave skin feeling parched, so having some oil for the shower or bath also helps. Water that isn’t too hot or showers and baths that are too long is really important, too. I’ve never been one to linger in a shower nor have I ever had the patience to soak in a bathtub so I’ve got this covered.
Conclusion: No soaking and stay lubed up!
Symptoms: The tape measure shows bigger numbers. Your pants fit differently — tight around the waist and loose in the butt which is completely rude when you’ve spent your life completely the other way around. The layer of pudge isn’t just a soft covering of the lower tummy like after you had children — it’s more like a turtle’s shell and extends from right beneath the breasts to just above the pubic bone. It’s a challenge to suck in and if your posture is excellent, a side view gives you a somewhat flat look instead of the curving or angled silhouette you used to have. You know, the one that sported faint impressions of a rib cage, abdominal muscles, and perhaps hip bones. It’s dreadful and more than anything, it makes me feel like I’m a completely different person. This semi-appendage makes it a challenge to paint my toenails and shave my legs, it escapes description when I’m laying on my side at night and happen to run into it with and elbow or a thigh trying to get comfortable. I hate it.
Attempts to alleviate: Hence the walking, the weights, the exercises, the stability ball. Unfortunately, my cooking, wine consumption, baking, and inconsistency in exercising isn’t doing much to help aforementioned appendage. This is no smirking matter because if you couple this midsection problem with my age and statistics that say heart disease is the second highest killer of women over 55, then something’s gotta give. Waking up at night with my heart racing and the subsequent paranoia about having a heart attack when my legs haven’t been shaved in a week and my toenail polish is grown out horrifies me. And then there’s the issue of leaving my husband to take care of this house and our son; neither of them knows how my kitchen cupboards work, or where I keep things like scissors or tape. They’d have trouble without me.
Conclusion: Sadly, I’ve decided to give up my white wine. I’ll drink red instead, and because I don’t love it, I’ll drink less. Much less, which is a very good thing. And then maybe I’ll also get some sleep, and my hot flashes will fade, and…*sigh* maybe I’ll even lose some weight and with it, the appendage on the front of my abdomen.
The sad news after knowing all of this is that my tolerance level for discomfort and pain is abnormal. I come from a long line of women who just suck it up. For some reason, it’s been genetically programmed into us to deal with it, to not call out Uncle, to grin and bear it like it’s some kind of freakish competition. I’m not all that good at the grinning aspect of it, however. I sort of bitch and moan about other, unrelated things as a way to release anxiety, like whether there are ugly pill bottles on my pretty counter or dust balls on my shiny floor. Unfortunately, I’m not fooling myself.
So for those of you who managed to make it all the way through this, congratulations. It’s just the tip of the iceberg that is my particular brand of middle age for women. And if you’re one who has read this thinking I’m completely downtrodden by menopause, think again. I don’t like it, but I didn’t like menstruation, either.
I swear that in my next life, I’m getting in line for man parts.
p.s. If you’re interested in learning more about menopause, I actually found something new from The North American Menopause Society.