by Sharon E. Pegues
I started writing this when I was 45 years old. At the time, my hot flashes were minimal, night sweats were a rarity, and mood swings were manageable. I was at that incipient, carefree, little perimenopause stage that lulled me into a false sense of what I thought was going to be a time of graceful, gentle, mid-life biological changes. Back then, I could still sleep through the night in a relatively dry tee shirt. I didn’t have to worry about breaking out in a sweat during the Monday morning staff meeting, or suddenly bursting into tears later that night in the grocery store recalling the embarrassment.
Fast-forward a few years to my late forties. It’s a late April afternoon in the District of
Columbia, 77 degrees, and I've already battled with two hot flashes. Just as I find a seat
on the train to Silver Spring, hot flash number three taps me on the shoulder.
Defiantly, I ignore it and open a book. But this demon is relentless, and now I've made him mad. With his tiny, little blowtorches set on stun, he races up my back, scorches my shoulders, and climbs toward the nape of my neck so fast until all I want to do is get off at the next stop and try to out run him. This can't be his work single-handedly. He's just not that agile. But he is an arrogant little bastard who doesn't like to be ignored, and it
appears he’s rounded up a posse for this attack.
I’ve got to calm down. Panic breeds perspiration. Besides, maybe it’s not me. Looking to my fellow passengers for any sign of perspiration validation, I notice a man seated to my left, wearing some kind of long-sleeved, Rayon-Banlon blend shirt and corduroys – in late April, mind you – and he appears quite comfortable. And why aren’t other women’s bangs pasted to their foreheads? I’m afraid it’s true: This is my Twilight Zone, and I can’t
ignore this devil and his fire-breathing minions anymore. They’ve already taken one casualty - my bangs are dead, drowned in a pool of sweat, pushed back, and buried under a headband I wrestled away from the little girl seated next to me: Look kid, you need to stop crying now. Grow a spine and get over it. When you get home just tell mommy a mean, sweaty woman pulled it right off the back of your head.
After sharing this and an increasing amount of sweat-related stories with my other estrogen-challenged friends, I realized I was not alone. We all had been duped by perimenopause. Yet as apparent as it was that we were at the precipice of full-on menopause, none of us would accept it because technically, we were still in
perimenopause; still menstruating each month, and thereby, at least in our minds, still able to claim a tiny piece of our young womanhood. That box of Tampax we purchased each month was tantamount to the promise of fitting into a size 10 dress again, seriously dating, regular and passionate sex, gym-toned thighs, and other fleeting, sweet remnants of life before chin hairs. But in reality, we were suffering from unsettling memory loss, killer hot flashes, increasing episodes of insomnia, sweat-drenched pajama tops, unexplained tears, and nosey gray hairs popping up in places a bottle of dye was never
meant to touch.
Webster defines the prefix peri as: "Around, about or enclosing." Menopause is simply defined: "The period of cessation of menstruation, occurring usually between the ages of 45 and 50." That means, at my age, I am "around, enclosing or about" to enter the period of menopause, but I’m not there yet. My gynecologist added that there are varying degrees of perimenopause – early to late – and I am definitely in the late phase, but again, not at menopause yet. It’s just not fair that this bitch’s brew of fluctuating hormones leaves me with maybe one good week in every month. Other than that I’m suffering from either PMS or perimenopause, and I’m not sure which one to blame. That means I’m either crying for no apparent reason and bitchy or crying for no apparent reason and forgetful. It means I crave any foods with a 90 % sugar or salt content. At any time during the month I may be bloated, constipated or suffering from low backache pain. I’ve become a wet insomniac. I’m a frequent, twilight pee-er who is too old for the second revival of hip-huggers, but too young for Aunt Alma’s polyester pant suits. And once a month I’m Clearasil-ing a recurring facial zit my co-workers have affectionately named "Little Quasimodo."
My friends and I don't have any spare change for regular Botox injections, face-lifts, tummy-tucks or breast augmentations. Instead we’ve decided to celebrate every new sag, flab, and wrinkle ushered in by "the change." Sometimes over glasses of champagne, sometimes through tears, we each make our peace with menopause, share the absurdity of it, and keep the promise to laugh about it whenever we misplace a thought or whenever
we’re attacked by a hot flash. But we also haven't given up on staying in shape, staving off those menacing night sweats, or one day working our hips into a smaller dress size. Bolstered by a sense of humor, a tremendous appreciation for where and who we are at this exact moment in life, we help each other remember to: take gingko, soy supplements, evening primrose, black cohosh, calcium supplements; drink our herbal teas, practice yoga, walk, run; lift free weights (for tone, definition and to prevent bone loss); keep a bottle of water on our desks and our yearly mammogram appointments. But maybe more important, is that the ladies and I don't panic if we forget to do any of the above because we've learned that most truant thoughts eventually find their way home again. And if they don’t, so what!
So the next time you're all dressed up, hair in place, dry-faced, and a hot flash sneaks up on you, remember my little mantra: Stay calm, this will pass. Panic breeds beads (of sweat). Breathe. Breathe. Panic breeds beads. Breathe. Breathe. Then, take two or three deep, cleansing breaths, and ignore that cute, perky-breasted, twenty-something year-old staring at you in disbelief. Her day is coming, too.
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*The All Vita Northwest Website: http://www.allvita.net/ginkgo_biloba.htm