In the Heat of Midlife

by Karen Batchelor of MidLife’s A Trip

Peri-menopause was the first stop on my midlife trip.  It rolled in when I was about 45.  I remember visiting my doctor because I was having night sweats.  I told him I was in menopause.

Knowing me as he does (I’m a doctor’s daughter), he took my astute “diagnosis” with a slight roll of the eyes and a smile.  Somewhat smug, he assured me that it was far too early for me to be in menopause.  To pacify me, though, he took some tests.  My estrogen was on the floor!

I take no pride in being right on this point.  Menopause for me was hell.  And it really felt that way.  I was hot all the time.  Day, night, it made no difference.  I was just hot–not as in “boy is she hot” but as in sweaty and uncomfortable.  If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about.

Let’s view the anatomy of a hot flash.  Haven’t had one yet?  Thank your lucky stars because they are the pits.  Just picture me as a match and somebody struck me.  I remember so many times where I was literally on fire from the waist up.  Never understood it but that’s the mystique of menopause.  Strange symptoms, weird feelings–anxiety as the adrenaline surged through me during each hot flash as if I had just run a marathon.

One day, being the quasi-analytical person that I am, I did a scientific experiment during a hot flash.  Beats just sitting there on fire.  The memory is so clear.  I was in my apartment looking out at the Detroit River with a thermometer in my mouth as the flash grew in intensity.  That’s menopause slang for “put the hose on me, please”.

As beads of sweat started to pop up out my forehead, arms and other places north of my waist–I kept the thermometer under my tongue sure that the heat in me would register on the little glass stick.  I waited minutes–which seemed like eternity–for the hot flash to pass and then slipped on my reading glasses to check the tiny little numbers sure to register the fire within.  Analytics to hell and back–my temp was normal.

Now being in the heat of menopause wouldn’t be complete without a discussion about night sweats.  A night sweat is basically a hot flash that hits while you’re sleeping.  Here’s the drill.  Wake up in the middle of the night in a panic.  Nothing’s wrong but your adrenaline tells you there is.

As you move up from deep sleep into consciousness you realize you’re cold.  Wake up a little more and you realize the reason you’re cold is that you are lying between 2 drenching wet sheets in sopping wet nightclothes.  I–who sweats very little unless extreme exercise is involved–was amazed at the amount of sweat I could produce during a single night sweat.  Buckets, I’m telling you.  Just buckets.

Part of the time I was in menopause I was married to my second husband, Charles.  The second.  I can only say that it must have been a during a menopausal fog–yet another symptom–that I married a second husband with the same name as my first.  I know–crazy isn’t it.  Not to worry though–my family won’t even let me talk to men whose names begin with “C” anymore–except my son.  Charles.

I digress though.  What I wanted to share is how to handle having night sweats while sleeping with someone.  There’s an art form to extricating yourself from the wet sheets, going to change, coming back and making a sandwich of dry towels in the bed so you can slip in and go to sleep again without changing the linens and waking the person on the other side of the bed.  I did it successfully.  Later though, the night sweats passed and so did the second Charles.

Now I proud to say I’m “post”.  Yes I’ve done the purge of the cabinet under the bathroom sink, gleefully throwing away boxes of Kotex and Tampons forever.  And now is it over, you ask?  Well I wish I could say that’s the case.  I mean didn’t you think that menopause had a beginning and an end.  I know I did.

But I can’t lie.  The hot flashes still come — infrequently though.  Over the more than 10 years since that first flash, I’ve tried everything from estrogen (natural and synthetic) to an exotic Peruvian herb.  And I’m here to tell you that there’s only one sure remedy I’ve found for flashing.  And you can take this to the bank:

  1. Go into the kitchen.
  2. Open your freezer door.
  3. Stick your head in (this works so much better when the freezer is on the top or side!)
  4. Let the cold air drift out–especially over your neck.
  5. Stand there until the flash passes–which is pretty quick.
  6. Close the freezer door and think “damn, that midlife blogger was right”.

If you’ve discovered another way to fight hot flashes, please share because a lot of our midlife sisterhood are still looking for ways to survive the heat of midlife.

Signed — One Hot Mama, still.

  • http://www.chilitechnology.com/ Jennifer

    I use one of these ChiliPad It’s a bed chiller! It’s a mattress pad that is cooled with water, and you can set it on a timer for different temperatures (anywhere down to 46 degrees!) and you can also get a dual zone one that sets different temperatures for each side of the bed. Comes with a remote control which is great when I’m groggy and don’t want to get up to change the temp. I too refuse to go on HRT, and having a drug-free mechanical solution to the problem has been a life-saver for me. ALSO – I got fewer hot flashes during the day because of getting a full night of sleep.

  • http://midlifebloggers.com byjane

    Thanks, Lesley. Glad you’re reading our blog because we’re reading your magazine. There’s a bit of synergy going, isn’t there!

  • http://more.com Lesley Seymour

    Hi Guys: Am enjoying your ideas and talk a lot. I’m the new Editor in Chief of More magazine and we actually have a 14 page peri-menopause handbook in the Oct. issue which goes into all of this–though i think you’ve got some personal stories that I wish we had room for. But I’m in peri myself and could find no comprehensive information on it. So that’s why we did it. It will be out in a few weeks. See what you think. Great blog. I’ll keep reading

    • http://www.midlifesatrip.com karenb

      Lesley–

      Congrats on doing the handbook on peri-menopause. When I went through there was one really good book–much read by me and very dog-earred. Women need as many resources as possible for this part of the journey through midlife. Hope you’ll consider a post-meno guide too because there are a lot of issues associated with that part of life that no one really talks about!

      Karen

  • http://vintagemommy.com Vintage Mommy

    I’m so embarassed to admit this, but I went through the night sweats when I was so young that it never occurred to me it was menopause related. Then we adopted our daughter and I just stopped thinking about it at all.

    Now at 50, my period is long gone, though I still do have the occasional “hot moment” (night and day).

    For me, menopause was relatively kind and I’m grateful. Maybe it was because I had a brand-new baby and my hormones got confused!!

    • http://www.midlifesatrip.com karenb

      Vintage Mommy–

      Isn’t it interesting to think that maybe our hormones can get “distracted” by other things in life? My sister was 49 when she adopted my niece and her symptoms are much milder than mine were. We do call her “Meno Mom” though.

      I’m always glad to hear from women who’ve had an easy menopause. It gives hope that this part of midlife doesn’t have to be a pain.

      Karen

  • http://gettheetoapoet.blogspot.com RiverPoet

    I started having hot flashes 2 years ago, at the age of 44. I had a partial hysterectomy at age 41 and the doctor warned that my ovaries could start shutting down early in response to the surgery. For me, there is nothing more uncomfortable than waking up in damp sheets. Ugh!

    A good friend of mine had a little trick she used for hot flashes, particularly when they hit her while we were having lunch. She put an ice cube on her wrist. It seemed to short-circuit the hot flash and get her more comfortable quickly.

    Peace – D

    • http://www.midlifesatrip.com karenb

      RiverPost–

      I hope your flashes are starting to fade away. 44 is so early to start! Everyone who flashing–do the ice cube experiment and share results. I’m trying!

      Karen

  • http://www.midlifesatrip.com karenb

    Ellen–

    I used to put a towel by the bed during the worse of my night sweats. But maybe you won’t get them. Let me know how the freezer works for you

    Karen

  • http://www.girlsgardenofmenopause.com/ Ellen

    I’m 49 and I’ve had on-off flashes for a couple of years and I usually get one or two a night that wake me up just to annoy me. So now I have drench-the-bedclothes sweats to look forward to? Bleah. Maybe I’ll start sleeping on a towel as a preventative measure.

    And now I’m having a hot flash just thinking about the night sweats. Guess I’d better be off to the freezer.

  • http://www.midlifesatrip.com karenb

    Allison–

    I’ve tried Black cohosh too–it does minimize the flashing. And you’re right–Just Call Me Henry-is a hoot! Being able to laugh at menopause symptoms is great medicine, in and of itself. Thanks for the link!

    Karen

  • http://www.womenbloom.com/blog/ Allison

    Ugh, thankfully these flashes of which you speak have not yet hit me, but I will file away for future reference. Two things…

    I just had a friend whose house I am sitting while she summers elsewhere, to pick up something called Remifemin to deal with her hot flashes. It’s over the counter, black cohosh is its main ingredient. Just a suggestion as it works for her like nothing else.

    Then, if you’re not finished laughing, or still need a laugh, about this subject, one of our WomenBloom members wrote an hiLARious essay about her experience called Just Call Me Henry, as in referring to the car. Overheating. http://womenbloom.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=95&Itemid=55

  • http://midlifebloggers.com byjane

    Soy is good for flashes as well. I pretty much drink soymilk (bean juice!) in my coffee and cereal exclusively, and my flashes are down a lot.

    • http://www.midlifesatrip.com karenb

      Jane–

      I’ve heard about soy as a remedy too. But someone told me that soy messes with the synthetic thyroid hormone I take. If you don’t have thyroid issues though, soy is a great natural remedy.

      Anyone else finding that soy helps with hot flashes?

      Karen

      • kabeda

        After a lumpectomy, chemo and radiation, I was told to avoid soy, because it will feed tumors.

  • http://www.midlifesatrip.com karenb

    msmeta–

    WOW–I didn’t know about the value of Celexa for hot flashes! I’ll ask my doc about it. He’s used to my never-ending questions. I know that my flashes were probably aggravated by my thyroid hormones being out of whack after having that little bugger removed 3 years ago and going on synthetics. My sense is that it’s all connected. I know that wine gives me flashes still. I only have it occasionally and things are better. Maybe Celexa could take me into flash remission. Thanks for sharing this.

    Karen

  • http://metafootnotes.wordpress.com msmeta

    One word: Celexa. (An anti-depressant. I take 20 mg.) I didn’t have any idea how effective it was against hot flashes until I went off it for a few days. Wow. I was depressed — and sweaty! Good luck, girl.

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