It’s 2am and I’m hot. No, not as in HOT to get busy with that man who sleeps in the same bed as me. (Even though he is rather delicious.) And not HOT as in supermodel strutting down a catwalk HOT DAAAYUUM GIRL YOU ARE ON FIRE WITH YOUR SEXILICIOUS SELF hot either. I’m not #redDress hot for fun and fire, radiating allure and exciting good times…
No. I’m breathless, flustered, sweaty HOT. Kick off the sheets HOT. Get up and stand in front of the air conditioner but still feel it HOT. Splash cold water on my face and neck and still HOT.
WHAT HOT HELL IS THIS?!
And I’m restless. Pulse racing, ants are crawling all over my skin, want to kick somebody – restless. Can’t be still, need to shout and scream – restless. I look at that man who sleeps in the same bed as me and I’m jealous envious of his peaceful slumber. Because if I’m too hot and fidgety to sleep THAN NOBODY SHOULD BE ABLE TO SLEEP DAMMIT. I want to shake him awake. Maybe even kick him. Just a little bit. (But I don’t. I promise. Not intentionally anyway. That would be mean. Sometimes accidentally?)
My hotness is disrupting my sleep every night, so much that I’m no longer the super sweet, loving and calm person that my family knows and adores. As well as being hot, I’m also grouchy, snappy, growly, TIRED and sometimes even weepy. So very unlike my usual self.
(Insert *sounds of my children choking and coughing as they react with disbelief and disdain because according to them, I’ve always been an evil Queen of Moody Hell*.)
Join me in telling them all to shut up. Because I’m hot and I’m sure its somehow their fault? Most of the bad things in my life can be attributed to them after all. My once luxuriant hair falling out in handfuls after pregnancy? Their fault. Hyperemesis too many times, alien babies stripping all the good stuff out of me, giving me more cavities and sad bones? Their fault. Destroying all hopes of a covergirl modelling career with yo-yo skinny and fat phases, and destroying my cleavage because they needed to be fed? Their fault. I could have had abs and glutes like Serena if they didn’t demand so much attention. While I’m on it, forget abs, with all the time and effort those children needed, I could have gone to university at least five more times at least and now be a brain surgeon, a supreme court judge, AND a backup dancer for Beyonce!
But I digress. This isn’t about my children. Or my lifetime of sacrifices on their ungrateful behalf. That’s another blog for another day. Back to my hotness.
I ask Google what’s wrong with me. Some friends. And then a doctor. (Because one should never trust matters of hotness to Google and friends alone. Even though Google and friends can be very wise.)
Turns out that there’s a medical term for my sizzling state. Perimenopause.
According to WebMD, that trove of medical knowledge for everyone who religiously watches Greys Anatomy so we are BASICALLY doctors already, perimenopause is the transition period, the before menopause. Most of us know menopause is when your period stops forever. For some people, approaching menopause makes them sad. Others are like me, eagerly anticipating it. If you’ve had too many children and you’re exhausted by an excess of bleeding in your life, then having your period stop is something to look forward to and celebrate.
BRING IT ON PLEASE.
Problem is, that it’s not like turning off a tap. Your body doesn’t just flip a switch, one day you’re a person with menstrual periods, then BOOM the next day, its all over and you never have to buy a pad/tampon/cup ever again. (Or have a good excuse to eat a bucket of fried chicken and a tub of ice cream.) No, according to the universal law of suffering which decrees that all individuals who have periods, must NEVER have an easy, simple journey in life – the road to actual menopause can drag on for bloody forever. With many stops and starts, spots and surges, drips and drops, and alternating deserts of dryness with rivers of overabundance…
And in my case, nights filled with hotness. Also known as Hot Flashes. Trouble sleeping. Along with mood swings. Fatigue. And some other stuff that I’m not going to mention because one needs to maintain some aura of mystery even as one is blathering on about their biological decline to the entire world.
Because my hardworking ovaries are gradually making less estrogen, several things are happening, and most of them are not fun at all. It would be a mistake to assume though that perimenopause is only about a menstrual period, or that its an unmentionable ‘women’s problem’, that we stick into a discreet brown paper bag of THINGS WE DONT MENTION AT THE TABLE, EVEN THOUGH IT AFFECTS ALMOST EVERYBODY AT THE DAMN TABLE.
Because just like death, it’s inevitable. It’s coming. Whether you like it or not. So let’s talk about it.
Neuroscientist Lisa Musconi gave a fab TED talk about menopause that I recommend everyone with periods should go watch. Or if you’re partnered with a person who has periods then you should watch it too. Because you could end up being kicked awake at 2am by a musu restless resentful person, and you need to understand why they’re musu at you and the world.
Musconi explains that the road to menopause impacts on cognitive health. So what we think is only an ovaries problem, is actually a brain one. “We associate menopause with the ovaries, but when women say that they’re having hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, memory lapses, depression, anxiety, those symptoms don’t start in the ovaries. They start in the brain. Those are neurological symptoms... Our brains and ovaries are part of the neuroendocrine system. As part of the system, the brain talks to the ovaries and the ovaries talk back to the brain, every day of our lives as women. So the health of the ovaries is linked to the health of the brain. And the other way around.
Estrogen is key for energy production in the brain – it pushes neurons to burn glucose to make energy. So if your estrogen is high then your brain energy is high, and vice versa.
Get this – These effects are stronger in specific brain regions, starting with the hypothalamus, which is in charge of regulating body temperature. When estrogen doesn’t activate the hypothalamus correctly, the brain cannot regulate body temperature correctly. So those hot flashes that women get, that’s the hypothalamus. Then there’s the brain stem, in charge of sleep and wake. When estrogen doesn’t activate the brain stem correctly, we have trouble sleeping. Or it’s the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, close to the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain. When estrogen levels ebb in these regions, we start getting mood swings perhaps and forget things.
Who knew?! Not me. Maybe if I hadn’t been so busy grappling with periods and pregnancy (and children) and then more periods and then anemia from excessive periods – I might have had time in my youth to read up about this stuff? It certainly would have helped if they taught us more about it at school. Or church. Or youth group. Or if a doctor told us about it long time before it actually started happening? Or maybe if mothers/grandmothers /assorted aunties talked to us about their hot nights and fatigued days? HELLO!?
Better late than never though. It’s a relief to know that there’s a legit scientific explanation for whats happening with me. I’m not losing my mind. I’m not imagining things. When I feel like I have a raging fever at 2am, it’s because my hypothalamus isn’t regulating my body temperature properly. When my teenager is surly, it’s not because OMG SHE HATES ME AND EVERYONE IN THIS HOUSE IS AGAINST ME AND I CANT TAKE IT ANYMORE AND NOW IM CRYING, BUT WAIT, NO NOW I’M MAD AND I WANT TO FASI SOMEBODY, SHALL I SMASH THIS PLATE ON THE FLOOR? OR COLLAPSE IN A HEAP OF TEARS? No, she’s surly because she’s a teenager and surly is how most teenagers approach the day, it has nothing to do with me. But my amygdala, the emotional center of my brain, is probably playing up due to wonky estrogen levels so the mood ‘swings’ are real. And thats why I really want to swing somebody out the window. Understanding what’s going down in my brain and with my hormones, has been helpful.
It would be nice if perimenopause had a set time duration. I wish a doctor could measure it and tell you – it’s going to last for six weeks and then you’ll be all done. I’d get my red dress ready to party, looking forward to when I’m hot just because HOT DAYUUUM GIRL YOU IS FINE AND BURNING UP! I’d probably be nicer to that man who sleeps in the same bed as me, more patient with those children who live in the same house as me. And I might be kinder to me, the one who’s enduring this roller coaster – because I would know how much longer I had to deal with it.
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive time frame for this stage of life. The average length of perimenopause is four years. (WTF FOUR YEARS OF THIS HELLFIRE?! I’M GONNA BURN THE HOUSE DOWN LONG BEFORE THAT.) But for some lucky people it can only last a few months. Others can drag on much longer, like for five, six, ten years! (If that’s you, then I’m sorry. And I really really hope its not gonna be me.) Officially, perimenopause ends when you haven’t had a menstrual period for twelve months straight.
What can you do about it in the meantime then? So you don’t end up setting the house on fire?
I may be a hot woman, but I’m no expert. And every person’s journey with perimenopause is different. However, here’s what’s helped me so far. What I suggest you do.
1.Talk about it. Ask about it. – I’m in an online writer’s group where several people posted about their experiences with perimenopause. Many others joined in with their stories and questions. The only menopause symptom I knew of before then was ‘hot flashes’ because I’d seen people in the movies talk about them. But they were always having them during the day and it didn’t resemble what was happening to me at night. People talked about insomnia, restless legs and night sweats, and I wanted to shout, HEY ME TOO! It was a relief to find a reason, a name for what I was experiencing, and reassuring to find I wasn’t alone. Sometimes we might think that perimenopause is something only palagi people struggle with. Simply because we’ve never heard any Pasifika people talk about it! Ask your friends, sisters, aunties and online groups. You will be amazed to find just how many others are dealing with perimenopause.
2.See your doctor about it. – We should always see a doctor whenever we notice changes in our menstrual cycle anyway, because there could be other health issues that need checking. But go talk to your doctor about other perimenopause symptoms too. There’s blood tests they can run to find where you’re at. Things they can prescribe to help with certain symptoms. It’s especially important you talk to your doctor if you have early menopause (ie before the age of 40). And you don’t have to wait until you’re a Hot Woman of the Night before asking your doctor about perimenopause. Bug them about it today. Get informed, in advance.
3.Exercise. – Has been a huge help, and not just for the physical benefits. I was training for triathlon and then when Covid19 shutdowns happened, I got some weights at home and started working out regularly. I’ve gotten stronger and fitter, but more importantly, I feel much better. I train every morning and it helps set the mood for my day. Managing my anxiety and sad moods has gotten easier. By strength training, Im also helping to avoid osteoporosis – which can be an increased risk after menopause because a drop in estrogen causes increased bone loss. Find what activity you enjoy, whether its solitary workouts or group exercise – and then add it to your daily life.
4.Eat better. – I don’t know why, but on days where I eat lots of junk, I’ll have a #hotFlashes night of disturbed sleep…so maybe there’s a connection?Because Darren and I are both training regularly, we like to eat foods that help with fuelling our workouts and aiding recovery. So that means lots of protein rich meals, lots of fruit and vegetables, with a focus on eating local produce. Eat better, feel better.
5.Manage your stress better. – Mosconi said that “stress can literally steal your estrogens, and that’s because cortisol, which is the main stress hormone, works in balance with our estrogens. So if cortisol goes up, your estrogens go down. If cortisol goes down, your estrogens go back up.” 2020 has been an awful year so far. A pandemic is stressful! Some days I don’t know if I’m crying/shouting because of perimenopause, or because I’m a horrible person, OR because we’re living through apocalyptic times… What’s helped me is to allow myself to rest more. Many of my deadlines are self-imposed and its hard to relax them, but I’m trying. Lowering my expectations of myself and of those around me. #Chill more. Maybe your thing is meditation. Or yoga. Or dancing. Or spiritual reflection. Find what helps with your stress and do more of that.
6.Find a sleep plan that works for you. – If you’re not sleeping enough, then your days are going to suck. I KNOW! I have a sleep routine now that’s made a big difference. I’ve cut my caffeine intake. I take Melatonin. We go to sleep at the same time every night and I wake up to train at 5.30. ( No more staying up to read until 1am!) I have the air conditioning on full blast and am grateful for this luxury. I’m only having #hot restless episodes once a week now rather than every night, and that’s made my days much better too.
7.Involve your loved ones. – Talk to your partner, your kids, your family about what’s happening. Give them the perimenopause lowdown. So they understand, and so they can prepare for the day when it starts happening to them or to the person they love.
Finally, a story. Since I’ve been researching perimenopause, I’ve been sharing all the info with that patient long-suffering man who lives in the same house as me. “Everyone needs to talk about this stuff,” I say to him. “It shouldn’t be something secret or embarrassing!” And he nods his head and (pretends to?) listen to my ranting.
Then we go to a party. Out of nowhere, he starts telling our table of assorted relatives and their spouses, “Lani’s going through perimenopause! It’s so bad because she cant sleep and then I cant sleep either…and she gets so hot and sweaty even though we have the air conditioner on…and etc….”
I’m horrified. I want to hide under the table.
OMG DONT TELL EVERYONE WHATS HAPPENING TO MY AGED OVARIES! HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?!
At first, nobody can meet my eyes, or maybe it’s more that I can’t look at anyone in the face? Then, his aunty starts sharing about when she went through menopause. How she had felt sad, like it was an ending, a farewell to part of who she was, how she had felt for a time, like less of herself. Another woman talks about her mother’s experience with it, her depression. Then she asks me, “Are you depressed? Is it making you really sad and stressed?” Another wants to know about the hot flashes. And for a while, our whole group is discussing perimenopause. Like it’s a regular dinner party conversation topic. Something that happens to everyone with ovaries. Nothing brown paper bag secret or shameful or embarrassing about it at all.
Which is exactly what I’d been preaching about for awhile. Only its a bit more difficult to actually put it into practise!
Which is when I realise, that man who sleeps in the same bed as me, (who is very delicious) DOES really listen to my rambling. He cares about my Hotness. Worries about my well-being and happiness. Thinks its important for people to talk about perimenopause and everything that goes with it.
(*Here’s where I declare, in case there’s any doubt – that I love this man. Absolutely, utterly adore him. Don’t anybody dare try to steal him. I warn you. I am a Hot Woman of the Night and cannot guarantee you safe from unpredictable bursts of rage. And quite often I do feel like I could spontaneously combust like an angry fire goddess. Burn you to a crisp. Just saying.*)
It’s a blessing to have supportive family and friends to walk with and share with when you go through perimenopause. I hope you all have those people in your life. (Never ever musu-kick them at 2am on a Hot Night from Hell. Not even accidentally.)
I’ve talked to women who have made it out to the other side of perimenopause. They tell me it’s a relief to be done. That they feel empowered and excited about the new stage of their life. They’re taking up new hobbies, changing careers, trying new challenges they were too busy/scared/tired to try before. Some are ragier and louder, they care less about what people think of them. (OhEmGee can you imagine me ragier and louder than I already am?! Awolla….) Some are nicer and more relaxed, they don’t have to fret anymore about small children (or unexpected pregnancy), bloody annoying painful periods and hormone surges from hell, so they’re a kinder, gentler version of themselves. (Yeah, I try to visualise it? but I don’t think that’s gonna be me.)
I don’t know what its going to be like when I’m not a Hot Woman of the Night anymore, but I hope I get there soon. I’m ready to just be the OTHER kind of hot.
#RedDress hot for fun and fire, radiating allure and exciting good times…
Are you going through perimenopause? What’s it been like for you? Any tips to share for what has helped? If you’re on the other side, what’s it like for you?