Wednesday, August 12, 2009

4 a.m. hot flashes: lessons from Jan & the Borg

At 4 a.m. a hot flash awakened me from a deep sleep.

I threw off the covers, fanned my all-cotton T-shirt I sleep in, and got a drink of water. When I laid back down again, it still seemed my internal temperature from the top of my head to my chest was approximately a thousand degrees. After trying to get back to sleep and sweating in my bed for 40 minutes, kicking off the covers, then pulling them up and kicking them off again, I realized that it was futile. This is one of those not-so-rare nights when I don't get enough sleep. Menopause is not for the faint-hearted.

Back in my thirties when I coordinated events at an independent bookstore, I worked with Jan, the savvy, smart and absolutely fun book buyer. Jan is a bit older than me, and she was experiencing the joys of menopause during the time we worked together.

I'm one of those women who has been too cold her entire life. When greeting a new acquaintance with a handshake, the person almost always commented on how cold my hand was. When Jan mentioned how uncomfortable her hot flashes were, I replied that it actually sounded nice. Maybe I would finally be warm enough. No more sweaters in July or wearing socks to bed in August.

Jan smiled knowingly and said, "Nice? No. It's not like that. At all."

She was too kind to say, "You just wait. Hot flashes will make you miserable during the day. You'll be so uncomfortably hot at work that you'll wish you had a private office so you could strip down to your bra. And you'll wake up in the middle of the night to find your nightgown so soaked with sweat that you'll have to change your pajamas in the dark. You'll toss and turn, and finally get up because, to paraphrase the Borg from Star Trek TNG: Sleeping is futile."

I threw in that Star Trek: The Next Generation reference because both Jan are I are Trekkies, and she so would have said that if she wasn't so kind. (At the bookstore we threw a Star Trek/Star Wars Galactic Gala and I rented Star Trek uniforms for our entire crew--er staff. It's still one of my favorite Jan memories.)

When I'm hot flashing in the wee hours, I sometimes pull out my laptop and work. Or I write. Or read whatever book is on the top of the stack on my nightstand. I've even gone down to the basement and thrown in a load of laundry. One time at 4 a.m. I'd already done two loads of laundry and then organized the laundry room. Why waste the time and sudden burst of energy?

My gorgeous daughter is 20. She is thin and always cold, even in August. She wears hoody sweatshirts to bed and drags all the extra blankets in the house upstairs, piles them onto her bed and builds herself a cozy nest to sleep in. Just looking at her thick stack of blankets makes me sweat.

I remember when I, too, was cold. The solution was to put on a sweatshirt and then I'd be warm. But when you're too warm and have already removed every piece of clothing that's acceptable to remove in polite society, you run into a problem.

I still go to bed with socks on because my feet are cold. But sometime in the middle of the night--without waking up--I yank the socks from my feet and fling them across the room. Then I throw off my covers, panting "Hot! Hot!" And it begins again.

The effects of menopause are inescapable. Again, to quote the Borg: Resistance is futile.

The next time I'm suffering a hot flash, I must remind myself that this moment of discomfort is my badge of honor as I dance toward 50. Thanks for sharing this middle-of-the-night dance with me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dancing Toward 50: The Beginning Steps

When I turned 26, I cried. I recall feeling hopelessly old, the best years of my life behind me. I worked for an international non-profit organization, had spent two months living in London, and had just had a nonfiction book published. Heady stuff for a girl practically straight from the farm. I also weighed 105 pounds and had a tiny black miniskirt and spike heels. Ah, those were the days.

Twenty-six was nearly half my lifetime ago. I should have worn that black miniskirt every day. If only we could know at 26 what our lives would be at 49. But it's better that we can't see what's around that curve in the road.

So here I am, 159 days away from turning 50. It's a much bigger deal than the 26th birthday. I was a first-time mom with a collicky baby at 30, so hardly had time to shower, let alone consider my mortality. When I turned 40 I was a busy working mom/soccer mom/ballet mom and barely looked up long enough to realize that another decade had passed.

When I turned 49 in January, I felt the weight of 50 pressing down on me, a neon light blinking "She's turning 50!"--as sure as the hot flashes that make me throw off my covers in the middle of the night. Suddenly I felt as if I had been so busy taking care of everybody else, that I'd completely forgotten to take care of me--and now I'm definitely middle age.

Since my 26th birthday, I have:
  • been a supportive wife
  • raised two fantastic children
  • eaten more excellent chocolate than I care to admit
  • gained 75+ pounds (see the chocolate entry above)
  • watched a parent die of lung cancer, helped my sister through breast cancer, and dealt with my own skin cancer
  • owned my own business for five years--and lost it
  • written hundreds of press releases
  • traveled the Pacific Northwest and the West, mostly via camping
  • have watched journalism (my profession) and the world--change dramatically
  • read dozens and dozens of novels--and wished I'd finish writing one

I still work in nonprofit communications, and spend my days writing press releases, Web text and learning how to communicate with 21st century tools like Twitter, Facebook and blogs. But looking 50 straight in the eye made me realize that I've spent my life writing words that were for my livelihood, not for my own edification.

I began to feel that I was careening wildly out of control toward 50--and it wasn't pretty. I began making a list of "50 things to do before I reach 50." Some things are enormous things. Like finally finish writing a novel. Some things are smaller baby steps, like drink more water instead of Diet Pepsi. Some are tiny things, but new things I'm just learning to do, like sitting on the porch drinking an iced tea and enjoying my lavender hedge.

Since turning 49, I've done some new things just for me. And I've come to see that I've had a great 49 years, but so many exciting adventures lie ahead. On my computers at work and at home, I have a photo of a gorgeous Greek village as my wallpaper. Since turning 49:

I joined a book group
I am spending more time with friends
I am learning to let the laundry wait if I can have some fun instead
today I finally started a blog--for me and other women embarking on 50
and someday I am going to Greece!

So if you dare, join me on this journey...this dance toward 50. Let's dance together!