Falling for perimenopause

My friend Janice says going through menopause is just going back to the person you were before puberty.

It’s a nice idea. I think most of us have fond memories of the time before bras and maxi pads. Of course, the bras get more important every day but the idea of being free to wear light colours every day, if the spirit moves me, is a nice one. I like the idea of not having cramps or headaches or bloating or unfettered rage.

I loved being 10 years old. I had all the freedom I needed, I had mastered diving from a diving board, I didn’t know it was possible to be self conscious in a bathing suit, and I had a fabulous red 10-speed bike. I remember being perfectly content and having no interest in turning 11.

But before I was 10, there was a year when it seemed I couldn’t stay upright. I don’t know how old I was, 8 maybe, but I remember falling constantly. One minute I was running, the next I was watching the pavement rise up to meet my face. I had enough scabs on my elbows and knees and so much road burn on my palms that summer a call should have been made to the Guinness Book of World Records people.

Ski falling rather than stair falling.

I’d rather not go back to that version of myself but I fear it’s where I’m headed. Lately, I’ve had a habit of wiping out, especially on stairs.

This past weekend I fell down the very hard stairs at a sports complex. One minute I was walking the next minute I was thumping down on my heinie, my right leg stretched out behind me as if I were practicing the splits. Had I had the wherewithal to raise my hands to the sky and smile broadly I think the bystanders at the bottom would have applauded.

That’s not how it went. My head was thrown back and I remember some vague flashes of ceiling lights, my arms were over my head but also thumping down the stairs.

I remember thinking, “What’s happening?” then “I’m falling,” then, “Ow,” then “where the hell is my leg going?” then, “I need to stop,” and finally “I’m not stopping, just give into it.”

I tried to relax and went down the last few steps like a big piece of putty in a red coat.

I lay there at the bottom like a slug. My right leg still three stairs higher up than the rest of me.

Tony stood in front of me and leaned over me to ask if I was OK. I tried to tell him I needed to get my leg down but couldn’t get the words out. So I just stared back and yanked at my leg until it was below me instead of above me. I felt as though I might vomit or faint for a minute so I sat on the wet step and waited.

As I sat there, an older woman and her middle-aged daughter made a big fuss about having to reach over me to get to the railing to climb the stairs.

If it wasn’t so painful I might have been embarrassed. Or maybe, because I’ve left anything resembling dignity behind in so many places since puberty I’m less prone to mortification.

If I am to look on the bright side, maybe we do get back to some version of our young selves only we get to go back with the wisdom and attitude only middle age can give us.

But if my future involves going back to my past, I better drink a lot of milk.






When tights are not tight

I’ve never been one for “casual Fridays.”

The idea that if someone deals with you on Thursday they get the professional version but if they deal with you on Friday they get the almost-Saturday-one-foot-out-the-door you, makes no sense to me.

For some employees maybe it’s considered a perk. Maybe somehow it’s less stressful to wear jeans and a sweatshirt than a skirt and blouse to work. Even if that’s the case, as perks go, I think this one is lame.

When I worked as a journalist I always tried to look like I was well-groomed and professional. There were times reporters from other cities would swoop in looking like they just rolled out of bed and were still wearing a pyjama top. It always shocked me. I couldn’t imagine facing the world like that. We had a dress code anyway so I would never have gotten away with it.

Having said that, there were a few days when I was having a casual Friday no one was privy to.

It was winter and I was covering a big announcement at the local hospital. I was wearing a skirt and heavy winter tights and moving through the crowd interviewing key people in the lobby when my tights began a slow and agonizing descent.

Normally, that’s not unusual. By about 10 a.m. gravity routinely worked its magic on the crotch of my tights. The waistband stayed put while the crotch sagged and sagged until it resembled a hammock between two trees.

There’s no graceful way to yank the crotch of your tights back up, though there are different methods. Leg out, grab a fistful of tights and pull then follow up with the other leg, or the tug and squat.

When I was a kid we used to get those pantyhose that came in the cardboard package. When they were unfurled they were about six inches long and daunting. I rarely got them on without my finger poking through.

My cousin Jenny used to tie the ankles to her bed post, grab the waistband and run as far as she could before she was yanked back. They looked like what I imagined the legs of a tanned 86-year-old would look like in a bikini—thin yet flabby.

I would have been relieved if the only problem I was having with my tights that day was a droopy crotch.  Somewhere between the presentation and an interview with the hospital CEO the waistband gave out. With each step I could feel my tights shimmy lower. I had hoped my hips would keep them up so I stood with my hip jutting out like I was carrying a toddler.

All that was keeping them from hitting the floor was the elasticity on the legs and abdomen. All I could think about was that there was a very good chance I might trip on my tights on the way out. I put my coat on carefully to give me enough cover to get to the parking lot.

By the time I got outside the blown elastic was below by butt, forcing me to walk like I had been at the hospital seeking treatment for poison ivy on my nether regions.

By the time I got to my car my tights were at my knees. I was so mad I pushed the seat back, ripped my boots off, tore my tights off, and then flung them into the back seat.

It was cold but at least I had my dignity. Casual Fridays? Pshaw.


Is it me or is it hot in here?

If you sweat all night, does that count as a workout?

Because the way things have been going lately, I should be down to about 98 pounds. I’m not, so maybe I’ve answered my own question. I can’t blame anything on water retention, that’s for sure.

When my cat MacFee wakes me up between three and four in the morning it’s like waking up in a waterbed with a leak. When I was a kid I used to flip my pillow over in the summer to sleep on the cool side. Now I flip my pillow over to sleep on the dry side.

What is happening? Infants are made up of about 75% water, adults average about 60%. I’d like to see a study done on perimenopausal women. I’m guessing the average is about 15.2%.

I spend my days attempting to rehydrate. I’m considering investing in an intravenous contraption because I don’t have time to drink water out of buckets. Also, I like a tea bag and caffeine in my water.

It’s getting to the point when one day Tony is going to pull back the blankets to wake me and find my dusty skeleton looking like an ancient Egyptian, perfectly preserved in the dry desert sand, my leathery skin stretched over my bones.

If that’s not bad enough, I’m forever paranoid—another symptom of perimenopause—about getting hot flashes. I’ve seen them. They’re not exactly flashes. Flashes are over quickly. They’re more like echoing screams.

The women in the book club I belong to terrify me. They’re not serial killers or anything—some of them are teachers though—but they are about a decade ahead of me and encompass the full range of perimenopausal/menopausal experience.

I’ve witnessed some of them practically burst into flames when there’s a hormonal shift. It’s like hot magma is running through their veins and without warning they erupt, their faces red like molten lava.  Then, as if their own bodies are trying to extinguish the fire, beads of sweat bubble up to save them from certain death. Aren’t our bodies amazing?

I wonder if women who spend a lot of time together synchronize hot flashes. Do they text each other with messages like, “Did you get a hot flash about 10 minutes ago? If you did I should be getting mine any minute now.”

This is the place I fear. I don’t like to be hot. I associate feeling hot with being sick. I firmly believe if men went through perimenopause there would be a pill by now.

As it stands, the recommendations to deal with night sweats are either obvious or depressing. Healthline.com suggests turning down the thermostat and wearing loose and light clothing to bed. I guess I’ll ditch the snow pants and woolen hat then.

The website recommends avoiding triggers like caffeine—and how does one get through the day after tossing and turning all night? Another trigger is alcohol, but for some perimenopusal women wine is relaxation therapy, which is necessary because stress is a trigger too. So avoid that.

There are a few natural food supplements often recommended as possible help. This might be especially pertinent for stomach sleepers who are at greatest risk for drowning. Something called black cohosh comes up in Google searches a lot. It’s supposed to help, if it doesn’t cause “digestive distress, abnormal bleeding and blood clots.” Sounds good.

Apparently primrose supplements can help control hot flashes. It may cause nausea and diarrhea but at least you won’t be hot.

Personally, I’m sticking with wine and Cheezies. I know it doesn’t work but at least it doesn’t cause “digestive stress,” which sounds ghastly, and the science may be out but in my home experiments they’re proven mood boosters.



A splash of colour

There are few things more satisfying than applying that first swath of paint across a wall with a big roller. I felt that joy last week as I transformed a blue-grey room into one with sunny yellow walls and bright white trim.

I love painting a room but something happens to me around paint. Maybe it’s the effect of the fumes or maybe it’s my impatience to see my vision realized, but it rarely goes smoothly.

Applying painters’ tape takes forever so I cut a corner or two and laid it down around the floorboards, but nowhere else. Halfway around the room, I started to tear longer and longer strips from the dwindling green roll of tape. Then the furnace kicked on and the slight breeze from the register caused the tape to flutter like a kite tail in a tornado. Eventually the twisted tape stopped flapping when it stuck to itself. Enough of that.  Half the room was done, and I was running out of tape, so I figured I would just pull it up and reuse it.

I started with the walls—a big empty canvas. I rolled the paint on and watched the instant magic as one wall after another went from blue to yellow. I stood back to admire my own work, bent down to put the roller back in the tray, and hit the wall with my bum leaving two prints in the fresh paint.

As I moved from wall to wall I pulled a drop cloth with the paint can, rollers, brushes, and the tray around the room like Linus with his blanket. Drops of paint somehow ended up under the drop cloth and as I pulled it, paint streaked across the hardwood floor that Tony had just refinished. It looked like a CSI crime scene under black light: white and yellow splotches streaked across the floor.

I walked around the room using the bottom of my fuzzy sock like a Swiffer to clean it up before it dried. As the bottom of my sock became saturated I spread more paint across the floor. So I took the sock off, turned it over, and used the clean part to wipe up the rest.

After the walls were done, I moved on to the trim. It’s a smaller area, so it should be a quick job. What could possibly go wrong? I still had one clean sock on my foot and I was brimming with enthusiasm.

Pulling the tape off is another satisfying moment during any painting job. I pulled a long piece off the floor, and held it up like a string of pearls I won at a Sotheby’s auction. Then the furnace kicked on again. The end of the tape, covered in white paint, quivered manically, hitting the wall and then, once again, it flew up and became attached to itself.

I moved on to the door. I dragged the drop cloth over, leaving more splatter on the floor until it looked like a Jackson Pollock for Beginners art class had just finished.

I painted one side of the door, including the strip of door that meets the wall. A short time later I left the room and when I came back I noticed a stripe of white paint on dark wood on the opposite side of the door.

This would take some scrubbing. Good thing I still had another sock.

It was a long day but the room is sunny yellow with white trim. Just don’t ask about the floors. I’m going shopping for a carpet.

Why I hate camping: Part 1

I’d like to say it was a near-death experience that turned me against camping but that wouldn’t be entirely true.

I did almost suffocate due to a malfunction or user error—the jury’s out on that—in a Boler trailer, but I hated camping long before the camper was towed up our driveway and then parked temporarily in our backyard. We (my grandparents, my father, and me) travelled to the east coast and back with that overgrown chestnut behind us.

My grandmother emerging from the Boler while I try to keep my dignity armed with a hair brush.

My grandfather loved that thing. He was mesmerized by the genius of each part of the trailer doubling as something else—the kitchen table folded down to a double bed, the “couch” back and seat could be converted into bunk beds. Brilliant.

After that trip through the Maritimes, the Boler was not parked at the curb with a “Best Offer” sign attached to the door.

Instead it was moved to a sliver of dirt under some pine trees at a campground called Ponderosa (I’ll let you imagine it) in the little town of Mount Albert.

My father dropped out of the group and remained in Toronto, leaving the three of us to enjoy the relaxation of camping. I was promoted to the bottom bunk in his absence, so after a thorough check of the inside of my sleeping bag with a flashlight—always check the seams, that’s where earwigs hide—I climbed into the bottom bunk.

I was roused from sleep with a smack in the face and a mouth of vinyl as my body was thrown, then pinned against the wall.

My lips were tingling as I tried to figure out what kind of wild animal tasted like vinyl. As I started to come out of the too-much-fresh-air fog I was in it occurred to me I was being attacked by a Mount Albert thug in a faux-leather jacket. As I tried to kick my legs I realized I was trapped under the top bunk, which had swung back to its daytime resting place as the back of the “couch.”

I couldn’t move my arms, so like any sane 15-year-old girl, I started to panic and scream. My voice was virtually silenced by layers of factory-made and wildly unnatural fabrics—vinyl, foam, plastic, some kind of woven, wool-like material.

The humiliation of being suffocated by a synthetic bench while camping was too much. I tried wriggling like a claustrophobic caterpillar having second thoughts about the chrysalis phase.

I tried to rock my body against the bunk and after what seemed like 15 minutes, I managed to wake up my grandparents from their slumber on the dining room table. The bunk was lifted off me and as my grandparents stared down at me in their pajamas I yelled at the top of my lungs, “I could have died!”

I argued that the stupid trailer wasn’t safe and we should pack immediately so we could leave in the morning and go back to civilization.

My grandmother was the undisputed family health and safety expert. She could predict death, loss of limbs or other disastrous outcomes in any given scenario from swimming immediately after lunch (cramps and drowning) to neglecting to eat fruit (horrible bowel ailments).

Yet, I had almost died under that bunk and she couldn’t see the risk. She told me to settle down, stop being so dramatic, and go back to sleep as she climbed back onto her dining room table/bed.

And that’s what camping does to people. It turns them reckless and wild.

Have you seen my glasses?

My age lingers in the recesses of my brain, so much so that at times I really have to think about how old I am. I try doing the math: “What year was I born? What year is this?” Perhaps it’s self-preservation to forget certain numbers but it’s more likely to do with my estrogen levels going up and down like my patience.

All it takes to lose my train of thought is something small. Our cats have become like furry chalkboard erasers. When they walk past me, anything I’ve been contemplating is suddenly wiped away. There is nothing left but a cloud of white dust—the only evidence there was anything there in the first place, but like writing on a chalkboard, irretrievable.

The Healthline website says that during perimenopause, “memory issues” are “normal” and a “general fogginess is common.” I’m not sure I would describe it as a general fogginess so much as a Mount Everest whiteout.

Case in point: the amount of time I spend looking for my glasses has gone up by at least 82% in the last two years. Sometimes they’re on my head and other times they’re actually on my face. I can’t find the glasses I’m looking through, the glasses that improve my vision. Can’t see them anywhere!

There they are!

Sometimes I forget what I’m looking for mid-search. Sometimes I find something I lost the week before. Yay!

I was at a friend’s fiftieth birthday celebration recently; we played a Downton Abbey-type murder mystery. It didn’t take too long to crack the murder part of the evening but where the hell I left my glasses was another matter. It took a grid search to find them.

The worst instance of my cognitive failures so far happened this fall when I forgot my friend Kathryn’s birthday. Totally forgot. It was in October and I didn’t realize it until December. I associate her birthday with Thanksgiving because it usually falls on the same weekend. I remembered to eat turkey but forgot to eat birthday cake. I love cake but not even that was enough to ignite a small birthday-candle flame in my brain.

I’ve known Kathryn for 15 years. Shouldn’t her birthday be tightly affixed to some synapsis somewhere in my skull? Like so many of my thoughts these days they seem to be free floating and difficult to nail down.

When I finally did realize that I forgot her birthday, I wondered if in fact I had remembered but that I had forgotten that I had remembered. That’s how crazy this foggy memory business can be.

I wracked my brain to see if I could recall some shopping expedition in which I bought her something fabulous, but it was like staring into a black hole. There was nothing fabulous in it.

It’s not like I have kids and a busy career at the moment. There’s really nothing to blame it on other than crap biology.

The introvert in me that wants to spend time hiding behind the shower curtain at parties—I know that’s creepy which is why I don’t do it—is intensified by my inability to remember names. When I get introduced to people at parties their names are shaken free from my brain as soon as we release hands. I’m tempted to just start calling men Steve or Mike. Chances are good there will be one in the room somewhere.

The only really good thing about the “memory issues” associated with perimenopause is that social miscues or errors that I would normally worry about all day are simply forgotten. No effort. Just gone. Poof. It’s almost like losing your conscience but not quite.

These days I feel like everything requires my utmost concentration, like Superman when he’s using his x-ray vision. If I’m not hyper diligent, all is lost.

I have ideas for this blog at 1 o’clock in the morning. Because I don’t want to get out of bed and write the idea down, I say it over and over to myself until I think it’s locked in. Despite the mental rehearsals, when I get up,  I don’t remember I had an idea, or I remember I had an idea but don’t remember what it was.

I tried keeping a pen and Post-its on my nightstand for a while, just in case. But I would get an idea, fumble around on my nightstand patting everything with my palm—books, an empty Kleenex box, aspirin—and then hear the pen fall behind the nightstand. I would spend the next 15 minutes fuming about the pen. Thanks to the joys of hormonal fluctuations I also have trouble sleeping, so swearing under my breath about a pen does nothing to send me on my way to a peaceful slumber.

On the nights when I’ve been successful locating both the pen and the Post-its I end up writing one sentence over another in the dark and can’t make it out in the morning anyway. Or I forget I wrote down an idea in the first place.

If I stop posting on this blog you should assume I have, a) forgotten where I live, b) become immersed in the search for Post-it notes or my glasses or my cat or my keys, or c) I have forgotten I have a blog.

Should I remain silent for too long, do come looking for me.

What is Christmas without inconvenience?

He’s bigger than he looks on TV!

It just isn’t Christmas if a stranger in a mall fails to bash the back of my knee with the corner of a cardboard box. It’s a nice way to remember this tender part of my body, which goes virtually ignored until it’s throbbing and bruised at Christmas time.

That hasn’t happened this year. It’s a tradition I miss. Sure it makes me cranky, put-upon, and indignant but that’s all part of the season. It’s the war wounds of shopping that prove your love and devotion to friends and family. Presents are always best when there’s a story behind them.

When my cousin Jenny and I were really small we wanted Ernie and Bert puppets for Christmas. They were hot Christmas toys for all the wee Sesame Street fans in 1973. We probably intended to ask Santa Claus for them; I don’t remember if I was brave enough to squeak out a word while perched atop his formidable knee. My grandparents and my aunt and uncle scoured every store to find those puppets. They had the added pressure of having to get a hold of four instead of just two.

My aunt, Julie, relayed the dramatic story on more than one occasion when I was a teenager. They had all but given up, every store had sold out and they had tried everywhere. It was December 23 and they had come up empty. A gentle snow had started to fall when my aunt ventured out to Canadian Tire for something else entirely. And there they were. On one of the end shelves two Ernies and two Berts peered out from their boxes. She grabbed them, clutched them to her chest, and marched straight to the checkout, completely abandoning her initial mission. Had anyone tried to take those puppets from her they would have been hospitalized.

In our respective houses, Jenny and I woke up to Ernie and Bert under the tree. Christmas was saved. Add a messed-up but loving family, an unrequited love story, one sibling struggling to make ends meet and another on the verge of divorce, all going home for Christmas and you’ve got yourself a modern Christmas movie.

Me, Ernie, and definitely not Bert.

In recent years, I’ve spent Christmas in New York City, which is so festive at this time of year. All of the communal traditions are alive and well. There are outdoor Christmas markets, Christmas shows at Radio City Music Hall, and fantastic window decorations at Macy’s, Tiffany’s and other retailers.

Christmas display windows used to be a big deal in Toronto too. A trip downtown was a must to see the Santa Claus parade, and the window displays at Simpsons and Eaton’s. The window displays are long gone, as are Simpsons and Eaton’s.

I am beginning to resent the way the world is changing without my consent. And each time I do I think of my grandparents or my dad waxing poetic about past Christmas traditions—lugging home the tree which one of the dogs would immediately pee on, overloading plugs and blowing fuses, getting an orange in the toe of a stocking, and of course those window displays.

For my grandmother, Isabel, the early Christmases she celebrated after arriving here from Liverpool shaped future festivities. One of her fondest yet sad memories was of her grandmother almost setting the house on fire as she attempted to navigate a narrow doorway while carrying a fiery Christmas pudding. That tradition came to an abrupt end after that first year in Canada.

I have traditions I enjoy, some of them relatively new like watching Love Actually while sipping on Bailey’s-infused hot chocolate or going to the Kitchener Symphony’s Yuletide Spectacular; some of my traditions are old like watching A Charlie Brown Christmas or listening to carols while decorating the tree.

But there were others I didn’t realize I had until now as they all but disappear. When I pull into the mall parking lot, it’s not as hard to find a parking space. I may not get a close one but I don’t have to follow someone walking through the lot to their space and annoy people behind me as I wait, with my signal on, for that person to load the trunk, get in, put on their seat belt, adjust the radio, and finally slowly back out, turn the wheel too late, and complete an eight-point turn before clearing the space.

The crowds aren’t what they used to be because online shopping is more convenient.  I don’t want convenient. I want memories and tradition, even if they’re unpleasant in the moment. So much of what we do is solitary now. There’s something magnificent about being out in a crowd of people preparing to celebrate and make the most of their traditions as I do the same. That commonality between strangers in public places has become more rare.

And there they are! Magic.

Tony shops online whenever he can which means we have a daily parade of Purolater, Canpar, UPS and Canada Post trucks stopping in front of our house. Some of the drivers don’t care if we get the package. They knock, drop it on the porch and I watch them climb back into the truck and pull away, without so much as a glance, as I retrieve the box. Maybe the Christmas stories of the future will be about thwarting thieves from stealing our packages.

I’m reluctant to get into the whole online shopping business. You never really know what’s going to show up on your doorstep. Tony bought his oldest daughter Meghan a human skull—not a real one, he doesn’t shop on those sites—for photography. The seller said it was human size, and it would be if humans were the same size as cats. I guess it could be sent back but it just seems like more hassle than it’s worth.

I like to pick things up and examine them. I like to take a free sample of tea or chocolate from the stores that dole them out. And I’m willing to come home with the back of my knee throbbing because I love my family and friends. This is what I’m willing to do for them at Christmas so that the funny socks match, the arms on the sweater are the same length, and the cowbell for Tony’s drum kit isn’t more of a mousebell.

I’ll take my pre-Christmas stress at the mall or downtown shops instead of on my doorstep. When I sit down to drink that cup of boozy hot chocolate it will taste extra scrummy because I know what I bought is human size, it will be under the tree and not in a shipping warehouse, and it may, if I’m lucky, come with a great story.