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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

Danger: holiday baking–Part 1

What are those light-brown dessert squares with the coloured marshmallows in them? I see those a lot during the holidays nestled among the mini brownies, rumballs, and coconut squares that have emerged from someone’s kitchen—proudly and lovingly displayed on a festive plate.

Maybe it’s a combination of cynicism and metabolism but I proceed with caution when approaching a tray of homemade baking.

Name that dessert.

People make all kinds of wonderful things at this time of year but I think for many there’s also a need to bake out of sentimentality and to carry on tradition. As lovely as that inclination is, some traditions don’t belong on a plate, or in a recipe book, or in the mouths of co-workers.

My grandmother was a fan of the Jell-O mold. She had several varieties and many a diced pear hung suspended in a ring of red or green Jell-O like some cryogenics experiment. It had a special place in the middle of the dining room table. When my grandmother sliced through the Jell-O with a spoon it would make a sucking sound and then it would shiver silently after she plopped it into a bowl. For that extra fancy touch there was always whipped cream in a spray can. This is a Christmas tradition that should remain a memory. Times and tastes change.

When I was a kid my grandmother also made loads of mincemeat tarts. My parents’ generation loved them. I was having none of it. Nothing good can come of something described with the words “minced” and “meat.” I hold onto that belief.

My grandmother made trifle too which was a highlight for the older generation.  She put it in a raised glass bowl—the one our cat wanted to sleep in when it was empty. It stood like a multi-tiered statue of sponge, custard and cream above everything else on the table. I still don’t understand the appeal.

ubiquitous Jell-O

When friends or co-workers share their family bakes it’s usually chockablock full of mystery concoctions, like the light-brown things with the fruity marshmallows.

At my last job I would wait until I was alone with the day’s tray of baking before plucking something from it that I hoped didn’t contain coconut or molasses or have a weird sandy texture. By taste testing when no one was around, I could slip over to the garbage can and discreetly tuck it under a napkin. Perhaps it makes me a horrible person but if the baker doesn’t know, where is the harm?

When you hit middle age you have to be selective about the indulgences you partake in. Butter and sugar stick to my thighs like S’mores stick to my chin. There are no free calories so I can’t afford  to eat something I wish I hadn’t and have it take up permanent residency on my upper arms. When I was younger sneezing was enough exercise but now a lemon square means an hour at the gym.

It’s not just home bakes, chocolates can be fraught with danger too. My grandmother always got a box of Pot of Gold when I was growing up. Are they still around?

They all looked tempting but inevitably I’d bite into some coffee-flavoured nightmare and almost have a seizure. I swear the coffee chocolates accounted for half the box while another third was made up of those rock-hard caramels.

I’d chew those caramels like a dog eating peanut butter, drool dripping down the front of my dress, until it was bedtime and the caramel had to be extracted from my teeth and discarded. I don’t know if I actually ever managed to ingest one.

The only chocolates I really liked were the ones with the pink goo, I think it was “strawberry.” I had to bite into a lot of coffee before finding one of those.

In the meantime, my grandmother spent part of each day collecting the chocolates I had ditched with a bite missing or spit out and reassembled. They were subtly left under the lip of a plate, next to a plant, or behind the TV. My grandmother would confront me waving a saliva-covered candy, the chocolate partially melted from the heat of my tongue. I would briefly consider blaming one of the dogs, but I knew she wouldn’t buy it, our black lab would have eaten the whole thing. Instead I would say I was full and that I was saving it for later.

Then I’d hope and pray Santa Claus didn’t have time to unload my presents from his sleigh after I lied and made my grandmother “cross” again.

I would hope to confirm my place on the nice list when I went to bed on Christmas Eve. I was adamant Santa would get only the best: Chips Ahoy. Timeless.

If you’re a fan of vintage recipes, give these a look:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelwmiller/truly-horrifying-vintage-holiday-recipes

http://www.smosh.com/smosh-pit/articles/8-christmas-foods-are-straight-gross

The psycho-killer in the attic

 
I don’t consider myself paranoid. I guess paranoid people don’t know they’re paranoid—that’s kind of a key element of paranoia—but I stand by my analysis of myself anyway. I will concede I sometimes have an active imagination though.

Not to sound paranoid, but apparently perimenopause can cause a little bit of neurosis in the form of paranoia—just something to be vigilant about. It makes me wonder how the world is not full of middle-aged women bringing decoy sandwiches to work in case some shifty colleague goes about tampering with lunches, indiscriminately dabbing arsenic between pieces of bread. It could happen. And if it did we’d all wonder why we thought it was ever a good idea to share a fridge with a bunch of stressed out people we don’t really know all that well. I bet if you gave it some thought, you could imagine who the potential sandwich poisoner is at your work. If no one comes to mind, it’s probably you.

When I was a kid I used to watch the six o’clock news. As I remember it, the TV news was full of warnings about murderers and kid snatchers. My nerves were given a slight reprieve when weatherman CFTO-TV’s Dave Devall would appear behind a clear piece of acrylic, writing backwards and drawing raindrops with a giant grease pencil. Even a major storm was “happy news” compared to the chaos, death and destruction of the top stories.

I was convinced I would be murdered pretty much every evening as I crawled, reluctantly, into bed. I used to lie there with the covers over my head to create the illusion of a lumpy mattress with no one on it. I could hear what sounded like an army marching toward me and I would wait to be snatched. It took years to realize I was listening to the sound of my own heart pounding.

I’ve outgrown all of that of course—I’m middle-aged, so let’s hope so—and I avoid the triggers that freak me out. I stay away from documentaries about deranged killers who have never been caught, especially the ones with re-enactments where the narrator says things like, “Jessica walked through the dark parking lot after her shift at the café. It was October 17th and the lights in the lot were out; it was discovered later rocks had been thrown at the bulbs. Meanwhile, her boyfriend waited outside her house. He wanted to congratulate her on her upcoming graduation. He sat in his car for an hour and when she didn’t arrive he went home. The next morning, the cafe manager noticed her car was still in the parking lot. The beads from the key chain her sister had made her at summer camp were scattered nearby…”

The problem with these shows, besides the horror, is that I then walk around for days with the narrator’s voice in my head. In that calm, factual tone he describes everything I’m doing.  “Laura went outside to get the empty recycling box on a dark evening in November. Her husband Tony typically took care of that but he was away. She carried the box down the driveway and through the wooden gate into the backyard.” It’s at this point where the narrator’s voice starts describing a grim future: “The following morning a neighbour noticed the compost container was still on the curb and rolled it down the driveway. He noticed the wooden gate was broken, the recycling box was upside down in the garden and the bird feeder had been ripped from the hook. Her cat was in the window yowling. The front door of the house had been left open but Laura was nowhere to be found. Her coat and keys hung near the front door…”

It’s at this juncture in the narrative that my fear escalates to the point where I’m running blindly down the driveway, swinging the recycling box like a weapon, my heart ready to burst through my chest.

The news still gets to me sometimes but I do my best to be both rational and cautious. This is a balance all girls and women attempt throughout their lives. For the most part, I have overwhelming terror under control.

Tony went to a conference recently and I planned my days around the luxury of not having to share a bathroom or a TV. I went out for the afternoon to visit friends for lunch and then returned home near dinnertime. When I walked through the door I noticed one of the bags of Halloween-sized cheese sticks, still in a bowl by the front door, was missing. I may have many failings but I do have strong observational skills. When it comes to how many bags of cheese sticks are left after Halloween I’m like Rain Man.

Exhibit A

I thought it was odd, so I was on high alert after that. Later, I went into the bathroom upstairs and the toilet lid was up! I NEVER LEAVE IT UP. And I’m the only one home.

So now it’s not just a missing bag of cheese sticks. This is a real scenario.

Someone had been in the house or someone was still in the house. There was proof.

But I couldn’t call the police and say, “There’s a bag of cheese sticks missing and the toilet seat lid is up, get over here! Hurry!”

So I tried to ignore the killer and convince myself he wasn’t hiding in the attic. I sat in the living room with the TV on and the volume muted so that I could hear him if he started heading down the stairs.

What I had established about the killer was that he’s sloppy. He doesn’t pay attention to detail or else he would have put the toilet lid down, or maybe he did it on purpose to play with my head. He also has an affection for junk food—none of the kiwis was missing. It appears he forgot to go to the washroom before he left his house, or maybe he’s the nervous-type, maybe this is his first attempt at murder.

My best bet for survival was to outsmart him. The advantage I had was that he didn’t know that I knew that he was in the house. What I didn’t know was whether or not he heard me come in.

There was no way I would be able to go to bed until the murderer issue was resolved. I crept upstairs and stood at the door of the attic and listened. I thought I heard the floor creak but maybe not. Maybe he was listening for me.

The light switch is located on the outside of the door and it was turned off. I knew the minute I turned it on I would lose the element of surprise. I would have to move quickly. My skin felt prickly and my mouth was dry.

I didn’t think to bring a weapon and it was too late to go back downstairs now, I couldn’t risk making a noise and have him ambush me from behind. So I picked up the bag of kitty litter. My cat is diabetic so he pees a lot and it was a big bag of litter. I figured if I hit him hard enough I might knock him out or at least stun him. The bag was open too, so some of the litter would potentially fly out, and if it hit him in the eye the moisture would cause the little grains to clump together and it might seal his eyes shut.

I stood there holding the bag outside the door and psyched myself up before I flicked the light on, threw open the door and raced up the stairs. As I hit the landing I expected to see a hairy man with an evil smirk standing on the top step.

This is Eugene, Sophie’s cactus.

I ran straight up and the attic was perfectly still and peaceful. The only other living thing was Sophie’s cactus.

Turns out Sophie and her friend Anissa had stopped by to pick something up. My enquiries about who took cheese sticks and who used the washroom probably made me sound a little OCD. Which I am not. Except when I get halfway down our street and have to go back to the house to make sure the flat iron is turned off. And then I have to go back again to double check. So, maybe a little.

But I am definitely not paranoid.

A change is gonna come

 
I’ve been getting my period for 36 years. It’s a regular inconvenience that I’ve come to expect every time I go on vacation or I’m about to do something I think is important and need all the self confidence I can muster.

I was 10 when my grandmother sat me down to explain the facts of life. For such a big thing as life there weren’t many facts. We sat across from each other at the yellow Formica kitchen table and she waved a big pad around. She stressed how lucky I was to get to wear one of these sticky things. In her day they had to wash out rags and later wear some belted contraption I still can’t visualize.

The talk lasted about three-and-a-half minutes, not unlike my first sexual experiences. I had no idea what she meant by any of it so I asked Steven, one of the kids down the street. We were the same age but he knew everything. When he explained tampons I was skeptical and a bit nauseous but I didn’t question his authority. He was right about all of it.

I had one more year of freedom before the burden of surprise periods at school and cramps that made me want to die became a staple of my teen and early adult years. It still appears on cue but weird stuff is happening to my body again. It’s all very ominous.

I wake up at four a.m. I don’t know why, I just do. And when I do, I’m sweaty like I’ve just run a marathon through Ethiopia during a hot spell.

I feel like I’m premenstrual all the time. There’s a two-day window where I don’t want to kill anyone. Instead of killing people I lick the salt off of potato chips and try to satisfy sweet cravings by roasting marshmallows over the electric burner on my stove.

My hands look like they’ve been switched out. I have old lady hands all of a sudden. My skin is all papery and the blue veins kind of bulge underneath.

Of course I’ve heard of menopause but I was less familiar with perimenopause which is the big lead up to menopause. It’s like the opening monologue to the Oscars— a bit ridiculous and torturously long. The idea of no longer having periods is appealing but you have to get through so much crap to get to it.

I Googled perimenopause and scrolled through a list of symptoms as long as a King’s Buffet takeout menu. The menopause transition phase can last eight to 10 years so there’s plenty of time to sample all the symptoms. I regularly get the bloating, sleeplessness and night sweats with a side of anxiety or depression. But who knows what I have to look forward to in the coming months and years. I know a lot of women who are hot-flashers. I don’t mean naked women in trench coats that give unsuspecting pedestrians an eyeful. I mean they suddenly turn red and wander around pulling their collars away from their necks as they sweat profusely and fan themselves with their hands. I’m hoping to dodge that one. I’ll take my profuse sweat in private at 4 a.m., thank you very much.

By the time I get half way through my perimenopause literature, I’m moody, exhausted, and all I want to do is stand over the kitchen sink with a tube of sour cream and onion Pringles. And that’s the cruelty of it all. I could eat Doritos for breakfast when I was 23 and didn’t need to. Now when I need to my pants get tighter if I so much as walk down the chip aisle at the grocery store. I have to eat healthy now. Now. When I’m prone to anxiety and depression. I see other women my age who seem to handle life like Cirque du Soleil acrobats, smooth and graceful, while I go through life like a cat falling from window blinds.

I don’t feel any more prepared for the changes to my body than I did when I was 10. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.