Hot Flashes, Menopause, and Dysautonomia

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For many years, I’ve wondered what it was going to be like to have the heat intolerance of dysautonomia, and the hot flashes of menopause. Well, now I know.  It’s like nothing else.  If you’ve ever been too close to a bonfire, and felt like  you were going to spontaneously combust, that’s close… but the fire is inside of you. You can’t move away from it.  It takes away the ability to focus on anything else.  It is all-consuming.  And, thankfully, it only lasts for 15-30 seconds, hence the ‘flash’ label.   By the time I get to the thermostat to set it on ‘freezer burn’, it’s over.  Then it’s back to the ‘normal’ heat intolerance of dysautonomia. I’ve had the AC on since January (in the middle of one of the coldest and snowiest winters we’ve ever had).  Now it’s summer, and the hot flashes are part of daily life.

Some other little treats I hadn’t expected with peri-menopause are nausea (literally like morning sickness, with no particular pattern), memory lapses (that go along with some leftover chemo-brain, and make me wonder if I’m becoming demented, but then remember that people who really are demented don’t wonder about it much), and changes in body odor.  Make that a stench that one expects amongst cross-country runners in the Sahara that have never had the luxury of showers or antiperspirant.  It’s awful.  Like I can smell myself, and it’s a combo of nasty pits, a landfill, and chunky, sour milk all wrapped into one.  Hormones, the articles say.  It’s all about shifting hormones.

I’d noticed some odd chin hairs for a while, and have a pretty good system for plucking… magnifying mirror, flashlight, reading glasses, and primo tweezers. Not a problem.  Or so I thought.  After the family Christmas party last year, I found one that was about an inch long (did I mention the vision changes that start pretty much on the 40th birthday?  I turned 50 last November, so my close-up vision is toast). I wonder how many family members saw it, and wondered if I was going ‘continental’.   I figured that was a hormonal thing.  But the nausea caught me off guard.  Fortunately, it does get better with some saltines and nausea meds.  The memory stuff is annoying, but I really don’t have to remember a lot, and the stuff I do have to remember, I write down.  The stink is manageable, but still annoying.  But the hot flashes?  They are “special”.  While I know in my head that it’s gonna be over soon, it’s intense for those few seconds. I keep wondering if I’m gonna leave charred areas on my recliner.

The dog seems to know when the hot flashes are going on, and she wants to get up on my lap with her hot furry self, and lie down on me.  😦   She’s been quickly pushed off of me  a few times, giving me a look of disgust.  I just want any exposed skin to have full advantage of the air conditioner when the flashes hit.  She can come back when it’s over.

The hot flashes happen several times a day, but not often enough to get any soy pills marketed for peri-menopausal women (I worry about side effects and interactions with my mandatory medications).  I keep telling myself that there’s a tradeoff for not having to ride the cotton pony every month.  I’ve been lulled into a false sense of “No Aunt Flo”, only to see her again three months since the last visit.  NO real warning, besides a day of boob aches, and then BOOM.  She’s back.  I’ll be glad when it’s all done, but have heard that sometimes the symptoms of menopause can be gone for years, and come back when someone is in their 70s and 80s.  Seriously? I might be 75 years old, and be wracked with a fogging stench and waves of blistering heat, whilst my friends are in their rockers, with an extra  lap robe and sweater on, and long-gone senses of smell?  I’ll be the odd duck, I’m pretty sure of that.   No point in thinking that I’ll turn ‘normal’ as time goes on…. that hasn’t panned out so far.  If anything, the dysautonomia is getting consistently worse (starting with the chemo).  Oh, bother.

Well, the wonder of those hot flashes is over.  I’m pretty sure they’d be awful with or without dysautonomia.  Seems like most women have them, with or without night sweats (knock on laminate, I don’t have those).  I don’t remember how long this is supposed to last… and in some ways, I guess it’s good that it’s started, so it can get on and be done with.  Until then, my thermostat is shifted more often than undies full of fire ants.  And with as much urgency.

The Beginning of Aging. I Think.

It may have started a while back, but I wasn’t paying attention.  I know that the battle with gravity started precisely on my 40th birthday.  My boobs began sleeping under my armpits, and my chins started fighting for real estate on my neck.  It’s not pretty.  I have managed to avoid wrinkles, which is good- but I have this visual of waking up one morning and looking like a shar pei that got stuck in a bag of prunes.  I’m hoping to make it the next 13 months until I turn 50 without too much drama.  I’m just getting used to the stuff that has already started.  There should be a manual.  “The Idiots Guide to Aging”…..something.

My ability to read without glasses is long gone, and now I fuddle around with trying to be sure I don’t jump to a higher level of magnification of reading glasses too soon, thus making my eyes older or something.  I just want to be able to read the microfilm print in the phone book, and get through the grocery store knowing what I’m buying.  It would be sad to get bath oil to make salad dressing.  When I get desperate, I wear two pairs of glasses at the same time, especially for the phone book. I say it’s a conspiracy to make us all just stop calling people or places. Apple is probably trying to get us all to rely on Siri. That bothers me.  I don’t want to talk to inanimate objects at my age.  I could get put away in some place with ‘Shady’ or ‘Acres’ in its name.  I’m too young for AARP, but I’m plenty old enough for the nuthouse.

Sneezing and coughing hard have become interesting attempts to keep all ‘spraying’ contained to a tissue, but I’m finding that there are other parts that also spray mildly when agitated.  I’ve tried Kegel’s, but nada. They can’t help one of those allergy sneezes designed to clear pollen from the last three years. Nope. I can still sneeze a ‘normal’ sneeze without needing hipwaders, but I’m wondering if those days are numbered.

Something I am enjoying about getting older is not having to worry about the mean girls.  Nobody cares if I go to the grocery store in lavender shorts and a green shirt.  I try to ‘match’, but if I’m getting close to laundry day, and choices are limited, I don’t lose sleep over it. If it’s clean, it ‘matches’.  Nobody cares if my car is 14 years old.  Or if my tennis shoes are from K-mart circa 2002.  It’s all a non-issue.  And that is nice.  I never really cared anyway, but it’s nice not to have any petty condescension to avoid.  Bah.

My memory is pretty good. I can describe the floor plan of the place I lived when I was 2 years old.  Don’t ask me what I did this morning.  I’ve also got the added bonus of chemobrain from 19 months of chemotherapy for leukemia.  They say that can make a person fuzzy for a while.  I’m kind of fuzzy. That is probably the correct term. I’m not demented yet, and I’m pretty sharp in most areas of my life, but there are cobwebs.

I got to shave my head and not worry about what people think of it.  I don’t have to look at it, and it’s helpful for my weird heat intolerance (and I haven’t hit menopause yet).  I’m going to see a surgeon about some cysts on my scalp, and don’t want to look like I have mange, so had the cosmetologist mow it down. One of the other cosmetologists was sweeping the fallen hair; he looked at me and said “Girl, we could make a fur coat out of this”…. precisely the problem. It’s hot.  I may never let my hair grow back.  I’m old enough that nobody cares.

I’ll be glad when I’m through menopause, but I haven’t even started yet.  I’ve already got a major problem with heat. Hot flashes could be a bit dicey.  I’ve served my time riding the cotton pony.  I’m tired of Aunt Flow visiting.

I’ve debated how to deal with chin and lip hairs. Pluck, shave, or rip off with goo that sticks to the surrounding skin as well.  Right now, I can get away with plucking, provided I check on things with the right strength of reading glasses. I had one hair on my inner arm hit an inch long before I even knew it was there.  That’s a little embarrassing when I think about how long it might have been waving in the breeze before I tweezed it to death.

Overall, I’m surviving getting older. Senescence.  The process we’ll all face.  It’s interesting at times, and since I spent years working as a nursing home RN, I know what could be coming.  I’m lucky. Physically,  I’m already a train wreck on a good day, but so far, I can’t say that getting older is making life anything but better, at least mentally. The ‘little’ things really don’t matter. The big things are more appreciated. The ‘medium’ things are a sign that I’m still moving along.  Aging isn’t for sissies, but I think I’ll be OK.  🙂