Menopause Overture #6 or “Can You Have PMS Without the M?”

I was sitting in dispatch this morning and a firefighter let the door slam. Now, the door slams whenever it’s let go. It slams a half dozen times a day. And it usually takes me until about the seventh slam before I want to yell, “MUST you SLAM the DOOR?!” This morning it was one slam and I’d…had…it. Done. Wanted to lock them all out of the building, never mind dispatch. It occurred to me I’d been neglecting my self-appointed role as Menopause Mentor and this was a subject worth approaching.

The short answer to the question “Can you have PMS without the m” is “Heck, yeah!” But being a good Menopause Mentor means giving you more than the short answer so buckle up, here it comes.

First, let me explain that I never had PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) symptoms until I was nearly 50. I honestly had no idea what was happening to me. I felt alternately hyper-weepy or hyper-aggravated and both those states of being were on a hair-trigger. It took me a few months to figure out that it was a cyclical thing. And, coming to that conclusion, no time at all to which cycle it was related! I was still menstruating, then, and fairly regularly so when the symptoms showed up I did a little math and thought, “OK, this will pass in a day or two.”

I apologize to all of you who suffer much more with PMS. I’ve read enough to understand I’ve got off lightly in this area.

Then I looked up, around age 53 or so and realized I hadn’t had a period in I-couldn’t-remember-how-long, at least as long as right after the previous year’s annual GYN visit. Hmm. Twelve consecutive months…BINGO! I was in menopause. Cool. I was ready.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself all hyper-weepy over some movie or other I’d seen umpteen times without crying openly about it. Or, ready to go top-story-road-rage on the very first, and only, person tailgating me in the slow lane. I did the math. I was perplexed because I knew I wasn’t going to menstruate any time soon but there it was. I was in the part of my cycle, if I was still having a cycle, that would be the PM part. Interesting.

I don’t believe I’m the only woman to experience this. Certainly not the only woman who figured it out. But did anyone ever tell me? Stupid question. No one told me anything, ever! So, did anyone ever tell you?

If they didn’t, the good news is, you’re not necessarily going crazy. The bad news is, near as I can tell, there’s still enough hormone load cycling around that a woman can have PMS without the M.

Depending on where you are in your cycle? Don’t shoot me, I’m just the Menopause Mentor delivering the message.

Menopause Overture #6 or “Can You Have PMS Without the M?”

I was sitting in dispatch this morning and a firefighter let the door slam. Now, the door slams whenever it’s let go. It slams a half dozen times a day. And it usually takes me until about the seventh slam before I want to yell, “MUST you SLAM the DOOR?!” This morning it was one slam and I’d…had…it. Done. Wanted to lock them all out of the building, never mind dispatch. It occurred to me I’d been neglecting my self-appointed role as Menopause Mentor and this was a subject worth approaching.

The short answer to the question “Can you have PMS without the m” is “Heck, yeah!” But being a good Menopause Mentor means giving you more than the short answer so buckle up, here it comes.

First, let me explain that I never had PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) symptoms until I was nearly 50. I honestly had no idea what was happening to me. I felt alternately hyper-weepy or hyper-aggravated and both those states of being were on a hair-trigger. It took me a few months to figure out that it was a cyclical thing. And, coming to that conclusion, no time at all to which cycle it was related! I was still menstruating, then, and fairly regularly so when the symptoms showed up I did a little math and thought, “OK, this will pass in a day or two.”

I apologize to all of you who suffer much more with PMS. I’ve read enough to understand I’ve got off lightly in this area.

Then I looked up, around age 53 or so and realized I hadn’t had a period in I-couldn’t-remember-how-long, at least as long as right after the previous year’s annual GYN visit. Hmm. Twelve consecutive months…BINGO! I was in menopause. Cool. I was ready.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself all hyper-weepy over some movie or other I’d seen umpteen times without crying openly about it. Or, ready to go top-story-road-rage on the very first, and only, person tailgating me in the slow lane. I did the math. I was perplexed because I knew I wasn’t going to menstruate any time soon but there it was. I was in the part of my cycle, if I was still having a cycle, that would be the PM part. Interesting.

I don’t believe I’m the only woman to experience this. Certainly not the only woman who figured it out. But did anyone ever tell me? Stupid question. No one told me anything, ever! So, did anyone ever tell you?

If they didn’t, the good news is, you’re not necessarily going crazy. The bad news is, near as I can tell, there’s still enough hormone load cycling around that a woman can have PMS without the M.

Depending on where you are in your cycle? Don’t shoot me, I’m just the Menopause Mentor delivering the message.

Menopause Overture #5 or: “Too much on my face and not enough on my head!”

Let’s start with the head part. Somewhere around age 52, or so, I noticed a lot more hair in my brush. And while I’m not scant on top, I definitely noticed there’s less volume of hair than there used to be! Since my hair was fine to begin with, I was horrified but vowed if it got too bad, I’d go the Susan Powter route–with no apology. Thank goodness I haven’t had to resort to that….so far. Time will tell. As my body produces less and less estrogen, this is one of the changes that comes along. Now I understand why so many elder women have short hair. It’s easier to disguise the loss of volume with the right cut and some good styling products.

On the other hand, I must still be producing testosterone from somewhere because –gahhh!– nose hair, mustache, and chin whiskers, oh my. (And also no lack of sex drive but more on that later.) I don’t know why I didn’t expect this hirsute development. My first mum-in-law(British) told me, after she’d been in hospital for some chemo related issues, “You should have seen all us old ladies in the mornin’ shavin’ our chins!” It was a look into my future and I didn’t realize it. My GYN provider, a nurse/midwife, calls what’s on our faces “the fuzzies.” With an eye roll and a grimace when she says it because she doesn’t like that change on her face any more than I like it on mine.

So whattaya do? Plucking, sugaring, wax strips, Olay Removal Duo (and no, I didn’t get paid for that)…..some combination of all of those things? I’m waiting for a reporter at work to do a segment on the No No to find out whether it works. I’d pay a chunk of cash for something I could use for several weeks and not see another chin or nose hair sprouting ever…. again.

In the meantime I keep a handheld magnifying mirror handy because my trifocals don’t let me get close enough to the bathroom mirror to accurately assess when I need to take 8 minutes and let the Olay Duo work its magic. Which often becomes the only time I take 8 minutes to sit still. Hmmmm.

Menopause Overture #4 or “Let’s Talk About Sweat, Baby”

7th June 2013

I have breaking news for you if you haven’t yet got to menopause. You’re going to find yourself wet in all kinds of ways but the one way you really wish would happen. More on that in another post.

It’s not just the hot flashes, it’s the sweat, too. Cold, hot, light film, tropical downpour… you name it, it happens. Once again, I’ll refer you to this clip of Andrea Cabral, Massachusetts’ Public Safety Director, clearly experiencing a monster hotflash and the sweat that goes with it. If you look closely, you can see the film of moisture on her face…if you watch carefully, you can see it get worse in the blink of an eye.

While I was in perimenopause, my sweat came as what I’ve named a “flashsweat.” No heat and not while I was awake. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with the sheets under me soaked in sweat.

These days, sweat comes with heat, awake or asleep, with no consideration for whether or not sweating is convenient for me at the moment! Don’t get me wrong, sweat happens, but I prefer it happen because I’m either sitting in the sun on a warm summer day enjoying the heat or because I’ve worked out…taking satisfaction in the notion that the sweat is the fruit of my labor. So to speak.

Instead I find myself blasted by heat, drenched under my clothes without warning, then chilled from being wet with sweat. Other times the heat is a really pleasant sensation, as if I’m experiencing a mild blush all over my body and this doesn’t always bring sweat, but when it does it’s more like….what do they say? Women don’t sweat, they glow? It’s more like that. But still I wonder how it is my body has become such a stranger to me when once it performed in a predictable and amicable fashion. I’m going to delve into the hows and whys of this in another post. I know it’s related to the change of balance in hormones but I want to know the actual why…how the change makes the physical part happen biomechanically.

In the meantime, my only advice is…..layers. And if you can get away with it, a large fan.

Menopause, Overture #3 or “Is this a hotflash or did the room just spontaneously combust around me?”

27th May 2013

Um, yeah, hot flashes. They come along a wide spectrum of severity ranging from the mildly pleasant “oh-my-I’m-blushing-all-over-my-body” to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQBFUnZ4NyI

That’s video of Massachusetts Public Safety Director, and former Suffolk County Sheriff, Andrea Cabral, fanning herself during the live broadcast of Gov. Deval Patrick’s press conference declaring a state of emergency in the Commonwealth due to a coming blizzard. A lot of people made fun of Ms. Cabral. But take a closer look. There’s a film of sweat on her face, she even reaches up as if to prevent a bead of it trickling down her left temple. She and I are the same age. I’d bet good money this woman was having a terrific hot flash. And not in the good rollercoaster “that scared the bejeepers out of me but I loved the whole ride” sense of terrific, either. I’ve had these. They come like a drenching summer storm of heat and moisture, suddenly, inexplicably, without warning.They can rock you back on your heels and leave you dizzy and spent. For real.

And this is why I’m developing a scale on which to rate hot flashes that I’m naming in honor of Andrea Cabral. For the woman who publicly, unabashedly dealt with a monster hot flash and took a lot of shit for it. Much like the Scoville scale for the heat of chili peppers, this scale will be subjective, based on human experience — not scientific measure.

So, what’s “zero” on the Cabral Scale? I’d say the “Flush to Your Face” hot flash that reddens only your cheeks as if a furious blush has come over you. What’s the highest on the scale? I’d have to say the “Cabral Fanning” hot flash that has you tending to your own need for comfort in any way possible, in public or private.

For every woman who’s been drenched with sweat from a hot flash, doffed blankets and pajamas in the middle of a cold winter night, fanned herself in public, I offer you the opportunity to name a point on the Cabral Scale by posting descriptions of your hot flashes here! Have fun, be descriptive, irreverent, profane if you must. I’ll choose the best and share in a future post!

Menopause, Overture #2 or “I’m a Menopause Mentor.”

26th May 2013

Menopause Mentor.  That’s me.  To anyone whose mother never spoke of female bodily functions, or died too young, or who doesn’t have an older female friend with whom they can talk about this…..  here I am.  Sharing my experiences, thoughts, actions related to menopause.  Because as momentous a change as puberty deserves the same attention!

First, let’s take a step back and visit the Land of Perimenopause.  Yes, that’s a thing.  And nobody—but nobody— talks about this stuff!  There I was, 38 years old wondering what terrible disease I might have that made me wake up at night with the sheets soaking wet with sweat. 

I did what everyone has done since the advent of the internet:  I looked it up online.  The case couldn’t be made for tuberculosis, so perimenopause seemed a decent match.  Even my primary care doctor at that time seemed to be clueless — he said, “You’re too young for that.”  And dismissed any further conversation.  The information I’d found said that perimenopausal symptoms start in a woman’s 40s but in some women as early as their mid-30s.  Take THAT, doc!

What does perimenopause really mean?  No surprise that it means your body is transitioning, hormone factories (your ovaries) winding down to a permanent halt.  The range of symptoms is a varied as women are in shape and size.  Many symptoms, often.  Some, rarely.  Few.  None.  Hot flashes, sleep disruption, vaginal dryness — OH MY!

Then I looked up the average age for menopause.  It was 50.  And I thought, “Great.  Just great.  I have 12 years of this ahead of me.”  I started joking with friends that it was a good thing I slept alone because I could at least move over to the dry side of the bed after a sweat-soaking hot flash. 

If you don’t have a Menopause Mentor, as I didn’t, take comfort in the knowledge that this didn’t last very long for me, and might not for you, either.  And I can’t find evidence that if perimenopause begins this early for you, then it means you won’t be “in” menopause until after the average age (50) as was the case for me.  More on this later!

Menopause, Overture #1 or “So begins the transition.”

24th May 2013

 Growing up I quickly gathered my Mom didn’t like her body much. So, no surprise she never talked to me about what it was like to be in menopause. Never told me about that “holy shit what was that” moment when you have your first real hot flash. It occurs to me this is as momentous a change as puberty…but in the other direction.  Instead of my body gearing up for leaping into Life—and maybe producing it— my body is winding down, getting ready for …the end of my life.  Yes, that gives me “pause” in many ways. Ha, ha, clever pun there, no?

Every hormone that fosters the “feminine” aspects of my gender is fleeing my body, leaving me with the end of fertility—and the freedom that brings hurrah!— but also wondering how to adapt to the bigger changes that will come. I’m going to be my own menopause mentor and will share more from my own blog as days pass