Life lessons in hot flashes

Hot flashes get a bad rap. Not because they’re not so bad – they are terrible! But what I’ve learned from them is amazing.

I have always been the person who is cold. All the time. When I lived up north, I kept my heat on 78, walked around with a king-sized down comforter around me and still couldn’t get warm. It was because the cold just entered my bones and never left. I used to joke that I would welcome hot flashes because I never knew what it was like to actually get warm.

Enter hot flashes – stage right! Initially, I didn’t know what was going on in my body and I would have minor panic attacks. I mean, I knew that they were hot flashes, but come on – they can’t possibly be this bad, right? All the jokes about menopause and hot flashes and mood swings? That can’t be what this is all about – can it? Oh, it surely is.

My relationship with hot flashes went like this…

Step One: Panic

I am hot, I am dying, I can’t breathe. Everybody can see that I’m having a hot flash and will know that I am now old because I am going through menopause. My dog and cat have a sixth sense when this is happening and decide the best thing to comfort me is to sit on me. I dump them off like I am on fire. This phase lasted a solid year.

Step Two: Coping

I dress in light layers. I start to breathe through the hot flashes. I try to have a cardigan nearby. I am still constantly cold, unless I am boiling. I still hate them and myself for having them and seriously consider hormone replacement but am too exhausted to actually to do my research on it. My animals still think it’s a good idea to sit on me, but I apologize to them as I nudge them off. We’re also in the midst of the pandemic so I’m stress-eating.

Step Three: Acceptance

I realize they are not going away anytime soon, so I really should figure out how to function. I mostly dress in sleeveless, breathable clothes. I’m still cold at all other times, so have a cardigan in varying weights in every room, in my car and office. Clutter be damned, this is about taking care of myself. I know my body better than before so I don’t need to wait until I’m full force in the middle of a hot flash before I take action. It’s like DEF-CON One. I immediately start removing the extraneous clothing. If I’m walking hand-in-hand or being snugly with TL, I disengage. He understands. If my animals get near me, I tell them no, not now. They understand. It’s instinctual now to immediately begin the deep, belly breathing that calms me down so I don’t panic. I start to recognize which foods sustain my body and which make me feel like crap. I recognize (not for the first or tenth time) that sugar is not my friend and brings them on quickly and more harshly. All in all, I start to make friends with my enemy.

This entire process has taught me a lot about life and myself. The negative in life is going to come. When it does, we have choices. We can panic, feel judged, be in denial and reactive; or we can be protective, set and maintain boundaries and be responsive. We don’t need to obsess about them or talk about them incessantly because it won’t change anything. They really are just a part of life, until, if and when, this season passes.

The hot flashes still come. They still come often, but stay for less time. I don’t exactly welcome them, but we know each other now. I’m no longer resentful or guarded or in denial. They just come, I let them stay for a while and they go. Then I throw on a cardigan and move along with my day, warm and cozy.

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