Menopause. There’s a reason why women were often committed to Sanatoriums in the early 19th century. The loss of hormones creates never-before-realized levels of anxiety and hopeless thinking in the female brain as we age. Men don’t understand this. Having lived all their lives with a brain centered on logic, they fail to comprehend our loss—how young and beautiful we once were—because we had hormones. When the hormones drop to levels around the tops of our ankles, so does rational thinking. We can’t help it.
In Minnesota during the winter months, the weather talk centers around the wind chill factor. The temperature might be 19 degrees Fahrenheit outside, but if the wind is blowing it feels like -10. Exposed skin can freeze within 10 minutes. Wind chill factors are the main decision-making base by which schools are closed and parents will not send their kids out to the bus stops.
In Florida, it’s the humidity. The television weather reports center around the “Muggy Meter”, which ranges from humid, to more humid, to muggy, all the way to “Oppressive.” That old adage, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” certainly rings true in paradise. It may be 65 degrees Fahrenheit outside but with the humidity at 90%, it feels like 105. And this is when menopausal women lose their minds. It’s off to the Sanatorium we go.
In Minnesota, on the highway to the airport, there are “terror alert” signs. These range from yellow to orange to red, red being highest level for possible terrorist activity. Drivers are encouraged to look for suspicious activity and report. The only suspicious activity I’ve ever observed on Highway 5 on the way to the airport was wild turkeys perched on the side barriers, attempting to cross the highway, forcing drivers to slam on their brakes.
For menopausal women, there should be yellow, light orange, dark orange, and red level alert signs that read, “Consider turning on AC”, “For sure, turn on AC,” “You are stupid if you don’t turn on AC,” and “Forget sleeping well for the next 10 years.”
I have learned a quirky way to regulate my body temperature at night, which is when the hot flashes—now-termed-hot-flushes—are the worst. Put one leg out from the sheets and blankets. It is amazing how well one can regulate one’s body temperature by putting a leg outside of the covers. Occasionally, I get trapped in the bed covers and no small amount of kicking ensues to get to the edge where I can finally put one leg out.
I have also learned how to prowl about the house silently in the middle of the night. I can turn on lights, get a drink of water, go outside and admire the constellations, tiptoe silently to the bathroom, read a book, write my blog, and watch TV without making much noise. My dear friend and former neighbor, Audrey (God rest her soul), used to go downstairs and make herself a cup of coffee when she awoke in the wee hours. After that, she could go right back upstairs and fall back asleep. If I had a cup of coffee in the middle of the night, I would be staring at the ceiling for the next two nights. Caffeine is not my friend in the Sleep Department. But then, I’m Swedish and she was Norwegian. Maybe I should try midnight coffee.
There is much debate about who is better: Swedes or Norwegians. The rivalry between these two nations is not unlike a game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Wisconsin Green Bay Packers. Jabs fly, Ole and Lena jokes proliferate, Viking horns and Cheeseheads abound, and customs are fiercely defended. Did you hear the Norwegians had recently imported over 100 septic tanks to their country? Yes, and when they figure out how to drive them, they plan to invade Sweden.
During the wee hours when it is still dark and I am awake, I sometimes think about what it would be like to be married and sleeping in the same bed as my husband. Poor guy. “He-who-would-sleep-soundly-otherwise” would have to be in constant negotiations with the bed covers. If I can’t get one leg out, neither one of us will get decent sleep. There’s a reason why husband and wife teams sometimes sleep in separate rooms. It’s not because they’re not getting along. Somebody has to get some sleep and resume logical thought. It sure as heck won’t be me.
When dawn breaks, so does some relief. The early birds are chirping outside, commuters are on their way to work, I don’t have to turn on lights anymore, and sometimes I can actually fall back asleep. One friend of mine told me to start taking naps. I’ve always been afraid of naps. Once I fall asleep in the afternoon, I can and will sleep for two or more hours straight through, and then I can’t sleep at night. She assures me that “sleep begets sleep.” Taking naps should actually help me fall asleep better at night. I’m anxious to try this new method but so far, I have been unable to nap. I lay there for an hour and a half worrying that I won’t be able to fall asleep, and then, if I do, I won’t be able to wake up in time to get back to sleep at night. Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to the Sanatorium I go.
With Americans averaging fewer than seven hours of sleep per night — and around 20 percent suffering from sleepiness during the day, according to a recent Stanford University study — many companies have turned to the humble nap in an attempt to stave off billions in lost productivity each year. Following the rise of workplace perks like lactation rooms, gyms, and child-care facilities, Nike workers now have access to nap-friendly “quiet rooms” that can also be used for meditation. Google, a forerunner in employee perks, has a number of futuristic napping pods scattered throughout its Mountain View campus. (Source: Jascha Hoffman, Bloomberg Business Week, 9/6/2010).
When my son, Garrett was young and I was a single mother, my adrenal glands were firing on all cylinders. Watchfulness was required, sleep was precious and I found very little of it. Get into this kind of negative sleeping pattern for more than 20 years, and menopause will be hell on earth for you.
I miss my hormones. I miss soft, supple skin. The Dutch have a bedtime saying, “Slaap Lekker.” Translated, it means “Sleep Well.” More accurately translated, it means “Sleep Deliciously.” I miss long, delicious sleep. I refuse to look at the “walla-walla” hanging from my underarms. I have become a “babushka”—all round in the middle and spindly on the top and bottom. I was not one to suffer from envy or jealousy most of my life, but I’m starting to experience these emotions when I see other 60-year-old women who can still go sleeveless. Fine. Wear sleeveless dresses, you bee-yotch, you. I’m going down in history as the funny Aunt, the round one you love to hug and tell all your troubles to. I’ll sleep with one leg out so I can get up in the morning without any witnesses, visit you, put my “walla-walla” around you and say, “Everything will be okay. You wanna talk about it, honey?”