My own personal summer

Sooo much wisdom (and a fair bit of humor!) in last week’s conversation on the blog in response to my question about what (if any) curve ball/s your body suddenly sent your way when you turned 40ish?

In this week’s post, I’m going to poke a little bit at what Audrey described in her answer as “my Goddess, the hot flashes!” (BTW, check out Audrey’s cool podcast, Women Are the Journey!)

I clearly remember the first one I felt, about three years ago when I was sitting at my desk at work. I’m not someone who sweats easily, even during really tough workouts on really warm days, but that sudden sensation of warmth followed by a rapid heartbeat and a tingling sensation all over was followed by a drenching sweat.

As I peeled off my sweater (I, who was always freezing in that office in winter), a coworker glanced up over her cubicle, smiled gently and asked, “Power surge?”

I laughed out loud.

(Laughter was common in that office full of mostly women. Occasionally our male boss would poke his head out after a particularly loud gale and ask, “Do I have to separate you?”)

“I think so,” I answered my coworker, “and I love that description of it!”

I’ve since heard hot flashes humorously referred to as “personal summer moments,” and I also love the image of our bodies showering us with warmth—although I admit to loving it more in the winter than in the sticky Michigan summer and the middle of the night.

It was shortly after this that I came across Dr. Christiane Northrup’s The Wisdom of Menopause, in which she talks about hot flashes as moments in our own personal crucible: we are melting down our old selves, removing the dross of everything we’ve taken on from others-how we “should” do things, what we “need” to do to be “good” daughters, sisters, lovers, wives, mothers, employees, etc.-and what remains is…ourselves.

Our true selves in all our beauty, which can include Audrey’s list of “lost flexibility, sagging, forgetfulness, neck wattle” as well as our clarity about what we want to accomplish in the second half of our lives and the previously unacknowledged inner reserves of strength to “get it done.”

There are physiological reasons for “vasomotor flushing,” and there are, of course, many ways—both from the conventional and alternative healthcare fields—to reduce the symptoms.

I worked with my integrative primary care physician to find a combination of herbs that helped reduce some of the discomfort, but I think that having a more positive mindset about them and really getting curious about them was what really helped the most.

As a health coach, I’m all about seeking out and addressing the cause of dis-ease/discomfort rather than masking symptoms, and I know that poking at the emotional and spiritual causes can sometimes be as useful (if not more so) in resolving our symptoms as throwing overly aggressive procedures and prescriptions at them.

In a society in which we are frequently forward-focused, always thinking about what we need to do next and feeling like we are barely going to be able to handle that next step (especially not if we’re going to now have to deal with this or that which has suddenly complicated our existence), we don’t often look backward-not only to see how our mothers and foremothers navigated their lives, but even to our own immediate past.

On the Facebook pages that support women our age, there are plenty of posts about hot flashes and oh-my-god-how-can-I-get-rid-of-them?

But if I ask these women, “What triggered them?” I either get crickets or a flood of “Well, you know, it’s all about the hormone shift blah blah blah.”

Yes, and: if we start tracking the hot flashes, they often pop up after certain triggers, and these triggers are as individual as what foods—primary and secondary—really nourish us.

What I realized was that the frequency and intensity of the power surges could be greatly reduced by avoiding the triggers I identified for myself through trial and error:

  • Caffeine: Give me a latte and ten minutes…
  • Added/refined sugar: Give me that chocolate pudding and five minutes.
  • Wine: Whattt? Are you serious-wine, too???
  • Intense workouts: I mean AFTER the cooldown.
  • Mental/emotional stress: The school phone number popping up on caller ID mid-day….

What to do with all these newfound bits of information? Well, I guess forewarned is forearmed: at least now I can make an informed decision.

I still drink coffee in the morning, I’ve seriously cut down on sugar (more on that in the upcoming weeks), I limit my wine to 1 glass on weekend nights for the most part, I’ve traded HIIT and jogging in for yoga and walking, and I’ve learned a whole bunch of breathing and mindfulness exercises.

And when those power surges do hit, I breathe and try to view them as a reminder that I have enough energy to power my own personal sauna, and just as soon as this personal summer moment passes, I’m going to put that energy to good use.

This week, I’d love to hear what funny euphemisms you’ve come across for hot flashes and / or what has been your experience with them? If you’re not there yet, are you dreading them or sorta looking forward to them?

(And if you notice any coworkers, friends, or family members peeling off their layers in the middle of this cold snap, send them a link to this post so that they can join the conversation!)