woman with wet hair

My Very First Hot Flash: Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls. They’ll Find You.

I’d been standing in this fancy photo studio in the Meatpacking district in NYC (the kind with the shared coffee bar in the front. “Charge my espresso to Studio 2!”) for over an hour in a parka and knit cap.

It was meant to be a 10-minute fly-by to see a friend’s new clothing campaign, starring her and her family, but I’d got caught up when I realized I knew almost everyone on the set, hence the longer than anticipated visit.

While standing with one of the creative directors, the photographer turned around, and seeing me for the first time, waved and asked, “Why aren’t you dressed?”

Now aside from the fact that I had not been asked to model previously, or that if I had, I would have said no, I knew the photographer had just assumed that I was there to model.

Suddenly, there was all this goading and cheering from friends to suit up in an outfit and get on set.

That’s when it started in my stomach, this almost burning sensation that gradually moved to my chest, up my neck and face and scalp. I’m on fire, I thought. Who here would set me on fire?

It’s one thing to be embarrassed when you’re asked to do something you weren’t expecting, but not only did I feel like Joan of Arc at the stake, my heart started pounding so hard, I felt it in my ears.

Was this a panic attack? I was suddenly convinced that not only is global warming real, personal climate change is, too.

And then, as I was ushered into a dressing area to try on some pieces, it happened: like a squid releasing ink, so much sweat poured off of me that my clothes were drenched and I had to literally peel them off.

I was stunned. I apologized. I stammered. I asked someone if there was a shower at the studio, not because I wanted one, but in the hopes that having looked like I took one, a towel might be available.

There was so much sweat. It got in my eyes. I could see the look of growing concern in both the make-up artist’s and hair dresser’s faces as they tried to… mop… me up. What was meant to be light make-up and a quick brush to the hair became an hour long sit, with blotting papers all over the floor and a full-on blow out for my utterly drenched hair.

When I finally started looking into the whole Menopause transition, not only did I have symptoms, I had ones that hadn’t even been added to the list yet.

The team couldn’t have been nicer (maybe they felt sorry for me?) and although I did take the shot, it’s hard to look at that picture knowing what went down just before it.

I’ve thought about this incident many times in the years since. Honestly, it’s hard to put into words the kind of shame I felt that day. It felt gross and embarrassing to literally melt down. Was I THAT panicked to have my photo taken? Even if it was a last minute request? Not to brag but I mean, I’ve had my picture taken a LOT. (Total brag.) There have been times I’ve been nervous or self-conscious. Maybe I even sweat a little once or twice before. 

This “incident” felt altogether different. It was that it’s intensity and complete…strangeness… that stayed with me. I leaned heavily on the idea that wearing my coat and hat for so long when I got there and not being properly hydrated resulted in some kind of malfunction, like when a car overheats. 

For a long time, I rationalized more than I researched. One, because I’m lazy. Two, because I was hoping the whole thing was a one-off.

Somehow, in my mind, I kind of thought menopause was for other women or perhaps just, optional? Turns out, like death and taxes, it’s not. When I finally started looking into the whole Menopause transition, not only did I have symptoms, I had ones that hadn’t even been added to the list yet.

That “Hot Bloom” (as they used to say in the 17th and 18th centuries) was the first of many to come with that kind of severity, usually precipitated by some kind of anxiety. And just like with PMS, I forgot every single time what was happening until it was happening. Maybe women possess the ability to forget so that they can withstand hard things: cramps, moods, being in labor, home renovations… 

OR maybe it’s just that menopause happens in so many different ways it’s difficult to identify it for what it is: a whole bundle of symptoms/issues/effects you may or may not experience for a short period of time or a long one, maybe with more or less severity than another person and taken out of context, ANY of these symptoms can be explained away as SOMETHING ELSE. Talk about an amorphous… MONSTER. It’d be tough for anybody to make a self-diagnosis here. Why would you want to?

I always equated sweating with the earned pride of exercise, or the sexy glisten of a vacation, not my hormones suddenly morphing into gremlins and wreaking havoc on my thermoregulatory system during a photo shoot, but, there we were, me and my hormones, all in it together. 

The funny thing is about a week later, my friend, whose collection was being shot that day, called me to say how great the shoot was and how much she loved the pictures.

And without the slightest hint of irony said, “You’re Hot.”

No kidding.

Tell Us in the Comments

Where were you when you had your first hot flash?

One Response

  1. carolita

    I was sitting at my desk, when I had this feeling as if someone had come up from behind with a hot radiator as a joke. I turned around, wondering if my husband had gone insane enough to do such a thing. Nope. It was my first hot flash. I had hot flashes every couple hours for the next two years. I still have what I call “warm flashes,” where I just overheat easily when exerting myself, or in a stressful or exciting situation. I look forward to the day when I can wear sweaters that don’t zip or button up again. For now, pullovers are out of the question!


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