July 2016. The month New York City officially became hot as Hades and even Texas was sympathetic. Given the temperature, I wasn’t surprised when my sweat glands exploded on a downtown subway platform. I mopped my brow, my neck and the crook of my elbow, grateful when a finely air-conditioned train arrived.
But I was still hot, and still sweating.
“The temperature is over 95 degrees and it’s humid,” I thought. “Overheating is a side effect of my new antidepressant. I’ll be fine.” Meanwhile, I’d been on the “new” medications for over a year with no other adverse events. I tried to ignore my history of night sweats. I’d just turned 44.
I was hot, and uncomfortable. Everyone around me looked as you’d imagine: cool, comfortable, relieved to be relaxing in a temperature-controlled conveyance. Meanwhile, I was boiling inside, literally and figuratively. I was hotter than I’d been during a summer in Las Vegas, or when I had a 102 fever. What the fuck, man? Was it a hot flash? I was too young for that, dammit! I’d seen my gynecologist; why didn’t she talk to me about perimenopause? What even is perimenopause? I Googled fervently for answers.
I’d clearly switched into Anger.
If only my mother hadn’t died when I was 21 and could have warned me. If only I’d paid more attention as a teenager when my godmother started chewing ice, and freezing out the family with turbo-charged A/C. If only I hadn’t started eating carbs again and gained 30 pounds. If only I’d seen my orthopedist again so I could run without knee pain and work off this extra insulation.
Didn’t menopause mean facial hair? I mean, more facial hair?
I sent up a prayer, somewhere between 96th Street and 72nd Street: “Dear God. Seriously? I’m about to spew flames from my ears, which, incidentally, are also sweating, along with every surface of my skin except my eyelids. Thank you for antiperspirant, by the way. If you could do something about the furnace in my endocrine system, I promise I’ll go to church. And I’ll eat my vegetables and be more thankful that I’ve lived this long. Also, please end the white, racist patriarchy. Resist! Amen.”
At this point, I was well into the Bargaining phase.
Didn’t menopause mean facial hair? I mean, more facial hair? My longest relationship at that point was with needle-point tweezers and a magnifying mirror. I hated neck beards on men, so I wasn’t keen on growing my own. I’d tried laser hair removal, but it didn’t take.
I’d grow old alone, eventually roll a shopping cart around the city, mumbling to myself about the hot men I’d dated as a “young’un”. There I’d be, twirling my whiskers and shuffling due to advanced knee arthritis and a dwindling will to live.
And there it was. Depression. Right as I got to Times Square and walked to the restaurant, where my discomfort increased through four blocks of summer swelter. I arrived at a well-chilled Olive Garden only to get a case of the cold sweats. I was still hot to the touch, and shivering, but not tempted to use my spare cardigan.
I decided to call my cousin Dana. She’d started flashing a few years before and I needed to confirm my suspicions. Google was helpful, but useless for a woman in the midst of her first hot flash, watching her youth flash before her eyes. I needed reinforcements.
“Either I’m dying, or I’m having a hot flash,” I said into the phone when Dana picked up. I’d begun dripping onto the carpet in the restaurant’s waiting area. I wanted to pace, but I was standing directly under a vent.
I dated someone who could withstand sleeping with the windows open in January.
Dana laughed. Then she mentioned her first hot flashes at my age, and similar symptoms in our other female cousins, starting in the mid-40s.
“Um, why didn’t y’all prepare me for this? I’ve completely sweat through my outfit. If I climbed into a deep freeze, all the food would thaw.”
Dana chuckled through her advice: “Go to your doctor. Ask about medication and supplements. And get yourself a battery powered fan.” She was right, and I sighed in resignation.
“Does your pussy dry up? Parched innards don’t sound like fun.” Apparently, everyone didn’t experience vaginal dryness, but I should still purchase all the lubes, just in case.
As I hung up the phone, my lunch date arrived. “I had a hot flash and I’m in perimenopause,” I said before hello. It was a confession of my truth, and a warning against a welcome hug.
The final stage. Acceptance. I told my friend a story about someone taking off all her clothes in a bathroom stall so she didn’t ruin a fancy dress during a hot flash. We laughed and commiserated over drinks, because middle age ain’t always pretty.
I’ve made adjustments since that day. I dated someone who could withstand sleeping with the windows open in January. I carry a personal fan everywhere I go. I dress in layers, so there’s always a dry over-shirt to cover up a tank top plastered to my torso. And I’m exercising again, which is good for everything. My body and I may disagree on whether this is the beginning or the middle of my life. I feel like I’m just getting started. And I’m planning to wait a few more years until I mourn the passing of my youth. But I plan to buy lube.