Uterus. Perimenopause. Menopause. Words we don’t bandy about on a regular basis, but maybe we should. Today’s Self-Care Sunday topic involves physical wholeness, and whether you’re 15 or 50, you need to know a few things about that time in life when puberty reverses itself.
“My uterus made me do it, Your Honor.”
I’ve always wondered if that would serve as an alibi in a court of law.
I imagine myself running off the road and plowing through a fence on a lonely country lane while frantically trying to yank a sweatshirt off my spontaneously combusting body. So far, I’ve managed to get the air conditioning going before bursting into flames, but the mental picture lingers. As well as the alibi.
But I’ve learned that talking about mental illnesses helps diminish the stigma attached to an ordinary illness that people have kept hush-hush for far too long. Today, I’d like to peel away some layers from the whole menopause subject.
Talking about my female reproductive health doesn’t come naturally to me. In fact, when I hit puberty and my uterus first came to life, it took me two years to tell my mom that I’d started my period.
I had an older sister who left an ample supply of feminine hygiene products in the bathroom. I could also spend a dime in the girls’ restroom at school and completely avoid embarrassing conversations about my bodily functions.
Of course, trying to use a tampon without instructions proved painful and fruitless. My sister threw the instructions away. I swore off tampons for two years, until I finally ran out of supplies and told my mom my period had started.
I missed out on so many swim parties because of ignorance and fear. I made sure to keep our daughters informed, and bought them both their own copy of The Care and Keeping of You.
Reverse Puberty Happens, Too
I broke out in
I wandered over to the thermostat to see if someone had turned the heater on. Nope. I started pulling my sweatshirt over my head and in the dark moment before freedom from fabric, it hit me. I was having a hot flash.
Looking back, I realized that I’d had them at night for the past five months, but this one happened during the day. In a cool room. I could no longer deny it. My uterus was going into retirement.
Rather than suffer in an uninformed way, the way I did when puberty hit, I decided to embrace this new phase of life. Of course, my doctor had determined years ago that I had entered perimenopause. I never bothered to look up the word. I figured if I hadn’t gained the nirvana of no periods, why should I care?
Perimenopause simply means, ‘around the time of menopause.’ I had no idea that the ‘time around menopause’ could last for years…a decade, even.
But that hot flash made me realize I needed to investigate the state of perimenopause. This short video from the Mayo Clinic helped me understand menopause a little better.
Did I mention that I figured out the hot flashes stage of menopause while on vacation?
I’ve compiled a handy list for travel essentials when your uterus goes into retirement.Ten tips for traveling with hot flashes. #menopause #hotflash #fifty Click To Tweet
How to Pack for Hot Flashes
Wear layers that you can remove quickly and easily while strapped into a plane or stuck in the backseat between your grandkids’ car seats.
When those hot flashes hit, you don’t want to have a pullover hoodie straight jacket you while your body suddenly feels like you’ve stepped into your personal sauna.
The cardigan or shrug will become your new best friend. I finally understand why my mom (and grandma) always have one on hand.
Carry water—even better, carry an insulated bottle and fill it with ice cubes and water. Refill it after the security check if you’re traveling by plane. Sipping cold water might quench the sudden flames.
I discovered this stainless-steel vacuum-sealed water bottle by Contigo this summer. It will keep your water cool even if it bakes in your vehicle for five hours.
Leave the Caffeine
Avoid it, especially in its heated form. Hot beverages might trigger another hot flash. And caffeine acts as a diuretic—your family members or travel companions will appreciate not having to stop or let you crawl over their legs every 45 minutes.
Some studies indicate that caffeine can make hot flashes worse (regardless of the form—coffee, tea, or soda).
All those changing hormones will wreak havoc with your emotions. Think about what happened when you hit puberty, only now you’re 50. You’ll love having a tissue handy.
When you have a tiff with a loved one, you might find yourself teary-eyed instead of your usual reasonable self. Blame your uterus, not yourself nor your loved one.
At my last eye checkup, I complained about having dry eyes all the time. The optometrist (he looked like one of my high school students) checked my eyes out and prescribed over-the-counter eye drops. He asked me if my doctor had mentioned that dry eyes are a sign of perimenopause. I blushed—I had no idea.
Menopause might cause your eyes to feel like gravel rubbing on sawdust—even when you’re not in a dried-up atmosphere like an airplane (or the Sahara). I love my single-use drops without preservatives. Each vial lasts for a couple of days (you can reseal them for travel).
If travel left your skin scaly before your hot flashes started, you’ll find yourself even flakier now. According to WebMD, lower levels of estrogen cause our bodies to produce less collagen—which causes less elasticity in our skin (and making it easier to get skin tears).
My new favorite? Nivea Soft
A Security Blanket
Ok, just kidding. You might want a lightweight twin-sized open-weave cotton blanket. I know it sounds like an extravagant item to haul along on any kind of trip, but with your thermostat limited to a two-degree temperature change, sheets and heavy blankets will either freeze you or bake you.
They used to sell them year-round in
A Good Book
Even if you’re not a big reader, it helps to have a sad book at the ready to explain your unexpected tears. ‘I’m crying over a sad story,’ sounds so much better than, ‘I’m going through my menopausal change’—especially if you feel the need to explain your tears to perfect strangers.Learn to keep a sad book handy to explain your hair-trigger emotions while going through menopause. #justkidding #maybe Click To Tweet
Sense of Humor
Whatever you do, don’t lose your sense of humor. You’ll find yourself in plenty of awkward situations (usually involving the onset of a hot flash at an inopportune time). Sure, your hormones have gone on strike, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll lose the essential you.
Learn to laugh at yourself. Let your family know what to expect as your uterus shuts down. They’ll appreciate your honesty and be less bewildered by any mood swings you may experience.
When I confessed to my husband that I’d started having hot flashes, I jokingly whined, “If women have menopause, why don’t men have womenopause?” We both cackled.
This song came on the radio this summer in the middle of a hot flash. Bob Dylan may not have written it to a woman whose uterus had decided to retire, but the words helped me remember that ‘menopausal change’ doesn’t mean I will become a grumpy old woman. (Ok, I might get grumpy and bent out of shape a time or two, but it doesn’t have to be part of my identity).
If you’ve survived the retirement of your uterus, do you have any tips for the rest of us? Maybe that change looms and you have a question–go ahead and ask it!
It’s time to talk about what we’re going through and take pride in our journeys–even if they’re riddled with tears and hot flashes!