« Click: It's Mommy Time(s) | Main | Middle-aged? Qui, moi? »

March 21, 2010

The "shock" of approaching menopause

J0442465  My doctor has been bringing it up at every annual checkup for years now. How’s that perimenopause thing going? She’d ask me if I had hot flashes, bouts of extreme irritability, headaches--it seemed like we were covering it all. I also googled and pretty much memorized that basic symptoms list. And I even went to see Menopause the Musical.

So I keep thinking I’m prepared.

And I keep finding out that I’m wrong. Menopause is turning out to be like that classic dream of showing up for the exam and realizing you know nothing because you had never gone to class.

Oh, it’s not as bad as it used to be, I guess; my aunt told me recently that when her older sister had what turned out to be a hot flash they took her to the E.R. because they had no idea what was going on. I do know a little more than that. The operative word being little.

The weirdest thing to me, after being in pregnancy groups and post partum support groups and baby playgroups in which every weird symptom of pregnancy and the aftermath were discussed in complete detail, is that there’s not much talking going on about menopause. Maybe because it’s not so obvious as pregnancy; and because menopause ties in with aging, so asking a casual acquaintance how her menopause is going might be insulting. But I think it’s more than that. It almost feels like that first year when you got your period and were feeling too private about it to buy your frickin’ tampons yourself and instead had to send your mother to the store. You just don’t want anyone to know. (And by the time we all get over that feeling, perhaps we’re past it and no longer interested in talking about it.)

I’ve looked at those books out there that purport to lay it all out. But they seem all so “tippy”: they advise you to dress in layers and exercise regularly; they lay out the pros and cons of hormone therapy. But that’s not the information I need when I wake up in the middle of the night wondering, “what the hell was that?”

Like last night. The whole hot flash thing has kicked up from once or twice a month, which was more entertaining than annoying, to four or five times a night. I’m staggering around during the day in the sleep-deprived state I inhabited when my kids were babies. But OK, I get that hot flashes happen, and that they happen at night, and they won’t last forever. Hot flashes and night sweats are on all the checklists of menopause symptoms. (Another question—why do they call them symptoms? It’s not a disease. I think they should be called effects.)

So hot flashes weren’t my “what the hell’ moment. That came at some point during the night when the buzzing started. An unpleasant buzzing that felt like an electrostim device cranked on too high—or maybe a bug-zapper. It started around my belly button and worked its nasty way out, slowly, through my body, arms and legs, and eventually out my fingers and toes. It hurt.

I knew instinctively that this was one of those secret menopause symptoms that no one had warned me about—did they think I’d be scared? That maybe I’d someone chicken out of menopause, as if that were a real option?

First thing in the morning, I googled “buzzing electric shock sensation menopause”.  And on a few of the longer symptom lists on sites that are fronts for herbal remedy pushers, I did find “electric shock sensation under the skin and in the head, like a rubber band being snapped” or “a mild tingling sensation.” But mostly, the references to buzzing, to electric shocks, came in the occasional question tossed up on a discussion board, like “anybody getting intense electric buzzing before a hot flash?” that kind of thing.

These questions came up enough for me to figure out that yeah, waking up in the middle of a bug zapper at random times is just one more fun thing I’ll be doing for the next year, or two years, or three years. And that it’s just one more thing that no one ever told me.

Tekla Nee is a cofounder of the Silicon Valley Moms Group. She writes about life with her husband, three kids, and two cats in books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, and on scraps of paper all over her house. This is an original 50-Something Moms Blog Post.