Monday, 21 March 2016

Menopausal in Canada

I'm sitting at the desk of my hotel room in Montreal, Canada. I've called the front desk and ask them how to use the heating, how to turn it down.
'What temperature would you like it?' purrs the receptionist.
'Er... 17ºC.'
'17ºC? Are you sure because that's pretty chilly.'
It's minus zero outside. There's snow on the ground. I can see why they are surprised. I'm walking around without a coat on half the time.
I'm going to write about the excellent food and the exhilarating travel and all that stuff don't you worry. But what I really want to write about is my menopause.
Nobody ever talks about the menopause. Except me. I talk about it literally all the time. I just spent a week in New York telling EVERYONE I'm menopausal, to my daughter's eye-rolling embarrassment.
Now I'm travelling through Canada... on the face of it to report on maple syrup... but really to talk about being menopausal. Last week I went to a famous Montreal bagel place and I talked to a guy who works there.
I'm fanning myself...
'I'm menopausal,' I explain to him.
He nods. 'Hot flash, huh?' (That's what North Americans call hot flushes.)
'My wife has that.'
'How old is she?'
'Sixty five?' I groan. 'I keep hearing that it goes on for years.'
'Yeah, she's had it ten years.'
I'm so tired. I didn't sleep last night because I'm so hot and I'm on the 14th floor and you can't open a window. In Halifax I had to ask to change room because of the heat. 'All the heating is centrally regulated,' said that receptionist. They moved me to the cold wing. It was damp and grey. It suited me perfectly.
On the train from Halifax to Quebec City I'd sit on the top deck, the coolest place on the train.
I spoke to other passengers about how overheated the houses and hotels are in winter over here. My lips are chapped and my nose is full of crusty sores. On the inside.
One man said, 'I grew up in a house where it was 16ºC all winter. If we were cold my parents would tell me to put a sweater on.'
'That's what my parents would say too,' joined in another guy. We were all middle aged.
My parents were of the put-on-a-jumper school of ecology. I loathed it. Somehow my daughter has also turned into that person. A recent visitor said, 'you've got the coldest house I've ever been to'.

Let me describe a hot flush. It starts from the collarbones, up the neck, to the face. You feel slightly desperate, claustrophobic, like you want to rip your clothes off. A film of sweat forms upon your face. Sometimes it is accompanied by nausea. It lasts maybe five minutes. With me it happens hourly. It's exhausting.
I'm not on HRT. I'm trying to white knuckle it through because I've been told that when you stop taking HRT, the menopause starts up again. Last year the doctor gave me anti-depressants, saying it would help control the hot flushes. And it did, for about three months. Plus it cheered me up. My daughter said she'd never seen me so positive. But the flushes started again and with a vengeance. I'm wearing super strength deodorant because all that sweating.... it makes you smelly. But it comes to something when doctors put you on psychiatric medicine (which is effectively what anti-depressants are) in order to deal with the physical effects of ageing.

I've recently discovered the existence of brown fat. Brown fat is good fat that makes you thin. It's located around the collarbones. Isn't that odd that this is where hot flushes start? Is there a connection? I read an article about the benefits of brown fat as opposed to white fat, how active brown fat helps us lose weight. It's derived from muscle. People are fatter now than before and some of this may be down to overheated houses. So to lose weight, turn down the heating and shiver it off.

Sleep is another thing that is disturbed during the menopause. I never sleep a night through nowadays. You wake several times every night and always between 3 and 4am.
I never minded light either but now need total darkness (and in fact that is good for your fertility). I've become photophobic. Is this another menopausal thing?
There are so many aspects of the female experience that come as a shock when it happens to you. Miscarriages for instance. You think you just lose a baby and that's it. Nobody mentions that it's a three month bleedathon. It's horrendous, even physically, not mentioning the grief.

The menopause makes you age fast. I feel I've aged ten years in the last year. My hair is dry. I wake up looking like I've had an electric shock, two rough matted red brillo pads either side of my head. You know old lady hair? I used to look at old ladies and think their hair looked so shit because they'd been perming it. (Old ladies in my time always had a white bubble perm.) I can now inform you, from my own experience, it's because of the menopause. It's as if you lose the elasticity in your hair and skin. I've always had greasy hair. I've never used moisturiser. What is happening?

I've just arrived at my hotel in Toronto. At the front desk I ask, 'can you turn the heating down in my room?' I haven't even got in there yet. It's at 18ºC and that feels nicely fresh now.

Why do we live past the menopause? Anthropologists have developed the grandma theory; that older women are needed to help raise children. Societies whose families stay with their matrilineal grandmothers have better outcomes when it comes to the health of their children.
Is it my imagination that nobody talks about the menopause? Or have I just tuned out when they were?


  1. Really interesting. Hotel rooms can be infuriatingly hot sometimes, so I can imagine the problem.

    1. and the lack of ventilation...especially when they are in a tower block.

  2. Do you have any issues with Itchy scalp OR Worse A sore Scalp ? like you have had your hair up all day in a ponytail and then released it ? :-(

    1. Try sleeping with a sheet underneath your duvet; then when you get hot, you can take off the duvet but still have something covering you, so you don't fall asleep and then wake up freezing

    2. I get that at times soreness

    3. Lol, I'm sorry I had to laugh through the whole thing. I'am 58 now and finally I no longer have a period, I thought it never go away. And I swear I been in menopause for years sopince maybe 35. My mom would laugh a say her and her girlfriend had theres until like me and Id want to cry I was like God plz no. But I be darned I sure did. I was o. Fire forever lol.. And believe it or not I swear I still go through the issue of having a period. And hot flashes. I take liquid vitamin B complex. It is good for our female things. One thing my mom did tell me stay away from the dr. And there solutions. She took something called change of life. Some kind of herbs. Good luck... Happy spring, with love Janice

    4. Amanda yes good idea. Although I spend all night throwing off bed clothes then pulling them up again. Not great for sleep either.

    5. Janice. That's the thing, it all takes so long.
      I took something herbal but it made it even worse, I felt so nauseous.
      Rumour has it Japanese women don't get the change because they eat so much soy which is oestrogen. Is this actually true or just a myth?
      Do I have any Japanese readers?
      I eat a lot of tofu.

  3. I'm reading this because I woke up overheated in the middle of the night in Barcelona. Only because I'm in a small room and I've been drinking and my body heat has made it too hot. The heating isn't on. But I feel like it's helped with the empathy reading your post!

    Thank you for writing about this (and about miscarriages), I wish it was all less of a taboo subject.

    1. You are probably ovulating. When I was trying to get pregnant, I charted for two years which was very interesting. Those sweaty nights, when your temperature rises, is bang on ovulation, best time to get pregnant. Check your mucus also.
      Thanks Sarah. It's kind of close to the bone to write about this. Because I'm admitting that I'm of a certain age, and we all know that as well as sexism, worse than sexism actually, is ageism. Men get it too but not as bad as women.

  4. Hot flushes, terrible full body itching, hair thinning, insomnia, forgetfulness, dry skin, dry hair (but I still have oily roots - jeez!!), reduced libido, anxiety attacks, rapid weight gain, aching joints, vaginal atrophy, osteoporosis... ain't menopause just fab!! And don't you hate those women in their 40s who say "oh I can't wait for my menopause, I'm so fed up with periods"?! You have my sympathy. Seriously, get HRT. It's like a miracle. Failing that, sage tincture for the hot flushes.

    1. The forgetfulness is scary: do I have early alzheimers I keep wondering. Especially after seeing that movie Still Alice.
      I hate those bloody women that say oh I just swam through it... or Davina McCall saying 'I feel reborn as a woman'.
      Thinking of HRT....

    2. Re Davina - did she say that?! Reborn as an itchy, arthritic goat maybe!! Bet she was lying.
      Honestly, without HRT I reckon I'd be a wreck. Definitely worth looking into.

  5. I'm trying to duke it out too.

    My skin feels too tight as if I've been through a hot wash every night. It's tight and scaly and itchy. I feel kinship with our pet Ackie lizard when he walks around with a skirt of dead skin hanging from his waist.

    My feet have grown hooves. When I sandpaper them every night, I shrink 2mm.

    My hair has gone from a thick, shining lion's mane to dry hair that sticks out in a triangular shape. I could weep, it was GOOD hair.

    My eyes are dry and I had to give up contacts after developing bilateral corneal ulceration and nearly losing my sight. My eye consultant said my corneas resemble the surface of the moon, they're so scarred, and he has worked hard to get them smooth again. Oh, and my mebium glands packed up so I have to massage my eyelids with a hot pack every night. Having Sjogrens syndrome develop last year hasn't helped.

    I go from 0-100 temper-wise in the blink of a (dried up) eye. My language is terrible. I have become super creative in the use and creation of profane adverbs never heard before. I have become slightly calmer these last few months, I am hoping this means that things are settling down but with the menopause, YOU NEVER KNOW.

    I was 42 when mine began to rumble. They start earlier in our family. My daughter has to try and build an adult life which *might* include children in the knowledge that she probably won't have the time other women do.

    1. Yes I have the hooves.
      I never had good hair but now it's beyond a joke.
      Yes get your daughter to have babies. Men don't really matter, just get the babies.

  6. Thanks as always for a post which is both funny and true in equal measure...I can however tell you, as I approach my 60th birthday, that it does end, and mercifully, once it does, the horrid details are hard to remember (along with many other bits of information!). Like you, I spent the first year or so determined to tough it out, but in the end, my wonderful empathetic female doctor convinced me that a low dose HRT was worth a try. In her words 'don't tell me if this choice had been available to our grandmothers that they wouldn't have taken advantage of it!' It was, for me, the best decision I could have made...but we are all of course, different.

    1. Just spoke to another friend who said 'don't do HRT, it leads to breast cancer'.
      It's all so confusing.
      My main weapon against the menopause at present is my cardigan. I also carried a fan in my handbag but it wore out.
      I must visit Australia! x

  7. Brilliant post. I have been on tamoxifen or letrozole tablets since 2005 to prevent breast cancer reoccuring - this puts you instantly into the menopause. It is truly horrible and should not be such a taboo subject. I wake up in the night literally drenched in sweat and then a few minutes later freezing cold. My husband recently had a bug which caused him to have hot flushes for 2 whole nights - no sympathy from me - told him he could complain when he had put up with them for 10 years.

    I now only wear layers that can easily be removed and put back on again without giving the appearance that I am about to do a striptease. I don't know about anyone else but my layers have to come off almost instantly - it is so unbearable.

    1. Yes I sometimes get unreasonably cold too.
      Layers is the answer.
      Poor you, must have been a terrible shock.

  8. I feel I'm at the moment when I know menopause is coming but I'm not quite a fully paid up member yet. I've noticed that I no longer can tolerate stuff I used to, not sure if that's age/experience or menopause but I am more irritated these days! As for hot flushes, my darling friend who had this very early used to carry a fan which I thought was wonderfully coy and alluring. Elinor x

    1. I carried a fan last year...used it so much it broke. Must buy another.

  9. My worst experience was having a hot flash while seat-belted into a car, driving down a highway, wearing a heavy winter coat. There was no way to escape! All of this rings true - the claustrophobic, panicky feeling, the sweat soaked pajamas in the middle of the night that make you break out in shivering. I took wild yam capsules (the herb) which didn't take hot flashes away completely but made them less intense. You have to take it on a regular basis, not just when you are having the flashes. Also, I found alcohol makes it worse. Thanks for posting about something many of us women can personally relate to.

    1. I've had that. Hot flushes when driving...awful. I make sure I don't wear coats in the car anymore.

  10. Thank you! I am 42 now and I have been wondering about how it all starts, but there is nil information around. My menstrual cycle has turned goofy over the past two years - comes much more often, and heavily, but is mostly over after two days. Is that part of it, too? Is this the beginning? How does menstruation fade out? When will I finally stop bleeding? When may I stop taking contraception? etc. pp. Are there any books you'd recommend?

    1. Hi Jana,
      42 would be quite young to start the menopause. What age did your mum and grandmother start? You could be perimenopausal.
      Prior to the menopause, periods become incredibly heavy. I had one five week period where it was literally falling out of me, I couldn't leave the house. Then it starts to become very irregular (easier to tell if you've always been regular like me) and the odd massive bleeder. Eventually it stops. Sometimes you can actually feel your ovaries trying to gear up into action, ovulation can be a bit more painful.
      As for contraception I wouldn't give it up. Officially you are through the menopause when you've gone a year without periods, you can get this checked at the doctor. However there are plenty of stories of women who think they are no longer fertile suddenly getting pregnant. Books; Leslie Kenton and Gail Sheehy and Dr Christiane Northrup have written about the menopause.


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