Last week while getting a haircut I saw myself having a hot flash.
I felt it coming on, that slow build that starts on my upper back and moves to the nape of my neck, picking up speed as it moves to my face and climaxes in beads of sweat on my forehead. I saw my face flush red and watched as the sweat appeared. My stylist who had known me for years ran to get an essential oil that she dabbed on the back of my neck and gently blew on to activate a simulated coolness. I had to rip off my cape to get through it.
The first time this happened so palpably and visibly I was at a 50th birthday party for one of my best friends in the penthouse of a funky boutique hotel. I was in the middle of a conversation with a delightful older gay couple. I tried to ignore the sweat on my forehead until my husband slipped me a napkin to dab it off. I was mortified as the couple drifted away to join another conversation. I’m sure this was coincidental timing but I felt like I had really entered the zone of something so permanent, something that I couldn’t pretend wasn’t happening to me.
In the 10 months or so since, these “flashes,” this constant insufferable reminder of my mortality has only gotten worse. I had one in my doctor’s office a few months ago and he said, “Yep. You’re flashing.” In this brutally cold winter when I take the train to work, I have so desperately wanted to rip my coat off as I feel blast-furnace levels of heat on my back. I have begun (much harder than expected) a quest to buy only cotton clothing. All day long in my office, I plug and unplug a space heater, put on and take off a poncho I have at the ready, and turn on and off a little fan I keep on my desk. I mean it when I say that this changing and morphing has been the most disruptive of my life to date.
I admire (but often don’t really believe) when women refer to hot flashes as “power surges.” To me, they’re not powerful, they are draining. My 13-yr daughter doesn’t get it. I have forced my husband to feel my neck to get a sense of the heat, the power, the impact of something, that according to a recent magazine article, could last another 11.8 years. My best intentioned friends have suggested all kinds of things, and truly, nothing works. I don’t yet want to consider drastic measures like hormone replacement therapy because the thought of gaining another ounce sets me back even further into a different kind of sadness.
For me, at 50, based on nothing except the longevity of both of my grandmothers, I try to guess how much longer I have to live. I’m certainly no longer middle-aged. As I’ve said before, my life is so happy and full and in many ways I still feel, in my heart and soul and in my level of energy and enthusiasm, like I’m 30(ish). I work with people in their early 20s and 30s and I’m pretty certain that I’m the wacky but cool “older woman” I have a confidence that few people have and is often admired.
I will make no apologies for hating aging. I’m not asking for pep talks or sunny and chirpy quotes. I feel like I need to rush some of the things I’ve always wanted to do and often rue the fact that I have found myself in a place where a lot of those things will likely not happen. I hate mortality. I panic at the thought of dying. I don’t like that my body is telling me that it’s closer and closer every day.
At the risk of sounding defeated, I will end by saying that I laugh EVERY SINGLE DAY, that I love my husband more deeply as time goes on, that I can stare and marvel at my daughter endlessly and I have not lost my exuberance and zest for always learning and bringing out the best in myself and in others. I just wish that this could all happen without being interrupted 15-20 times a day to wipe my brow, to strip off and add clothing endlessly, to be reminded that time marches on and that there is nothing I can do to make it slow down.