I dreaded menopause, but learned to enjoy the heat

This is a First Person column by Ummni Khan, who lives in Victoria. For more information about CBC’s First Person Stories, see the frequently asked questions.

The arrival of my first period was a long-awaited sign of adolescence. I wanted it all. Breasts. Pubic hair. Even pimples seemed to bring with them a kind of anxious coolness.

Four decades later, my first missed period marked the dreaded onset of perimenopause. Not only was I embarking on the final hormonal transition of my life (next stop, death), but the impending changes were all doom, gloom and hot flashes.

The internet warned that in addition to the sweat stains I’d have to remove with eco-bleaching, I could experience menopausal brain fog, bone loss, weight fluctuations, anxiety, hair that disappears where you want it but grows back where you don’t. And to top it all off, I could expect dry skin, nails, eyes, mouth, and (ahem) intimate areas.

Over the past few years I have faced a number of these issues.

LOOK | When perimenopause can start:

Not ‘just’ hot flashes: how menopause symptoms can start sooner than you think

Insomnia, anxiety and mood swings are all symptoms people can experience during perimenopause — the process of change that leads to menopause. Experts say people don’t realize it can start as early as your late 30s.

I was the girl who was always cold. But as soon as the periods started to decrease, I became sporadically, hellishly hot. At least if this happened in the privacy of my home, I could take off layers and stand in front of a fan. But getting sweaty and flushed during a lecture on alternative sexuality — my area of ​​scholarly research — turned my lecture into uncomfortable performance art.

Then it was bedtime. I’ve suffered from insomnia on and off throughout my life, but in my late 40s I became a hyper-alert nocturnal animal. Even when I could fall asleep, I would often wake up in the middle of the night with the sheets sticking to me like wet papier-mâché.

The lack of closed eyes probably contributed to my scattered attention. Yes, I embody the trope of the absent-minded professor, but it grew stronger during this time. I started a sentence, got distracted, started another, got distracted again, until countless trains of thought zigzagged through my mind without ever arriving at the station.

Other physical and cognitive issues also emerged, but the hardest part was psychological.

My partner and I are happily and purposefully childfree. In lieu of offspring, we adopt fur babies from the humane society and enjoy being aunts and uncles to the children of loved ones.

However, when my ovulation stopped, I reflected on the missed experience of pregnancy and what could have been. What would our child have been like? Or looked like? I would never know.

Even if it is intentional, it is still sad when a door remains closed forever.

My first menopausal symptom was also a harbinger of old age. That always seemed fine to other people, but me? I am the baby of the family. I wear colorful tights and hair clips in my hair. Entering the autumn phase of life seemed out of sync with my perceived identity as a spring chicken.

A smiling woman wears multi-colored tights and a blue sweater and sits on a yellow lounger outdoors.
Khan likes to wear bright colors that she associates with youth. Therefore, entering the autumn phase of her life did not seem to fit with her identity as a young chicken. (Submitted by Ummni Khan)

It was important to give space to these complicated feelings. But like an unapologetic Pollyanna, I was also determined to put a positive spin on the hormonal chaos.

I told myself that night sweats meant I was detoxing without having to waste time in the sauna. In the middle of the freezing Ottawa winter, I was privileged to experience tropical temperatures.

I was so grateful that I no longer had to receive Aunt Flo’s monthly visits. No more cramps and no more crying during emotionally manipulative commercials. Goodbye Diva cup. And when my cycle stopped for good, white lace lingerie was safe in my underwear drawer.

The best silver lining of the whole ordeal? Goodbye contraception, hello spontaneous sex with my hubby. ‘Enough said.

The other positive side came from the coping methods I developed.

I discovered a masochistic love of cold water swimming during a stay in Victoria. Twenty minutes in the frigid Pacific Ocean not only soothed my sweltering skin, but also boosted my mood and confidence. I became one with the infinite ocean. Plus, I finally earned the right to brag about something quasi-athletic.

A smiling woman in a yellow bikini stands half-submerged in a gray surface of water.
Khan enjoys bragging about cold dives in the Pacific Ocean. (Submitted by Ummni Khan)

Probably the best thing I did for my physical and mental health was to connect with others who were in the same estrogen-depleting boat. We commiserated, bonded, and shared tips, like keeping a spray bottle handy to spray ourselves as a “power surge” hit.

Now that I’ve reached the other side of menopause, I’m enjoying the new freedoms and friendships I’ve formed along the way. And I realize that I can be an old lady without having to suppress my girly girl style or exhibitionist tendencies.

Passing this midlife milestone has also inspired me to be bolder about the experience, and I am determined to spread menopositivity to everyone who can handle the heat.

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