It’s 6:23 a.m. as I write this. I’ve been awake off and on since, oh, around 3 and finally gave it up and got out of bed at 4:20. I would like to make lemons into lemon-aid and enjoy my present employment hiatus. I’d like to sleep in a little. Like until 8, maybe.
This is not to be.
For the record, I’ve never suffered from insomnia. I’ve always been able to go to bed, close my eyes, shut off the thought-machine and sleep until the alarm rings at oh-dark-thirty. The long night hours have always passed by gently without my help.
But no longer. I’ve come to know the silence of the night intimately.
I am not a napper. I can’t make up lost sleep. A hundred years or so of working full time slapped the pleasure of a little nippy-nap out of me way back when. Even now, while I’m not working and don’t need to worry about my boss wondering why my head’s on my chest and I’m drooling, I can’t do it. Plus, I always get a burst of energy around 3 in the afternoon. I have no idea where it comes from, but it carries me right on through the dinner hour and late into the evening. I hate going to bed early. When I was working, it was because I didn’t want to waste those precious, non-work hours on mindless sleeping, and besides, if I went to sleep, I’d only have to get up and go to work that much sooner. (I know, this is nonsensical, but it’s how my mind works). Now, staying up late is an engrained habit. It’s me. For many, many years I’ve been both a determined night owl and a reluctant early bird.
But as a woman of a certain age, I am experiencing a new and disconcerting phenomenon. It’s got me all discombobulated. It’s called, appropriately enough, the “hot flash.”
Here’s what happens: There I am, sleeping as gently and deeply as a newborn babe, all cuddled under the covers, cozy and snuggled up against Mr. Wren, my personal in-bed warming device.
Suddenly, I’m wide awake. I’m radiating heat like an overstoked boiler – in fact, I’m boiling over. I flail off the blankets madly and scramble away from him, panting. I peel my T-shirt away from my skin, which is drenched with sweat. My pillow is hot and damp. The sheet’s hot and damp. My ears burn and my eyes feel like they’re cooking. Moisture pools on my top lip. I feel like a raw chicken in a Dutch oven. My brains are cooking.
Then it’s over. The goofy reality of the situation asserts itself. Our bedroom is at the opposite end of the house from the wood-stove. The nice, nurturing stove heat never gets back there, which is just fine with me, as I prefer sleeping under layers of blankets in a cool, even cold, room. If Mr. Wren hadn’t put his foot down when the outside temperature reached the 40s at night back in early November, I’d have the window cracked open, too. I like the fresh air, the sense of it moving.
But even with the window closed, our room is quite cold. And there I am, no sheet or blankets on my sweaty, cooling body. For a short time, the cool feels heavenly. I sprawl there, relaxing, and start to doze. ‘Whew!’ I think as I drift off, ‘got through that one …’
… and then I’m shivering. Wide awake once again, bloody freezing. Teeth chattering, I haul the covers back over me and scrunch around until I’m comfortable, trying to ignore my still damp, tacky nightclothes and damp, tacky sheets. I turn the pillow over to get the cool side, stick my nose out from under the blankets so I can breathe, and try to go back to sleep. Usually, I can.
Moments later (it seems like) I’m radiating heat again, literally stewing in my own juices, and the whole, maddening process begins anew. Off go the covers. I fan myself. I peel my T-shirt, which is stuck to me, away from my wet skin and billow it. I sprawl, gasping.
This happens five or six times each night, sometimes more often, sometimes less. They’re sneaky, these hot flashes. You never know what you’re going to get.
When this first started about a year ago, I’d get up and change my damp nightclothes for fresh, clean, dry ones. I wanted to change the sheets but waking Mr. Wren and making him get up, too, seemed unusually cruel, even for me. So I just swallowed my disgust – ick, sweaty sheets! – and crawled back in.
Now, I don’t even bother changing nightclothes. It’s just too much trouble.
The last hot flash is usually the one that also gets me out of bed for good. It’s still dark as pitch outside, and dawn is a few hours away, but I’m up, too wide awake and aggravated to bother trying to sleep anymore.
My poor psycho dog, who judges his morning mealtime by my sleeping habits, gets up with me and gallops to the pantry door, smiling broadly, tail wagging, thinking it must be time for breakfast. I give him a big biscuit to hold him over until his usual breakfast hour – not 4 a.m.! – and make a pot of coffee.
My day begins. I don’t usually have any more hot flashes until around 8 p.m., but like I said, they’re sneaky. Sometimes I’m gasping, sweating and fanning off and on all day long.
Some of my women-friends call hot flashes “power surges” in an attempt to claim them as a phenomenon indicative of female strength and power. ‘I am woman, hear me roar,’ yada yada. That sort of thing.
Well, let me tell you: Hot flashes don’t make me feel like roaring except during the fourth or fifth one of the night, when my temper is just about at the same bursting point as my temperature. After that, all they make me want to do is whine. Proudly claim my womanhood? Proclaim my budding crone-ness to the world? Oh, please. I’m a woman. I’ve known it for years. I don’t need to flush bright red, smell like a locker room and blow steam from my ears to prove it.
I could take hormones, but even before the bad news came out that they could cause heart attacks and other nasty problems for menopausal women, I didn’t like the idea. It seems to me that, whether I want to assign all kinds of prideful, new-agey tags to the change of life or not, menopause is a natural phenomenon and, since it happens and always has happened to all women since the beginning of time, probably a necessary and ultimately healthy one. Screwing around with it by replacing the hormones that are dwindling away with fresh new ones doesn’t seem very smart to me.
I hear that anti-depressant meds can also make hot flashes disappear. But I don’t want to screw with the chemical levels in my brain any more than I do the hormone levels in my body. For the most part, menopause hasn’t had a huge effect on my moods. So I get a little blue once in a while, a little crabby now and then. So what? After a lifetime of being a non-moody, cheerful, tough little Wren, it feels sorta good to just let it out and be blue and grouchy for a while. Can’t help it anyway. And besides, both emotions pass before long and I’m back to myself. My shell-shocked family is learning how to recognize the Signs of a Grumpy Wren. They’re adapting; they steer clear. Everyone is safer that way.
Yeah, I drew the sweaty wren.