Friday, November 12, 2010

Power Surges by Elisabeth Gumnior

Martha note: It's Civic Soapbox Friday . . .

illustration by Evette Gabriel

The bumper sticker is wrong. They’re definitely not power surges, even though I remember chuckling about the joke when I saw it the first time; but that was before I had real hot flashes. On a good day they are “my moment in the tropics,” or “my personal sauna heater kicking in.” On a bad day they are “fire flashes,” or “hell fevers.” At best they make me feel a bit be-dewed; at worst they suck the life right out of me. I have just lost an entire summer to these alleged power surges. I am a university professor; we are supposed to use our summers to do productive things like write articles and books. I have not even had the “power” to check my e-mails.

Much of my energy— since this most recent occurrence of hormonal imbalance started in mid-May—has gone into obsessing over my body temperature. When I am not experiencing hot flashes that either take my breath away or wrap my entire body in a sheet of sweat, I am experiencing severe chills. So ironically, I am actually cold most of the time. Every 20 to 40 minutes though, the temperature of my skin rises about 6 degrees Celsius (about 10 degrees Fahrenheit) in a matter of 5 to 15 seconds. In those moments, I seriously want to hurt the person who came up with that oh-so-witty bumper sticker. They most certainly are NOT power surges.

What I find really disconcerting about the line, “they are not hot flashes; they are power surges,” is the implicit “just grin and bear it” message that it communicates to women, and the “let’s make our women feel good about themselves, wink, wink” message that it conveys to men. Millions of women who, like me, experience this part of menopause as a truly debilitating condition, don't need patronizing slogans like that. But, unlike me, many women do not talk about the issue publicly (especially in mixed company) because it is still considered somewhat unseemly to do so. True, women are no longer locked away in asylums when they have gone quietly insane from the strains of menopause. But even the various outlets where women can share experiences and advice with each other keep the talk nicely contained and largely private.

However, all my manners and rhetorical savvy have gone out the window this summer, and anyone who has even casually asked me how I was doing has gotten the entire saga. Being vocal in this way has helped me maintain at least some of my equilibrium. And it has given me a mission: to generate real “em-power-ing” surges by drawing both women and men into open conversations about what women might experience during their 40s, 50s, and into their 60s.

At the suggestion of a friend I have started carrying collapsible fans with me. Not only do they make me feel more comfortable when the heat hits, they are also wonderful conversation starters. So, if you see me with my fan at the grocery store, Kline’s ice cream parlor, or the mall, let’s talk. Maybe I have an insight to share; maybe you have some advice for me. Maybe we can laugh together, or cry. Definitely, we can connect and have ourselves a power surge.
--Elisabeth Gumnior teaches Writing and Rhetoric at JMU

1 comment:

  1. Elisabeth, you have my sympathy. I, too, have had hot flashes that have been anywhere from mild to debilitating. The worst ones are those that wake me up in the middle of the night. Sadly, I have had them since I was in my early 40s and I'm now 58. My body reacts with hot flashes as a general communication tool. Hormones out of whack? HF. Have to use the bathroom? HF. Eat too much? HF. Need more food? HF.

    Over the years, I tried everything people recommended: eliminate caffeine, eat more soy, take black cohosh, get more exercise, eat only organic food, etc. My best result came from being on Estratest, but due to developing a heart problem, I had to eliminate that option. It was terrific, though. My HFs, which were severe at the time, were gone in 2 or 3 days.

    I later found that my night sweats are related to food (my blood sugar gets low) and I am now managing that much better and they are dissipating. So my suggestion to you is to have a thorough annual exam to confirm that the problem is what you think it is. Your HFs might be caused by something else. Also, if you are able to take hormones for a short period, that would probably help.

    I wish I could take hormones again! Loss of libido is the worst side effect, and no one EVER talks about that.