My entry into menopause came as a surprise to me about ten years ago during Thanksgiving.
I knew something was happening, but I could not quite figure out what it was. At one point, I thought I was losing my mind. I looked at my Thanksgiving grocery list and cried.
What the heck?
Grocery lists never made me cry before. When I went to the store, I found I forgot my list. I tried to recreate dinner from recall alone, but it soon became apparent that buying the items from memory was a lost cause.
Alas, there were no walnuts in the cranberry salad and the green bean casserole was bereft of french-fried onions. The many complaints whispered among the dinner guests ranged from, “Mama must be losing her touch” to “I’m not eating that, it looks funny”.
Then there was the heat.
I mean the heat in my body. I got so hot; I opened the back door to the kitchen which brought in a blast of arctic air that just about froze everybody else while I reveled in its subfreezing glory.
During all the chaos, grandkids were running in circles all around me. I got hot again and the entire room began spinning, making me dizzy. I sat down at the table sobbing and everyone thought I went stone cold crazy.
After that first menopausal Thanksgiving, I researched the hot changes happening to my body and my feelings. I found that becoming aware is vital to help me understand what I was experiencing.
I discovered symptoms of menopause common to many women.
I was having everything from irregular menstruation to weight gain. But my introduction to menopause hit me like a ton of bricks. On Thanksgiving, at that!
- Irregular periods.
- Vaginal dryness.
- Hot flashes.
- Night sweats.
- Sleep problems.
Then I stumbled upon some unusual symptoms that surprised me while I continued to research this sad state of affairs.
- Burning tongue. It feels like your tongue is on fire and occurs in forty percent of menopausal women. This is believed to be caused by a dip in estrogen. No wonder I feel like a fire-breathing dragon!
- Vertigo. Fluctuations in hormones disrupt the inner ear’s ability to maintain balance. I recall my grandmother talking about her dizzy spells and how she had to lie down. I got dizzy the other day at the store and had to grab hold of the ledge of the vegetable aisle. I held on for dear life for at least five minutes.
- Electric shocks. What? (I found this symptom very interesting.) They are mild to severe strikes of pain that can occur in areas of the head and the extremities. It is believed that hormone changes can affect the hypothalamus or the neurons that are misfiring in the nervous system.
Hormonal changes in our brains also affect our emotions.
You can alleviate emotional ups and downs by doing the following:
- Exercise. Your brain releases the feel-good hormones of endorphins. You can dance your way into happiness.
- Sharing. Connect with other people and talk about your feelings.
- Breathe deeply. Deep breathing exercises oxygenates your brain and helps you to think clearly.
To help me during Thanksgiving and to maintain my sanity I have developed several strategies to manage my menopausal symptoms.
The first is a “giving thanks” session.
We usually expect about twenty people to enter our domain from sixty years (me) to six months. Children, grandchildren, and even a great-grandchild will gather to express gratitude for religious freedom, having our needs met, and each other.
Before eating, we give every person in the room the opportunity to give thanks for something in their lives. This can bring tears to your eyes and joy to your heart.
We even let the little children speak, which may prolong this activity a bit. We usually get a laugh over the funny things they say. For example, one little girl said she was thankful for her toothbrush while another grandbaby held up his pacifier.
But this year things are different. I'm cooking less and eating with family members over Zoom. I'm going to encourage eye-rolling, lip-smacking antics over who cooked the best!
Another practice I found that may help during this time is a meditation I call breath prayers.
For example, when the next crop of grandkids are screaming, running around the house, and getting on my last nerve, I quietly slip away to my bedroom and lock the door.
I take a few minutes to breathe deeply, and mutter Nehemiah 8:10 “…the joy of the Lord is my strength.” This meditation is going great until I see little fingers poking under the door, and hear pecking on the doorjamb with whiny trembles, “Granny, let us in.”
I hurry my meditation along, speaking as fast as I can. Can you imagine this comical scene? It works though because when I open the door, and the little munchkins come tumbling in, I can’t help but feel a surge of strength and joy.
Research whatever type of meditation works for you.
But, how am I going to navigate the heat this Thanksgiving?
As you know, hot flashes and hot ovens do not mix. Forget basting and carving a turkey.
After much trial and error, I came up with a cooler way to prepare the main course.
I cook my turkey in a turkey bag at 275 degrees overnight. Doing it this way will produce a juicy falling-off-the-bone bird. The next morning when my fowl-feathered friend cools off, I pick out the bones, then cover it up until time to serve. It will be ok to let it set, birds take a while to go bad.
I’ll leave a little turkey juice in the meat to keep it moist and tender. The rest is for the giblet gravy.
These are just a few things you can do to make your Thanksgiving more manageable and enjoyable. Remember, keep your head up, or perhaps stick it in the freezer. (In the case of an unexpected bout of hot flashes.)