When I Had My First Hot Flash, I Didn’t Realize What Was to Come

I was 45 when I had my first hot flash—arguably the most common of the vasomotor symptoms (VMS) associated with menopause. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before: This whoosh of heat appeared out of nowhere and spread quickly through my body. Then, just like that, it was gone, leaving me sweaty and irritated. I’d heard about this phenomenon from my friends who had already approached menopause, so I realized that what I had just experienced was, indeed, a hot flash, not some strange illness, and that there were plenty more in my future.

The worst part was the frequency, coming every 20 minutes or so. Right after getting out of the shower and applying my makeup, I’d have a hot flash, leaving me feeling like I needed to jump back in the shower and start all over again.

This whoosh of heat appeared out of nowhere and spread quickly through my body.

Since they never lasted very long, I decided I could handle them and would hang in there unless they began interfering dramatically with my quality of life. Unfortunately, they began interfering dramatically with my quality of life. Overnight, it seemed, elements of my daily routine were now being challenged in unmistakable ways:

  • My stress levels went up. The intensity and length of each hot flash quickly went from being simply irritating to extremely uncomfortable, leaving me short-tempered and sweaty. I soon discovered that stress not only triggers a hot flash, but the stress of having a hot flash exacerbates the intensity of that hot flash!
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  • I changed my approach to getting dressed. I never found a natural product, cream, or vitamin that worked for me, so I made lifestyle tweaks. Because of my tendency to become extremely hot and then very cold afterward—thanks to sweat-induced damp clothing—I dressed in layers. Loose clothing was also a must, while white jeans were completely off-limits.
  • My skin broke out. That’s not all—my face became ultra-sensitive. And for the first time in my life, I had rosacea [a common skin condition characterized by redness and visible blood vessels in the face]. Making matters worse—and treatment tricky—some parts of my face were oily, while other areas were dry.

My VMS had become untenable—I needed help.

  • I wore less makeup. My old routine became obsolete pretty quickly. On days I could get away with it, I went without makeup altogether. Otherwise, I pared back my look. I kept a stash of towelettes, powder compact, travel-size baby powder, a small spray can of facial mist, and a personal fan in my handbag at all times. I lived in the South at that point, and the summer heat only added to my misery. I’d turn on the air conditioning in my car ahead of time to cool it down before I got behind the wheel. I remember vividly pulling up to a boutique, dressed for a day of shopping, and having a terrible, prolonged hot flash. I broke into a sweat, my hair and makeup were ruined, my dress was soaked through, and I couldn’t do anything but drive away.
  • I swore off foods that turned up the heat. It felt like my internal temperature regulator was out of whack and certain foods made things worse. I knew that giving up coffee or tea was not something I wanted to do, so I didn’t try that, but I stayed away from spicy foods.

VMS Relief… At Last

After six months, my VMS had become untenable. I knew I couldn’t let my schedule be determined by hot flashes, causing me to stay home, or return home during the day just to take another shower and get dressed all over again. I needed help, which ended up being a bit of a process. One doctor suggested I take homeopathic pills for any symptoms that might occur, but that did nothing to alleviate my symptoms, which now included sleeplessness and irritability.

My symptoms have disappeared and my skin isn’t as dry either.

After white-knuckling it for several more months, I finally found a doctor who helped me find an effective treatment. Since then, my symptoms have disappeared and my skin isn’t as dry either. I’m sure homeopathic medicines and teas and staying away from foods like chocolate and coffee work for some women, but sadly this wasn’t the case for me. I have a strong relationship with my new doctor, and together we’re building a plan for me as I move through menopause.

A Fresh Start

Menopause may seem like an ending, but for me it feels like a new beginning. For one thing, there are no more periods, PMS, cramps, and monthly mood swings. Also, if you’re in good health and fairly active, you still have time to make an impact on this world. You may even decide—like I did—to start a business at age 50. All the new possibilities are very exciting.

Best of all, you quit sweating the small stuff—pun intended!

Alison Bruhn is a New York City-based personal stylist and cofounder of The Style That Binds Us.

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