It was early in the morning; the sun had not quite decided to come up fully in the sky yet but there was enough light to shine on the streets below to make out the morning commuters rushing their way to catch the 25/34 bus. Gòng Gōng had yet emerged from the bedroom, and all remained in the darkness except the light in the opened dining room.
Xiǎo Yí was visiting, alone, curled up on grandparents’ pull-out sofa. Submerged in the shadows, I watched Pópo handing her a piping hot cup of what looked like black gunk that you would fish out of your bathroom sink. I heard low whispers between the two women as if there were some dire secret to be kept.
The preparation of the concoction filled the tiny one-bedroom apartment with an odd putrid bitterness which I recognized as Chinese herbs from the apothecary. Bàba always had a fondness of Chinese herbs which always had to be boiled into some bitter tea or soup or gunk, rather than just popping a neatly packaged pill or two.
The light from outside were filtering through the closed blinds and I can just make out Xiǎo Yí’s squinch nose with every small sip while Pópo dutifully watched over her. I observed the scene with curiosity eating my buttered toast before school and instinctively knew that this was some older woman thing, I was 9. Xiǎo Yí let out a small groan before laying back down and her voice broke through the darkness in an ominous tone, “this is what you have to look forward to (as a woman).”
That was my first introduction to women going through menopause. I understood that the symptoms varied and that it generally hit the women on my mother’s side relatively young. Xiǎo Yí was only in her late 30s and Māmā began her perimenopause in her early 40s. While I was not privy to any of Māmā’s physical discomfort, both my brother and I were intimately familiar with her mood swings, irritability, and anger, there was so much anger.
Now at 53, I’ve been experiencing the joys of perimenopausal symptoms on & off for about a year. Once every 45 days or so, my body would retain water, bloated, crave the nutrition-empty sort of carbohydrate, and a much lower tolerance for people’s antics as if my menstrual cycle was about to start … but then nothing. Sometimes there is so little spotting that it’s not even worth a tampon. This pattern of perimenopausal fun has been going on for over a year now but my family doctor told me that this could go on for a few more years and when I no longer experience any spotting for a consecutive 12 months, only then can I consider myself to be fully in menopause. I grumbled unmentionables under my breath.
The hot flashes had also come and go as they please. While inconvenient – to constantly take my sweater off then putting it back on, but certainly tolerable. Under the recent stress of being laid off, my hot flashes have evolved to a more boisterous version, especially at night. The constant shivering under the covers one minute and kicking everything off the next only to have beads of under boob sweat running happily down both sides of my body.
I had discontinued my beloved OTF membership and opted for just a plain old box gym at a fraction of the cost. The combination of decreased physical activity, emotional distress of looming unemployment, and eating way too much comfort food had all contributed to increased anxiety and disruptive sleep. When Puppy Horse (Great Dane) plopped himself on me as he does every night, all sudden I felt trapped, panicked, and felt my lungs could not get enough oxygen. I rudely shooed him off me, jumped out of bed and had to turn on the ceiling fan before I reasonableness would return. It was time to seek medical intervention.
I have been on Gabapentin 300mg once a day right before bed for a few weeks and while I still have some occasional breakthrough hot flash and sweat, I imagine once I get back to being regularly physically active, it should subside. I don’t know why menopause is such a voodoo topic. It’s like back in junior high school when all the girls know about the menstrual cycle, but no one ever really talks about it. The potential physical symptoms that can go with it. It’s just a very odd phenomenon.