It will not surprise those who know me well to learn that I love hot weather – yes, even with the onset of hot flushes and menopause! In the early years on my return to the UK, I used to live for summer and it took up to 5 or 6 years for me to learn to appreciate autumn, winter and spring. Before leaving Lagos, Nigeria to settle in London finally in 1990 I gave away most of my clothes and belongings save for a few items that I thought would come in handy including a jumper and my boots from the Nigerian National Youth Service Corp. I wore this jumper on the flight from Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos to London, Heathrow Airport. It got colder as the flight progressed and on arrival in London I felt like I was walking around in a walk-in freezer. Fortunately, my sister met me at the airport with a big warm brown coat for me to wear. On putting on the coat I felt relieved to start with and then I began to feel cold again and, after a short while my body felt like it was freezing again. I remember that my fingers hurt so much and the tips of them felt like they were about to explode. Waiting for the bus was a nightmare and I was so relieved when we finally arrived home. For the first few months back in London, fear of the cold made me anxious about leaving home. I worried about having to wait long periods in the cold for buses and getting dressed in so many layers for a long time – about five years – took the fun out of fashion for me. It felt like whatever nice outfit I managed to cobble together, I had to cover it up with a coat or jacket. Money was very tight so my coats and jackets were not much to look at. I also had to worry about coordinating tights, thermal layered undergarments and so on to keep myself warm. For the first few years in the UK, I started to wonder whether there was something wrong with me and I always seemed to be colder than everyone else and I was often first person to reach for a warm layer of clothing. In the end finances or the lack of thereof forced me to aclimatise. Cycling was one of the cheapest ways for me to get around London and, although I still dreaded the cold, I knew that I would arrive at my destination feeling slightly warmer from the exercise and would soon warm up provided I could change into clean dry clothes. After a few years of cycling, I noticed that I did not need to wear as many layers even on the days that I was not cycling. I had, in effect, finally adapted to the cold climate. I stopped living for summer and started to enjoy autumn and winter especially in relation to the changing fashion trends. My favourite season is now spring because it signals the arrival of summer which I still love and the prospect of a fresh beginning.
Fast forward to January 2016 when I experienced my first gentle hot flush. I have tried to find out why women experience them and everything I have read says that they are unexplained and occur due to the drop in oestrogen. Hot flushes are possibly the most common symptom of peri-menopause and menopause and while they are not medically harmful they can really disrupt sleep when they occur at night or as night sweats. I was lucky that I had my first introduction to them during the January, arguably the coldest month of winter but even so, the gentle start did not last very long and they soon became ferocious in intensity for a while before gradually tailing off. Since then, I have tried very hard to predict when hot flushes strike with great difficulty. Some things trigger them like, going from a cold to a hot room, eating spicy food or feeling anxious. Although I do not suffer with this particular symptom of menopause as much as other women appear to, I don’t enjoy the few that I experience from time to time.
One positive thing about the onset of hot flushes is that I am not as concerned about a stylish cover up during the colder months so I can get more wear out of summer clothes during the cold months. I am also saving a fortune on heating bills as I often will not turn on the heating for fear of triggering them even when I am actually quite cold. However, I would by lying if I did not say that the prospect of travelling to a place with a hot climate does not hold some trepidation for me since menopause. Going on holiday to hot climates does not hold the same appeal as it did many years ago but I had decided to visit Saipan and was determined to make the most of it. I had all sorts of lofty ambitions about Saipan before setting out including find out, if possible, how women deal with hot flushes and menopause generally. In the end I never did ask anyone for a variety of reasons mainly language and the fear of upsetting or causing offence.
Saipan reminded me of the best of living in Nigeria and took me to a happy place. For one thing it was hot and humid as soon as I arrived off the plane even though it was 1 am in the morning. The plants and vegetation is similar to what one would find in Nigeria. Like Nigeria the days start cool and bearable and then by 11 am the sun is baking hot and minimal exposure to the searing Saipan sun turned my skin a seriously deep dark rich brown which I loved and rocked to the fullest! My skin tanned so effectively going at least 2 – 3 shades darker that half of my makeup kit became redundant. Again, like Nigeria, I was not keen on roaming around between 11 am and 4.30 pm unless there was an air conditioned car available. It was just too hot. I found myself starting to dodge any activities including bicycle rides and so on. In Nigeria our umbrellas doubled up as parasols and that is what I had to resort to in Saipan.
I noticed that I would linger just that bit longer in places with air conditioning including shops and cafes and that was part of my motivation for wanting to spend time on the beach so I could take a cool refreshing dip if I needed to.
I expected to have hot flushes every second because of the extremely hot weather but that did not happen. When I did experience them on the rare occasion in my 12 days or so long vacation, they were as random as they are in the UK. In other words, sometimes during times of anxiety and/or pressure, I would feel a hot flush come on. But having observed myself now for a year since I began experiencing hot flushes, I cannot tell you with any certainty what really brings them on for me. I will continue to observe.
Having said that, I have developed some strategies to cope with hot flushes as follows:
- Keeping well hydrated – my GP advised me to keep hydrated to replenish the water my body would lose during hot flushes. I find that I am less likely to have not flushes when I am well hydrated. I still enjoy hot drinks a lot and cannot go without my cups of tea but I have learnt not to have the drinks piping hot unless my body is cold and I am deliberately trying to warm up. If not, the heat from the drink has been known to trigger a hot flush. Drinking a lot will mean dealing with a full bladder quite a number of times during the day, but I would much rather do that than deal with dehydration and hot flushes.
- Icy drinks – I use ice in my drinks to keep my body temperature right down. In hot weather I will fill my 2 litre water bottle up to three thirds and freeze it then fill it up with cold water to take out with me. This keeps me going until about lunch time by which time I will make arrangements for a continued supply of icy cold water or icy drinks.
- Icy water bottles – I still use my hot water bottles but now fill them up with icy cold water to bring my body temperature right down, especially at night time to aid sleep. (Thanks very much Yinka Akinkunmi for this tip!)
- Dressing in light layers – This goes without saying and really helps. At night I still like the comfort of covering myself when I sleep so I use a cotton sheet rather than a duvet.
- Exercise – when I keep up with my exercise I seem to have fewer menopausal symptoms. My main symptom most times is insomnia which potentially makes me too tired to recover from exercise and affects my consistency but I never stop trying to maintain a routine.
- Adopting healthy eating habits – This I read about all the time and by this I mean eating a balanced and wholesome diet. I notice that I have less symptoms the more healthily I try to live but I could not tell you why in any scientific sort of way. I have also heard that acupuncture and yoga help though I am yet to test these out. I have also observed that I have less hot flushes the closer I am to my ideal weight.
- Adopt tropical habits like avoiding the sun from 11.30 am in the morning to 4 pm in the afternoon. That’s what we did in Nigeria and I noted that the people in Saipan seemed to do the same.
- Herbal remedies – I hear that sage and flaxseed work very well. I have these as part of my diet but could not tell you whether they work for me or not.
- Reducing stress, general rest & relaxation – I try my hardest and am pretty sure these help.
- Having cold showers – I have always loved bathing and showering. Years ago I would have a hot shower or bath to warm myself up. Now I have cold showers to cool myself down or just feel refreshed. In Saipan, there were so many beaches that I could take a cool dip whenever I fancied and I wonder whether this is why I hardly ever suffered from hot flushes even though the weather was so hot.
Date: Saturday 14 April 2018, my current weight having worked up the courage to get back on the scales is 1 lb up only at 150 lbs – phew!