An Open Letter to My Hot Flashes

Please go away and never come back

Dear Hot Flashes,

I was about to give a talk to 1,500 people at a conference. And then, there you were. You showed up and you didn’t mess around. You heated me up. And you didn’t stop. You kept at it, all right. You kept at it 17 to 20 times a day.

Hot flashes, you don’t care what I’m doing when you hit. When I’m teaching, I have to throw off my sweater, only to put it back on three minutes later, and a cashmere scarf too because I’m suddenly freezing. Who knows what my students think. Maybe they think that I’m a design professor whose fashion flourish is a penchant for semi-disrobing herself, then dramatically wrapping herself up again.

Or that I really, really like my water bottle because I keep nuzzling it.

If I opt to flatten myself against whiteboards in the design studio classroom, it will disturb people. But I bet it will feel really nice.

A basic Google search tells me what can help. Avoid spicy food, alcohol, caffeine. Avoid stress. Find a way to laugh! I’ve tried drinking and not drinking, coffee and not coffee, spicy food and not spicy food, meat and no meat. I’ve tried exercise and no exercise, normal breathing and phased breathing. I took Zyrtec and it warded off my allergies, but not you, hot flashes. I took some pills that cost $35 and tasted like scorched butterscotch, making for burps like molecular gastronomy gone terribly awry.

I got my therapist to give me 10 Ativan pills so I could sleep because you wake me up five to eight times a night. She told me the meds might give me dementia.

That would be nice. Then maybe I’d forget.

I’m a professor. Research projects make me feel better. So I started doing Google Scholar searches on “vasomotor symptoms” and reading literature reviews in Menopause, the journal, and here’s what I learned about lifestyle changes. Nothing really works.

My doctor says to destress. Well, hot flashes, you’re definitely not helping me do that. Besides, what woman between the age of 40 and 60 is stressless? We’re all busy — managing careers, families, tensions, and things we can’t reconcile.

It’s not like you’ll kill us, hot flashes. But you and your menopausal buddies affect every aspect of our lives.

I went up for tenure this year, and you just had to be there too, hot flashes, in my most important meeting of the year.

An AARP piece on menopause has been the most useful article I’ve found so far (and I’m too young for an AARP card, no matter what angle they work by including old punk music in their ads). The article highlights why the rest of the articles are such crap, hot flashes: barely any physicians get trained on menopause at all, and there’s not much research funding either because it’s not directly a disease.

It’s not like you’ll kill us, hot flashes. But you and your menopausal buddies affect every aspect of our lives.

Inevitably, the majority of women who intend to live past 70 will get to know you, hot flashes. That’s probably everyone reading this article. Can you imagine millennial women putting up with that? What about Gen Z? They’re not going to tolerate this shit. They’re already working on a solution.

But in the meantime, I’m a Gen Xer going through menopause. In McSweeney’s, Angie Pelekidis writes, “There’s no cure for menopause because men don’t experience it.” So I’m with her, hot flashes: signing up for snarkiness — and a dose of hormones on the side. Because only a decently dark sense of humor shows any promise of keeping me cool.

K&L Gates Associate Professor of Ethics & Computational Technologies @ CMU/School of Design. Author of Architectural Intelligence (MIT Press 2017).

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