Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Heat is On

About six years ago, I began a journey that would forever change my life.  And oh what a journey it has been (and not in the most positive of senses!) 

No, I’m not talking about CrossFit, though you already know how that has changed my life.  I’m talking about the thing that no one wants to talk about, yet most everyone with two X chromosomes will suffer through.  Say it with me, girls: 


Let’s backtrack a few years (and just a few, because it was just like yesterday).  When puberty hit and brought with it, all the joy that it entails – or so we were led to believe in health class.  The bloating, the moodiness (as if being a teenager with raging hormones just wasn’t enough!), the unpredictability of Mother Nature and all the fun that She can impose upon a young girl as she blossoms into a woman.

It was my experience that if cramping was anything close to being in labor, then I wanted nothing to do with ever having a child.  It didn’t help matters that I’ve always had an aversion to taking pills (thanks to my childlike wonderment with a grape-shaped magnet that I managed to swallow, the hard resin bundle no doubt stuck in my throat for a while before I could get it down).  And so when the cramping commenced, the only thing I could do was soak in a tub of the hottest water I could tolerate.  I remember one spring break, when I should’ve been spending time hanging out in the mall, but instead, spent it soaking in a tub and trying not to cry.  On another day, during an early morning band practice, as the sun was coming up and blaring right into my eyes, it took every ounce of energy to stand at attention with my trumpet facing up to the press box and not pass out from the pain in my lower abdomen. 

This is “joyful”?  This is “wonderful”?  This is a “beautiful” stage in a woman’s life? 

Fast forward 28 years and I’m staring menopause right in the eye.

I wasn’t sure what it would look like for me personally since my mother had rid herself of her uterus many, many years ago.  And if my sister’s menopausal experience was a guide, I knew I was not going to enjoy this.  At.  All.

I had stayed at a consistent weight post-birthing experience (yes, I did eventually have a child and no, I did not enjoy labor) until the first signs of “the change” began.  The scale didn’t so much creep upwards, as it skyrocketed seemingly overnight.  Ten pounds.  That’s where it stopped.  Even though I began eating a bit “healthier” when my husband and I shacked up.  (I say “healthier” because it wasn’t until a year ago that we well and truly began eating healthier.)  And still, that stupid scale would not budge.

Yes, I think CrossFit was drastic enough to help with the weight loss, but … I ended up trading in my fat for muscle and so, the scale stayed the same. 

Mother Nature has a sense of humor.  Who plays cruel jokes.  My body then reverted to its teenage state and by that, I mean, unpredictable cycle timing and horrific cramping that no amount of ibuprofen would alleviate.  (I finally got past my pill-popping problem too – but only for the tiniest of pills.)  She thought it comical to come for a visit on the very day Keith and I would leave for vacation.  Every damn time. 

My gynecologist had previously told me about a procedure which could “improve my quality of life”.  Long having surpassed the baby-making years, I decided to forego the further surprises that Mother Nature intended and scheduled an endometrial thermal ablation.  Good-bye Aunt Flo!  And thank you, Dr. Schneider!  You are my hero!

Oh, but the fun was just getting started.

Then came the night sweats.  The kind that leave the bedsheets soaking wet.  The kind that require you to drink a full 16 oz. bottle of water to try and cool down.  The kind that cause you to sleep with the fan on when the temperature drops to 19 degrees in the dead of winter and leaves your husband to sleep under all the blankets.  The kind that when done, chills you to the bone to where you steal all the blankets from said husband.  And the kind that results in an overwhelming fear that you’ll never sleep through the night.  Ever.  Again.

Hormone Replacement Therapy?  I think I’ve tried them all:  pills, patches, gels.  Nothing helped.  Nothing.

But wait!  There’s more!

Because there hasn’t been enough fun up to this point, here come the hot flashes.  When my hot flashes were at their worst this past summer, I thought I might actually spontaneously combust.  Keith seriously considered carrying a fire extinguisher around but opted instead for the next best thing (and probably a mite safer):  a mini-fan which I could plug into my phone. 

We had a mercilessly brutal summer (where temps were concerned) – a record 60+ days with the high temp exceeding 100!  Couple that with a woman in the throws of menopause and … well … let’s just say   the lava from Mt. Vesuvius would’ve been chillier than what I was experiencing.

Mine started at the back of my neck, then moved down my back, around the front, up to my head, before gravity took hold and the incapacitating heat went all the way to my toes.  And by the time it reached my toes, sweat was literally pouring from every pore.  Not kidding.  You could set a clock by my hot flashes too, if you were so inclined to set a 40-minute timer.  Yes, you read that right. 

Every.  40.  Minutes.  For.  The.  Entire.  Summer. 

Thank God (I think) that part is behind me.  I’ve been praying a lot recently.  Praying that I don’t see a repeat of my body’s bad behavior next summer.  Otherwise, I’ll be looking for cheap flights to Antartica!

Oh!  And then … there’s the lack of libido.  My husband wants to put out “Missing” flyers throughout town.  And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Still looking for some relief from the night sweats and insomnia, my current PCP suggested, of all things, blood pressure medication.  It works better than anything else I’ve tried.  I still have night sweats, but now they don’t hit until around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., giving me a good five or six hours of sleep.  Oh!  I didn't mention the insomnia?  And when I do wake up, I’m not staring at the ceiling, counting the number of times the ceiling fan circulates for hours on end (252 turns per minute, by the way!)  I’m usually able to get back to sleep rather quickly.

Did I mention my poor husband?  As if what may or may not be happening in the bedroom isn’t enough punishment for HIM (what did he ever do to deserve this?), then there are the mood swings. 

These are the moments when I turn into a she-devil in the blink of an eye.  Seemingly sweet, caring and loving one minute and an unbelievable bitch, the next.  Fangs emerge, my eyes glowing with such fire, and horns sprout from the top of my sweet little head.  And the language that spews from my mouth?  The entire U.S. Navy has nothing on me!  Let me tell you!  You know what they say:  Hell hath no fury like a woman going through menopause. 

Curiously, my husband, God love him, says “WHAT is wrong with YOU????”  And I have no answer.

Conversely, I can sometimes be found curled into the fetal position, tears springing from my eyes like Niagra Falls and I can’t explain that either.

And you know what?  It ain’t over yet!

So how much longer is this going to last?  I ask my mom.  I ask my sister.  I ask my friends.  I even ask my doctor; surely, she would know.  But no one knows for sure.  WHAT??????  I thought five years was the magic number.  Yet, here I am in about year six.  Someone said they thought it could last 13 years.  I’m no longer on speaking terms with that person. 

So, were those first few years, with simple weight gain and night sweats just the beginning, just perimenopause?  OMG!  WHY, Mother Nature, WHY???

When I begged the question just one more time, my PCP smirks (from her perspective, it was probably an innocent smile, but to me, it looked like an evil sort of grin) and says she thinks I can expect this to last until I’m 55.  That’s two more years.  It’ll be a miracle if I make it to 55 without landing myself in jail and with my marriage still intact. 

Thanks Mother Nature.  I hate you.

To those of you who are in this same season, know that you are beautiful.  You are strong.  And you will get through this.  Many have done so before, many will do so after, and we will too!  The next season is upon us and it promises to be the best yet.

To those of you who have not yet embarked on your own special journey, you too will survive.  Please know you’re not losing your ever-lovin’ mind.  I wish for you many a cool night, dry sheets and the patience of loved ones when your crazy slips out.

And gentlemen, be brave.  When it’s your partner’s time and you think she’s channeling her inner-Linda Blair, know that she is.  Give her some space, but before you do, give her a cold drink and a fan to plug into her phone.  It could save your life.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Just a Small Town Girl

The year was 1982.  It was a Saturday night.  I was flipping through all four channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS – because my dad was too cheap to spring for this new-fangled thing called cable TV) and there appeared on PBS, Journey’s 1981 concert (promoting their hit album Escape) at the Houston Summit.  PBS ya’ll. 

My teenage hormones raging, I was completely captivated by this band and in particular, their lead singer, Steve Perry.  I was practically in tears when the show ended.  I wanted more.  Not only was their music the absolute best in the industry (because you know, at age 17, music is life), but Perry’s stage presence was the stuff of legends.  His vocals, soulful, and the range of which justifiably earned him the moniker, “The Voice”.  His long dark hair and tight jeans were something for a teenage girl to behold.  Visions of Steve in his yellow leopard print shirt and his tuxedo tails invaded my dreams that night and many others thereafter.

And thus began my one-sided love affair with Steve Perry and the band Journey.

Every Saturday afternoon, while my mom grocery shopped, you could find me in the magazine aisle, pouring over every Tiger Beat and 17 magazine, looking for stories on and pictures of Journey.  It was a good day when the magazine’s centerfold poster was Steve Perry.  Move over Willie Aames, there’s a new crush in town. 

Imagine my surprise when I discovered Journey had been around for a while and had released several albums pre-Steve Perry.  My vinyl collection grew as I found myself spending all my allowance at Second Hand Records, searching for the older Journey albums.  But the newer stuff, that was mine on the day it was released! 

They even had a video game.  And yeah, obsessed as I was, I owned that too.

When I got my first car, a Journey sticker adorned the back window.  My cassette case filled with Journey. 

I still remember one Friday afternoon in January 1983.  I was a high school senior and my mom was picking me up from school for a doctor’s appointment.  As I buckled in, she pushed Play on the car’s cassette player.  The opening beat of “Separate Ways (World Apart)” pounded out of the speaker; my mom had surprised me with Journey’s latest album, Frontiers.

I saw them for the first time following the release of Frontiers and was just beside myself.  There are truly no other words to describe what that was like.  Steve danced across the stage, his dark locks shorn just above his shoulders.  All my teenage dreams had come true.  Well … maybe not ALL of them.  Because you know … hormones.

While in college, I had a pet parakeet.  While he (or she?) was not quite as musically-inclined as the talented Mr. Perry, I named him ‘Perry’.

Steve released his first solo album, Street Talk, in 1984.  Friends gifted me the album for my birthday that year, which I listened to for hours on end and probably drove my sister (who was my roommate) crazy.  Steve was a little more subdued when he toured for this album (of course, I went to see him!), but still … there was something magical about his voice.    

My first husband was almost as huge a fan as I was.  Like a high school boyfriend of mine, he too had dark hair and a strong chin.  And what’s more … he could sing a bit like Steve Perry too.  If you’ve read my post An Ounce of Strength, you know those were about the only redeeming qualities the man had.  We saw our favorite band together when they toured for their album Raised on Radio.  As the front man of Journey, his stage presence had returned to the category of ‘riveting’, his dark hair now longer and permed.  What?  Well … it was the 80’s.  And he was still damn sexy.

Once I re-entered the dating world post-divorce, my friend Debbie said to me, “Now remember, Sharon, we don’t date guys just because they remind us of Steve Perry!”  She was a wise one, Deb was.  Miss you, Deb!

I saw Steve for the final time while he was touring for his second solo album, For the Love of Strange Medicine.  This was far from my favorite piece of his work.  I found the music odd, and very much unlike the Steve Perry I had fallen in lust with some 12 years prior.  His hair, now practically down to his waist, looked greasy and stringy.  But … I certainly wasn’t going to turn down tickets I won on the radio by answering the question, “Who was Journey’s drummer for the Escape album?”  Uh … duh … Steve Smith!  I think the highlight was when his red tuxedo tails descended from the rafters and he greeted it with “Why hello there, old friend”.  I do, however, still have the concert t-shirt; it’s become a “work shirt” of sorts and it saddens me when I wear it, to think that he basically fell off the radar.

In 1996, Journey released one more album together with the same band members as were together for Escape.  It was after this release, and before they could get out on the road, when Steve left the band following a hip injury.  My hopes for ever seeing them together again vanished.  Poof.

I tried to listen to Journey when they brought on different lead singers.  But nothing, in my opinion, would ever be as good as having Steve Perry standing (and gyrating … um … dancing!) up front.  It’s for this reason, that while I love their older music, I won’t see them in concert without him.  I feel it would be sacrilegious, really. 

And in some small way, I want that part of my youth, the point in time when Journey was filling stadiums nightly, to remain intact.

Over the years, I randomly googled Steve Perry to see if, by chance, he was re-joining Journey (sadly, it looks as if that will never happen) or even release some solo work.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  The only thing I would find occasionally was the rumor that he had throat cancer.

In 2014, video of Steve singing with a band called The Eels emerged (who names their band after a sea serpent?  really?)  Why hello there, old friend, how I have missed you.  He sang a couple of Journey songs and it was almost disturbing.  His voice was raspy, somewhat off-key, and he was moving rather slow.  This was definitely not the comeback I had waited so long for.

A couple of years ago, Journey was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  I was elated to see them all together and heartbroken at the same time, for Steve Perry would not be performing with them.

Journey’s music provided the soundtrack to my teenage and young adult life.  And various songs highlight significant memories. 

When I hear “Open Arms”, I can’t help but think of Brian, a dark-haired boy I met in Georgia while on a band trip. 

“I’ll Be Alright Without You” served as my own personal anthem after finding the strength to leave my first husband. 

“Don’t Stop Believin’” transports me back to 1983, our Senior year in High School.  And to Destin, where my high school friends and I, my wise friend Debbie included, sat on the beach, sipping what adults sip, and celebrating our 50th birthdays, and where Julie and I bounced the elevator as we jumped and danced to the same song.

And “Lights”, which was playing as Keith and I sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge while on a cruise along California’s coast.

Heck!  I even had a God-awful tattoo put on my foot with the Infinity symbol, the symbol which long-graced Journey's album covers!

I guess you could say Journey is, without a doubt, my all-time favorite band. 

I had all but given up on the prospect of him re-emerging, when last week, who, but one Steve Perry appeared on Good Morning America.  Imagine my complete and utter delight upon hearing he had released a new solo album after having been MIA for the better part of two decades. 

He’s apparently been doing the media circuit for two months, leading up to the release of Traces.  Where have I been and why didn’t anyone tell me?????

As I listen to tracks from his latest release, I’m easily transported back to that Saturday night in 1982.  And just like 1982, I’m awoken in the middle of the night with music from Steve Perry playing in my head.  It’s not Journey, no.  But there are glimpses of the old Steve Perry.  The vocal range, a little smaller.  The hair, a LOT shorter.  “The Voice”, alive and well. 

As my husband leaves for work, seeing me glued to YouTube, watching both old and new videos of Steve in action, he says to me “I know you must be getting all hot and bothered.  I’ll be home early today.” 

And my 17-year old self smiles.