Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Heat, Health and Aging

So yesterday morning, thinking about my most recent bouts of dying of heat, I wrote my little poem and sent myself on my way to meetings and work.

The closer to summer, the more I have to plan what I am going to wear, which means no just throwing any old thing on.  While the any-old-things I wear for work are generally light (I cannot even imagine wearing a sweater while teaching), they are not light enough.  My work clothes have to be according to certain specifications (many of which are self-inflicted, but there for a reason).

First, the tops have to be long enough to cover my butt or my pants loose enough not to show my butt.  Neither of these requirements is easy to satisfy because I am tall and have a big butt.  Second, my tops have to be lightweight but not see-through.  Except for rayon and cotton gauze, most materials do not satisfy these requirements and would be too hot anyway. Third, tanks have to pass the no-cleavage test.  Fourth, short sleeves can't be very short (my spec because I have a hangup about my upper arms).  Fifth, pants must be cool and lightweight and definitely not shorts (which I wouldn't dream of anyway).  Sixth, no open toed shoes (I have icky toes), but summery so I'm not wearing clogs with gauchos.  And definitely no footwear that requires pantyhose.  I would die of heat stroke if I had to wear nylon.

Temperature wise, my afternoon classes are perfect.  The thermostat is set somewhere around 67 degrees, and I can pass myself off as a normal person instead of looking like someone in a steam room.  I'm not cold in the least, but my students are.  Yesterday, I told them we can do jumping jacks next time if they really need to.  My morning classes, though?  I dread it.  As I type, water bottles are in the freezer, vague connections to coolness that I hope will keep me from dripping in sweat tomorrow morning.  Sweat is so gross, and I've always had a lot of it.

Even as a kid, I was never a fan of heat (heh heh--punny).  I love the sun on my face.  I love getting color and vitamins.  But feeling hot, for me, is like feeling claustrophobic to other people.  Once I am hot, I have a tough time cooling down unless the temp drops drastically or I take a cool shower.  I can also get chilly or even cold at strange times, but hardly ever when I am moving around, and especially not when I am teaching.  I'm generally pretty animated in the classroom.

This past winter, I started noticing some less-than-usual over-heating, though, and I am guessing the episodes are hot flashes because they occurred when I was cool or even cold.  These experiences were more like a dry heat--skin feels burning but there's no fever and I'm not doing anything to overheat myself.  I say I am guessing these are hot flashes because when you have lousy body temperature regulation to begin with, it's had to identify source.

Night sweats?  I've gotten them off and on throughout most of my life, so I can't tell you if they are related to impending menopause or not.  Period problems?  Since January, I've gotten my period every two weeks, and for the past six months, I've gotten a yeast infection about once a month.  But about ten years ago, my period was doing the same thing, and it had nothing to do with menopause.  I ended up getting a procedure, and everything was fine for awhile.  Then things went awry again, so the doc put me on hormones, which I came off of after a couple of years because I hated the way they made me feel.  So it might just be time for another procedure, which the doc told at my last procedure, might happen.  Besides that, my period has hardly ever been what you would call normal, except perhaps for a brief stint in my twenties.  And it got really weird after I had my tubes tied, but one doc said that's pretty common.  Moodiness and crying?  When you've had PMS and hormonal problems your whole life, it's kind of hard to declare, "Oh yes.  Menopause must be starting."  Hair thinning?  Yes, but I also had bariatric surgery in 2009, which accounted for some of that.  I've also been told stress can cause your hair to fall out, and I've had my share of stress.  Solution: lots of conditioner to prevent drying, perms to create the illusion of thickening and big headbands to fill in the gaps.  It's kind of cool, though, because I am alternating between my native pseudo-hippie look and my own brand of rebellious style.  I DO want to get another tattoo this year. 

So, yeah, I do have to make an appointment with the OBGYN, who will look at me strangely and tell me I am too young to be starting menopause but order a blood test anyway.  Either he will be surprised by the results or tell me my body is messed up, neither of which response would surprise me. I KNOW my body is messed up.  It has been for my whole life.  It's just part of my human experience.

I recently had a discussion with my sister-in-law.  We were chatting about the aging people in our lives, loved ones whose health problems are worsening.  She said something like, "Yeah, getting old sucks."  I told her that for me, personally, lifelong health challenges actually make aging easier because I was never accustomed to leading a perfectly healthy life; I don't connect illness with getting old.  It's kind of like being overweight and pregnant.  You don't notice the weight gain as much, so you don't stress that suddenly you go from a size 3 to a 14. 

There are certain challenges I've never had to deal with, thank God, such as diabetes and high blood pressure (amazing, actually), but I've certainly had my fill, and who knows what the future will toss at me.  When I go to a new doc and have to fill out the "previous surgeries" section on the information form, I sometimes have to add lines.  My surgeries have not been what I consider serious (like open heart or brain surgery), but there have been enough procedures to make me think of surgery as pretty common and not a huge deal. Don't get me wrong--I don't invite docs to cut me open, but if they have to, I'm pretty pragmatic about it.  Pain kind of sucks, mostly because I feel useless, but anesthesia really isn't so bad.  Blanking out for awhile is kind of relaxing in its own perverse way.  When I have to have surgery, I half jokingly call it an "anesthetic holiday."

Between chronic knee and body pain, tinnitus and hearing issues, neurological, hormonal and brain chemistry problems plus trauma, I seriously have adapted and just move on.  It's annoying, but it's a fact.  And I refuse to give up on life just because I've got a few obstacles.  I'm a stronger person because I've had to fight a little harder than some other people, but then, everyone has his/her own problems.  These are just some of mine, and it could always be worse.

A hundred years ago, as an undergrad, I worked with a tremendously spiritual Indian lady who ran the services program for students with disabilities.  Back then, I was dealing with knee pain, depression, anxiety and ADHD, but I was an "A" student, so I served as a tutor.  I also launched and produced the department newsletter and created a publication of writing and art by students with disabilities.  These were great experiences for me because first, I was empowered through this woman who believed in me.  Second, I learned important skills, like mastering new computer programs asking for funding.  We actually got some money, which was very cool.  Anyway, this wise lady read my palm and said I would live a long life but would have health problems.  Maybe the health problems were obvious, but I believe in her predictions that I will enjoy longevity.  The older I get, the more I am convinced I have a mission, and this mission cannot be completed in just a few years.

Besides, I have to stay alive so I can continue to be a thorn in some people's sides.  I take pride in that I can love, but I never said I was always nice.
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