I couldn’t help but giggle recently when I read one of Sharon Stone’s Instagram posts. Along with the side shot of her smiling and driving, she wrote “Happiness is knowing your seat heater is on and you’re not having a hot flash!” It reminded me of so many cringe-worthy yet laughable moments of my own in these perimenopause years.
I am a CPA and work as a financial and strategic planning consultant to companies large and small. In recent years, I’ve tried to schedule all-day client commitments around my body’s calendar. I need to know that I can leave home and not worry about my proximity to the nearest washroom, but there are days when my clients and my schedule aren’t that flexible and I find myself in survival mode.
I remember one meeting in particular when I was to give a presentation to a company’s senior executives. Hot flashes had kept me up most of the night, and my period forced me into the bathroom every 45 minutes. As I started my day, I wondered, How many tampons and pads can one wear safely at once? I dressed in black pants (best for hiding an accident), a cream-colored sleeveless tank top, and long black sweater (layers that help navigate internal climate change). I grabbed a black wrap (in case I got too hot with the sweater or had to wrap it around my waist), a stack of tampons and pads, and bottles of both Tylenol and Advil.
As I started my day, I wondered, How many tampons and pads can one wear safely at once?
As I drove to the meeting, I decided I also needed to tell my colleague — fortunately someone I knew relatively well — about my situation. I needed his support, just in case. As soon as I arrived, I called him aside and blurted, “It’s day three for me, and I need you to back me up if I have a day three emergency!”
That’s all I said, but I said it with such conviction (read: emotional desperation) that he got it. “No problem,” he replied. “What’s our signal?” As soon as I knew that he had my back, my anxiety dissipated and my confidence returned. Sure, during the meeting I needed to add/subtract layers as the hot flashes came and went, and at one point I made a comment about the air conditioning not working in the middle of a Canadian winter, but the day went just fine.
I have come to realize that being honest and vulnerable in this stage of life is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of confidence and strength in whom I am and my ability to accept and work through challenges. I am navigating hormonal changes while continuing to grow, prosper, and live a professional life I enjoy. Those in the room will either get it or they won’t. If they don’t, it’s their problem, not mine.
Being honest and vulnerable in this stage of life is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of confidence and strength in whom I am and my ability to accept and work through challenges.
There are times when I’m in a boardroom with a table full of men and feel a hot flash coming. I push through if it’s mild enough, but if it isn’t and it’s obvious, I casually mention it and suggest we take a break. In many cases, I create a comedic moment of the situation: It’s amazing how laughter can make everyone at the table feel OK about the situation. For the most part, men have heard it before, and they have watched their wives, partners, or mothers experience hot flashes.
As much as we know (or are told) that this stage and its physical and mental challenges are normal, there are months at a time when I feel exhausted and am forgetful, highly emotional, anxious, depressed, and ready to crawl out of my own skin. It can be debilitating both personally and professionally — and far from sexy or graceful — but this is real life and it’s nothing I can’t handle.
Denise Zaporzan is president of Denise Zaporzan and Associates, a financial strategy consulting practice based in Manitoba, Canada. She shares her terrific style and more at dbydenise.com.