Helter, Swelter

Helter, Swelter
Art Credit: Piermanuele Sberni/Unsplash

Is It Hot in Here? Or Is It Just Me?

By Edie Gross

I turned 50 this year, so I’m losing a lot of sleep over global warming. Not the kind caused by fossil fuels, deforestation and belching bovines–although, to be clear, ALL of that gives me plenty of heartburn.

Rather, I’m referring to the heat I now magically generate from within, the scourge of middle-aged women everywhere: the hot flash. 

Up till now, this wonderful rite of passage had been largely theoretical for me. I’d seen it referenced on countless sitcoms, from All in the Family (Stifle!) to The Golden Girls. And I’d attended plenty of gatherings over the years where women frantically fanned themselves while informally – and with more than a hint of desperation in their voices – polling the rest of the room: “Is it hot in here? Or is it just me?”

Spoiler alert: It was always just them.

But now it’s me. All. The. Time. 

Suddenly, I experience only one season all year-long. And it’s the season of August. In Southeast Asia. Complete with jungle humidity.

I keep hearing the young people talk about “throwing shade,” and I’m not 100 percent sure what that is, but I wish like hell someone would throw it at me, especially if it comes with a cool breeze.

I wasn’t necessarily surprised when I began experiencing hot flashes as I approached 50, but I definitely underestimated the frequency and intensity of the experience. Honestly, I think these things are misbranded. The word “flash” implies that they come and go quickly, like a flash of lightening or a flash of inspiration or Flash Gordon, who everyone knows is the fastest Gordon of all the Gordons.

These are not that. While they certainly strike quickly enough — and often without warning — they linger, taking their leave only after I’m dripping from head-to-toe like a summertime roofer. It’s more of a muggy mugging than anything else.

And my very favorite part is the postscript, when the flame finally dies down and I’m soaked and hypothermic.

I mostly resent the fact that it’s not a dry heat. I really don’t like to sweat, and I’ve generally only ever done it grudgingly while exercising, something else I really don’t like to do. But at least when you sweat while exercising, there’s a payoff: you gain some muscle, you lose some weight and you can blather on and on to anyone who cares (Spoiler alert: No one cares) about how transformational your workout was. 

With a hot flash, however, all of me is burning except the fat. Oh sure, my Fitbit throws me a few pity points for thrashing about in the night as I toss the covers off one minute and then, shivering violently, snatch them up to my chin the next. But that’s hardly recompense for the lost sleep.

I am both astonished and dismayed by how well the hot flash thrives in pretty much any environment. In just the last few months, I’ve experienced them in cars and planes, on boats and at least one ski lift. I’ve had them up North, down South and out West. They accompany me to the office and the grocery store, to weddings and bar mitzvahs. 

I have literally endured hot flashes while taking a cold shower to recover from an earlier hot flash. You know those horror movies where it turns out the call from the clown-faced serial killer is coming from inside the house. That’s a hot flash. There is no escape. I am, for all intents and purposes, a mobile hotspot.

I’ve begun tracking these power surges, hoping that if I can discern a pattern, I might be able to avoid the worst of them. According to the data I’ve collected, here are the things that trigger hot flashes for me:

Any thermostat setting above 60 degrees.


The Oxford comma.


Moving. Also, lying still.

Inhaling and exhaling.

Waiting on hold while repeatedly being told that my call is very important.

A shirtless Ryan Reynolds (though, to be fair, I think this might be something else entirely).

Lest you think these eruptions threaten only my peace and well-being, think again. I was behind the wheel recently, when my husband innocently leaned over from the passenger seat to adjust the air conditioning from arctic to merely frigid.

What I meant to say was, “Honey, I’m trapped in my own personal sweat lodge over here, so please don’t touch that.”

What came out was, “If you touch that dial, I will rip your arm off and make you fan me with it.”

(Spoiler alert: He still has the arm. But the only thing I heard out of him for the rest of the ride was the chattering of his teeth.)

I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t some way to use this hormonal eruption for good. If a young person can “throw shade,” it stands to reason that a middle-aged woman should be able to throw heat. And a lot of middle-aged women ought to be able to throw a lot of heat. I can’t be the only one carrying spare BTU’s right now.

We could bring hot tubs to a rolling boil and warm up studios for hot yoga. We could park ourselves in outdoor eating areas during winter and radiate heat for diners. Hell, with a little help from Ryan Reynolds, we could keep entire stadiums toasty during the snowiest of football games.

I mean, it’s not as if we can stay at home and chill, right.


Edie Gross spent 20 years as a reporter, editor and columnist for various newspapers, including the Free Lance-Star when it was blessedly family-owned. A recovering Floridian, she lives in Fredericksburg with her husband and a rotating cast of rescue dogs. She is adamantly pro-sweatpants and anti-Oxford comma.