top of page

What Happens at 3 a.m.

For anyone who lies awake and wonders.

Last night I woke up at 3 a.m.

I wondered why. Everything seemed normal. But I was wide awake.

Perhaps a sound had woken me? I listened intently.

Meanwhile, an invisible rogue wave was stealthily gathering power. Like an ocean swimmer sensing impending doom, I realized what was happening an instant too late. Panicking and flailing, no hope of escape, I succumbed to its merciless force.

The hot flash. Or more accurately when it hits at night, straight up torture. Think tactics used by oppressive regimes on political prisoners involving temperature extremes and sleep deprivation.

Stumbling bedraggled back to my bed after the tsunami, I managed to doze a bit until 4:30, at which point it happened again. This time the waves continued to toss and turn me in a restless fever dream of anxiety until my alarm went off at 7 am.

Hot flashes are hard to relate to if you haven't had one. Trying to explain it is like telling people about a vivid dream. It doesn’t matter how compelling it is. People’s eyes just glaze over and they suppress yawns as you rhapsodize about your transformative experience.

Fumbling in the dark, I somehow launched my phone directly into the narrow space between the wall and the headboard. I couldn’t reach it, so I had to get up and heave the whole bed away from the wall to retrieve it. As the alarm kept dinging, in my groggy haste and clumsiness I caught the charger cable on the bedpost while shoving the bed around. It ripped the cable from the socket, sheering off one tine of its plug, which stuck in the outlet.

This set the mood for the magical morning that ensued.

I snapped at my teenage son in the kitchen, regressing to adolescence myself. I was icy to a well-intentioned but baffled husband while making coffee. I petulantly refused to cook a healthy breakfast and instead ate sugar cereal.

Then in my sleep-deprived stupor, I knocked over the full cup of coffee I had just poured.

I was done. With nihilistic detachment I looked down at the pool of coffee flooded across the floor. I let it lie. Collapsing on the couch, I shut my stinging eyes.

It was 8 a.m. and I already had nothing left.


Being in my 50’s, a good day is when I feel excited, motivated, and clearer than ever about my life. Midlife offers the privilege of experience and wisdom and knowing what my priorities are. I’m blessed to have life and health and still be able to work. Oh, what I would have given for this clarity and purpose in my 20’s and 30’s, instead of the fear, uncertainty, and intense competitive pressures that dominated my mental world back then!

But today is not one of those good days. Today is a day I question my ability and my strength, and the meaning of my life. Today I feel resentful, discouraged, and bone-weary. I understand what my parents meant when they said “getting older is no fun”. That statement belongs with “childbirth is uncomfortable” and “marriage is hard”. Understatements and platitudes designed to spare innocents from the harsh truth!

It’s true, I have chosen this path. For a variety of reasons, I’ve opted to weather these peri-storms naturally, without the intervention of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I do understand why many women opt for HRT. There’s a bright side and a dark side when our hormones start to change. The dark side can be terrifying, and for some women, debilitating.

Perhaps I wish to dare myself like a fire walker, or a woman who chooses natural childbirth. I am neither of those things, but my present transition is certainly a test of will.

The good thing about this age? I accept the lows with more equanimity and stop fighting against the waves I will never control. Tomorrow I’ll go back to protein for breakfast and cleaning as I go. I will get my exercise and chase my dreams. I will plug away on projects I wouldn’t have had the patience for when I was younger, knowing that the meaning of life is found in the journey and the human connections we make along the way. Thank you for being part of mine.

P.S. If you're reading this at 3 a.m., shoot me an email. I'm probably up.


bottom of page