According to the Daily Telegraph (January 2018) nearly half of women say that the menopause does have a negative impact on their mental health. Also, over 70% said that they didn’t have a strong understanding of the menopause – that they were unaware of the effects it may have on their physical and mental health. A quarter of women are said to suffer from extreme fatigue and nearly a third reported that their mood was affected, which can range widely from being a little teary, to sudden angry outbursts, from feelings of anxiety, to panic attacks and to full on depression (this is different from low mood). Nearly half of all women who were experiencing symptoms did not realise that this was due to the perimenopause, which can start up to 10 years before periods actually stop. Now that’s a huge amount of time to be suffering without knowing why. Yes, some women only suffer from mild symptoms, but for some women these changes are massive and it can affect every part of their lives.
What is happening to me?
If we don’t have the answers to this question it may be because there isn’t actually a lot of information out there. Yes, it is one of natures transitions and every woman has to navigate it in some way or another, but it is not one that is taken seriously (it seems) sometimes. It may be though because we are reluctant to talk about it? Does it carry a stigma? and what does it say about us? That we are now ‘past it’, redundant, old? For some women it does feel that way. It may feel like we are out of control, that we are turning into people we do not recognise. Sometimes it may feel like we have literally been taken over by a new being and one which we don’t like very much. Our bodies may feel that they are breaking down, our hair may thin, our weight may increase, the signs of ageing are everywhere and that can be very difficult to come to terms with. The woman who was once active, slim and alert now may find herself feeling unattractive, frumpy, forgetful and just so very tired. Also, at this time of life there may be other things going on, which also affect us, such as dealing with teenagers, children leaving home, divorce, or even caring for elderly relatives. These alone are huge life changers. Imagine dealing with these situations when our bodies and minds are just not working for us right now? It can be so very hard for so many. And somewhere in amongst all of this we have to adjust and find ourselves again. It is not easy.
I spoke to some wonderful women who were going through just this and these are some of their comments:
‘The hardest thing is that people not going through it really don’t understand how awful it is. I feel like a shadow of my former awesome self and grieve for the loss’.
Another lady said:
‘Serious severe life threatening depression. Even with HRT and antidepressants. Loss in confidence, loss of muscular control and strength, pain. An overwhelming sense of loss for who I was and a fear about where I will end up’.
It seems to me that there is a pre-menopausal life and a post. The words ‘overwhelming’ and ‘severe’ convey to me just how bad some women can actually feel. The fear of not knowing the future, or of facing the future with a body and mind that doesn’t feel like our own.
Then there’s the physical effects of it all,
‘Brain fog, hair loss, aches, pains, huge weight gain, no energy, permanently exhausted – this after a year on HRT….All having to be fought for from a GP who couldn’t care less about the menopause’.
It does seem to be a hidden condition, with a lot of the women not actually knowing they were going through it and some even thinking they had a life threatening condition. In fact it may actually be life threatening for some, if it affects your mental health seriously.
I feel alone
You are not alone. The statistics above show that you are not alone. One celebrity has spoken about her experiences to raise awareness. Presenter Carol Vorderman is one of those. She said:
“Then this depression hit me – and I don’t use the word depression lightly. This was a blackness where I would wake up – nothing else in my life was going wrong, I’m a very lucky woman, no money worries or nothing like that – and I would wake up and think ‘I don’t see the point in carrying on. I just don’t see the point in life”.
So why does the menopause affect my mood?
I am a great believer in knowledge being power. If I ever find myself stuck I tend to find out as much as I can about the problem. Me having knowledge gives me options, which in turn gives me solutions.
So, if you Google menopause symptoms, there are many and of course they vary hugely between person to person ranging from the traditional hot flushes, to gastric problems and many more in-between!
As far as hormones are concerned we lose our oestrogen during perimenopause, which can in turn affect our serotonin levels (our happy hormones!) and that impacts on how we feel emotionally. It is said to be the reason why we feel increased levels of rage, anger and irritation. Changes to our adrenal glands make us more sensitive to those stress hormones and this doesn’t help with our anxiety either. Of course, we cannot forget the drop in progesterone! This one balances oestrogen and has kind of a calming effect, so without this again we are more susceptible to stress.
There is a lot going on inside! A lot that we cannot control! Having some understanding or finding a place that can provide this understanding helps some women.
OK, so now what?
So, what about us women who feel it’s all too much, that we cannot keep up with what’s going on. We drop the balls whereas before we were like triumphant Olympians in keeping them up. Sometimes guilt may find us. Guilt for snapping at our family, guilt for not being able to do the things we wanted to. Guilt for ‘losing it’ at the slightest thing. Just guilt for not keeping it all together. Many women begin to question their relationships and their whole life in general around this time.
But for me I do think of it as a time of loss, but it can be also a time of rebirth. The loss side of it can feel pretty big with loss of fertility, I mean it’s easy to say ‘I don’t want anymore children anymore’, (and perhaps we don’t) but to have that option just taken from us without a choice, it can (for some) feel like a loss. Many women feel a loss of identity, some even feel like they now become invisible. Loss of purpose is probably also common – the kids have now grown up and don’t need us anymore, so what do we do now? Loss of libido can be very difficult. Most women still really fancy their men, but just don’t feel very sexual. This can put a strain on relationships.
Switch this around and it can be a time for rebirth. This transition may give you some time to go and do that yoga class you have always wanted to do, or read that book that’s been sitting untouched on the shelf, or visit that place that you never did, or it maybe time to meet up with friends. Some of the women I talked to said that it forced them to start taking care of themselves and they actually started to feel better than before the menopause. One bonus of the menopause is no more PMT and periods. There is a certain freedom to be found at this time.
What treatment’s are available?
Always speak to your doctor. Your doctor knows your medical history and can advise you accordingly. There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer with regard to medication. Research changes all the time – get the info, you do have options!
But if you want to try some things at home, try these:
Eat healthy, go easy on the alcohol. Alcohol can temporarily lift your mood, but it is also a trigger for anxiety and depression. Cut down on caffeine – even though you feel exhausted! and take regular exercise.
Keeping these feelings to yourself may lower your mood, if you can speak to friends and family they can offer support when you may need it. If this cannot be done, then counselling is a good way to sort out your feelings for this next stage of your life.
There are many supplements out there to combat the tiredness, the blood loss, the aching joints, etc. Always speak to your doctor first.
Or, join an online forum – just knowing there are other women out there who are feeling similar can really help.
If you can change the way that you view the menopause then that may help you to move forward. Life is filled with challenges and this certainly is a huge one. Try to believe that you will get through it, invest in some support networks, counselling, medication – whatever helps you and start to nourish yourself for the future you have to live!