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Your Stories: Kate Petty

Kate’s life

I’m 63, married with two adult daughters, one working and one still at university (I had them late in life). Our home is in the UK, but my daughters were born in Bermuda and we moved back home (for me) when they were 7 and 9. We lived with and cared for my elderly father. I worked as a Beauty Therapist abroad but gave it up soon after they were born. When we moved back to the UK, I thought I may continue working when my daughters started school. But that soon proved to be impossible as the reality of caring for my father because a full time gig.

The worst was a frightening spell of panic attacks, especially a phobia almost of social interaction.

My symptoms

Panic attacks

During those 10 years, looking back, after reading other women’s testimonies, I think many of my ‘symptoms’ of what I thought was stress-related, could also have been peri-menopause. The worst was a frightening spell of panic attacks. This turned into a phobia of social interaction. I still get minor panic attacks, often followed quickly by a hot flush. Thankfully, my hot flushes are not as bad as others I’ve read; no dripping sheets, but enough to disturb my sleep most nights.

Mood Swings

My temper was volatile. If I wasn’t able to release it with a private scream I would lash out at my poor family. This would be followed by utter remorse & often tears of regret. I was a mess in short.

HRT

When my periods stopped I felt relief and a sense of freedom of sorts, but it was short lived as my father’s needs increased. After menopause was established around age 50, my doctor advised HRT considering my circumstances and it certainly helped me to feel ‘normal’ again (although the loss of libido was hardly changed and now feels lost for good!).

I had a lovely consultant who talked me through taking HRT and she was extremely understanding and helpful and assured me that the past scares of taking it were unfounded. I felt completely sure in taking it & enjoyed the benefits until after about 5-6 years and a different consultant reviewed my case & strongly suggest I wean myself off as the scares of the past were real (!) and best to not go past the 5 year recommended safe period (Recent research indicates that there is no upper age limit on low dosages of HRT. For more information on HRT, click here). So I was frightened into obeying, plus knowing that the symptoms return after stopping, I figured I’d ‘get it over with’!

…but now this seems heightened & worse than ever: I cry at the drop of a hat.

A scare

I had a recall after a mammogram. I had cysts removed which proved to be benign but I decided to stop HRT due to a cancer scare. Back then there was much less research about the issue, now we know that HRT doesn’t increase the risk of cancer anymore than being obese does.

Last year I had a papilloma (a small, usually benign growth on the skin or on a mucous membrane) removed from the same breast, still nothing to worry about, but traumatic enough at the time. I’ve always been an over sensitive person but now this seems heightened and worse than ever. I cry at the drop of a hat, I jump out of my skin at the slightest noise, causing much hilarity to my family & I can at least laugh at myself.

…the nights when I wake and lay there for hours worrying about the stupidest or tiniest things or sometimes really big actual concerns leave me feeling drained the next day.

Sleeping habits

The worst is my poor sleeping habits. I’m obsessed with getting enough & never do. Most nights I’m lucky to get back to sleep after waking at 1 or 2 or 3 or 4. There are nights when I wake and lay there for hours. Worrying about the stupidest or tiniest things or sometimes really big actual concerns leave me feeling drained the next day. My father died when I was 58, by the end of that year I was diagnosed with ME/CFS.

Now, after 5 years of learning to manage it I’m also learning that many of the symptoms mimic the menopause so even when I’m not severely debilitated by it, my energy levels are still below par and I watch with envy female friends, some still working, who have boundless energy, or those with grandchildren who help care for them. I wonder if I’ll ever have the stamina for that joy when the time comes.

…I do feel a dreadful brain fog at times where I cannot think straight.

Brain Fog

I don’t tend to leave things in odd places, but I do feel a dreadful brain fog at times where I cannot think straight. Of the many supplements I take for CFS (as recommended by Dr. Sarah Myhill, who also wrote about general ailments in her book Sustainable Medicine).

I also take Valerian at night which seems to help initially. I tried black cohosh for hot flushes but didn’t notice any difference. The most important one for me is a high dose of B12 which most women over 50 are lacking in. It helps with energy levels in particular & hard to find enough of it in food.

I follow a Paleo diet about 80% of the time & careful to eat good organic meat & fish, lots of vegetables, little fruit, & hardly any grains.

I guess all that’s left is to wait it out & hope that this too shall pass. If only we knew how long we had to suffer these ailments, it might help us endure it a bit better!