“For me, it was the difference between living in blackness or living in the light…”
Reader Liz Breen tells us how she coped with the anxiety that came with menopause.
On October 5 last year, I started what was to be my last period. It was three days before my 46th birthday.
My name is Liz, and here is my story.
When I was 41, I began to feel different. I can’t pinpoint exactly how, except that the world became, for me, a much more hostile place. I was fearful and worried constantly. I was, in short, no longer me.
At this time in my life, as a mother of three, I was always busy, tired and, having had my youngest child two days before my 39th birthday, I was still pushing a buggy and potty-training a toddler. Life had been tough during those years. I’d had a traumatic emergency C-section when giving birth to my youngest child, and my dad had died. I put my increasing anxiety down to life’s stresses.
A year after the anxiety began, I went to my GP. I turned down the offer of antidepressants as I felt they weren’t for me. I underwent a course of CBT, which helped, and I felt better for a while. I’d learnt coping strategies for the palpitations and sense of free-floating dread.
But last year, the anxiety returned with a vengeance. I’d had my Mirena coil taken out in January. Ironically, I decided I’d like a few years without artificial hormones in my body in case I needed to do HRT once the menopause arrived (as I imagined it, sometime in my early fifties). I was totally unaware that I was firmly on the path to menopause already, and had been for some years.
I experienced my first hot flush at a comedy gig. I’ll never forget the heat rising up my chest and face, overwhelming me. This was a month after my last period. Next, I had a stomach ulcer. Then, the running I had enjoyed for years became difficult. All my joints ached.
The anxiety was made worse by insomnia. By last Christmas, my life was fear. I dreaded bedtime as I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I’d lie awake consumed by dark, irrational thoughts. I was convinced that I was losing my mind.
In January, I went back to my GP and said: “I think I’m going through the menopause.”
I had blood tests and spoke at length about the range of symptoms I had experienced. There are 34, and I was able to identify with far too many of them.
My sister, Elle, had gone through menopause at 39. I had seen her suffer from severe and uncharacteristic anxiety. She was put on HRT by her doctor and thrived, so I was hopeful there was help for me, too.
I decided to consult a specialist after the blood tests confirmed that I was in menopause. She immediately prescribed HRT. I went back to my GP with the prescription and got what I needed dispensed on the NHS. I use two pumps of Oestrogel daily, and I take two progesterone capsules for 12 days of the month.
One thing the specialist told me was that at my age I was in danger of osteoporosis and heart disease from lack of oestrogen. I was reassured that I was only putting back into my body what it naturally lacked. For me, it was the difference between living in blackness or living in the light.
What struck me when my menopause was confirmed was how little I understood about it. I had no idea about the 34 symptoms, and I didn’t know that anxiety can blight the lives of so many menopausal women. Despite having watched my sister go through an anxiety-ridden premature menopause, I still didn’t truly link anxiety to hormones. I was relieved when the anxiety I had suffered since the age of 41 was finally explained.
By February this year, it’s no exaggeration to say I felt euphoric. The balance I regained once the anxiety ebbed away, and the other menopause symptoms were alleviated, brought me back to the version of myself I had so missed. I feel free and happy now. I am confident again, and am striving for new goals.
The menopause has brought its gifts, too. I no longer say “Yes” out of a sense of guilt or duty. I make life choices based on what I want. I’m trying to live my best life and I’ve embraced my menopause. To quote one of my favourite singers, Dolly Parton: “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”