Menopause

Well, this is a best kept secret of a journey, and not one I’m particularly enjoying.

I vaguely remember being told in my teens that if my “monthlys” weren’t troublesome, then I was in for a rough ride with menopause. Well they weren’t wrong!

I wrote this as I prepared to celebrate my 50th birthday. The mind still thought I was 19, probably because brain fog had seen it regress. But the body seemed to be aging at an alarming rate.

I’m still on my journey, but I’m far enough along that I wanted to share my experiences. Before I forgot them. But most importantly, in the hope that somewhere, something will resonate to help you through yours.

Bon voyage!

CONTENTS
Natural remedies
Nutritionist
Mental health
HRT
Breaking down
Breaking through
Back to the herbal
The road to recovery
Reflections
2020 vision
Getting it right
All we have to do is keep talking
Further reading

Natural Remedies

Like many people my age, the thought of HRT filled me with dread. All the cancer scare stories had stuck. So, I tried in the early days to travel the natural route.

My “herbs” of choice were:

  • Menopace Plus (general menopause support)
  • Evening Primrose oil (general hormone support)
  • Menoforce sage drops (reduce hot flushes)
  • Vitamin D (bone density support)

This all seemed to work well.

Nutritionist

In 2017, I was also diagnosed with Lipodema in my legs. So, in March of that year, I decided to seek more specialist help and met a Nutritionist. She devised a food plan to help with both conditions. And recommended different herbal remedies.

The basis of the diet seemed to be paleo, I believe. High in certain fats. Low in carbs. No sugar. No dairy. It was tough to keep too, but after three months, I did notice a difference when I re-introduced foods:

  • Gluten and dairy makes my legs feel heavy and ache
  • Sugar makes my hot flushes worse
  • Cutting out sugar helped me lose weight
    (When I eat sugar now I get a fizzing sensation on my tongue!)
  • Sweeteners, I already knew, did weird things to my mental health

The new herbal meds she suggested were:

  • Megamag powder (support energy levels)
  • Nutri multivitiamins (general well being)
  • Beetroot juice (helps flush the liver of toxins)

In the end, I compromised with my diet.

  • Breakfast – Dorset Nutty musli with Oatley milk, raspberries and blueberries
  • Replaced grapes with apples and clementines
  • Replaced potatoes with sweet potatoes or rice, or gluten free pasta
  • Bread – Tesco corn bread. It appears to have less gluten than the rest

Mental health

However, come December, I was in the grips of depression, and unable to stick to the diet fiercely. The effort was making me mentally ill. So in the end I decided HRT had to be better than the feeling I didn’t want to be around any more.

Thankfully, (or not), I have had depression many times in the past. So, I knew that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to BE. I just didn’t want to BE IN THIS POSITION. I knew enough to go and do something about it.

It is important to note at this stage that in January 2017, I had changed jobs. It was not until later that I identified that this job was also contributing to my mental health issues.

I believe I was also struggling with burnout or chronic fatigue. Neither have been formally diagnosed. But the symptoms are there. Couple this with menopause and it is not surprising that the herbal remedies were not working on their own.

HRT

I had visited different doctors in my practice to help with my hormone issues. Each kept sending me down the HRT path, which was frustrating at the time.

Just before Christmas 2018, I visited a new doctor in the practice. She acknowledged she had come in at the tail end of a journey, and was excellent in trying to find the right solution for me.

We started on patches. Mainly because there was a shortage of the gel (an ongoing problem in some parts of the country). I trialled these for about a month.

The patches are small lozenge shape sticky disks, the size of a headache pill. You stick a new patch on your stomach every three days.

On day one, I felt invincible. But by day three, I was back down in the doldrums. After my month’s trial, I went back to ask for the gel.

The gel comes in a pump applicator, and I put 1 pump on my arm each morning.

There followed a lot of trial and error in the dosages. I found the gel made me sleepy, so I would put two on at night to help with sleep (one on the arm. One on the thigh). And then one pump on the arm in the morning.

As is always the way with me, the first two weeks I felt terrific. But then gradually I would feel worse.

Breaking down

I wasn’t sleeping, so I was also trialled anti-depressants: Citalopram and Sertraline.

What followed were probably the worst 6 months of my journey.

In the first instance I took Citalopram.

I work as an IT technician. It’s a very active job. And I was struggling to get out of bed in the morning. I was working at one of the University colleges. It was hands down the best place I have ever worked. But there were days I would be locking my office door and sobbing because I couldn’t cope.

So next I tried Sertraline. However, rather than perking me up, they made me a horrible person to be around. I had no patience. I was exhausted all the time. I was struggling to complete even the most basic tasks. And I was now convinced that my colleagues were conspiring against me at work. I was most definitely in the throws of some sort of breakdown.

Whilst I was part of a team, we generally worked in isolation across multiple sites. There was also no cover if I was absent. This is a huge strain to put on any employee. It was particularly tough for someone in my physical and mental state. I was no longer suited to this job in my current condition, and I was getting desperate.

Breaking through

One weekend, being in such a haze, I completely forgot to use the HRT gel. In those two days the fog lifted. I felt like I was sitting under the eye of a hurricane. I could see the whirlwind of my depression swirling around me. But up above me was a small glimpse of a blue sky I hadn’t seen in months.

So over the next few weeks, we gradually took me off the HRT and the anti-depressants. I had to baton down the hatches to get through the storm, but the other side, whilst not blue and sunny, was at least less turbulent.

It is interesting to note during this time that I was suffering from extreme thirst. And no matter how much I drank, I was constantly urinating, but still thirsty. I maintain that my body was desperately trying to eject the HRT out of my body.

Back to the herbal

So, I returned to my original mix of herbal remedies, with a few alterations originally recommended by my nutrition specialist:

  • Menopace Plus (general menopause support)
  • Evening Primrose oil (general hormone support)
  • Menoforce sage drops (reduce hot flushes)
  • Vitamin D (bone density support)
  • Megamag (energy)
  • Beetroot juice (liver function)

The road to recovery

The situation at work had also reached breaking point for me. That also had to change. It wasn’t doing me any good. I could no longer keep up with the demands of the job. And it felt like relations with my team were deteriorating.

It is interesting that my boss was female. She had sailed through her menopause. So I think struggled to understand. I’m sure she supported me the best she could. But like any illness, if you haven’t suffered it, you can be difficult to empathise, much less know how to support it.

Eventually, in January 2020, I secured a new job as a Front Line IT Services Manager. The change to my energy levels wasn’t instant, but overnight I could physically feel the strain leave me.

Reflections

I have had a lot of time to reflect on my past 50 years, and these are some of the observations I have made:

  • My parent died when I was 10, but my depression didn’t start until I was 13. As mentioned above, I was so thirsty on HRT. Was my body trying to eject it? Is it possible hormones have predominately been the cause of my depression and fluctuating energy levels?
    As my menopause journey continues, my mental health is certainly improving as the hormones recede.
  • I love being an IT Technician. But due to poor mental health, I have had to leave roles that I love three times over my career . Exhaustion is a common denominator.
    Is it possible that my energy levels have never been great and burnout has been a recurring theme?

2020 Vision

I started writing this in 2019. My 50th year.

As I write this, it is now June 2020, and we are in the grips of Covid-19. We are in week 11 of lockdown.

I no longer commute to work. My office is my study. And I can honestly say I don’t miss the outside world. Because I can set my own routine, and timetable in the home, I’m no longer burned out. I can count on one hand the days of exhaustion and depression I have experienced since lockdown began.

I’m not yet through the other side. I’m still considered peri-menopausal.

I’m still irritable. I still get days when I’m exhausted. Usually 1st and 18th of the month. And I’ve reserved annual leave to cover some of those days. I have a male boss who accepts that I may be absent around those days. And I have a team now who can cover my absence. But since January, I have only had 1 day from work due to exhaustion.

Getting it right

I’ve finally found a job where I can pace myself. I’ve recognised my symptoms for what they are. And I feel a real sense of peace. Which is ironic given the current crisis we are living through.

I think the most important message to take away here, is we are each individuals. And what works for me may not work for you. But the first option isn’t the only option. Don’t be afraid to try different solutions. It’s not easy. And most things take three months to trial. But if it’s not working for you. Don’t be afraid to say NO! Don’t be afraid to seek further help.

All we have to do is keep talking

And there is help out there. I’ve put together list of Further Reading below. Use it. And talk about it. I can’t stress this enough:

TALK ABOUT IT!

Every time I was absent from work, there was always a female co-worker asking me if I was better. And I would tell them, “NO, sorry, Time of Life things, you know”. And so often, they would respond “I do know!” and a conversation would begin. Because there is an older working population now. Because the average age of the working female now is 40-60. Those female colleagues DID know.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve explained my journey. It’s the reason behind writing this page. People want to know. And not just women. Men want to know what has happened to the woman they’ve been living with for the past twenty years.

The University held a Menopause Cafe last year. The age range of those who came were between 30 and 60 years old. The younger women wanted to know what they were heading into. (I fear we sent them off sobbing!). Some wanted support for the journey they had just embarked on. And some were there who were through the other side. And like me, wanted to share their experiences, ideas and give us hope that there was light at the end of the menopause tunnel.

Further reading

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