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Thursday 20th October 2016

Well this is called Diary of the Menopause, so here is a typical day.

After struggling to stay awake last night after taking 15mg of Mirtazapine, I had a restless start to the night. I can’t sleep with the window open now, as I live in the UK and it’s Autumn. It’s nowhere near freezing outside, but my husband gets too cold. This is one fight no-one can win. I sweat like a pig, and he freezes. On the battle of who is the grumpiest and bitchiest due to no sleep for being either too hot or too cold, I’m winning.

The Night Time Routine of the Menopause:

Feeling completely exhausted, I went to bed. The second I start the usual nightly routine the hot flushes start. The fan goes on but the windows stay firmly shut. The second I lay in bed my brain suddenly decides to spring to life and reminds me of things I haven’t done, things I need to do, then just for good measure it starts singing a tune which requires around 2 hours of searching through the memory banks to remember what the tune is from.

You finally fall asleep:

Just as you fall asleep your body temperature rises. Throwing the duvet off you cools you down, but now you are aware the back of your neck is sweating against the pillow and you have sweat building up in your joints. I now wake up completely as I’m hot, restless and angry. This generally involves a trip to the bathroom as I’m up so my brain thinks I must need a bathroom break. Now I’m fully awake.

Repeat the above around 3-5 times a night.

You finally stay asleep:

This will be somewhere in the early hours, very close to your alarm clock going off. Somewhere around 3-4am my body temperature does drop enough for the night sweats to not wake me up.

This morning I was in a really deep dream. I’d finally fallen into that dream state. The dream was so real, I was back in the house my parents lived in when I was a teenager. I’ve not lived there for more than half my life. The house hasn’t even been in my family for around 20 years. I thought I had to be dreaming, but looking around the house I said no, this is my Mum’s downstairs, this is her bathroom, this is her study, this is real.

My Alarm Went Off:

I wake up with a start, I have no idea where I am, what day it is, what year it is, I’m totally confused. There’s a cat next to me and the room is empty. I can’t lay back down as I’m so out of it I know I’ll just go back to sleep, so it’s up and shower. Thankfully I’m working from home today as I’m on call. Even more thankfully, I wasn’t called out overnight.

Working from Home:

My brain isn’t functioning. I feel sick. I’m so tired everything aches. I can’t think of my password. I stand in the kitchen for around 5 mins trying to remember why I walked in, I give up and go back to the table. I’m now back in the kitchen, nope. Ah, I need some food to cook tonight. Fresh air will do me the world of good and may kick my brain into gear.

I walk to the shops. I’m making a cottage pie so I need mince, potatoes, mushrooms, carrots. Pete’s kids are here tonight so I’m out of sweets and look around for what they want. I go and pay and the woman is talking to me. Thankfully she’s about as non-coherent as I am. I can’t even string a sentence together. I feel really rough. I leave the shop and start walking home, then turn around and go back and buy what I went to buy in the first place.

Is the Day Improving?

No. I can’t concentrate on anything. I can’t read a document for any length of time. I can’t even type this in one go.

Noise and People:

When I feel like this I need quiet. I can have the TV or radio on for background noise to drown out other noises. I like working from home at times as I don’t have to talk to people. Some days it scares me having to talk to people as I know the words, or I think I do, they just don’t come out in the right order, or I just can’t think of the one simple word I’m looking for and then I fear I sound stupid. I used to be intelligent.

Most days I’m happiest if it’s just me. I don’t have to be polite, or think of a word. The noise gets to me and eventually they want something from you. Far too much effort. Please go away and leave me alone.

Today is one of those days, which is a shame as in a few hours time I’ll have a house full of people and it means I’ll be clock watching to see how long I have to stay up before I can just crawl back into bed, where it will be quiet at least and I don’t have to worry about anything for a while. Well at least until the night sweats start, the window is shut, it’s not freezing outside, why is the window shut?  How cold can he possibly get?  What’s the song I’m singing in my head – oh what’s it from……..

Repeat Daily …….

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Menopause or Mental Illness

It’s now been a while since I updated this and I’m well and truly passed the recovery stage of the total hysterectomy.

So, HRT or no HRT, do I have any regrets and is it an easy decision. The news has been showing articles on the link between HRT and breast cancer again, so why is it a decision women have to make and why is it so hard to just say “No, I don’t want HRT”. I’ve continued talking to women who are past their 50s and have chosen to stay on it. I’ve been told they can’t possibly work without any sleep, my memory was so bad I was barely functioning, I had to go back on it. I will try coming off it again later. So why are they staying on HRT despite the BBC news running stories on the link to breast cancer?

Here’s me putting my heart on my sleeve with why I think it’s so hard. For anyone just reading this one article, I watched my Mum die of Breast Cancer which was linked to her 15 year + dependency on HRT. When asked about it, she said she would do the same thing again as it gave her, her life back.

Since my hysterectomy things haven’t been great. Before the hysterectomy I was diagnosed with PMDD, a severe form of PMS. I was on antidepressants to help with the symptoms and as my periods were every two weeks, I was a walking disaster area. About 9 months after the operation, when everything had calmed down, I took myself off the antidepressants and the beta blockers I was on for migraines. For a reason no-one can explain, since my hysterectomy the migraines have pretty much disappeared too. I probably had a good few months looking back before things started changing for me.

My weight has been up and down. Extreme variations. I stopped recovering from night shifts and put it down to age and 10 years of doing nightshifts plus overtime, so I was regularly working 72 hour weeks. I came off shift and started a new job, so put things down to the pressure of learning a new role in a new department. I was then moved to set up another new department around the same time Pete and I were getting married, so yet more stress. For the last 2 years I’ve had an excuse to explain how I was feeling and I’ve used it.

Like most people, 2016 hasn’t been the best year for me. I lost my best friend to breast cancer this year too. I noticed something was off around March/April. By June I was struggling to even be polite at work, as they put me under a huge amount of pressure with setting up this new department with next to no help or support. I developed insomnia and I noticed how stressed I was getting with life in general. I went to my GP and they diagnosed Stress Related Illness. I was put on some tablets which were no help at all. They changed the tablets to ones which make you drowsy and would help me sleep. I do sleep more now, but nothing else is changing much. I had counselling sessions for 6 weeks too, where they tell you what you already know and try and change how you look at things.

On a visit to my Chiropractor we were just talking and she said she’s on HRT because of insomnia. She told me she knows she’s over 50 but there is no way should could work without it. She just feels so different. We were talking about my life and what’s going on and she just matter-of-factly said “are they sure it’s not just menopause symptoms?”. I got home and I had a look and sure enough everything I was feeling or going through was there. Do I have mental health issues or am I just experiencing menopause symptoms? There is a very scientific test I could do. I could take HRT and see what happens, as least then I’d know what I was dealing with. Up to the day I’m writing this, I haven’t. I think about it daily now though and then I hear all those women who never came off it past the age of 50 because …….. I could list every single one of those for the reason I would never come off it. If a tablet could take all this away and make me feel human and normal again, why would I ever stop taking it?

The menopause lasts 5-10 years. I have a friend just going into peri-menopause now. Her GP is doing blood tests and no doubt will put her on HRT, but for now I see me in her. She has hot flushes and needs layers to deal with it. She’s forgetful and has been stressed at work and with people in general. Our conversations are now a lot of “you know, thingamy, whatshisname, the doodah”. It will be interesting to see if she changes and how quickly she does after being given HRT. She is under 50.

For now I’m still on the antidepressants which help me sleep. The hot flushes I adapted to quite easily with layers and a fan, so they don’t bother me. My weight is out of control whenever I hit a down phase. I’ve been in a down phase now for months and am struggling to see a way back out of it. It’s been hard talking to people about it as you get the “Oh just snap out of it” and “what have you got to be down about” attitude from people who just don’t understand what you are going through. Do you really think I’d be here if I could just snap out of it? If I’m totally honest, other than the sleeping issue, I don’t feel any different after taking the antidepressants or after 6 counselling sessions. I’m always tired, I can’t cope with too many people around me for a long period of time, I’m forgetful and there are days I struggle putting together a basic sentence. I can go out and know I’m in there somewhere yet it’s like watching someone else control my body. Today a simple task like popping to the shops confused me. I couldn’t work out the order I had to do things in at the till. I’m 50 not 90.

I have to see my GP regularly now, just to check up on my mental health whilst I’m on the medication. I may ask her about HRT next time. This isn’t me, this is someone else living inside my skin. I feel like I’m in a fog most days. What seems like a great idea to just go and do something on the spur of the moment, is my idea of hell. I can just get through a day if I know what’s coming, please don’t add in the unknown without giving me a few days to prepare mentally for it.

If I give HRT a go and nothing changes, I lose nothing. If I discover me again, then at what cost am I prepared to risk this?  The latest studies in the UK show HRT makes you 5 times more likely to develop breast cancer, although this does drop 5 years after coming off HRT.  The same article in the New Scientist Magazine does state the depression, insomnia and hot flushes only last 4 years.  I’m half way there.   What I haven’t been able to find out is does coming off HRT mean you start all these symptoms over again when you stop taking it, does it just defer the symptoms and at some point you’ll have to go through all this anyway?  I’ve had mixed responses from people I’ve asked.  The women at work who are now late 50s and still taking it said the menopausal symptoms came back so they went back on it, against GPs wishes.  I’ve only spoken to one person who came off it at 55 and has been fine since, other than weight issues.

I have a couple of weeks before my next GP appointment to decide if I want to know the answer to this question.