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Menopause or Mental Illness

on October 18, 2016

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.


5 responses to “Menopause or Mental Illness

  1. germanginge says:

    Thank you for a very informative article.

  2. Well, well, well … I am on my 3rd trial of being off my low dose combo hormones since my hysterectomy. I will be 48 next month.

    The reason I stopped my HRT is different this time … And while I’m experiencing the same stupid symptoms — hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia and brain farts — it feels dramatically different this time. The reason I stopped HRT this time is not the fear of cancer, but because I had a side effect from another medication so I really got concerned about all of my meds stopping everything but two “as needed” (PRN) medications.

    I became more concerned about stroke than breast cancer and gave hormones the boot. Being on HRT is a personal decision and the last two failed times I couldn’t wait to restart them because little sleep and burning up was driving me batty … But I didn’t have my pain condition then either.

    I have a chronic pain condition that keeps me up at night now so the perimenopausal symptoms are only icing on the cake. When I get the hot flashes I tell myself I can live through them, take off any layers of clothing I can, and drink as much cold water immediately as I can depending on how full I am.

    I hate not sleeping well any more, but my pain condition messes that up anyway making the night sweats and hot flashes a tolerable distraction.

    If I had any known strong family history of breast cancer I would have not gone on HRT … But my family history of stroke is positive so I’ve chosen that reason to discontinue my hormones.

    I try to look at my body with the hot flashes as going through some adventure and just hang with this weird intermittent sweating, trying to enjoy the warm moments as I prefer being warm over feeling cold. As far as the word-finding I try to laugh at myself as I use 5-10 words to describe the one actual word I want … not ideal, but that’s how I’m coping.

    I am in no way trying to talk you out of HRT because I get it. I get how uncomfortable and life-altering the affects of perimenopause are! You have to do what feels right for you. I’m simply sharing MY experience.

    • mhairi1308 says:

      I love your opinion. You are describing my symptoms perfectly which is leading me to think I’m not suffering from depression causing insomnia, or insomnia causing depression and I am actually going through what is supposed to be a normal process. I should point out I’m laughing hysterically at the use of the word “normal” in that sentence.

      Everyone has a different story and reason for being on/off HRT and right now I’m struggling to understand why someone wouldn’t take it! Why don’t they prepare you for just how crap this is??

      Do you know of anyone who has taken it for any length of time and come off it without the symptoms returning? This is the information I’m struggling to get. The people I’ve asked at work are now nearing their 60s and go back on it when they unsuccessfully come off. I’m trying to find out if HRT just delays the symptoms and we have to go through this sheer hell eventually.

      I can’t thank you enough for this reply. You’ve confirmed what I suspected and I love hearing other people’s experiences. It’s why most people in the office now avoid me as I’m interested in the reason for taking HRT and not taking HRT, and also their experiences when they came off it and why they went back on it (this is what my Mother did, she ended up doing 15 years + on HRT). In the UK if you are under 50 you are given HRT as the benefits far outweigh the cons.

      Every woman has her own story about the menopause. Sadly they all appear to be horror stories rather than fairytales. I’m still praying there is a Happy Ever After in a few years time. Sod Prince Charming though, it involves being able to construct a sentence, not sweat through every item of clothing you own, and sleep all night long.

      • No, I don’t know anyone who has come off hormones period … At least not been off for many years.

        I feel rebellious being off hormones -+ like hmmmmmm what is my body going to throw at me next?!? Let me try riding this hot flash out and see how long it lasts and what’s the end like? I don’t want to go back because of how long I’ve been off … I think 6-7 weeks now.

        It’s so weird because the last 2 times I tried to get off all I could think about was restarting them. Then I look at all the perimenopausal women around me and how they are

      • … are doing without hormones. I’m like, “yeah I can do this too”.

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