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15Oct

Anxiety is one of the most common symptoms of the menopause, yet it’s not one that is immediately associated with this period of change during a woman’s midlife. When you think of the menopause, you probably think of hot flushes. Most people aren’t aware that there are more than 30 conditions associated with menopause and perimenopause.

I have lived with mental illness in one form or another for most of my adult life. I have suffered with depression and panic attacks to varying degrees and have always been a bit of a “worrier”. I tend to overthink things and go through life with high stress levels. Saying that though I manage it most of the time and maintain a generally happy and fulfilled life.

Many years ago, I witnessed my mum suffer from severe depression and agoraphobia when she hit the menopause. That was four decades ago and mental health certainly wasn’t linked with menopause back then.  Surprisingly though, I was quite unprepared when menopausal anxiety hit me.

I first became aware that these hormone changes could affect mental health when I had a big meltdown aged 45. I had been struggling to ward off depression for a few months. As is usually the case, I was trying to hide it from my loved ones as I didn’t want to “be a burden” – those of you with mental health problems will understand exactly where I’m coming from there!

I knew I really should go to the doctors as I felt it was probably the time to go on anti-depressants again, but I wanted to try and beat it myself, so I kept on going and kept most of my feelings bottled up, which of course is the worst possible thing to do.

I ended up having a total meltdown at a music festival one weekend. I normally feel quite safe and comfortable in this situation but I couldn’t handle it at all this time.  I couldn’t cope with having a conversation, I couldn’t cope watching the bands, yet neither could I cope hiding away on my own at the back. I just had to escape.

After that, there was no way I could hide it from anyone anymore. 

My husband and friends were totally supportive, and I went to see my GP the next week. He surprised me by saying that he thought it was menopause related and asked how I felt about trying HRT instead rather than anti-depressants. I was in such a bad place that I was prepared to give anything a go.

I hadn’t for one moment thought it could be due to the menopause. I had had a hysterectomy when I was 39, due to several gynae problems, and was told that it could bring on an early menopause. Of course, I had no monthly periods to warn me that I might be entering into that phase of life.

I did get over that bad depressive episode with time. It always lurks in the background but I am able to fully function most of the time. I always find that it’s often the bottling it up that keeps it going, you use so much energy fighting it that there is no fuel left to recover.

But then a couple of years down the line I found that I was getting very anxious over silly things, more so than normal. I was aware that I was worrying too much over things that I couldn’t control, but I couldn’t stop the thoughts. I could see that my family found it hard to understand when I was being irrational. It was so hard to cope with. I knew that I was blowing things out of all proportion but that didn’t stop me being scared of the thoughts.  I felt that my mind was totally out of control and that I was going a bit mad to be honest!

My job as a Learning Support Assistant became a huge focus for my anxiety. I had worked in that role for 20 years and thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt that I was good at my job prior to menopause. I then lost confidence, no longer enjoyed the role and used to dread going to work. In the end I quit my job to become a freelance writer from home.

I also developed social anxiety. I’d lost interest in a lot of things that I’d loved before and just needed some quiet time out. When I wanted to try to socialise again, I thought I would have nothing to say and people would find me dull. I felt that I’d lost “me”.

I had also put weight on due to the menopause so I didn’t feel comfortable in my body and I didn’t feel comfortable in my mind either. Neither of which made me feel confident to go out.

It was through writing some other articles regarding mental health and menopause on my blog, that made other women open up to me to share their experiences. We were all going through the same thing and it was a huge symptom of menopause for numerous women. Many of those women had no idea it was menopause related. Like me they had all felt they were losing the plot. During one conversation, a friend’s words echoed how I felt. We both felt socially inept. But we had a meaningful conversation that helped us both so much. We were able to laugh (and cry) as we shared our experiences and thoughts. We weren’t socially inept at all, we were just different now.

7 years on from that first diagnosis, I am still suffering with anxiety. It is easier now that I understand why it is happening but it is very frustrating that I can’t control it. I have no idea how long it’s going to last either as menopause can last from several months to decades. Everyone is different.

I still take HRT as I felt it helps other symptoms too, and am now on a 2mg rather than the 1mg that I started on.

The key is to keep talking about it with other women and the medical profession as bottling it up only exacerbates the symptoms. One thing we don’t seem to lose with menopause is our sense of humour and laughing about it with other women really does help.

  

Jo Jackson

Jo Jackson is a freelance writer and blogger. She has had a varied career that includes 20 years in early years education, running a sales office, HR, and even worked as a barber when she finished her college education. In addition to running the family home, she has written many articles for books, magazines and websites. She has also created and continues to maintain several social media accounts for musicians and her own web presence. For the past few years, she has produced a blog Tea and Cake for the Soul where she focuses on the nicer things in life such as travel, music, books and recipes. She gives useful tips for the home, the environment and how to cope with health matters such as menopause and mental health. Jo has suffered from various mental health issues for the vast majority of her life and talks openly about the illness in order to give advice to others and reduce the stigma. She also shares her experiences of menopause, caesareans, a hysterectomy and asthma. Jo’s long term goals are to write and travel more (particularly in the USA), and to finish writing her memoirs of growing up on a diet of music.

One Response to How Anxiety Arrived With the Menopause

  1. A very interesting and helpful article, thank you Jo

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