As it is Mental Health Awareness Week it just seems appropriate to divulge a little into how Menopause can affect ones mental health.
Obviously women experience menopause differently. Some women I have spoken to ‘sailed through’ their menopause, whilst others have found it to be one of the most testing times of their lives. Some women experience this huge empowerment, almost like a rebirth of themselves, others may feel nothing but emptiness and desperation.
Of course this all changes even more so when you are experiencing menopause at a younger age. I am by no means trying to take away the impact menopause has on someone who is at the ‘average’ age of menopause, but there does have to be acknowledgement that early menopause/premature ovarian failure can carry so many more psychological ‘side effects’.
Menopause can also be extremely embarrassing which negatively contributes to poor mental health. Memory loss, irregular bleeding, confusion, lack of sex drive, vaginal dryness, hot flushes, weight fluctuations, depression are just some of the effects women face during this time of change. And don’t forget this can have a huge impact on friends and families too. Marriages have ended because of menopause, friendships (including some of mine) have ended because of menopause, or rather because of a complete lack of understanding, both about yourself and others about you. I have found premature menopause to be one of the loneliest, isolating experiences of my life. Again this is hugely down to having it so young, at an age where my reproductive system should be in its prime! I have noticed a huge change in my mental health over the last 12 months and even beyond that when my menopause was happening but was undiagnosed. I have had to make changes in the way I live my life and more importantly how I manage my stress and my mental health. I can remember some days where I wanted nothing more than to just die. I have since found that this can be very common when experiencing menopause, as the hormone imbalance and significant changes in mood just send you into the unknown. I used to ask myself, is this really me talking? or is it my menopause talking? then I wondered, who actually am I?
The ‘change’ is exactly that, it CHANGED me.
Infertility is a MASSIVE heart wrenching impact of menopause. Women are gradually becoming older mothers, so even starting menopause in your mid 40’s may come as a shock if you are still expecting to have a child. If like me you are even younger than this, it really is a massive LIFE CHANGING experience, future dreams and plans are smashed in minutes. At 27 (26 at diagnosis) I do not really know how I feel regarding my infertility. Some days I feel ok with it, others it’s like my heart has been ripped out. I just simply do not know.
Recently I was approached by my local paper regarding IVF cuts in my area. Although presently I have no plans to have IVF, I feel so passionate about it because I have witnessed and heard from many women and men who are devastated by infertility and the NHS cuts. It could be debated forever what NHS funding should be prioritised for, but in my opinion if we do not speak out for what we are passionate about, we may as well expect failure. So I was willing to at least try to raise awareness. Overall the response was fantastic and supportive, of course some disagree and that is fine, but a couple of readers were particularly vile and said some of the most unforgiving comments about infertility. I have also witnessed this online before where I have seen a young woman bullied because she expressed how a video of a woman disrespecting her children made her feel angry as she understands the loss you feel when you cannot have children. One comment read ‘Go and talk to your other infertile friends whilst the rest of us make babies……..’
Fortunately I reached out to this woman and she is now able to feel supported by other women within a support group who face the same childless future. (see below for organisation details)
I have also witnessed men and women disrespect menopause on many occasions. For example, I once overheard someone say “Oh you don’t want to go to that session, it’s riddled with menopausal women…..” This makes it even harder for us to look after our mental health when women are bullied for experiencing menopause. Which is just baffling as it is something that happens to every single woman in their lifetime.
I feel one of the hardest things for me is trying to explain to others how I feel, especially if I may look fine. This can also be because a lot of the time I do not actually know why I feel the way I do. As a master of disguise it not always easy to tell with me if I am feeling significantly unwell or having a bad menopausal day. I wake up, apply make up and do my hair like any other day, yet inside I am aching, hurting and mentally feel so drained. I show up to events, work, wherever and nobody would know what is really happening inside. Sometimes, my legs feel like they have weights attached to them and just walking to and from my car feels like a marathon, yet nobody would know. Having a lack of oestrogen at any age is difficult to live with, but when you are younger it feels like life has placed a huge brick wall to anything you may usually do or want to do. Therefore, when someone may ask ‘why haven’t you done this…..’ especially in the work environment, it is extremely frustrating to try to explain how you feel INSIDE.
When tears stream down your face and you cannot find the reason as to why, it is such a massive mental head fuck because what can you say? Why do you feel this way? What can you do about it? Usually the answer is just to ‘ride it out’ and hope that your hormones balance as the day goes on. The obvious response is to talk to someone about it, but this can be difficult when there is such a taboo still regarding menopause, however I feel this is slowly improving and in particular the media have started to report on menopause a lot more. I have found meditation can help too, particularly before bed, keeping a journal too can improve your mental health and help release some of those emotions menopause brings.
Lack of control, research and uncertainty also play a role in how menopause affects our mental health.
“Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) causes cancer…..”
“If you do not take HRT, you are at risk of osteoporosis and heart failure….”
I was told this during the same appointment. So imagine the confusion and stress this can cause somebody who is already facing a huge shock. I was then discharged and have been left to seek the answers on my own. What are women to do when information is so contradicting? What are women meant to do when given two sentences like that in the same minute? What are women to do to ensure their mental health isn’t negatively affected by menopause?…..
I feel extremely fortunate to feel in a different, yet more secure place than I was perhaps 12 months ago. However, some days still feel uncertain, but that’s menopause! The most important message I want to share is, if every woman no matter what age or circumstance experiences menopause in their lifetime, why aren’t we all a little kinder about it? A little more understanding and educating others about it? Why have we STILL got such a huge mountain to climb when it comes to understanding menopause and what we can do to benefit our mental health, our lives?!
If there is one positive I could share with you right now, it is that in a very unexplainable, unimaginable way, I do actually feel fortunate to be going through menopause so young. Because if it means I can play a part in breaking the taboo and shifting the way we see menopause, particularly by reassuring women they are not alone then that is just simply amazing.