What is menopausal anxiety?

Guest post: https://teaandcakeforthesoul.wordpress.com/

Everyone thinks of the Menopause as giving you a few hot flushes but most people aren’t aware of all the other symptoms that you can get. I’ve lived with mental illness in one form or another most of my adult life to varying degrees, and I’ve also seen my mum suffer with depression and panic attacks when she hit the menopause, although we didn’t link the two at the time. Surprisingly though, I was quite unprepared when menopausal onset anxiety hit me.

I first became aware that these hormone changes could affect mental health when I had a big meltdown about 5 years ago. I had been struggling to ward off depression for a few months. As is usually the case for many of us, I was trying to hide it from my loved ones as I didn’t want to “be a burden” – yes, we all know that one don’t we? I had confided in my two best friends a little, but not to the true extent of how fragile I was. Both were telling me to go to the doctors but I was sure I could beat it without medication just like I had done before.

I was at a music festival when it broke me. I normally feel quite safe and at home here surrounded by good friends and the music that I love 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 that normally sent me into my own little happy world, yet neither could I cope with standing at the back of the room on my own for a bit of breathing space. I had to escape. I feigned a headache and said I was just going to go and have a lie down for a bit so that my husband stayed at the festival. I didn’t want to ruin his weekend and I didn’t want him to see me in such a state. I went to our hotel and cried and cried admitting defeat to myself. Of course, there was no way I could hide it from anyone now.

I told my husband and my friends, who were totally supportive, and went to see my GP the next week on the premise that I would go back on anti-depressants, something I hadn’t needed to do for years. He surprised me by saying that he thought it was menopause related and asked how I felt about trying HRT instead. I was in such a bad place that I was prepared to give anything a go, and was actually quite relieved that I didn’t have to go back on anti-depressants. It’s funny, I can give advice to others that they should take them if they’re ill but I’m always so reluctant myself. I think many of us see it as a sign that we are not strong when we get to that stage and, therefore, put it off as long as possible. I did get over the 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. 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!

Then we had the year from hell, with my father-in-law suffering and subsequently dying from cancer, my father being diagnosed with cancer and my mother being disabled from pain whilst waiting for a hip replacement operation.  Throw into the mix my son going off to Australia and my husband having a road accident and it all got a bit too much. But then I figured that my anxiety could be explained, that was justified.

With all that going on we were forced to take some time out from our normally busy social calendar. Afterwards we both just needed some peace and quiet. We found more solitary past times in walking and reading and just being together but when we felt ready to re-join society, I found that my anxiety had mutated to another incarnation. I now had social anxiety! This was not like a panic attack, where you don’t know what you’re frightened of but you just know you can’t do it, I knew what I was frightened of.  I scared that as I hadn’t been out for ages I would have nothing in common with my friends anymore, that I would have nothing to say and people would find me dull. 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 make you look forward to going out.

It was thanks to 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. During one conversation, hearing a lady talk was like hearing an echo of what my mind was saying. We both felt socially inept. But here we were having a meaningful conversation that helped us both so much. We were able to laugh (and cry) as we shared experiences and thoughts. We weren’t socially inept at all, we were just different now. So, I do go out, maybe not as often as before, but I do enjoy myself and I do talk with my friends and nobody has ever walked out on a conversation with me yet. Maybe I’m not so dull after all! We are all batty old birds together!

I’d like to share some tips with you to help you deal with any kind of mental illness whether it be menopause related, depression, panic attacks or anxiety:

1. Visit your GP for a diagnosis and possible treatment.
2. Learn all you can about the illness. It takes away the fuel when you start to understand it.
3. Take steps to calm your mind and body – Tai Chi or Qi Gong, yoga, running, guided meditation, colouring, crosswords, massage, etc – find what works for you.
4. Accept that anxiety is a mental illness and that it will go when it’s ready. You WILL get better.
5. Talk to your friends or join online support groups. You will be surprised at how many others are suffering.
6. Don’t retreat, no matter how scared you are, go out and interact with people, it’s not as scary as you think it’s going to be.
7. Laugh about it if you can. I’ve found that by talking to other women my age we can really giggle over quite how stupid some of our thoughts are.

You can find lots more about mental illness and the menopause on my blog, Tea and Cake for the Soul, where I get tips and cover nicer subjects like travel, crafts and yummy recipes. I hope you’ll join me.

Sam GlassComment