It’s now two years since I first went to my GP with menopause symptoms and started HRT, over a year since I met Haitham Hamoda, now the chairman of the British Menopause Society, and six months since I found a doctor who I felt was on the same page as me.
And yet I’m still standing in the shower in tears most days, turning to face the wall in case Mr 50Sense comes in because I can’t face another kind, understanding conversation.
I’m fed up of them just as I’m fed up of feeling this way. I’m fed up of asking people to be understanding. I’m fed up of putting on a brave face. And yes, some days I’m fed up of fighting to try and change this.
It’s selfish, I know, but I feel it’s time I had a break from feeling this way. However, I’m now starting to think that may never happen on the route I’ve been taking.
Covid hits my HRT plan
Of course, the pandemic is having an impact on this. Like everyone, I’ve been hit by Covid-19. After finally getting a GP to listen to me about my reaction to progesterone, my appointment to have a Mirena coil fitted was cancelled because of lockdown.
Here’s why that matters. If you’re on HRT and still have a womb, you need to take progesterone to cut the risk of endometrial cancer. But some women, like me, are sensitive to progesterone and so need to find the gentlest form of taking it, which is usually a Mirena coil that directs the progesterone exactly where it’s needed. (It’s a condition known as PMDD, here’s how it affects me.)
Without a coil, I have to take progesterone in a way that floods my entire body if I wish to take HRT and that isn’t good news. Earlier this year, letting progesterone run loose led to me breaking down and feeling that I wanted to jump in front of my train home. (A huge thank you to the wonderful women who helped me through this. You are true kindness and humanity.)
Consequently, when I heard my coil fitting was cancelled, I was straight on the phone to the GP asking for an alternative HRT.
Mixed messages about HRT
As I said the words, I felt I was letting the side down. I’d spent two years reading about how HRT is THE ANSWER and how it transformed women’s lives within seconds. How doctors should stop prescribing anti-depressants for menopause. And yet here I was, willingly asking for “the enemy”.
But the truth is: there is no one answer to menopause symptoms. Since talking about my progesterone sensitivity, I’ve had messages from other women who found HRT left them feeling worse, too. I’ve also had messages saying I just haven’t found the right HRT yet and to keep trying. And you can add to that the messages of the anti-HRT group, who seem to think I could be the poster girl for them.
It’s a mess, to be honest. So many messages at a time when women need clarity and good, solid advice from impartial sources.
Down comes the mist
It’s been a little more than two months since I started taking the new combination (Evorel Conti patches and 50mg Sertraline) and once again the clouds are gathering. This could be a variety of things – changes in my worklife, ongoing trouble with the neighbours, worries about my mam’s health, the pandemic – but the timing has me thinking it’s progesterone again.
I’ve been waking at night worrying about mistakes at work, the vast majority of them imaginary, running over hurtful comments made to me and worrying if they’re justified, worrying if my husband still loves me, worrying if I still love him, wanting to flee from it all… In addition, I’m bleeding and spotting while my body gets used to the HRT (please note: this happens).
And then, walking to the shops past my favourite spot on the river, I quickly caught myself thinking the old: “What if you jumped in?”
This time, however, mindfulness and an understanding of what my mind can go through with menopause made me note the thought and file it away as one to be aware of and watch to stop it growing.
I call that a major win.
So what now?
Usually by this point in an article, my brain has unscrambled itself and I have a plan. Right now, I’m frowning like crazy.
I’m not giving up on HRT just yet – but it’s there in my options. I have no doubt HRT does wonders for the vast majority of women and it has many, many health benefits. But it’s not the cure-all it’s made out to be and women need to be aware of this, too.
So while I’m contacting the GP to try and arrange a new coil fitting, I see this as the last throw of the dice. Which means I have to start looking forward and getting serious about alternatives.
And then, there’s the question about anti-depressants. Once the thought of being on anti-depressants long-term was scary. But after talking to people (thank you, Menopause Café) and listening to mental health advocates such as Alastair Campbell, I’m rethinking that. Together with practising my CBT behaviours, they may have a role to play for me a little longer.
So, yeah, my plan is as clear as mud!
Wait, there is a positive!
Two years ago, I felt the world was falling in and it was all my fault and I didn’t know what to do. When I felt the same way this March, I was able to talk about it and not be ashamed of feeling so bad. When the thought passed my mind this month, I was able to dismiss it.
That’s the power of education and knowledge. Of knowing I’m not the only woman who feels this way in menopause.
I was discussing how scary it is putting your work out there when it’s so personal and intimate just this week. But it is by others doing this that I can cope better now. And I hope it helps you, too.
How has your HRT journey been? Please let me know in the comments below. They help a lot of women.