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Me and my hormones..

In February I will be hosting a Menopause Yoga Workshop, focusing on anxiety during the menopause. As such, this seemed like the right time to write about my own experiences, in the hope it might bring others comfort to read that they are not alone. Far from it in fact, as increased anxiety is a very common symptom during the menopause journey.

Just because its common, don’t let that take away from how debilitating it can be for those experiencing it. And of course, those living with someone who is struggling with anxiety. Often, women can find that if they have previously suffered with anxiety this can worsen as their hormone levels begin to change. Other women who have always tended to feel hot and bothered may find they experience more hot flushes. For some its increased feelings of rage. Having said that, that’s not a guarantee and you can’t predict what symptoms you may or may not experience.

I have spoken with ladies who were at the top of their game, confident, successful, great careers. Then they reach the perimenopause, the natural transition from our reproductive year to the menopause, and everything changed. Confidence disappeared, concentration felt impossible, and doubt kicked in. Sadly, figures have indicated that one in ten women leave their careers because of their menopause symptoms.

What a travesty that it, not just for the women who feel that bad they choose to walk away from a career they’ve spent a lifetime building, but for the society as a whole. Think of all the experience, knowledge, and commitment our workforces are losing.

My story has three elements. The first being my mum had an early menopause, so it wasn’t really a shock to me to start experiencing symptoms from my mid thirties, I will be 39 in March. The second being I have in the past, when I was much younger, suffered from quite severe depression and anxiety. The third being I am very sensitive to hormones, especially progesterone.

Regarding early menopause, I had been to my doctors several times and voiced my concerns that I was perhaps perimenopausal. Each time they did blood tests and said I wasn’t. My understanding is due to the way hormone levels fluctuate, blood tests are pretty pointless at this stage of the menopause. The reason for thinking my symptoms were caused by the perimenopause and not just the usual PMS I had often experienced was I knew things had changed. I had gone from having a period every 30 days to every 21-24 days. I was having trouble focusing, concentrating and remembering stuff. I remember saying to Darren I was concerned I had the onset of dementia. Sweating was (and still does to a lesser degree) get me down. And this was new. I don’t, or at least I didn’t - usually sweat excessively. The only time I have experienced it before was when I was breastfeeding, and I guess that was also hormone related.

I am now on HRT, I will come back to how that came about, but in regard to the sweating, HRT has helped, unless I am particularly anxious. In my last job I had spray on my desk all the time because I was so paranoid, this was prior to HRT and the sweating was bad. Even now I am on HRT and it has reduced, I often ask Darren if I smell. I also sweat in the night, a classic menopause symptom. To me these were big clues that my hormone levels were changing, because they were new symptoms.

I mentioned I had in the past been depressed. Which actually has proved helpful to me, because I distinctly know the difference between feeling anxious, PMS and feeling depressed. All three are horrible. But often women who are menopausal are misdiagnosed as depressed. I knew I wasn’t depressed because of my past experiences. When I was depressed, I was a teenager, and I was on antidepressants that made the room spin every time I stood up, I had an eating disorder, and I felt like I saw my psychiatrist an awful lot. It was horrible for about three years.

I can honestly say, I haven’t had depression since. Not like that. I have never gone back on medication and once I was better, I could eat again. I have had some sad times since, I have grieved and felt sadness that felt pretty crippling, but that was not the same feeling as being depressed. I can’t explain my depression, but my point is, when I started experiencing increased anxiety, I knew I was not depressed.

Having said that, there was a new element to how I was feeling, that I hadn’t experienced before, and it was this new element that made my husband and I decide we would pay privately for me to get help. Every time I had a period (I was going to write every month but by this point my periods were happening more than monthly) I felt totally worthless, and I started wondering if my family might be better off with out me. My thoughts didn’t progress to what I was going to do about it. But I told Darren what I was thinking, and he said it was time to get help. I always knew after these thoughts that my hormones had caused them, but it was hard to realise it at the time that I was having the thoughts, this was what concerned us. I posted this on my private Instagram in December 2021.

Note, I am aware I used the word depressed in the post despite having stated I knew I wasn't depressed- I wrote that in the middle of feeling awful so didn't use the correct wording.

In early 2022 I contacted my GP again and explained how I was feeling and the directions my thoughts kept creeping. I was sent for another blood test and got a one-line reply that said ‘no further action needed’. Now, I am not here to criticise, but what I will advise if you ever come across some one who is having thoughts like ‘my family would be happier without me’ it’s probably best you don’t tell them ‘no further action is needed’.

I KNEW it was my hormones. I knew this because I was tracking my symptoms and they were happening in a cycle. Even Darren could predict whether it was going to be a good or a bad week. Even my kids knew, but my GP disregarded it.

We paid to go private. I felt guilty taking the money out of our savings, but I think Darren would have given all our savings and more. It wasn’t just me it was affecting, it was all of us. There was a waiting list, I had my first appointment in April 2022. The doctor said it was clear I was experiencing symptoms of the perimenopause and suggested I try HRT. I had already researched HRT, and knew I wanted to try it. I was allowed oestrogen patches for three months whilst I decided what I wanted to do about progesterone. There is a three-month limit on how long you can have oestrogen without progesterone, this is to protect the lining of the womb.

Those three months were amazing. I felt so much better, Darren noticed, my kids noticed. The sweating reduced, the anxiety and horrible thoughts disappeared, the headaches were gone, the palpitations stopped. I honestly felt the best I have ever felt. It was during this time I signed up to do my Menopause Yoga teacher training certificate with Petra Coveney, who founded Menopause Yoga. I wanted to be able to create yoga classes for women who felt how I had, or who were struggling with other symptoms, as everyone’s experience is unique to them. I also wanted to learn more about holistic approaches for coping with menopause symptoms, because of course not everyone can or wants to take HRT.

In the meantime, I had to make my choice about the progesterone element of my HRT. This is where the third element of my story kicks in, I am very sensitive to progesterone. In my late twenties I went on the progesterone only pill, I’ll cut to the point, Darren threw it in the bin saying there was no way I was staying on it because I was horrible to live with. He was right. I was awful. Another indicator to my progesterone sensitivity was when I was pregnant. When you are pregnant the progesterone slowly levels rise from week 9 to week 32 (disclaimer I am not an expert, but this is what I have read). I hated being pregnant, how sad that is. I can’t remember much about it, but I know that if you ask Darren or any of my close family what I am like when I am pregnant, they all raise their eyebrows and do a big sigh as if to say ‘the less said about that, the better’. I raged, I cried, I felt scared. I was fine in the last weeks and fine after my babies were born. But it was a rough enough ride for Darren to categorically say no to anymore children. And I understood. I would have loved perhaps one more. But I lost my mum, and it was my mum who held both me and my marriage together when I was pregnant. Its not an option to try and do it without her.

So of course, it was a worry to introduce progesterone to my HRT, because I was feeling so good on the oestrogen, and I didn’t want to go back to feeling how I had before. The specialist suggested a Mirena coil because the progesterone would be localised to the womb, and this can help to reduce the side effects. So that is what I did. I had to dig deep for that one, as I am a bit of a wimp, I nearly hyperventilate when I have a smear test. But honestly, the fitting was fine, easier than a smear I thought. We won’t talk about how I had to pay privately to have a coil fitted and drive all the way to Stratford Upon Avon for the pleasure though.

I have had the coil for seven months now. I have experienced headaches since it was fitted, but I can live with that, even though I hate them (who doesn’t). Unfortunately, my mood did drop, and feeling worthless crept back in. It came in the same cycle as before; around the time my period would be due. I have to track this as I don’t have periods now that I have the coil, but the specialist told me to still track my symptoms and I can tell where I am in my cycle despite not having a bleed.

So, I went back to the doctor. The GP, not the specialist, because I was getting a bit fed up that it was costing us a fortune to get help. This GP was better. Very kind, although did not agree that I was on HRT and asked me to ween myself off it. I did not. She did however refer me to a gynaecologist. AT LAST.

I was nervous for the appointment because I had not stopped my HRT. I thought the gynaecologist would be cross and say he needed to see me with my hormone levels at their natural level. There was no need to worry, because he was great. He said he had no problem with me being on HRT and he would write to my GP to say I needed it. I was quite blunt with him, I told him I didn’t think I had been treated fairly or listened to and I couldn’t stand the way my hormones were not only affecting my life, but my family members too.

I wrongly assumed I would be disregarded again, but he listened, agreed I am experiencing severe PMS, and that I am perimenopausal and sensitive to progesterone. Then he looked at me and said, 'this could go on for years'. He offered me a solution that I am currently considering. Because I felt so good on the oestrogen, but the progesterone is the hormone that causes the issue, he offered me a hysterectomy. If I had my womb removed, I could go back to having oestrogen only HRT. I came out of his office, got in my car and cried. Not because I was sad, but because he had listened and offered a solution. So that is where I am at, I am thinking about it, because it is a big decision, and it feels quite scary.

I need to stress here that my experience of progesterone is not the same for everyone and you shouldn't be put off HRT, or coils or the pill because of anything I have written - we are all unique and experience things differently. Discuss and research your options.

If you read this far thanks for reading. I wanted to write this for the women who need to see they aren’t alone. Your experience may not be the same as mine. Maybe no one really has any idea as to how much you secretly struggle. Maybe you would feel better to connect with other women who you can relate with. I wanted you to see that my reason for becoming a Menopause Yoga teacher is based on both my own experiences and a real desire to help women who are perhaps also struggling.

The Menopause Yoga workshops I offer are there to help you however you need it, maybe you are approaching perimenopause and want to know more about the menopause and feel more prepared. Perhaps you are post menopause, the workshops are still for you. Developing a gentle yoga practise will help you to control stress levels and keep your muscles and joints supple and strong. Maybe you are currently experiencing menopause symptoms and want to try a holistic approach to symptom management. Maybe you will want to come along and talk, maybe you won’t want to talk. You are ALL welcome.

The workshops are a blend of fact-based information, advice on where to seek support, and simple practises that you can take away and practise at home. The overall aim of the Menopause Yoga workshops I offer is to help you to reduce your stress levels, because stress worsens symptoms. Reducing stress before, during and after the menopause has huge health benefits. I offer these workshops in a safe supportive environment and to give you an opportunity to connect with other women, even if it’s just to see, you are not alone.

Thanks for reading, if you have any questions about the upcoming February workshop, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

With love, Steph xx

Find out more about the upcoming workshop in Alford by clicking here

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