I am forty-eight and I am smiling. I have a spring in my step, a twinkle in my eye, focus in my day. I’m in control; I have a new drug of choice.
If you’re a woman hurtling inexorably towards middle age (or like me, are in denial about having reached it) you’ll be pretty interested in this apparently innocuous substance that despite having wonderdrug stimuli, is not strictly speaking a drug at all. It’s a common-or-garden hormone. It’s oestrogen.
The onset of the mid-life nightmare commenced a couple of years ago. A naturally sunny person, black days began to punctuate my life; for the first time since post-natal blues distorted early motherhood two decades ago, a tide of tears began to wash regularly over my days and weeks. Mood swings ruled; demons and monsters jumped out from behind the smallest, most innocuous task or engagement. My first morning thought became “can I not cry today please?” The words alone would often make me weep with frustration at this inability to cope with anything. That’s no way to start the day.
The ebb and flow of these episodes was not entirely unpredictable – they were timed to exacerbate the pre-menstrual days. Which turned into weeks. Which took over my life; I’d leaf anxiously through my diary, maniacally counting … trying to anticipate the disruption.
Let me illuminate because, gentle reader, you too may recognise the symptoms in yourself or your partner. Combined, they can threaten not just the individual’s relationship with herself, but with everyone around her. Take heart: the problem is not insuperable.
I can pinpoint the start with disrupted nights. Waking up hot and bothered, my head swimming with stress caused by sleep deprivation, leaving me stunned with fatigue when, too early by half, John Humphries would penetrate my stupefied consciousness. Bless him; most men would have taken those husky, poisoned insults very personally.
Sleep deprivation – two words that surely strike fear into the hearts of all forty-something women. For without sleep, the coping mechanism becomes a fragile, broken thing that no amount of masking will fix. And therein lies the rest of it: tears, anger, frustration, self-doubt, broken confidence, low self-esteem and disrupted relationships.
My doctor was not unsympathetic, or unhelpful; she prescribed anti-depressants, sleeping pills (loved the sleeping pills) and blood tests to check my hormone levels, which were apparently perfectly well balanced. The anti-depressants, however, enveloped me in a rubber bubble, anaesthetising the senses but oddly, not the emotions, which remained unstable. Zopiclone restored sleep patterns, but cannot be taken daily due to addiction risk.
This state of affairs (well, I wasn’t exactly in the right shape for any of those) dragged interminably on for about two years. In utter frustration, and believing that I may be peri-menopausal, I requested HRT, initially rejected out of hand by my doctor, due to a complex and apparently dire web of risks. Conducting my own research and boosted by my findings I returned to my GP and was this time offered a visit to “HRT Clinic” where I would be counseled and, if absolutely necessary, given the appropriate treatment.
I decided, however, to make a rare claim on health insurance* and requested a referral to a Consultant Gynaecologist of my choice. A friend had recommended Professor John Studd, guru and champion of women’s sexual health.
Professor Studd knew exactly what was coming; he sees women like me, he said, several times a day. The world is apparently brimming with emotionally overcharged women, many of whom are much maligned with well-meant but inappropriate treatment.
“Oestrogen!” he declared, twinkling at me over his bifocals. Oestrogen, is, he explained, a much overlooked method for managing the destabilising mid-life symptoms that characterise the years preceding cessation of periods. This is menopause early warning. As well as exacerbating PMT the symptoms are just a normal female response to the aging process and for those women that experience them, a boost of this naturally occurring hormone can do the trick.
I am testament to the trick. I am a fine example of successful oestrogen treatment. After three short weeks, a tangible relief enveloped me. After five, I feel normal; no, actually, better than normal. I sleep. I smile. The anger has dissipated. I am able to navigate life’s hurdles with logic and calm. I don’t cry. I’m happy.
Women of a certain age, rest assured there is a God (I call him Professor Studd) and there is an elixir for female wellbeing (it is oestrogen). If you’re enduring the sort of symptoms described, read up on hormone treatment, believe that things can be better and take action. Life is good; reclaim it.
At this juncture, I should commence an Oscar-style thank you speech to friends and family who endured two years of hell and helped me through the black stuff. But it would go on far too long. I shall suffice with “You know who you are. Thank you.” And that includes you, Mr Humphries.
* NB: health insurers do not cover menopause
© Giovanna Forte
This article first appeared on moresexdaily.com in January 2011