My Story: The impact of being believed and understood has been life changing
Here, we share the story of Ann – this isn’t her real name but as you will see, she has had to keep a lot of her personal struggles hidden from many friends, family and her employers. Ann has been affected by hormone-related and gynaecological problems all her adult life and this has had a huge impact on her day-to-day life, career and relationships.
(This story includes mention of suicidal thought).
I was only 17 years old when I started experiencing severe PMT and heavy periods, and was diagnosed with endometriosis. In my late twenties, I discovered having a family wasn’t going to be plain sailing for me. After having miscarriages and then fertility treatment, I was able to have a baby but with that came a diagnosis of postnatal depression, and this was the first time I was put on antidepressants. On reflection, I feel it was the imbalance of my hormones rather than postnatal depression, as I was absolutely in love with my daughter and felt very grateful that I had been able to have her.
I was desperate for more children but sadly experienced many more miscarriages. Cysts and fibroids were found, and subsequent fertility treatments were not successful this time. I had gained a lot of weight and my relationships broke down during these years.
Then came my mid-40’s and I started missing my periods, there was yet more weight gain, I felt bloated, extremely irritable and my memory was awful. As a nurse, I knew this could be the perimenopause, so I went to my GP for help. It took many appointments for me to be given a prescription, but this wasn’t the magic solution to my problems. I had negative reactions to several types of estrogen, and an intolerance to progesterone too.
I saw many different specialists during these years, and it was recommended that I have my ovaries removed; the surgery happened when I was 46. It was sold to me like it would solve all my problems. Well of course, it didn’t, it just meant now, I was in full-blown menopause with severe and frightening mood disturbances, zero energy, and my mental health plummeted. I experienced tissue thinning and changes of my vulva and vagina that caused pain and blistering and I had zero libido.
I had a successful career as a nurse from the age of 18, but also had many bouts of long-term sickness put down to fatigue, problems with my immunity, low mood and anxiety. When facing difficulties in my life that most people go through, I never seemed to have much resilience and would become easily distressed. At these times of distress, I would binge drink on weekends and blame myself for the state I was in.
I was referred to weight management groups, mental health services, offered yet more antidepressants, but I always had it in my mind that these difficulties were related to my hormones.
This was the darkest time of my life and no one really knew how bad I felt, apart from the support of a few special friends I could confide in. I would have fleeting thoughts of ending it all, but being there for my daughter was always my main priority, so I would just supress these feelings and hope for brighter days to come.
In January 2019, everything came to a crisis point. My Menopause Breakdown, I call it. I became unwell while at work and ended up in A and E with severe vaginal bleeding.
The gynaecologist on call that day really and truly saved my life. He listened to everything I had gone through, believed what I was saying and reassured me that I did not have a mental illness.
He explained I was reacting to the lack of hormones due to having my ovaries removed, and I was not receiving the right type of hormonal replacement. He told me that all those periods of distress were most likely down to an imbalance of hormones which had never been addressed and taken seriously. This was such a turning point for me, to feel I had someone in my corner at last who was going to help me.
I had been asking doctors for a hysterectomy for the previous 3 years, so I didn’t have to take a progesterone with the estrogen. He agreed this was what I needed and booked me in for surgery, with the advice to lose weight beforehand.
I had to come off HRT for 6 weeks before the operation and then COVID hit, so having the op cancelled and waiting months with no hormones was pretty bad. But the good news is I did get the hysterectomy; I had support from my employers to take time off work and could spend the time I needed to process everything, readjust my thinking and practice a bit of selfcare. I am now on a type of estrogen that suits me, and I can absorb it adequately.
It’s been eight months since my hysterectomy, and I honestly don’t recognise myself. I feel a peace and happiness that I don’t think I ever had as an adult. My mood is fantastic, I’m excelling at work, I have lost 6 stone and no longer have the desire to drink regularly. I’m even cycling and walking 14 miles at the weekend – who is this person?!
My daughter leaves for university later this year but instead of worrying about empty nest syndrome, I am looking forward to life finally beginning at 50.
There’s a bubbly side of my personality and my sense of humour that has come back; I actually like myself now. I feel optimistic, more resilient, and I’m making some changes with work so I can help other women going through something similar. I hope to help nurses in mid-life who feel they may be ‘burnt out’ and are thinking about leaving the profession, but I want to shout, “don’t do it, get help, and you will feel better!”