Kate Duffy

My five-year struggle to avoid anti-depressants and get the right HRT.

Back in 2015, at the age of 46, I started to feel unwell both mentally and physically. I noticed my anxiety, insomnia and mood swings had hit a new level, along with my hair falling out and I had extremely itchy skin. I was also suffering terribly with my periods being all over the place, spotting daily and with extremely painful and flooding during my actual bleed week. I also started to experience seriously debilitating UTIs and to be frank, my life was becoming unbearable.

On my initial GP visit, it was suggested these symptoms were stress and depression. As a single parent of three children who have no contact with extended family leaving me solely responsible for their support emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially, I could see how this was possible. But, I knew I could not take SSRIs as I have a serious intolerance to them, and the side effects would make things one hundred times worse as had happened in the past.

The next eighteen months was spent attending referral appointments to mental health specialists to find an antidepressant I could tolerate and therapies including CBT, gynaecology, urology, family planning for coil options etc. All this time I was still visiting the GP with hair loss, unbearable itchy skin, brain fog, chronic insomnia and anxiety.

It was not until Dec 2016 that I suggested I may be having menopause symptoms. At this point I was told I was probably too young and if I decided to take HRT it would only pause menopause and it would start again from when I stopped HRT, which I would have to do after five years. I left confused and unsure, I needed time to think it over as no GP was telling me it was definitely menopausal, I was literally self-diagnosing.

After suffering a further six months with symptoms becoming increasingly debilitating, I returned from a holiday abroad where I had experienced my first, and might add, only hot flushes, the GP agreed to do blood tests which came back showing I WAS in menopause. I finally got my diagnosis and still under the impression I would have to stop in five years, decided, in my personal circumstances, I needed these resolved now, and I’d cross that five-year bridge when I got to it. I finally started HRT mid-2017, but it was not plain sailing.

I experienced awful side effects from the off and was left on each regime 3 months at a time to see if side effects would subside. By now my symptoms were unbearable, I also had new ones such as achy joints and palpitations. My insomnia and anxiety were off the scale and mood swings were horrendous. It was not until Feb 2019 life became completely unbearable, and my surgery was struggling to provide the treatment I needed as I was clearly a complicated case needing specialist care.

It was then I made a desperate call to a GP at my surgery begging for a referral to the NHS Menopause Clinic at my local hospital. In desperation, I had videoed my attempts for a referral and a member of staff at the hospital happened upon it on Twitter and messaged me! It was with this knowledge that I was able to push for the referral, although the GP had no knowledge of the clinic herself, then added they did not like referrals. I sobbed down the phone after telling them the location and that they were taking referrals! I will be forever grateful to that lovely woman on Twitter! I got my referral.

In May 2019, almost five years after my first visit to the GP with menopause symptoms, I finally felt heard and more importantly, totally believed and was given an HRT regime that thankfully began to turn my life around. As I suspected my case turned out to be far more complicated than most. I have now had a diagnosis of Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder which has gone undiagnosed for nearly forty years, I’m progesterone intolerant and have had a hysterectomy back in Jan 2020. All the symptoms had been starting the professionals in the face for years, yet no one had joined the dots. There is still a long road ahead of me, but now I finally feel I have the right support in place for when I hit those hormonal bumps, which I inevitably I will. This should not be my story and not the one of thousands of other women suffering alone and unsupported. This has to stop.

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