health

'Overwhelmed and grieving for my old life, menopause turned me into someone I don't recognise.'

When I entered menopause, I was prepared for the hot flashes, the loss of collagen and my size 12 figure. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the loss of my spark.

My mood flatlined. I was snappy and irritated by the smallest things, and although I won’t admit it – for obvious reasons - my husband had a point when he called me irrational. 

As women’s bodies adjust to major hormone changes, mood swings are a common symptom of menopause along with poor sleep, brain fog, joint pain, night sweats, lower self-esteem - and in my experience, a profound sense of grief at the loss of my old life.

What I didn’t realise was that certain women are more predisposed to more serious symptoms such as depression and anxiety.

On this episode of Mamamia's daily news podcast The Quicky, we unpack the mysteries (and misunderstandings) of menopause. Post continues below. 


Psychologist, Amanda A. Deeks, says: “There is the suggestion that changes in hormone levels may contribute a small percentage towards the variance in accounting for depressed mood. However, it appears that women are more likely to experience depression because of a range of factors, including biological, social and psychological causes.”

Factors such as prior episodes of depression, stress, dissatisfaction with relationships, poor self-esteem, trauma, poor lifestyle, and surgical menopause are in fact a stronger influence on mood changes than biological factors. 

And as Jean Hailes for Women’s Health points out: “Sometimes, it is hard to know if the hormonal changes of menopause affect your life, or if your life influences how you experience menopause.” 

Because “the change” comes at a stage in our lives when many of us are trying to redefine who we are, it makes the exact cause of our symptoms harder to pinpoint, and many of the symptoms we attribute to menopause may in fact be symptoms of ageing, e.g., the bloating I experienced from new intolerances to certain foods, the tendonitis and joint pain, and the minor incontinence issues caused by childbirth and the decrease in my oestrogen levels. 

Even the cause of weight gain – commonly blamed on menopause and the slowing down of our metabolism – has recently been linked to a decrease in movement in middle age rather than a symptom of menopause.

My perimenopause correlated with a difficult period of my life, when I felt overwhelmed by the demands of two teenagers – one of whom had special needs – the weight of the emotional labour in our home, the demands of an unfulfilling job, and the emotional repercussions of childhood trauma.

Menopause was my tipping point.  

And one of the most debilitating side effects has been its impact on my brain. 

“Menofog” has affected my memory, organisational skills, and time management, and made me completely reliant on the notes app and calendar on my phone. 

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Although I can laugh at myself when I confuse my kids’ names or find the porridge oats in the fridge, those symptoms have had a serious impact on my performance and confidence at work, forcing me to make significant changes in my career, including the switch to more flexible hours.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. The mood and brain effects are temporary, and thanks to celebrities like Sharon Stone, Helen Mirren, Jane Fonda, and the many fifty-something women at the top of their profession, the stereotype of the cranky middle-aged woman, ready for pasture, is changing. 

And as GPs and scientists become more educated about the side effects of menopause, it is easier to find treatments that work. 

Below are some that have worked for me:

Self-care.

A cliche, I know, but self-care is not only about hot baths and chocolate, it is about removing toxicity or anything that makes you unhappy in your life.

Rest.

Lack of sleep affects every part of your body, so if you’re struggling with insomnia due to menopause, speak to your GP. Alternatively, some natural sleep remedies can be very effective. 

Regular emotional audits.

This is a suggestion from Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. Think about the changes you can make in your life to improve your mood.

Medication.

Anti-depressants helped alleviate my anxiety and anger during perimenopause – along with therapy.

Therapy.

This is a great way to unleash those menopause demons, especially if you don’t have a large social circle. It may also help determine which factors are responsible for your mood fluctuations. Medicare assists with the cost if you qualify for a Mental Health Treatment Plan.

Exercise.

Physical fitness and moving oxygen around your body improves the function of every organ, and none more so than the brain.

Mindfulness, meditation and yoga.

Studies suggest that these practices reduce stress; some may even help with hot flashes. Personally, yoga forces me to slow down and quietens my mind.

Connection.

Talking to friends, or what I call “free therapy”, decreases anxiety and depression. As the old saying goes, “A problem shared is a problem halved.”

Image: Supplied.

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And Counsellor, Rosie Barbara adds another: “Hormonal changes in menopause can trigger anxiety and depressive symptoms. A better understanding of symptoms helps clients act and seek the most appropriate professional care and support. One way to do this is to track thoughts, feelings, behaviours and physical symptoms in a journal to help differentiate between menopausal symptoms and anxiety or depression.”

So, before you race to your GP, consider what other factors in your life may be the cause of changes in your mental health. Are you happy in your marriage? Is your job fulfilling? Are you getting enough exercise? Eating the right food?

Most importantly, try to dismiss the negative inner talk and embrace the benefits of menopause, like the freedom from periods and pregnancy, and the wisdom that comes with ageing. View this stage as a marker for positive change in the next chapter of your life. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

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