My Story: Losing and regaining my sense of self
Jaany, an artist in her mid-40s, felt ready to leave the post-baby phase and pick up her career again when she began experiencing anger rages that affected all aspects of her life and left her seriously questioning her own judgment.
“Looking back, I was around 44 when things started to go awry. There was absolutely no reason why I should have felt so angry and low. I had a supportive husband and very much longed for daughter who had just turned 3, and I had established myself as a successful artist in Ireland in the previous years. I had been painting and designing and life was finally beginning to get back on track after all the nappies and sleepless nights!
“Just at the point when my life should’ve been opening up, after devoting the previous years to our little one, I started to feel a rage I never felt before. It affected everything. I tried to hide it but of course it escaped on a regular basis, and I started to feel I was losing my mind. I had no framework to begin to try and understand these unsettling symptoms.
How could I possibly feel this angry, going from 0 to 100 in a split second when I really didn’t want to? Well, that was just the start of it.
“In the midst of all of this we decided to move back to the UK to be close to family and for me to resume my career. By this point I was getting other symptoms: aching joints, brain fog, social anxiety, changes in my monthly cycle, and a lack of energy. I suddenly found myself in a new village trying to make friends and settle in when all I felt was doubt.
“The only saving grace throughout this time, was my unshaken confidence in my ability to do my job. I landed the perfect job working part time so I could still prioritise our daughter and my art. While leaving work one day, I mentioned to a friend as we walked to the car park, that I thought I was perimenopausal and felt all the parameters of my life were changing. It started to rain and as we got in our cars she called out, “Dr Louise Newson”. By the time I got to the end of the driveway, I had forgotten her name. I went home, made a cup of tea, turned the TV on and, low and behold, there was Dr Louise Newson! I listened and I couldn’t believe my ears, she was talking about me, about my life, about my lack of control, about all this uncertainty. Symptoms aside, it was a huge relief to know that there was a reason I felt like I did, and I definitely wasn’t losing my mind.
“By this point, I had already been put on antidepressants by my doctor, like many women in my situation. I had asked my doctor to give me a health ‘MOT’ because I felt so unlike myself. She had even told me I was perimenopausal. So why was I then prescribed antidepressants? When I asked about the menopause it was very much downplayed and I was discouraged to pursue HRT.
“I downloaded the Balance app the day I saw Dr Louise on TV and took the questionnaire on symptoms. It changed my life. It may sound like an exaggeration but that was the pivotal moment. I began to regularly assess my symptoms and could see how severe they were. I repeated the questionnaire so many times! It was mostly for reassurance to be honest.
“After reading a lot more information, I went back to my GP and asked for HRT again, even though there was a feeling of asking for something I shouldn’t be. By this point I had done so much research that I was well armed and had quotes at the ready.
“This time, my doctor agreed and everything changed after this. I emerged from a very unfamiliar place where I didn’t recognise myself, to one of familiarity. I slowly realised that with the necessary hormones flowing through my veins again, I had actually regained myself.
“Now, a year down the line, my symptoms have all lessened considerably and our surgery has begun offering fantastic menopause clinics with fully trained nurses, which is also down to Dr Newson and her drive to educate healthcare professionals. I have my own personal Menopause Nurse who I have regular check-ups with over the phone. She has guided me through the process of trying to get the right type and dose of HRT for me and has also referred me to the specialist menopause clinic which has, of course, a long waiting list.
Treatment has allowed me to take a breath, to really stop and feel like myself again.
“Activities that I had pushed aside have started to become more appealing. Yes, I will go and meet the new mums for a drink. Yes, I will go out and explore my new surroundings. And I will start painting again. Painting was such a huge part of my life in Ireland, before children, and it had been neglected as my world shrank to the bare minimum. Now I’m flourishing and have painted my most recent series of seascapes. I feel that at last I have found a better equilibrium in which I am back to my usual self. I just want others to know that they can find themselves again too and emerge from where you are with renewed vigour and purpose.
“My husband has never wavered in his support, and he has learnt a lot about the menopause too. We talked and kept communication going even when I felt at my lowest. His interest in what I was, and am still, going through has even led him to publish an academic article on the menopause this year. I am so proud! He is helping to get the word out there and give support to so many women and their partners, and he has helped with the ‘Balance for Partners’ area of this website. He has also featured on The Dr Louise Newson Podcast to share his thoughts on why there is little education on the menopause. He is Dr Richard Hull, a philosopher who teaches at the National University of Ireland, Galway.
“If you’d like to see my art, you can follow me on Instagram @JaanyRHArt Use the exclusive code HOTFLUSH to receive 10% off any artwork – there’s got to be some benefits to the menopause!”