Sarah Vine talks Menopause and Depression

Sarah Vine talks Menopause and Depression

It really is great to see celebrities and high profile journalists discussing menopause more frequently these days.
This latest article in The Daily Mail, written by Sarah Vine, is well worth a read

‘Finally, we can admit a black cloud often descends with the menopause’ writes SARAH VINE, who was hit by depression like Carol Vorderman

  • Writer Sarah Vine was hit by depression like Carol Vorderman in her forties
  • The menopause is the biggest hormonal change women go through apart from pregnancy – yet its effects are not discussed openly enough
  • Carol made a teary confession on This Morning, saying her depression as a result of the menopause was so bad ‘she had contemplated suicide’
  • Sarah believes Carol speaking out makes women in the same situation ‘feel a little less abnormal’

A few days ago, Carol Vorderman popped up on TV, talking about the menopause. It was a bit of a surprise since, despite her age, 56, Miss Vorderman is not someone that I necessarily associate with that time of life.

After all, she always looks so immaculately turned out I rather assumed the whole thing had passed her by — or at any rate passed uneventfully.

Far from it. Barely able to hold back the tears, she revealed that she had become so depressed as a result of the menopause that she had contemplated suicide.

There were days, she said, when ‘she did not see the point in carrying on’. It was only the thought of her two children that kept her going.

Ostensibly, there was no reason for her to feel this way. ‘I’m a very lucky woman,’ she said. ‘No money worries or anything like that.’

Nevertheless she would wake up and think: ‘I just don’t see the point in life. I don’t see it.’

It wasn’t until she began to notice a pattern to these irrational feelings that it occurred to her it might be hormone-related. She saw a specialist, began using hormone replacement therapy and the depression lifted — as suddenly as it had descended.

If she hadn’t received the treatment, she added: ‘I suspect we wouldn’t be talking today.’

You could be forgiven for finding this a little far-fetched. After all, depression is a serious illness. Surely it takes more than a bit of oestrogen to fix something as serious as suicidal tendencies?

I might have thought the same — were it not for the fact that I recognise every last symptom she describes.

The confusion, the blackness, the feeling that if I went to bed and didn’t wake up the next day it wouldn’t be all that problematic. That it might, in fact, be a blessed relief for everyone.

And the guilt. The guilt of knowing I had nothing to be depressed about, no right to feel so sorry for myself when all over the world people — women — are suffering terribly while I live my comfy little life.

Unlike Carol, however, I wasn’t quite old enough to suspect my hormones. With hindsight, the depression was the first of a set of symptoms that included dreadful headaches, hot flushes and weight gain.

But because I was in my mid-40s, for some reason the penny failed to drop. Looking back, it seems clear I was experiencing these symptoms early. I was tired, tired beyond belief. I became mildly agoraphobic, and found leaving the house stressful.

I felt dizzy, as though my brain were loose in my head. Just cooking the children’s tea seemed like a gargantuan task.

The thought of taking a shower, for some reason, filled me with dread. Just lifting up my arms to wash my hair seemed to wear me out.

Thinking I was unfit, I upped my exercise routine. This helped at first, but afterwards I would be overcome by somnolence, a deep desire to sleep.

In the mornings, I would crawl back into bed after doing the school run, gazing listlessly out of the bedroom window, trying so hard to find a reason to get up, but oddly unable to convince myself of the need for such an exhausting endeavour.

I began to think a lot about dying. Not in an active sense, just in the sense that I felt I had probably outstayed my usefulness and perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if I shuffled off quietly at some nearby point, without bothering anyone too much.

Like Carol, the only thing that kept me going was my family — and my job.

The adrenaline of work seemed to banish the gloom, temporarily at least, with the result I would have brief bursts of productivity.

But always I would revert to the same starting position: mild catatonia coupled with an underlying feeling of uselessness.

The only time I had ever experienced anything like it was after the birth of my second child, when I was diagnosed with post-natal depression.

The guilt, listlessness, crushing tiredness and secret desire to just curl up and die — they were all too similar.

It was, I now realise, the onset of the menopause. Quite why I didn’t twig, I don’t know; perhaps the same reason I never used to twig that I had PMT until after my period arrived.

Luckily, my husband, who is a keen observer of my behaviour, had an inkling. ‘Have you had your hormones checked recently?’ he asked, tentatively.

Naturally I barked back that there was nothing wrong with my hormones, thank you very much. Nevertheless, I made an appointment for a blood test.

In the words of the doctor, my ‘tank was empty’. Perhaps exacerbated by a long-term thyroid condition (I have an underactive thyroid that is treated with medication), my levels of oestrogen and progesterone had, in a short time, plummeted to almost zero.

I suppose, when you stop to think about it, that the depression makes sense. Because what is the menopause if not nature’s way of ushering you gently (or not so gently) towards the exit.

Biologically, it’s a signal that you have fulfilled your function — or outlasted your sell-by date — and that if you wouldn’t mind, it would be best if you simply cleared the way for someone young and fertile so that the human race can continue to exist.

After all, from a purely evolutionary point of view, there is not much use for a woman who is beyond reproductive age. Sure, she can look after the little ones a bit and maybe fetch the odd pail of water, but once she starts using up precious resources, it’s time to call it quits.

What better way of ensuring that outcome than making you feel suicidal? Nature is clever — and ruthless — that way.

Since I’ve been taking HRT, all that has subsided. And I know it’s the HRT that makes all the difference because we moved house recently and I lost all my medication.

Thinking that it could wait, it took me a few weeks to get a new prescription. By which time the headaches were back, the flushes, too, and I was starting to feel at rock bottom. Barely a week after I was back on my dose, the fug had lifted again.

It’s been estimated that 61 per cent of women are suffering from anxiety due to the symptoms of the menopause

Some women experience the menopause with no side effects at all, just as some women go through pregnancy and childbirth barely missing a beat.

To them someone like me must seem like a drama queen, making a huge fuss about nothing. But I promise you that the feelings and emotions experienced by me — and Carol — are real.

Just as some people are hyper-sensitive to certain foods, some women are very sensitive to hormonal changes. And hormones are some of the most powerful chemicals on earth, as anyone who has been pregnant, or known someone who is pregnant, knows.
PMS and PND are recognised syndromes; it’s only logical that the menopause, which represents the biggest change in a woman’s endocrine system after puberty and pregnancy, should be capable of inducing depression.

I’m glad Carol made her teary confession. It brings hormonal induced depression — along with the entire conversation around that last taboo, the menopause — out into the open.

It equips women approaching that stage of life with the information they need to get through it.

And it makes people like me feel a little less abnormal.
By Sarah Vine for the Daily Mail



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