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Donna - Interview 11

Age at interview: 47
Brief Outline: After trying a range of natural therapies to overcome chronic anxiety, Donna took antidepressants to restore balance in her life. She feels women may need to consider natural remedies alongside conventional treatments to enable them to function.
Background: Donna is a psychotherapist. She is single with a young son. She started the menopause at age 46. Ethnic background/nationality' White British.

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For Donna, the transition to menopause came on quite suddenly a year ago when she started to have erratic periods, night sweats and feelings of anxiety. Becoming increasingly stressed and exhausted, Donna found herself lacking the patience, tolerance and energy needed to cope with the demands of her young son. She turned increasingly inwards, losing her social confidence and finding excuses not to see friends. Loss of interest in sex, a side-effect of her chronic anxiety, contributed to the breakdown of a relationship.

As an alternative health therapist, Donna was reluctant to take HRT and determined to manage her anxiety and other menopausal symptoms naturally. She decided to take five weeks off work and commit ‘a lot of savings’ so that she could give full attention to different therapies and treatments which she hoped would help her overcome her symptoms. These included cranio-sacral massage, cognitive behavioural therapy, acupuncture, yoga and meditation, as well as over-the-counter products such as St John’s Wort and Kalms. However, results were mixed, with none of these treatments making a significant difference to her symptoms in the time available.

Needing a faster solution, Donna saw her GP who prescribed a six-month course of antidepressants (citalopram). She describes her decision to take antidepressants while working as a therapist as a ‘big issue’, yet acknowledges their key role in restoring her mental balance. She speaks about her need to accept that a natural approach is not always enough to deal with symptoms and that women may need to consider natural remedies alongside conventional treatments to enable them to function.

A year after the onset of her symptoms, Donna is free of anxiety, feels ‘really well’ and has recently started a new relationship. Deciding to work part-time, she is now more relaxed, self-assured and able to spend more time with her son. Following a consultation with a medical herbalist, she is taking a herbal tonic to support her while going through the menopause.

As well as encouraging women to speak more openly about their menopause experience, Donna believes that children should learn about the menopause at school to help them understand what their mothers are going through.

Donna was interviewed for Healthtalkonline in January 2009.

 

Donna’s night sweats are ‘like being in a tropical climate’. She has them two to three times a...

Donna’s night sweats are ‘like being in a tropical climate’. She has them two to three times a...

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I very rarely have them in the day, I usually have them at night, just before going to sleep and it’s just extraordinary rush of energy, and breaking out in a complete sweat, can sweat right through your night clothes, even into the sheets. I don’t actually mind it in a way. I guess if I hadn’t known about it I might have found that quite disturbing, but actually my sister’s been going through that prior to me so I was quite aware in a way. But in some ways it’s quite nice because I’ve always been a person who’s cold in bed at night, now I feel like I’ve got my own hot water bottle to keep me warm at night.

Did you have to change the bedding and your clothes at night when it happened?

Sometimes. Yeah, sometimes.

And how did that affect your partner?

He’s just kind of curious actually. Yeah, he’s asking questions, he’s asked me like, “What does that feel like?” I said I thought it was a bit like having a panic attack, something that happens, that you don’t really have any control over.

Can you describe it?

It’s really, I find it really hard to describe but I guess it would be like being in a tropical climate, a kind of clamminess and sweating, and it’s not, I don’t find it particularly unpleasant, actually.

How long does it last?

Well it comes and goes, it’s like waves of heat so they might last a few minutes at a time, and then it kind of recedes and then it,

How many times a night?

For me, two or three.

 

Donna sees the menopause and subsequent loss of fertility as part of life, but feels a sense of loss

Donna sees the menopause and subsequent loss of fertility as part of life, but feels a sense of loss

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Well there’s a kind of sense of loss. From this point on I might never have another child. There’s a sense of loss around that. I don’t know that there’s a sense of regret, but there’s a sense that that’s just not going to be a choice anymore, that feels quite strange, and I guess it makes me aware that I’m ageing that I’m mortal, that I’m kind of just used to for years and years and years, that’s how you are as a woman and nothing particularly changing significantly about your body. And your body going through all these extraordinary changes like puberty. But I feel quite accepting of it all actually. I kind of see well it’s all very natural, it’s all part of the cycle of life and death, and in some ways it’d be quite, I’m sure it’d be quite nice not to have periods . Not to have that kind of inconvenience every month.

 

Donna switched GPs so that she could see a doctor more quickly

Donna switched GPs so that she could see a doctor more quickly

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What was the trigger that sent you off to the GP?

Desperation. Really, yeah. Yeah. I didn’t, I guess that I found that experience mixed actually going to my GP because the negative side of it was that I never saw the same person, over that entire period of about six months, I never actually saw my own GP, but I saw a different GP every time I went, and I was going about once a fortnight.

And then actually what I did is I switched GPs and that’s been fantastic actually.

What made you do that?

One because I wanted some continuity of seeing the same person, and secondly because oh the other problem with the last GP’s practice was that I couldn’t get an appointment for maybe two weeks, you’d have to book when you went in, you’d have to book for two weeks ahead. If you just rang up you could never get an appointment in the same week.

And you couldn’t ask for a specific doctor?

You could, but then you’d be waiting even longer.

I’ve got no issue with the actual GPs, I think the service they provide is fantastic, and I felt very supported and listened to, and respected, but just the access to the service was difficult and when you are feeling that you’re going mad, and then you’re said, “Oh well, if you want to see your GP you’re going to have to wait three weeks,” it’s like, that could push somebody really over the edge. So, with the clinic round the corner, you can get same day or a couple of days maximum really.

 

When complementary therapies had little effect on her depression Donna took an antidepressant ...

When complementary therapies had little effect on her depression Donna took an antidepressant ...

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And I work in alternative health, so I tried to do whatever I could think of to manage this anxiety for myself, and through alternative health. So, I went to see a craniosacral therapist which I do anyway actually. I find that a very calming treatment but it would only last for a few hours and then I’d be back into this anxiety state. I went to see an acupuncturist, and that didn’t seem to help me at all - lots of people had experience that this worked with anxiety, I didn’t find that helpful.

 

I went to see a cognitive behavioural therapist as well, because again that seems to be the latest theory that CBT manages anxiety. However, what I found helpful about it was somebody didn’t think that I was going mad because I felt like I was crazy, and that was the most beneficial aspect, but I think when you have such chronic anxiety and you’re not able particularly to think rationally, and CBT is a very rational model and I didn’t find that it helped me manage the anxiety. So I was doing yoga, that was helpful, but I felt like I needed to be doing it every couple of hours, and so this, and I was continuing to work but feeling very out of control, and in the end after about, this was about three months of trying to, oh, also I was taking St. John’s Wort, and that I felt was having an effect, but not quickly enough.

 

And because I’m on my own, and I needed to work, I felt like I needed to find a faster solution, and all of the time I was going to see my GP and eventually I agreed to try antidepressants [citalopram]. I was really adamant that I didn’t want to, mainly because I work in alternative health and it just felt like a big no no, I couldn’t, I felt kind of fraudulent about taking antidepressants and working as a therapist, and it was a big issue for me, so I delayed, I delayed taking them really for about three or four months. And then things were so chronic that by that point, that I then took five weeks off work, I couldn’t, I was quite paranoid, I was probably quite depressed by then because I’d tried everything I could think of to manage the symptoms and I wasn’t managing them. And I wasn’t having a social life because I couldn’t cope, even going to the shops was difficult. So fortunately for me the first antidepressant I tried worked.

 

Donna describes how her anxiety affected her young son. She was embarrassed that she could not...

Donna describes how her anxiety affected her young son. She was embarrassed that she could not...

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It was really really difficult. With my son I feel really embarrassed, I think he picked up on my anxiety and he became very clingy, he wanted to be with me all the time, he was kind of physically holding onto me and that was the last thing I felt I needed. I didn’t actually want him to see that I was anxious, but he needed reassurance from me that I couldn’t give him, not honestly, because I felt I didn’t know where it was going. And I would just sort of say, “Mummy’s not feeling very well,” and “I need five minutes to myself,” and but no, that made our relationship really really difficult and I was, he’s a very spirited child anyway, and he would get into situations at school, or in the playground that would require my intervention, and I didn’t want to be the focus of attention, so that was really hard for me, I was kind of like forced to deal with situations when I was feeling very vulnerable and shaky. And I was shouting at him a lot, I had no kind of tolerance or patience, or, again I think that was the exhausted part of me felt I couldn’t deal with his demands on top of what I was struggling with.

 

Donna worries about the ‘culture of self-hatred’ amongst women in our society

Donna worries about the ‘culture of self-hatred’ amongst women in our society

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I find this culture of anti-ageing really disturbing actually, and particularly face lifts, or cosmetic surgery. And I feel there’s such a culture of self-hatred almost, particularly amongst women, and it’s happening to men now that there are all these men’s magazines springing up, seeing eating disorders and things like that becoming issues, but no, all the messages out there are you’re not good enough as you are, and unless you, yeah have a face lift, or three inches of flab taken off your thighs or something, you can’t expect to be loved. And I think it’s very very disturbing actually what’s going on. Because no amount of money can make somebody happy with themselves, it’s an internal process.

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