After a short break, Cath’s adventures resumed last week. In episode seven we joined Cath as she began EMDR treatment for past trauma experienced in childhood and adolescence. As we rejoin the story, Cath is starting to see the early signs of progress. Let’s hope the trend continues…
Encouraged by my newfound sense of self, I try to be open with close family and friends about my treatment, resolving to tell my mother what is going on with me, that I am seeing a psychologist to help me sort through the bullying that went on at school. It didn’t go quite as I thought it might. Mother tells me she would have done something about it if only she’d known. With a tone of disapproval (I know that one so well), she tells me off for not telling her at the time. Well that’s weird. I could have sworn I’d said something. One incident resulted in a trip to A and E for concussion! That’s hard to hide. When I was discharged, my parents were told they had to waken me through the night to make sure I was only asleep and not unconscious. She must have known.
There’s only one other person I can talk to about this, my dear sister. We were both on the receiving end of mother’s sharp tongue on a regular basis. I need to know that I haven’t made this up. What if I have? What would that say about my mental health? What if it happened as I remember? What would that say about my relationship with my mother? Only one way to find out, call my sister. To my horror, she confirms that everything happened as I remember it. Even worse, she confirms that mother most definitely knew! She remembers me getting into trouble for the state of my school uniform after various incidents. Well that’s going to give Dr Siskin a whole mother lode of information to mine.
How many symptoms of menopause? Lots!
Meanwhile, in Perimenopauseland, I am now an active member of the Menopause Matters Forum, regularly conversing with like-minded women from all over the globe. One post leaps out. It has a link to another site which lists more than 30 different symptoms of perimenopause. Thirty!
Clicking the link, I scan down the list, mentally placing a tick next to more than twenty of them! It’s not just me then? So where’s all the literature educating women about what to expect at this time in our lives? In our school years we have personal health education covering puberty and rudimentary stuff on procreation (do you remember the dreadful movie reels?!) For those of us lucky enough to fall pregnant and give birth, you get inundated with education to prepare for childbirth and parenting. In the UK, community-based Health Visitors look after you and baby for the early years.
Then nothing for perimenopause, the next biggest change facing our bodies and minds. I search for classes in my area and what did I find?
I can feel myself stepping up onto my soapbox about this injustice. I mean, c’mon. Fifty percent of any population goes through this. Why are we not better at education on this area?
Hooray! It’s working!
Following some advice from the forum ladies, I have changed HRT to a much lower dose (but still two prescription charges!!) and I’m off the beta blockers. Within two weeks I feel like a fog has lifted, which is good timing all round; I have a naughty night away with Mr D planned. Without the smothering blanket of meds my libido has woken up, making a well-timed reappearance. The whole weekend is roaring success and I feel more feminine than I’ve done in months. Thank God for that. Actually, is it ok to thank God for ones libido coming back? I don’t know. Anyway, I’m grateful, and I think Mr D is too.
Clear-headedness means clearer thinking so I start to link my symptoms to what we are working on in my weekly sessions. Remember I how I hitched a poker face into place to show the bullies no emotion, and gritted my teeth to ignored my feelings? It’s no surprise that my most troubling symptoms relate to the mouth and throat, mirroring my inability to speak my truth and be heard. A re-read of the Wisdom of the Menopause book has me thinking about how Perimenopause is our opportunity to face the traumas of our pasts and to re-member (not a typo, but my way of writing about still having all my memories, but without the associated issues) them and learn from them. It should not be a surprise that my current issues revolve around having to put on that brave face and to literally clench my teeth just to get through a day at school, never mind the atmosphere at home.
The therapy sessions are working in that my facial symptoms are gradually receding. I don’t have to wear my mouth guard all the time (which I was, just to get some relief). I must have looked odd at work, ready for the front row of a rugby scrum! Now I’m only wearing it overnight. I’ve noticed the symptoms only flare up when I am very stressed or anxious. So that would be most of the time, especially when my parents announce that they are going to visit us for my birthday.
Emergency diet needed
I go into panic mode to try to get my weight down in time for the visit. The scrutiny only comes from mother. I absolutely don’t want any comments about my size or my choice of clothes. You’d be forgiven for thinking I was a super-curvy lady with all this worry, but I’m not. Far from it. I am 5ft 6ins and a size 10 (UK) from the waist down and 14 (UK) for tops. I am blessed with a great pair of boobs, but it does pose a problem for blouses and t-shirts! Not that I’m complaining. However, this is not good enough for mother. I don’t know what size she expects me to be. I do know this, she thinks I am huge. You should see the size of knickers she gave me at Christmas time. I could have fitted two of me in them. I know I’m a real disappointment in her eyes as she places so much emphasis on body size.
After a successful weigh-in (the emergency diet is working) I decide I am not hiding the fact that I am attending therapy. As one of my appointments coincides with their visit, I’m hoping it will prompt some conversation. Fat chance (ironic, I know!). As it happens, both parents completely ignore it. I wonder if they are embarrassed to have a daughter in therapy, or if they are avoiding talking about it so they don’t have to deal with those pesky feelings, those things I am not supposed to show.
For the first time ever I don’t care what anyone thinks. The lack of parental concern for my situation is actually their problem, not mine. What at liberating thought! And while I’m feeling liberated, I decide that this is my birthday and I will eat and drink what I want and refuse point-blank to feel guilty (or so I tell myself).
‘I am a grown woman, capable of making my own decisions!’ I declare to my reflection in the mirror. So why do I regress to a seven-year old when mother visits? I’ll ask the next time I see Dr Siskin.
Technology bites back
After an initial good start to the new HRT, things have gone bonkers again. The only positive thing in its favour is that I can plan when I need to carry tampons with me. My libido has retreated again, and even worse, it’s run off with my erogenous zones. Either that, or it’s disconnected the zones from the lady garden. Bye bye femininity. And to add to my sense of failure, I can’t seem to sew up a hand knitted cardigan without having to redo each seam twice.
What is wrong with me? I used to be able to manage these simple tasks without incident. Nowadays, doing things I used to do without much deliberation has me in a sweat-drenched, gut-churning, palpitating mess. Just to compound matters, I am at war with technology. As a gadget freak this is a terrible situation.
In one day I have managed to set fire to a microwave (I was only nuking a small bag of popcorn) and drop my phone into my soup. The microwave is beyond repair and the phone is in intensive care, in a bag of rice in the airing cupboard. What next?
I’ll tell you what next. I have lost so much self-confidence that the thought of going out to dinner with Mr D and our friends fills me with horror. I’d rather stay at home in my pjs. For Mr D’s sake, I slap on some make-up and a dress and drag myself out. At this point I feel I am not living life, just lurching from one day to the next, trying to survive. My symptoms agree. They are becoming more annoying and worrying in equal measure. Muscle tics, tinnitus, and unremitting anxiety just never let up. Add in sleep disturbances and it’s a wonder I make it out of bed at all. Most days I’d rather stay in it, hidden under the duvet.
Wired and tired
Out of curiosity I have my adrenal function tested. I have a feeling that they are suffering as I am tired and wired all the time. The results are not surprising and confirm my suspicions. The poor adrenals have been running on empty for years and have no resource left to make any sex hormones to see me through perimenopause. I am now on supplements along with a prescription to make time for myself to do something that I enjoy, just for the hell of it, something that makes me laugh. God knows I could do with a good laugh but I find precious little to raise even a feeble smile.
‘C’mon Cath! Dig deep girl. You can do it.’ I tell my reflection, but I don’t believe it.
So much for in sickness and in health!
Just when I think things can’t get much worse (why do I invite disaster by thinking this?) Mr D drops a bombshell on me. He has decided to give me physical space. I am shocked at what this might mean and ask outright what he means. It means that he will not touch me at all or attempt to initiate sex because to do otherwise leaves him feeling frustrated. Frustrated?! I’ll give him frustrated. He should try being inside my head for a day and see how frustrated he feels when his body refuses to cooperate with his mind; to want sex but not feel a thing happening at all. So this is it. No more cuddles, no spooning in bed before sleeping.
In our entire married life, I have never felt so alone, unloved, unwanted, undesirable. I am now more miserable than I thought possible. While going through the hell that is Perimenopause, I thought I could rely on one person to walk with me and hold me together. Apparently not. I think of having a long chat with God but what do I say to Him. It seems wrong somehow to pray for the return of my libido. Maybe I need a change of mind-set. Get the mind in order and the rest usually follows.
Tune in to episode 9 to find out if Cath comes out of her corner ready to fight for what she wants and needs.