Three years into surgical menopause, I remember writing a few paragraphs about irritability. I was trying to come to terms with one of the worse yet most surprising symptoms that I had suffered with since my hysterectomy. I was so shocked at how this symptom had got a grip of me and how it was adversely affecting my mental state and my relationships.
I still suffer with bouts of extreme irritability, but I am a little more experienced and accepting of having to deal with this now. So, here’s what I wrote when it was raw in the earlier days:
It’s not an easy thing to admit, but some days I genuinely don’t like myself. You might wonder why. And the reason is really quite simple: ever since entering surgical menopause, I’ve struggled massively with irritability. Juggling this whilst trying to live the “normal” busy life of a women in her early 30s can get very overwhelming.
Some days I’m so bad that no one can bear to be anywhere near me and they just leave me there ranting and raging to myself over ridiculous things. And I can appreciate just how ridiculous it is as I take advantage of a calmer moment to write it all down. But when I’m in that moment of pure irritated rage, I face an uphill battle to pull myself back from it.
There are times when I really don’t like how tightly wound and irritable I have become. Times when I just can’t rationalise things or stop the hormones taking over. Some days, it can be completely overwhelming as if you’ve embarked on a hormone ride and god help anything or anyone who gets in your way!
I am not blind to the fact that some days my behaviour is completely unreasonable. I feel all the worse since it’s usually my poor wife and kids that have to put up with it. These are the days I hate. These are the days I punish myself. The days when I sit up at night in tears disgusted at the person I have become. I wish there was a magic chill pill for those days. Overtime I have learnt and I am still always learning that it takes a lot of work and looking after yourself properly to be able to enjoy more good days than bad.
So why does this happen?!
Many factors can contribute to irritability and feelings of anger with declining oestrogen levels or fluctuating hormone levels being common factors. Yet, other stress come to bear also: the stresses from poor sleep associated with menopause and the stresses of trying to manage a busy home and work life in the process. All of this is understandable when you realise that it is oestrogen that controls how much serotonin is being produced in your brain and that serotonin is a chemical that helps regulate your moods. If you’re producing less oestrogen, you’re also producing less serotonin. This can have a direct impact on how stable and optimistic you feel! Trying to get some consistency can be a nightmare, particularly as hormones, and in turn your emotions, can fluctuate by the hour.
It is important to do all you can to help yourself feel well. Ultimately, this means taking the time for self-care. It won’t just help you; it’ll help your loved ones get the best of you too! So here are a few of my own tips that I have found can help. Do bear in mind, as I’ve said many times before, that not all options will apply to everyone as no one woman’s experience of menopause will be exactly the same as another’s.
A good doctor/HRT
It may take a lot of time, but I can’t stress how important it is to find a good doctor who wants to work together with you to provide on-going care. It has taken me a long time but I now have a GP at my surgery who has some knowledge and understanding of my situation. At the same time, my GP is happy to follow the advice of my consultant when it comes to testosterone (which has been quite the battle) and I cannot overstate how helpful this has been to my well-being. I also have a good consultant who works with me. He takes the time to reassure me that he will keep working with me to get me feeling well through the ups and downs. I realise not everyone can take it, but if you can, Body Identical HRT has really given me my life back. Do your research and don’t be put off by outdated, scaremongering headlines.
We’ve all heard exercise gets endorphins pumping around your body. Sounds simple but don’t underestimate how positive you’ll feel once you’ve changed your lifestyle so as to incorporate exercise that you enjoy and that is beneficial to your health. I’m not saying run a marathon or hit the gym every day! I do a lot of hill walking: it’s free, it’s fresh air, it's time with my four-legged friend, it gives me time to reflect and it's great weight bearing exercise for my long-term bone health. I try to do it a few times a week, more if I’m feeling well but listen to your body and rest when you need to.
Eat well, hydrate & maintain good gut health
Perhaps the biggest lifestyle change I’ve made is to my diet. Pre-surgical menopause my diet consisted of a lot of crisps and wine, though enjoyable not sustainable and I certainly can’t do that now! I paid to see a nutritionist 3 months after my hysterectomy and made changes to my diet that have become a normal part of my life. I still see her occasionally when I need to tweak a few things. I avoid processed foods, I eat a lot of salad, vegetables and fruit. It’s so important to take some time to learn how to look after your gut health too as this has a knock-on effect with how you feel overall. I drink a lot of water! I completely avoid caffeine; rarely do I drink fizzy drinks and it is even rarer that I drink any alcohol as I don’t tolerate it well. I don’t consume a lot of sugar, managing blood sugar levels by including protein in every meal and snack really does help with my moods.
Take time out for you and don’t feel guilty about it. Whether it’s a walk, a relaxing bath, seeing a friend, whatever it is - do it! Do something that makes you happy and relaxed every day. Simple little things like shutting yourself away in a relaxing bath for a little while can help you re-charge. It’s so easy to put everyone else first and neglect yourself, especially in a family household with so much going off. Don’t neglect couples’ time with your partner. It helps keep the relationship healthy – I have a bath with my wife nearly every night – it’s a great way to unwind together uninterrupted and chat about your day.
Sounds simple but talk to people and let them know you’re having a bad day. If you don’t want to talk, text! I talk a lot to my wife to try and help her understand how I’m feeling and what’s bothering me when I’m feeling irritable. I also tell my boss. I realise I’m lucky to have that relationship with him, but it really does help to try and get people to understand why you are behaving the way you are on those bad days. If I say to the kids I’m feeling very irritable they’ll steer well clear, to help me and for their own good!
Admittedly HRT has been a saviour for me in terms of better sleep. I suffered terrible insomnia after my surgery which had such a knock-on effect in my daily life. I know some women who have found it helpful to take a good quality magnesium supplement to help with sleep. If you look after yourself properly you’re going to give yourself a better chance of sleeping well. Anyone would be snappy and irritable if they’d only had a couple of hours sleep tossing and turning all night so you can imagine how bad you’re going to be when you’re menopausal!