Sunday, 24 November 2013

Menopausal Madness: Altered Mind States at the Change of Life

Looking back, I suppose it was inevitable that, having experienced two episodes of postnatal "hormone imbalance" (what the psychiatrists called it back in the 1970's) or puerperal psychoses after the birth of my second and third sons, I should have another out of body experience at the menopause.  But nobody had warned me or said anything and when I hit my 50th year in 2002, working full-time in a manager post with a voluntary organisation in my home town of Perth, the change of life came in with a whoosh or a bang.

I'm not a person who experiences things by halves, it's all or nothing.  The same goes for mind and body stuff.  I remember not liking puberty and trying to resist it, at between 13 and 14 years of age.  I preferred remaining a child, being one of the boys, climbing trees and running around.  Becoming a woman felt like everything was getting out of control.  Body changes meant I couldn't always go swimming and had to wear restrictive underclothes.  Sleeping on my front was uncomfortable.  Boys began to look at me differently.  I stayed about the house more, went about with girlfriends, until I got used to it.  It took me at least 3 years to feel comfortable.

the Monkees
It just meant doing different things like listening to pop music, it was the 1960's, and we joined the Monkees fan club, knitting the woolly hat, buying the LPs.  Following fashion and pirate radio stations.  Watching TV series like 'Man in a Suitcase' and 'The Avengers'.  Playing sports at school, joining the hockey and netball teams.  Going to youth clubs and new films at one of the many cinemas in town.  The "swinging sixties" had passed me by and before too long it my 18th birthday was approaching and I was preparing for leaving home and going to university in Aberdeen, a city to the north of Scotland and some distance away.

I knew that when women approached the menopause they seemed to get a bit absent-minded and experienced hot flushes.  I'd worked with many women who were going through the change of life and disorientation was a common occurrence.  They spoke about going out in the car to drive somewhere then forgetting where they were going.  We all used to laugh about it.  Some of them were on HRT, others may have been on prescription drugs to get through.  I was younger at the time so didn't ask more about it and didn't think it would happen to me.

It didn't happen to me.  On the contrary, I became extra sensitive to the world around me, as if tuned in to the universe.  Sounds became louder.  Thoughts became deeper.  Smells became almost unbearable.  I felt the pain of a crying world.  All in the space of a week or two.  I remember swimming in the local pool after work, as I was in the habit of doing, and reflecting deeply.  It wasn't unpleasant and I didn't feel that things were going out of control.  However my sons were concerned.  I was losing grasp of other, ordinary, everyday things.  I wasn't myself.

So I agreed or was persuaded to go voluntarily in to my local psychiatric hospital, up the road, where I would never have gone in my usual state of mind.  Whenever I walked in the ward I knew that I didn't want to be there.  But the decision was made.  I was detained for 72 hours and made to take the risperidone.  I didn't want to and knew it would depress me.  And so it did.  Within a short space to time I had come back down to earth with a bump.  Reigned in and subdued.  I got out of the acute psychiatric ward after about a week or so.  It took me more than 2 years to get off the drugs and out of the system.  I had to do it myself.

During the 2 years of psychiatric drugging I was also going through menopausal changes which were more severe because of the chemicals I was having to ingest.  Hot flushes became complete body sweats.  I remember doing voluntary work in a charity shop and having to take a change of clothes.  I got anxiety and panic attacks when on the risperidone, venlafaxine and lithium, and had to take lorazepam at times.  But I resisted taking them on a regular basis as I didn't want to become addicted.  In the early days I attended a day hospital where activities happened.  It was difficult to get up the morning and then to be motivated.  The drugs slowed me down at the beginning of the day.  Of course this was their purpose.

After having a suicidal impulse and taking an overdose of venlafaxine tablets I was put on a maximum dose of the drug.  I had to be careful after that, not to act on impulse.  At the psychiatrist's appointment, every 6 weeks, I asked to have a change of anti-depressant but he refused my request.  Instead he put me on lithium, to "augment" the anti-depressant.  I had also asked for psychological therapies but was denied this for the first year or so.  When I eventually did get a clinical psychology appointment I was on a cocktail of psych drugs and the meetings were of no use to me.  My concentration was impaired because of the drugs.  I knew this but felt powerless to do anything about it.

The menopausal effects were beginning to subside as I became more active in voluntary work.  My motivation increased with doing physical activities.  The day hospital had a walking group and I joined this.  It was organised by the Occupational Therapy department who also had a course that linked day patients up with the local further education college which I signed up to.  We did badminton, golf practice and circuit training.  This was before I fractured my fibula so I benefited from learning how to play golf and walking for miles in the countryside.  It helped with my recovery.  Unfortunately the OT activities are not now happening in the day hospital locally.

I always saw my menopausal madness or psychosis for what it was.  My psychiatrist labelled it as schizoaffective disorder.  I chose not to accept the label or the lifelong mental illness prognosis and did what I could to recover when the opportunity arose.  It wasn't easy.  I was fortunate to have a supportive family and to be naturally resilient.  I also was determined not to remain in the psychiatric system because of what had happened to other family members who had engaged with it.  However that was my decision and it's up to each of us to do what we can to survive.


  1. Hi Chrys,
    I was looking up mental health advocacy in fife and I came upon an article you had written, this in turn lead me to your blog. I find your blog gives a real insight into the effect that psychiatric drugs have on people. I've taken antidepressants at times and always found the side effects are horrible and they have little to no impact on my depression. Basically what I wanted to say to you is thank you. Thank you for putting the time and energy into trying to make mental health services better for others. I'm sure it comes at a cost. As a mother I can also understand the drive you must have to make mental health services better for your son. I wish you all the best and pray for your success, you have gained a reader of your blog today :)

    1. Thanks for your encouragement. You're right, there is a cost but that's OK. I'm determined to see change and improvement. It really does have to get better. Cheers, Chrys

  2. Hi Chrys

    I am thinking of your words: 'getting OUT of the system'.
    Is there any possibility in the UK for a person once labelled and later fully recovered to get the psychiatrist's label out of her/his medical documents? Is she/he going to be ALWAYS seen by other doctors and nurses as say 'schizophrenic'? Even when the person is working and independent, not getting a penny of benefits?
    Is anybody thinking about the real possibility of psychiatrists' mistakes? They are not real doctors, they don't have anything to prove their diagnoses but they label people with stygmatising, disabling and even dangerous label ... is it for life?
    How to really 'get out of the system' here in Scotland?

    1. Yes good points Zofia. Thanks for commenting.

      The psychiatric label does stay in the notes, regardless of a person's complete recovery, as I have found. And when my sons then entered the psychiatric system when mentally distressed they used my label to justify their treatment of my sons and me. They also used my mother's psych label in my son's notes so 3 generations of labelling. I got accused of "psychological harm" when the system had my son locked in and denied basic human rights, in 2012.

      More insidious I think are the attempts to identify the schizophrenia gene. They do tests on mice and compare this to people. How daft is that? Human beings are more than flesh and blood. We are capable of reflective thought and creative possibilities, considering the meaning of life and what it's all about. The psychiatric labelling and drugging reduces us to symptoms and behaviours, and overall to be under the control of psychiatry.

      Therefore I believe we have to do what we can to get out of the system. And then go back in to get others out and to bring about a paradigm shift.

      Cheers, Chrys


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