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.
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.