This blog post is a little off the subject of grey hair this time, but I do think this might ring a bell with many of you.
Yesterday I came upon an article in the Daily Mail about treating women with depression with oestrogen instead of anti-depressants. It was a revelatory moment for me as I have been suffering from 'depression' for years, but with very distinct gaps between each bout.
I first went to the doctor in my early twenties. There was nothing situational in my life that could cause depression, I'd had no childhood trauma that might have risen up again that needed to be addressed. At that time in the UK, talking therapies were not the norm, so I was prescribed a very strong anti-depressant which I took for about 6 months. The 'depression' abated, but only because I was wafting about in a hazy dulled state. I stopped taking the drug, and about 18 months later, it came back. This time I was given prozac. I can hand on heart say that it did absolutely nothing. No nasty side effects either, but it certainly did not make me 'happier'.
All the while, from the age of 17, I had be put on one contraceptive pill after the other. None seemed right - one made me very fat (which co-incided with depressvie bout no.1) another gave me severe headaches. Eventually, in my mid twenties, I was put on the mini pill - a progesterone only pill.
On the min pill I did not have periods, which meant I did not ovulate. I never had any of the physical or emotional symptoms of PMS. Also on the mini pill, I did not experience a single bout of depression. I had a fabulous first pregnancy where I felt unusually calm and contented, I had my first child at 29 and immediately went back on the pill and to the stability of not having periods.
It wasn't until I had my second child at 36 that the spectre of severe depression cropped up again. I had returned to work when he was only 14 weeks old to a new executive job that involved long hours and lots of driving. Scared of admitting I wasn't coping, I carried on, covering up the increasing sense of anxiety I was feeling. This time, there was one major difference. I had chosen to not go back on the pill, but have the 'safer' option of a coil as a contraceptive. When my son was ten months old I had a complete melt down which presented as extreme anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, fear of being out in public and total inability to drive, especially on the motorway. I visited my (female) doctor in a lot of distress and she diagnosed me with depression and a work related anxiety disorder. Not once did she consider that I might have post natal depression. She offered me anti-drepressants (I refused) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which there was a 6 month waiting list for.
It was during her questioning and the initial assessment that I was asked about the very first time I'd experienced depression. Both the doctor and the therapist found it hard to accept my answer - that I had been 11 years old. I then explained that I had experienced frequent, very intense periods of depression and suicidal feelings throughout my teens and twenties.
In the intervening months before my therapy was due to begin, I took myself in hand, cleaned up my diet and exercised regularly. I went on a Buddhist retreat, learned to meditate and started using guided hypnotherapy. I felt my anxiety naturally abating and easing. I decided to decline the CTB when it came up as I didn't feel ill enough and felt I would be depriving someone else who needed it more urgently.
With my continued improved fitness, life carried on fairly evenly until I found I was pregnant. The coil had not worked (happens more often than you think apparently!). Again, my third pregnancy, even with two other children to look after, was one of happiness and hope. This time, after the birth, I had a year off and my husband had a vasectomy. I now had no need to go back on the pill or take any other form of contraception. I started having periods chemical free for the first time in years and very quickly I realised that my PMT wasn't just bad - it was HORRENDOUS. Factor in my age then (40) and I realised I was coming into the peri-menopausal phase of my reproductive life.
Last year (age 43) my eldest son was ill and it was an intensly stressful and distressing period of time for me. I turned to my new doctor, who was hugely sympathetic and not one to dish out drugs easily. He suggested I take an anti-depressant which would take 'two or three weeks' to kick in. This time, I felt strange the moment I started taking it. It was like an amphetamine, speeding me up, contstantly thirsty, feeling edgy and paranoid. The symptoms were so bad, I found after 4 weeks that I could not cope with working and looking after my children, so I stopped taking it. Again, there was no relief from the natural distress I was experiencing about my child's illness. This time I got CBT quickly as an 'urgent case'. Whilst I can report that the man was lovely, it didn't help one bit. The questions he asked me at the beginning and end of the sessions to monitor my improvement seemed very hard to answer.
Had he said, 'So, do you regularly have completely unexplainable, random feelings of acute rage towards complete strangers that are entirely unprovoked?' I'd have shouted YES! Or perhaps, 'Do you sometimes feel like taking all the dirty laundry that's been strewn around the house by various male personages into the back garden, pouring petrol on it and setting it on fire while laughing maically?' Again, a resounding, YES!
Now I know why - beyond the expected stresses of family life, coping with work and illness, I did not have a 'mental health problem'. What I'd had - since the age of 11 - the year I had started my periods, was Reproductive Depression, sometimes called PMDD – premenstrual dysphoric disorder. No wonder then that the anti-depressants and talking therapies didn't even touch the sides. What had caused my depression over the years - and what had eased it was physical - it was my hormones. Indeed, in a recent article in the Guardian on the subject, a doctor even warns that putting women on the combined pill can make the symptoms much more extreme.
The periods of my life when I have been most happy were before the age of 11 (when everything changed), during periods of time when I was on the mini pill and not experiencing the massive surge in progesterone that causes this illness and during my pregnancies.
I'm now experiencing very low feelings almost every month, despite all the 'home made' preventions I've put in place. I'm off the the doctor this afternoon armed with the article in the Daily Mail.- I wonder what reaction to all this I will get? Well, I'll let you know.
I just wondered if anyone has had a similar experience of this and being wrongly diagnosed and prescibed with drugs?
One thing is for sure - if my doctor does agree this is what has been causing my regular low moods, I want my medical history amended. Now I suspect that WILL be a battle!