Coming Unraveled: Chemical imbalance, or perimenopause?

fay-lisaApril 11, 2014

Hello all.

It's not often I ask for help, or advise, but I'm staring at the end of my rope; so here goes.

I'm 43 years old. 5 years ago, living in Colorado, I started experiencing chaos in my body: periods went missing, and became really irregular, I had hot flashes, cold sweats, moodiness like I'd never experienced, pms that made the paint peel from the walls, aches and the sudden vanishing of headaches (I've had consistent headaches, in patches, since I was 21), and increase in migraines. I had brutal insomnia, days where I could barely get out of bed I slept so much - I thought I was going mad.

A blood test revealed my estrogen was bottoming out. He said all of this was really common with peri-menopause, and to look up how the native american culture deals with it, as it's not at all treated as a 'disease' or a 'condition'. And that mindset meant a lot going into this.

Fast-forward to now.
I had my estrogen tested again late last year, and they said now the levels are exactly fine. Which is confusing as hell.

The hot flashes are here and there; some days it's staggering and I can't breathe, some days I'm freezing. The cold sweats are more common, having entire days where I just cannot warm up. My heating pad is my new best friend. Vitamins and the help of a Naturopathic doctor and acupuncture have helped the constant headaches vanish, and the migraines are far fewer. I have at least one phantom period a year, and my cycle is down to 3 days (used to be 8-10 days long, very heavy), once every 5 weeks or so.

Now, anxiety has popped up. I feel like I'm going mad.
Last summer, I felt like I dipped off that little edge for a while; weeks spent sobbing, unable to stop. Over-reacting in a big way to nearly everything, losing interest in everything I used to love to do. Anger and rage the likes of which I've only experienced as a teenager. Now, I did have a life event that could have triggered this, but again, going crazy for a summer was a huge over-reaction to breaking up with a man.

They put me on a handful of anti-depressants, and anti-anxiety pills. There were ER visits with me crying and feeling absolutely insane. The anti-depressants didn't work. They actually made me want to die. So, after they wanted to try yet more pills, I finally said no more. They were making everything so much worse. I wasn't just sad anymore, now I wanted to die too.

So I picked myself up, and worked on feeling better. I have positive messages all over the house ('I am enough', and 'no more self-deprecating' kind of thing, to remind me to be kind to myself), I took the 'breaking' of the summer to recreate who I was, into who I wanted to be. I faced up to mistakes in the relationship, and actually am now happily back with the man who is, truly, the love of my life. And more supportive than I could have hoped for.

Then, last Friday, something just snapped.
I'd been at an interview for a next-level job, that I truly wanted. Now, I know I tie my self-worth into what I do for a living. I'm working on that. But when the email came, that they were going with someone else, that was some kind of last straw.

I sobbed like I was 5. And then, I came undone.
I ended up drawing with big black marker all over my arms and legs ('not good enough', 'stupid', 'what made you think you were smart enough for that job', 'you'll never be anything of any worth' - mother's words). I drew on my floor.
I took the Adavan the doctor had given me for anxiety attacks - which have been staggering the last 2 months - and swallowed 4 of them. With a bottle of wine. And half a bottle of burbon.

No, none of that was smart. And it wasn't me at all.
I completely broke down. Unable to stop crying, unable to stop the loop of negativity spinning in my head. When the boyfriend came through the door, with flowers in hand, to see his lover sitting on the floor, drawing on herself and barely coherent, I was already over that edge.

He called the police, I think just not knowing what else to do. And I ran.
43 years old, but suddenly I was 17 and running away from my own house.

The scariest part of this, is that I watched all this happen from somewhere else. I had no control over what the body was doing at all. And it was abjectly terrifying to me.

I walked into the ER, and they kept me overnight to watch . They let me go, because I'm not completely insane.

Now I'm still reeling from this. I've been distant, and quiet, all week. I'm profoundly scared, and sad, and have had some serious quality time with my teddy bear as of late.

The next day, after this breakdown - my period shows up. Which really, is not surprising. It's not the first time hormones have made me irrational bordering on crazy, but it's the first time they took me that far.

Now, the psychiatrist wants to put me on Pristq. An anti-depressant/anti-anxiety drug. I've read up on it, and it's the same as the rest of them - harsh on the body, harsh on the mind, horrible side effects, wretched to come off of.

I keep hearing 'chemical imbalance', since last week, but really, I saw no test for any sort of chemical. And they can't tell me exactly what's wrong, they're guessing. Just as they did last summer, switching from one awful drug to the next.

I *can* tell you, I was just like this when I was a teenager. I didn't get my cycle until I was nearly 16, though from 15 until 21, I was a raving lunatic. Angry, running away, rarely in control of my own emotions and terrified as to why. Even then, I saw psychiatrists and therapists, and have yet to ever be diagnosed with a mental illness.

So my long, roundabout question would be - well, maybe not a question. I don't know what to do.

I don't like the idea of chemicals to alter my brain - it went poorly last time, and being dependent on a prescription doesn't tickle my fancy. I'm under the impression I'm invincible and I can fix everything myself (gets me in so much trouble sometimes!).
But I know I have to do something. Last friday scared me to death. I don't want to be unstable, I don't want to be like this.
And now that my period's ended, I'm coming out of the sad as well. My motivation is slowly returning, though I'm timid as hell because of what happened.

Have any of you experienced this kind of breakdown, or this level of over-reacting to something that shouldn't spin you off into an ER visit?

Could this be peri-menopause truly kicking in, sending my hormones out of control and thus my emotions?
Could it be a combination of hormones triggering emotional issues that were never resolved, or am I truly just insane and should start taking anti-depressants again?

I'm a little lost. And there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of investigating into what's going on, by traditional docs. The one doctor that's been a godsend - my naturopathic doctor, who's been the only one who took some time to research possible causes outside the realm of just one thing (the psychiatrist thinks it's a chemical thing, the neurologist said 'nothing's physically wrong, must be mental illness', the family doc is just at a loss and says nothing at all).

I'm seeing a battery of docs next week, all of whom I'm sure will have varying opinions as to what I should do. And I'll listen, trying to make the best choice for me - but I need some community wisdom.

Is this common? Can peri-menopause really drive you over that little edge like this? Should I look into hormone replacement, or diet changes (I'm already changing it, with a battery of vitamins B, D and omega-3 as well), is this outside the realm of your experiences, and I'm truly just crazy?

I'm sorry this is long. I'm just...I'm a little lost. What I need is a tribe of elder women to show me what's coming, to tell me what's normal so I'm not terrified and it's not a surprise, but we don't have that anymore. So I'm turning to you, to be a psuedo tribe, and possibly, hopefully, lend me some wisdom, and some insight.

Thank you, even just for reading this far.

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Hello Fay-Lisa,

You've been through so much, you should get a medal for staying as strong as you have and being able to maintain your job and relationship. You are absolutely NOT insane or anything close to it. Many people have that moment in life (or several) in which they feel like they have *had* it. They may not use markers to vent their frustration/anger/anxiety/depression but they do all kinds of other things -- eat too much, drink too much, have affairs, spend too much, leave their families, withdraw completely and so on.

First things first, you are doing the right thing by getting all the physical tests out of the way. My first thought after reading everything you've been through is that you might need to see an endocrinologist to have your thyroid and hormone levels thoroughly checked (forgive me if you said you have already done then). If all the tests turn out to be in the normal range, then it's time to consider other possibilities.

You may have some kind of chemical imbalance which might be helped with the right kind of medication. This process is most definitely trial and error, and I certainly understand your frustration with the various medications and their respective side effects. I don't like taking them either, but they do have their place as part of an overall approach to tackling and managing symptoms.

One suggestion I have is for you to find a *good* therapist -- someone who is very experienced and has training in working with people who may have emotional damage from childhood. You mentioned in your post some unkind things your mother said to you when you were young. I imagine there's a lot more where that came from. Was there alcoholism in your family of origin? Are there others in the family or extended family who have struggled with mental health issues? One psychiatrist I consulted with asked me what kinds of mental health issues there were in my family (I, too, was struggling with terrible depression and panic attacks/anxiety). When I told him there were family members with bi-polar, extreme anxiety, schizophrenia, alcoholism and chronic depression, he said, "well, what did you expect?" The truth is most families have members who cope with these illnesses. A psychologist said that each of us has a collection of genes that contribute to our personalities and temperaments. We just have to work on doing the best with what we've got.

You sound like a very self aware, strong person. Please please please do not be so hard on yourself. I am an easy going, peaceful person usually-- but when I have gone through difficult times in my life the anxiety and depression caused me to behave in ways I'm not proud of -- angry, irritated, crying, throwing things, hiding, having major panic attacks where I felt outside of my own body. That's called disassociation and it can happen when anxiety and depression go on for too long without proper treatment.

In addition to all this, there is the real possibility that you are now in perimenopause and many of your current symptoms may have been caused or made worse by it. I think I've had every symptom in the "34 symptoms of menopause" list." I've always dealt with anxiety and depression, but this was so deep and dark -- I'm thankful to
God that I finally found a competent therapist, the right medication and inner strength to choose to believe in myself and stop condemning myself. This is a choice you can make too and I hope you will.

It sounds like you're a caring, compassion, intelligent and very sensitive person. Those are gifts worth celebrating!! It's so easy to slip into that groove of basing your self worth on your job. I'm a decade older than you, and I'm here to tell you, the quality, richness and success of your life is not about what you do to earn money to support yourself. It's about your relationships and your experiences. What do you do to relax and have fun? Fulfilling life experiences don't have to cost a lot of money. You don't have to have a lot of friends, but you do need a support system you can turn to for a listening ear and encouragement. There are many ways you can cultivate loyal, kind and supportive friends. You deserve to have people in your life in addition to your wonderful boyfriend who care about you and will treat you like the amazing person you are.

Life goes by so quickly. Take each day as it comes and don't worry so much about the future. As the saying goes, we only live 24 hours at a time. And if I'm having a really bad spell, I take it about an hour at a time : ) Be good to yourself. You might find yoga relaxing or some other kind of exercise class. You might also find a support group beneficial -- it's always comforting to know you're in good company when it comes to dealing with life's difficulties. Think about what makes you the happiest and resolve to pursue these things. Don't ever let anyone make you feel "less than" about anything -- whether it's your job, appearance, hobbies, friends -- all these belong to *you* and if someone doesn't have something supportive or helpful to say to you, tune it out!!! It took me years to learn how to do this, but I am happy to say, it can be done!! Keep posting and let us know how you're doing. I am interested in finding out what the test results will show. But no matter what, cherish yourself and look for the positive things that happen each day -- even the smallest good things matter. God bless you and good luck with your appointments next week!!

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 5:47PM
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Thank you so, so much for sharing your experiences, Paula2cents!
Your words are kind, and hit home in a good way.

I've started a 'positive' board, that sits beside my computer. Every day, I have to put up at least one sticky note with something positive on it. And nothing trite allowed. Things like "there is no perfect, just better', and 'no more self-deprecating' (I noticed I was saying "oh i'm an idiot" hundreds of time a day). Things that will snap me out of that moment of 'oh, i'm just no good'. At least, that's the plan. :)

You're right, if you have family members with mental illness, you're more prone to it. But that it's a default, I don't accept. At least, not for myself. :)

I've indeed had my thyroid done (have had hypothyroidism for 22 years) in the ER visit, and it's where it should be. The hormones I'll have to get done again, thank you for mentioning that. :)

Thank you too, for your kind words. I'm trying to be more aware of how hard I am on myself, and in being aware, hopefully will start showing myself the same patience and acceptance I reserve for others.

I see the naturopathic doc today, we'll see what she says!

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 11:53AM
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Hi fay-lisa...Wow I read and reread your post and was deciding how to respond to you. First, sending big and gentle hugs your way. You are a strong and brave woman. Hormones are so powerful and could just twirl you around like a tornado but look at you you are standing on your own two feet!! The power of positive thinking is so important and being kind and gentle to yourself. However, getting all the medical testing done is crucial to your health ad your road back. I wish I could give you the exact information for you to use to make you better but I can't. Like you, I've been to that very scary dark place where you think you are losing your mind and heading down the path to a nervous breakdown. Many, many doctors, tests, psychologists, healers, acupuncture, homeopaths, hormonal specialists and thousands of dollars later I'm sitting here thinking wow. I'm not sure really what has got me through this but to say faith in myself and the belief there is a reason for all of this suffering. Yes it stinks but it's real and it is happening. I finally decided to accept and stop asking why me, staying as positive as I can and live for the day. I have simplified my life and trust in God that he cdnt possibly make this go on forever. Believe me I'm not the most spiritual person you will meet but I do believe in something bigger than myself and that is faith. Listen to yourself and your own body. Don't let anyone make you feel crazy. You are going through a hormonal hell right now and need to surround yourself with positive people, people who love and support you and most importantly love yourself and be kind and gentle to yourself. I wish you success with whatever road you take to your healing adventure. Please know this is a wonderful group and there is always someone here to help or at least listen. Try to drink lots of water, deep belly breathing and some light meditation. Your worth it and don't judge yourself. Everyone does things in there life that they are not proud of but it takes a strong person like you to talk about it. It's not easy!! Keep the faith always and I hope you are having a manageable day. Always here and do understand. xoxo Terri

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 2:21PM
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I am so sorry you are dealing with this!

One thing that has helped regulate EVERYTHING in my body is to eliminate sugar and wheat products from my diet. It has been difficult because I love bread, pasta and sweets, but it has helped me feel so much better. My mood extreme swings are gone, I am sleeping well and just generally everything is so much better.

Also, find out your vitamin levels, maybe you need to supplement certain vitamins. I was low in some areas and I think supplements have helped even things out, too.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2014 at 11:24AM
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