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  • Catherine Benfield

OCD and the Peri/Menopause

Updated: Mar 9

Can and Olivia at a funfair about to get on a menopause 'ride'. Both look a little unsure

I’ve spent the past eight years of my life learning and writing about the hidden condition that is OCD. How little did I know (why didn't I know!!!?????) that another criminally under-discussed condition was creeping up on me. One that despite affecting 50% of the population, I had very little idea about! 

That’s right everyone, we’re talking about the perimenopause and the menopause (to save my fingers from now on... the peri/menopause!)

Gone are the days where we have to suffer in silence and it’s better for Every. Single. Person. On. The. Planet if we all understand what the peri/menopause is and how it might affect us and our loved ones. Like OCD, it is a condition that can affect every member in the family. And just like OCD, the more we know and understand about the peri/menopause, the more equipped we are to deal with it. 

So let’s talk about it!

I just want to add quickly before we start, that this post may contain lots of new information for you. Please remember to step away anytime if you feel overwhelmed. It’ll always be here later!

The Onset of Peri/Menopausal Symptoms

Okay, so I wasn’t expecting to deal with anything menopause-related until I was in my 50s - at least another seven years away. I knew very little about it apart from the occasional comment about women having to deal with hot flushes and being easily irritated. Even after I started developing what were quite clearly symptoms of perimenopause I still didn’t realise that’s what it was! 

Some of the main symptoms I’ve experienced up to this point have been:

Exhaustion - as in 'ten hours sleep a night and needing a two hour nap both days of the weekend (and on any weekdays I can fit it in)' exhausted.

Lack of motivation - I’ve always been a doer and a fighter but recently, I could quite happily sit and watch the world go by with no effort on my part at all. This lack of motivation goes across the board too including how I dress. I have been wearing my husband’s jogging bottoms for ages now - and not in a cool way! 

Dryness - Dryness EVERYWHERE! I kind of expected it down below but also my mouth, eyes, ears (itchy ears are a THING in perimenopause, who knew?!) have periodically become extremely dry. 

Anger - boiling to the point of rage. DO you have to chew that loudly? Why is that rubbish on the floor…. NEXT to the bin!? WHO moved my jacket? Honestly, I thought I was going to explode when the sign-in computer at my doctors didn’t recognise me and I thought I was going to be late for my appointment.

Heart palpitations - not often but enough to make me wonder what’s going on.

A Merry Dance between OCD and Peri/Menopause Symptoms

Knowing whether something is caused by peri/menopause or OCD is challenging. If I look at the symptoms above I know they could be due to either. For example, I’ve written before about the anger I can experience when struggling with OCD. I often wear my husband's jogging bottoms when I’m feeling depressed. I experience misophonia, so I’ve always struggled with chewing. I used to have heart palpitations because of anxiety. 

So how am I supposed to know what’s causing what?

Adding to the confusion also is the fact that I haven’t - yet - dealt with hot flushes, bad nights or changes to my cycle. And my OCD loves that, "Yeah right, it’s not the perimenopause is it then! You’re just relapsing… HARD."

I’ve definitely spent more time ruminating recently and, according to my DR, this might be because of hormone changes. This rumination could be the reason it took me so long to realise I was dealing with changes elsewhere which is kind of annoying.

Occasionally, OCD totally distracts me from over-thinking about the perimenopause and at other times it's added to the worry. But again, it’s almost impossible to work out where it helps or hinders and this all causes a lot of uncertainty - our favourite thing - which in turn ups the symptoms of my OCD and, just like like the OCD loop, we're off going around and around and around, over and over again until......... ARGHHHH!

It's easy to get a little lost and confused.

I know this can all sound very overwhelming but I’ve dealt with this uncertainty by accepting that there are no definite answers here. Even my Dr cannot be sure what exactly is causing some of my symptoms, it’s likely a few things - so I've made the choice to cover all bases. I’m trying to improve my self care as well as take HRT. If I feel I need to, I’ll ask to up my antidepressant too.

As with all recovery journeys, it is a very individual process and what helps one person may not help another so please make sure you do your own research to find out what will work best for you. 

We say that certain behaviours become OCD when they pass a threshold that impacts your daily life and causes distress. And that is exactly how I’m dealing with the perimenopause. 

Exacerbating Grief from OCD

Another thing I've been surprised by (and again, I'm not quite sure why it was a surprise) has been the grief I've felt over not having a second child.

After many years of trying to force myself to get into the right headspace to have a second child, I finally made peace with the fact that I didn't want to risk having another. It was a very personal choice and one that took years to get my head around. Even though I have made peace with this choice, and am so in love with the one incredible kid that I do have, the thought that my body will shut shop at some point (on average the age of 51) has hit in a way I didn’t think it would. It's been a bit of a shock.

Hope From My Experiences With OCD

Although I’m a bit annoyed that I didn’t recognise the symptoms of perimenopause before they caused me some issues, I’m experiencing a lot of hope. I’ve learned through my OCD recovery that I am one strong woman and that if I can fight my way through OCD recovery - I can do the same for peri/menopause. I already know what works well for me in terms of self care and rest so that’s great - I won’t have to juggle that on top of everything else.

I’m also very good at asking for help now, and telling people what my needs are - this probably wouldn’t have happened without my experiences of getting support for my OCD.

I know that I’m at the start of what for some is a walk in the park and for others a total nightmare (and I have no idea which one I will fit into) but my OCD therapy has taught me how to deal with that uncertainty well. It's going to help me approach each day with baby steps in the right direction. I am also now flexible enough, thanks to therapy, to be able to change course if my current strategies stop working. 

I read a lot about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as part of my recovery, and I hope this has taught me how to accept what I cannot change. It is helping me to come to terms with the changes that are happening at the minute. 

A General Note of Hope

There were times in my life where I thought I’d never reach the age where peri/menopause would became something I’d have to consider. I feel extremely lucky that I have. Apart from the additional symptoms, I am doing well. Aging is bringing with it a lack of sweating the small stuff, the likes of which I could only have dreamt of up until now, and I’m excited to see what changes it’ll make to my life. 

I am looking forward to taking HRT and seeing if it helps. 

I no longer see the peri/menopause as the death of something, I see it as a rebirth. Just like during my teenage years and my pregnancy, my body is going through another seismic change, and despite being a little trepidatious about it, I am also ready for it. 

Bring it on. Just... let me have a little nap/meltdown/doughnut first.

Sending you all loads of love,

Cat xx

Further information

I am not an expert or professional within this area AT ALL but I have looked for medical support for perimenopause recently and read a lot about it and my main tips would be:

  • If possible, see a woman GP. I know this sounds a little judgmental, and of course it depends on your DR, but many women I know have found this more productive.

  • Be prepared to ask for what you want. There is still a lot of misunderstanding around peri/menopause and women sometimes still have to argue their case.

  • Read as much as you can about peri/menopause so you are informed.

  • Track any possible symptoms so you can tell your medical professional exactly what has been happening.

My amazing GP, recommended this incredible online space. It is informative and run by a leading peri/menopause specialist. It even has a podcast about OCD, depression and the menopause.

Read Davina McCall's book and catch her peri/menopause documentaries. There are two.

I haven't read it yet, but fellow OCD advocate Bryony Gordon talks about the menopause in her new book Mad Woman.

And... I think that's about it for now!

If you know of any helpful resources please let me know and I'll add them here.

Huuuuuge love xx

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