Perimenopause & Me: ‘The doctor said I might be depressed, but I knew I wasn’t’
In the first part of a new series, health and fitness coach Deborah Branigan opens up about her perimenopause experience, and her struggle to get an official diagnosis.
“In 2017, at the age of 40, my husband and I were trying for a third baby. After six months of trying, I started tracking my ovulation…
I wasn’t ovulating and my periods were all over the place but I just put it down to age and the stress of having two kids under two. I had lost a lot of weight, was exhausted and had that “sad” feeling. To be honest, I thought it was the baby blues.
My husband noticed changes in me and asked me to go see my doctor as he was worried about me and my mental health. But I ignored him, and thought I could do it on my own. Sure my mam had gone through it seemingly easy, so should I, right?
I had joint pain, VERY tender breasts and overwhelming afternoon tiredness.
In 2018, we came home from Canada and the symptoms continued, only now I had joint pain, VERY tender breasts and overwhelming afternoon tiredness. I went to my GP about all my symptoms separately throughout 2018 and 2019. I gave up in 2020 because of the pandemic and having to have so many different hats was so overwhelming. I stopped prioritising me and just went into survival mode.
Over the years of me going to my GP because of different ailments, I was sent to have a mammogram in case the breast tenderness was anything sinister. I was given a referral to rheumatology, as arthritis is in the family, and advised to see a counsellor because he thought I was depressed. I knew I wasn’t as I had dealt with it earlier in life.
I went back to my counsellor who told me I wasn’t depressed and that I was using the tools that she had taught me very well. She didn’t give me any advice on what it could be.
I was prodded and pricked yet all blood tests came back in the “normal” range. I had these done twice. I’ve since discovered that the normal range is a farce in itself as everyone’s normal is different, but I wasn’t qualified to say that so the tiredness continued.
I didn’t know what perimenopause was (only menopause) so it was only when a friend mentioned it to me that I asked to know more. She was able to fill me in somewhat and shared with me the 40 top perimenopausal symptoms picture that has since made the rounds on social media.
Straight away I could relate to multiple symptoms of perimenopause and I knew I needed to know more, understand it more, learn all about it and share it.
I went back to my doctor in 2021, shared all my symptoms and asked if he thought it was perimenopause. He answered in theory yes, but as my bloods had come back normal, he said I wasn’t at that stage yet. He took my bloods and once again I was in the “normal” range for everything bar my white blood cells which were a little low, but nothing to worry about. He suggested that we start the pill and see if that would balance my hormones.
This was the worst nine months. I was given three different pill patches to try and while some of the symptoms lessened, I got more side-effects: weight gain, cramping, very heavy periods, days I struggled to get out of bed, hair loss, numbness down my left arm, brain fog, mood swings, irritability, low sex drive…
I asked if I could try HRT which he flatly refused as I wasn’t going through menopause.
In December last year I had the worst two days and thought I was actually having contractions and would need to go into hospital. I knew the pill wasn’t working so I phoned my doctor to tell him. I asked if I could try HRT which he flatly refused as I wasn’t going through menopause.
That’s when I knew I had to take the control myself. After putting myself on the back-burner again, I finally made the leap and have booked myself in with a menopause specialist, Dr Carmel Hutcheson, in Drogheda.
I summoned up the courage to start working again as a personal trainer and nutritional coach in 2020 as I didn’t feel I was good enough to start again in Ireland. So I guess, in that respect, the menopause debilitated me for 18 months.
But since then I have showed up no matter what I am going through because I love helping people. My clients are mainly 40+ women, who are either mammies, perimenopausal or menopausal.
I am currently doing a few courses called 3rd Age Woman, Meno Strength and Optimal Health by Jenny Burrell so I can support them better, because I realise there is a gap. We all know about puberty, child birth etc, but after that is a big, dark, scary hole that no one talks about and, in this day and age, it’s ridiculous and needs changing.
What treatments work?
I have found that listening to my body has really helped when it comes to food and exercise. I have been tracking my periods for over two years now and, on average, they are 22 days so I do strength training from day 1 to day 17 of my cycle, 20-30 minutes, a minimum of three times a week. Then I do more restorative exercise on the run up as I only have energy for things like leisure walking and restorative yoga.
With regards to diet, I have found that balanced plates work for me. No matter what I eat, my plate is 50pc fruit and veg, 30pc protein and 20pc carbs. This works well for me but we are all unique and you have to be the detective to find out what works for you.
I find having the balance also means I don’t have the cravings so much. I still eat chocolate, crisps, sweets, cakes etc, but in moderation, because a little bit is good for you. When it comes to alcohol, I only have a drink at the weekend if I am even having one, and it will be 1-2 max if I am at home.
I have strategies for helping me with everyday stress and sleep is absolutely critical for me to function so, quite often, I will have a little afternoon nap. I am very open to alternative therapies like reiki and reflexology and believe that they can help relax you and make you feel more in control.
I am not anti-HRT. If it can help me, I am willing to try anything. I would love to get back to the old me. But I also know that this is an individual approach. I believe that lifestyle is also key with menopause and having good routines in mindset, eating habits, sleep, stress and exercise will also help me.
Try all avenues available to you, as HRT is not a cheap alternative
Things don’t miraculously happen overnight and it takes time, practice and being the detective to make things work for you. I guess what I am saying is try all avenues available to you, as HRT is not a cheap alternative
We are in menopause for one-third of our life. When I heard that I knew I had to help in whatever way I could. I am going through this now and will be for the rest of my life, so I plan to embrace it, grow, learn and listen so that I can help support in any way I can.
My mother seemed to breeze through the menopause in her early fifties, so much so that she doesn’t really remember it. I don’t even remember her going through it or her talking to us about it, although she may have done but I wasn’t listening!
It was only when clients actually started opening up to me about symptoms that they had (and they didn’t know they were going through perimenopause) that I started to talk more about it. It’s still a taboo subject and something that you think you should “fly through”.
We receive letters to get smears and mammograms so some information about menopause, sent from the Government, could be very useful.
Thousands of us are going through it together, yet there is still a massive negative bias around perimenopause and menopause which needs to be quashed. And I plan to help in that journey.”
Find Deborah on Instagram @deborah_branigan
Join us as we share our perimenopause stories and shake off the stigma. If you’d like to share your story, we’d love to hear from you. Contact [email protected]