Updated: Dec 16, 2021
I look at the packet of pills, and the long, long leaflet of side-effects. I am shaking, and breathing fast. Almost hyperventilating. It feels like I can’t breathe, but am breathing too much, all at the same time. My body feels wired on adrenaline, panicked, completely taken over by fight/flight energy. It’s difficult to think straight. This is a panic attack. I call my parents.
This was June 2021. I had learned to cope with a certain level of anxiety that came and went from time to time, and found that yoga and mindfulness - especially the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction teachings that I had learned, studied, practised and taught myself many times – could support me and enable me generally to make the right decisions. Including the decisions to have counselling and trauma therapy at various times over the years. However, what was increasingly becoming difficult to cope with was these new panic attacks. A whole new level.
Over the last year or so, alongside much anxiety brought on with the pandemic and the growing climate and ecological crisis, I had also experienced various hormonal symptoms. It was a revelation when I discovered that they matched some of the long list of potential perimenopause symptoms. I was relieved that I may be able to find some help for this. I had a close friend who was experiencing similar, and worse perimenopause symptoms and it helped a great deal to be able to discuss our experiences together.
When I watched Davina McCall’s documentary about the menopause this year, it all made sense. Hearing people talk about anxiety and panic attacks as part of the symptoms felt just like my own experience. My panic attacks felt completely irrational, uncontrollable and out of character for me.
Earlier on this year, I went to see my lovely and supportive GP who prescribed me the contraceptive pill to see if that would even out my swinging hormones and relieve the symptoms. At the time she recommended an antidepressant, but I declined, hoping that the pill would do the trick.
The contraceptive pill certainly helped with many of the hormonal issues. However these new panic attacks / attacks of anxiety worsened and there were days when I had to take time off work. My close friend who was also suffering with perimenopause symptoms had just been prescribed a low-dose antidepressant, so fortunately I was able to discuss this with her. It was so valuable to share experiences together and she gave me a lot of reassurance. In the end, I went back to my GP and she prescribed exactly the same antidepressant medication and dosage that my friend had been prescribed – Citalopram on the lowest starting dose. Apparently this drug is being trialled for menopause symptoms.
So circling back to the start of my story – June 2021, I was about to take my first Citalopram pill. This moment actually triggered a panic attack. Oh, the irony! I was scared, but I had spoken to my friend, and I looked it up online and found that other people were sharing their own experiences of taking Citalopram – that was very helpful. Talking to my mum was helpful too, and my husband was very supportive. Once I calmed down enough, I took it.
We are all individuals and will all have our own unique experiences. Some people find antidepressants do not help, make them feel worse, or prefer not to take them. For me it was the right decision - I’m so thankful that my experience with Citalopram has been positive. I did feel a bit weird for a few days, but, amazingly, have not had a full blown panic attack since starting it. One thing I read online, and which has been true for me, is that taking an antidepressant works well in conjunction with other things such as therapy, yoga and mindfulness practice.
I’m doing very well at the moment. I don’t know how long I’ll take the medication for, but planning to ask my GP about it in the new year to see what they recommend.
It has been so incredibly, massively helpful for me to hear other people’s experiences. We can often feel quite alone and isolated when dealing with such issues, and if reaching out, being more open about these subjects helps just one other person, then telling this story is so worthwhile.
Thank you if you’ve read all the way to the end of this story, and feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss something related to what I have shared.
Wishing you well and sharing much love and gratitude,
PS. If you are struggling with mental health issues, know that there are lots of options out there. Talking to a trusted friend, your GP, a mental health professional or The Samaritans; taking an online CBT course; or exploring approaches such as yoga and mindfulness. If you are local to Gloucestershire, find local NHS mental health services here. You can self refer to the Let's Talk service.