August 29, 2022

Marcia Lawrence Soltes’ Menopause Journey

Older woman smiling

This is a firsthand account submitted through SWHR’s Share Your Story portal, as part of SWHR’s Women’s Health Perspective series.

On an August afternoon, at the age of 49, without any warning, I became engulfed in a maelstrom of insanity that spanned 17 days and nearly destroyed me. Had it not been for a loving rescue by friends, an artful diagnosis by an extraordinary psychiatrist, and an incredible amount of luck, I doubt I would have survived. Yet, my diagnosis was only a blood test away.

It was the gradual, almost imperceptible shift in my hormonal balance that made it hard to understand the cause of the changes that were happening to me. I just wasn’t feeling right. I suffered from a number of vague physical symptoms. Sometimes I would feel a crawling sensation up and down my legs, as though there were something moving under my skin. I experienced tingling and numbness in my fingers, and there was a feeling of pressure in my lower abdomen. I even began to experience irregular periods, but no one, not my internist or my gynecologist, ever raised the possibility that hormone changes connected to menopause might be at the root of my symptoms.

I was surprised that I never experienced ‘hot flashes,’ which are typical perimenopausal symptoms. Instead, it seems that estrogen deficiency can be a factor whether or not there are any other recognizable symptoms. If anyone had suggested that my delusions were triggered by a mundane biological event, I would not have believed them. Although I was educated, well-read, and medically aware, I had never heard that a hormonal imbalance could wreak such havoc on the brain.

I have learned that perimenopausal depression is a psychological disorder that can be biologically triggered. There are endocrine signs that can be evaluated. Hormone therapy can help to address some of the symptoms, as it did for me. Estrogen replacement to correct my hormone imbalance enabled my recovery, and the psychoanalytic setting helped me to separate out the physical factors from the psychological ones.  Aside from my family, I have never shared the most important information that resulted from my ordeal, which was discovering that my mother suffered a severe clinical depression at the same age as me. Unfortunately, my mother was subjected to electroshock therapy since perimenopausal depression would not have been on anyone’s radar at that time.

I now realize that I am one of those women who is predisposed to complications from the loss of estrogen, even though I was never depressed. Not only was my energy level high, but to the casual observer there was nothing remarkable about my behavior. It appears that throughout the 17 days of my delusion, I manifested symptoms in a manic phase. Today, I understand that what I needed and what worked for me was a short term estrogen replacement, and this has given me back a life free of the trauma I lived through.