When Suzanne Somers first charged on to the scene with her first books on menopause and bio identical hormones in the early part of the millennia, we began having our first real public discussions about the change of life for both men and women. The eternal life Baby Boomers have been the largest generation of women to go through menopause in history. Since boomers have always had a loud voice in the world, this subject was no acception. Menopause had finally come out of the closet, and women weren't about to take hot flashes and anxiety lightly.
Hormone replacement therapy became the number one conversation during that decade, and anti-aging clinics began springing up in cities everywhere. The verbal debate over synthetic hormones verses bio identical raged on, and the Women's Health Initiative added fuel to the already existing fire. The study only looked at synthetic hormones, and caused many women to jump ship on their HRT when the study revealed that women taking estrogen and progestins showed an increase for breast cancer, heart attack and stroke.
Most women like myself had little information about the complex cascade of hormones cursing through our bodies until those hormones started declining at midlife. Few doctors in the main stream were very well informed either and had little understanding of the laundry list of symptoms associated with menopause. This left a huge population of women at the mercy of the mental health system as this was the first line of treatment for anxiety, depression, insomnia hot flashes and a whole host of other symptoms that on the surface might be mistaken for some sort of mental health problem. I believe that is when the use of antidepressants and benzodiazepines really exploded. Women were much more likely to be put on these medications because men are generally less apt to discuss their mental health symptoms with anyone else.
I was one of those women that was put on a benzodiazepine. I had no idea what hit me when I started into perimenopause. I was fine one minute, and then I began waking up in the middle of the night with heart palpitations and anxiety. I felt like I was dying, and didn't know what to do. The internet was still in its infancy so Benzo Buddies didn't exist yet, and I barely knew how to send email at that time. The information on these medications just wasn't available the way it is now, and even now we have a long way to go in educating the general population about these drugs. People are just to quick to pop a pill when they feel uncomfortable, and it's easier than looking at your life and changing your lifestyle choices. None of us want to take time from our frantically busy schedules to fit in twenty minutes of meditation.
After several ER visits and numerous inconclusive rounds of tests, all of the doctors just sent me on my way and said I was fine. I wasn't fine. I was scared and confused. I went a month with no sleep before I ended up in a psychiatric hospital and was put on lorazepam. It appeared to work like a charm until I started getting a whole host of infections that made no sense as I had been strong and healthy up to that point.
This was the beginning of my journey down a nightmarish path to hell. One of the first infections I picked up was a double parasite while I was in Costa Rica with friends. We were all living in the same place and eating the same food, but no one else got sick. This was probably the sickest I had ever been in my entire life, and it seemed like it would never end.
I went through another maze of doctors who kept throwing antibiotics at me for what the said was chronic bronchitis. My breathing was impacted, and I could barely eat without everything going right through me. I got severely thin, and was about ready to give up the ghost until I finally met a Naturopath that suggested we do a parasite test. When the test came back positive, I never imagined that it would take me so long to recover.
Because it took over a year before anyone figured out what was wrong with me, I was so sick by then I couldn't eat solid food. I was getting nutritional I.V.s that were keeping me alive, and I had no idea that the benzos were having any of the impact on me that they were and that they were suppressing my immune system. I had severe candida from all the antibiotics they had given me and was passing huge chunks of white chunky stuff vaginally and rectally. They gave me something to clear up the candida, but it caused me to purge too much too quickly. I became very dehydrated and blacked out, which resulted in my hitting my head and ending up with a fractured orbit bone.
This is how I ended up on disability, and it was a very long climb back from the events that occurred after my first blackout. The doctors were all mystified, and not one ever suggested my health issues were being caused from the benzos. By this time, I did find out that they were not a good long term drug to take and that they could be hard to come off of. I had no idea just how hard that process would turn out to be.
Meanwhile, all the anti aging doctors and alternative medicine specialists were focusing on my hormones being the problem, but that was only one part of the issue. I did feel better after they put me on testosterone and progesterone, but all the while I never felt quite like I know I should have. Even after I recovered from the infections and got off all of the medications they had me on for my stomach, I knew something just wasn't quite right. I just kept hearing that it was menopause, yet none of my friends seemed to be having some of the problems I was having.
Then in 2010, I was overdosed on the testosterone due to a pharmacy error. Again, the doctors were scratching their heads, and again it took over a year before someone finally did a blood test and discovered the overdose. When I was taken off the testosterone cold turkey, that was the straw that broke the camels back. I had a severe Secondary Addison's reaction, and because I had been on the benzos so long by then my system just completely crashed on Christmas Day of 2010.
I had to quit teaching music, and could barely get to the bathroom without my heart racing out of control. I was sensitive to everything including mild adrenal adaptagens, and my whole world was spiraling out of control. I had to borrow money from my friends to survive, and I had no idea how long it would take me to recover.
I saw a "hormone specialist" in late 2011 that inserted hormone pellets that were supposed to help level me out. All they did was give me a false sense of security, and in the long run made my adrenal issues far worse by over driving them. I ended up having severe bleeding due to the estrogen causing the lining in my uterus to thicken. When I decided to come off of them, I almost bled to death and had to have a blood transfusion.
Meanwhile, my dose of benzos increased because the hormone roller coaster was so bad, and the anxiety was so severe I didn't think I would live through it. I had to slowly wean off the other pellets with the testosterone, and it was so painful that I could barely get up out of bed at night to go to the bathroom. I was living alone, and I don't think I have ever been so terrified in all of my life. I think I was more terrified of living through anymore of this horror than I was of dying, but I did.
After I got through the horrific episode with the hormone pellets, it was time to come off the benzos. My system was so sensitive from all of the trauma that my friends were all not so sure I would ever make it. There were days during that time, that I wished I just wouldn't wake up, and that was if I ever even slept. My entire endocrine system was toast from the hormones, and the benzo withdrawal was the worst hell I have ever lived through. If anyone ever would have informed me that coming off this drug would be worse than heroin withdrawal, I would never have taken the drug.
My story is the story of thousands of other people who get put on these drugs, and many of them are women who could also have been helped if there had been more accurate information about hormone replacement and benzos. I emphasize the word "accurate" because there is a lot of money to made in women's health since that first Suzanne Somers book came out. Many healthcare practitioners began prescribing hormone replacement with little background endocrinology, and HRT seemed like it had become fast food for the aging Boomer. I'm not saying you have to be an endocrinologist to know more about hormones, as I have gone to some of these specialists as well. Let's just say I was shocked at how little they knew when this was suppose to be their specialty.
If you are a woman that is just starting into menopause, I can't stress enough the importance of doing your homework before they put you on any drug or hormone. I wouldn't wish what happened to me on my worst enemy. I'm not saying you shouldn't do hormones either. I still feel that in the right hands it can be very beneficial, and I still take very low doses in the form that works best for me. Everyone is different, so what works for you may not work for someone else you know.
The trick is to become more informed about your own health and to find a skilled healthcare practitioner that will work with you to find the right options that can help you sail smoothly through the midlife transition. I can only hope that my story will raise a lot of eyebrows and awareness that you have to be your own best advocate. No one will ever care as much about your health as you will. I think as long as healthcare is market driven, we will have to empower ourselves more and take the appropriate steps to find the best solutions to our healthcare decisions.