Even the Law can't help me now.
This is a very real and intimate account of the impact peri-menopause can have on women. Kate Mahon who set up Davidson Mahon Solicitors as a result of the overwhelm of day to day life, shares her story with We are After the Storm for Switch it up.
I have always prided myself on my great memory and ability to learn and, because of this, I was able to succeed in qualifying as a barrister and also as a solicitor. As time progressed however, I started to notice that my levels of concentration started to fall, relatively straight forward tasks were taking me a lot longer to complete, plus I had trouble remembering things so my desk ended up covered in post it notes and long lists of things I needed to get done. It all became quite overwhelming as I just couldn’t understand what was going on. Part of me felt that it was due to the stress of my job and just being “busy” but part of me also kept thinking I wasn’t good enough and I had lost my edge. My confidence started to wane massively, and I really felt like I couldn’t continue. In the end I decided to leave employment and start my own practice where I would have more control over what work I took on and more flexibility in terms of my working hours and where I worked too. I recall saying to my husband that if I couldn’t make this work then I would leave the law altogether.
So I took on the major task of setting up a law firm, which is no mean feat! It was all consuming, but I absolutely loved it and, whilst I worked 6-7 days a week for the first few years, at least I was in control. I could take breaks when I wanted and walk my dogs when I wanted and, ultimately, pick and choose the work I took on. Life became a lot more bearable, as I was able to adapt my working practices to suit me and work when my concentration levels were higher.
A year or two after I set up my own practice, I came off the contraceptive implant as the second one I had fitted just didn’t seem to agree with me; my emotions seemed all over the place and I was gaining weight (despite training for many half marathons and ultimately, a marathon at the time). I also found I needed to urinate a lot more too and “leaked” a bit if I sneezed or coughed. I recall on many of my training runs, I often needed to wee and my record was about 6 wee stops on a 15 mile training run which was quite new to me as my need to wee hadn’t been a problem before! I also started to experience really heavy periods which would completely wipe me out for a couple of days. It was awful to be honest; they were so heavy I couldn’t risk leaving the house and the pain was unbearable; no over the counter medicines seemed to help at all. I also started to experience awful hot flashes. I remember being on the train coming back from London, it wasn’t a particularly hot day, but I kept getting wave after wave of hot flashes, so much so that my dress and underwear were soaked through. I couldn’t tell you how relieved I was to see it was pouring with rain when I stepped off the train – at least no one would notice and assume I am just wet because I hadn’t got an umbrella!
I eventually went to my doctor when my moods became totally unbearable. One minute I would be fine and the next I would either be crying or tearing my hair out in anger. I had become a complete Jekyll and Hyde character, which is not ideal in my line of work as I deal with people who are bereaved, elderly and vulnerable. My poor husband was suffering too as he often wouldn’t know what to expect when he got home from work – he must have spent all the time walking on eggshells, not sure how I would react to anything.
My doctor prescribed antidepressants, only a small dosage and, after a few months I seemed to be on an even keel again with my emotions. My periods however were still as heavy and as painful as ever and becoming quite erratic so my doctor prescribed some stronger painkillers and medication to try and curtail the heaviness of the bleeding; none of which seemed to work however.
I didn’t question the anti-depressants at the time because I didn’t think that I was peri-menopausal as I was too young. My mum mentioned to me that I could be in the early stages of menopause and she kept insisting I went back to the doctor. But it was only when my periods started to only appear once every few months that my doctor then decided to take blood tests to monitor my hormone levels to see if I was menopausal. The first blood test showed I was and they wanted a further one in 6 months’ time to be sure, but on the day of the blood test I just came on my period after about 3 months without one, so the blood test showed my hormone levels as normal. The doctor said that they couldn’t do anything and that I was fine.
I came off the antidepressants after about 6 months because although they had helped my mood swings, they weren’t helping with my other symptoms and they really weren’t helping my already flagging libido because they really make it hard to orgasm.
Literally within weeks of the appointment where I was told my hormone levels were fine I started to experience night sweats and couldn’t sleep well at all. I was often awake at 3am and not able to get back to sleep. I was like a zombie and was really struggling to function at work. On top of this I started to suffer from migraines; I had no idea what they were or how debilitating they were until I started to get them every couple of weeks. They seemed to be made worse by the lack of sleep too. Then my mood swings were becoming awful again and I actually started to feel quite depressed; so much so that I often thought about ending it all when I was walking the dogs as we often pass railway bridges; it seemed like the only way I could put an end to my suffering as no one seemed to be listening to me. I tried to go back to the doctor to speak about my symptoms but with Covid, it was proving extremely difficult to get an appointment with the same doctor who had been treating me all along and I really didn’t want to relay the whole saga to another doctor in the practice.
I was becoming desperate and eventually found a private doctor who specialised in menopause. It was around the time of Davina’s television documentary on the menopause so a lot of the doctors who specialised in this area had long waiting lists. I was lucky and only had to wait a couple of weeks to speak to someone and, after a 40 minute consultation I was prescribed HRT; I received it the day after my appointment and within a couple of weeks I started to feel like my old self again. I was able to sleep, my mood swings stopped and my periods (although still heavy) became regular. I am not out of the woods yet as my energy levels have still not returned to what they used to be and my libido is still non-existent so I may need testosterone but I have recently increased the dose of oestrogen so this may well solve the problem.
I am lucky that I am able to afford to see a private doctor for my symptoms, many women do not have this privilege. I am also lucky that I have an incredibly supportive family and husband who have helped and supported me throughout this horrendous time. And finally, although running my own law firm is hard work, if I hadn’t done this I honestly believe I wouldn’t have stayed in the law; throwing away years of study and hard work to get where I am. I have been able to adapt how and when I work to help with my symptoms and this, combined with my amazingly supportive team, has kept me in a career I love.
Kate Mahon set up Davidson Mahon Solicitors and specialises in all aspects of estate planning and family law. When she isnt working she loves walking her dogs and art classes.