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The Truth About HRT and Me (Some Hardcore Honesty About the Whole Thing)

I want to tell some hardcore truths about me and HRT. This is for all the people who just assume that because I am on a HRT regime I know nothing about natural living, that I am some medication-obsessed sort, that I just jumped on the HRT bandwagon, or that HRT was some instant miracle for me.

So many assumptions, so little questions asked…! It’s depressing really how women want to pit themselves against each other and judge, instead of respecting each other’s choices. Anyway, my story isn’t so cut and dry. Not even close. Here’s the truth about me and HRT.

1. I was pretty terrified to take it.

Look, it took me almost five years, yes, five, between getting my first offering of a form of HRT and finally starting to take it. So if the entire thing makes you anxious, I get it. I was the sort of girl who didn’t take any medication, barring 200mg of ibuprofen in the months I had severe period cramps. Even when I fractured my hip at 43 I didn’t take the painkillers they offered. So for me to go on a serious medication regime was a big fat deal.

2. I only took it when I was so unwell I was hardly leaving the house.

I did not have a light, happy perimenopause. It’s all detailed in my book. I had not idea my mother was fully menopausal at 46 as she is not one to share anything. So basically I started getting strange bouts of sickness, losing my hair in clumps, night sweats, random weight gain, fatigue, etcetera starting at 38, and was tested for all sorts. Lupus, Lyme disease.

I stopped sleeping for several years, there was that. I mean three hours a night was common, even with pills. I became a totally different person between that, the severe anxiety, and the ADHD I was diagnosed with 25 years ago going through the roof. Then the hip fracture happened, where doctors found that I had very weak bones despite my relatively young age.

Followed by a few years where I truly lost all energy and capacity to function. I was so exhausted all the time I hardly left the house. Topped off by not just losing my sex drive, but being one of the lucky women who end up with desensitisation. Whereby no amount of stimulation will lead to orgasm, or only to a blip that hardly merits being called an orgasm. It was slightly terrifying to be honest. I hit a patch of depression and I didn’t even know if I could continue.

I’d love any woman who judges me to try living with all that for even just a few months, let alone ten long years like I did. HRT literally gave me my life back.

3. My intro to HRT was far from easy.

I was quite sick on it at first. Severe headaches, dizziness. Plus insomnia that was even crazier than before. I was totally confused. How could women think this medication was at all helpful? Or claim it made them sleep like a baby? It got to the point one night I slept one. Hour. Yes, seriously, one! Pretty much a ‘nuit blanche’, as they say in France. I decided I would quit the HRT.

Thankfully I did a google that gave me some info about how a rare percentage of women can’t take progesterone orally. There were all the side effects I had, laid out in the description. I ended up being switched to taking it progesterone the vaginal route, and all the side effects stopped.

But even then I had a three-week long (!) period and felt bloated and awful. Not fun to say the least. It was only starting in on the third month of HRT that I hit smooth sailing, and finally understood what other women were raving about.

4. I find HRT messy and annoying.

It is not a fun medication to take. All the smearing on of oestrogen and testosterone gels and waiting for them to dry is something I don't look forward to. (Or creams, I did for awhile have testosterone cream, which stunk like a hospital and took ages to stop being sticky and damp on my skin).

And then there is my progesterone issue, meaning I have to take it vaginally. It is not a pleasure to stick it up there before bed, then wake up to pee out little bits of it, or sometimes have itching from it.

5. I worry about explaining it to a man if I start dating again.

I haven’t started dating again and have serious worries about how I am supposed to explain that I can’t function well without all these meds. That without them I might have no libido. Or that certain nights would be out for sex, as the progesterone up there can effect them! If I’m honest it might be holding me back from dating much.

6. It does bother me being on hardcore medication.

I am not one of those women who thinks HRT is no big deal or like eating candy. It is powerful stuff, and I am aware of that. I don't love being pretty much medication reliant, particularly as I had a hugely healthy lifestyle always, with the belief I'd avoid this sort of situation.

7. It feels so inaccurate the way it is prescribed and monitored.

I also take real issue with how inaccurate HRT is. It’s doled out based on self-described symptoms over any real measurements, because by the time we need it they simply don’t know our personal hormonal baseline. Blood tests can then only be compared to a general average, only to give an idea if we might (it’s as accurate as that, ‘might’) be heading toward menopause.

And even now that I’ve been on it 18 months and are curious what my hormone levels are now like, doctors won’t prescribe more tests. They change your dose based on how you are feeling. And don't want you to know much more than that. It all seems so nuts to me. I feel women should be having their hormonal profiles tested constantly, from early 30s onward. From my research I think this would lead to leaps forward in women's health on many fronts, not just menopause. And we should all have the right to have our hormones tested anytime we want.

8. It’s actually my second choice, there is a more advanced treatment option I wanted.

HRT was not my first option. There is already, for many years now, a transplant option if you can afford it. Where cells from your ovaries are planted under your armpit and can delay menopause for years. Even 20 years, if you get it done young enough. I found out about it at 42, and by the time the UK-based practice I contacted got back to me, I was past their cut off age of 43. I now realise if they had of checked my hormones etcetera at 42 I probably would not have been offered it anyway, as I was at lower levels than normal for my age. But it still kills me I didn’t find out about this science earlier.

9. HRT actually briefly stopped working for me.

Hormonal replacement therapy is also far from foolproof. At the six-month mark I suddenly got back hot flashes and lethargy ,along with a severe sort of bloating I’d never lived with before. In the end they just needed to up my oestrogen, but it did make me worry about it all one day no longer working for me.

10. Hormone replacement therapy totally helped my anxiety… then gave me a new kind of anxiety altogether.

So yes, HRT has seen my wild, out-of-control anxiety that was about a 9/10 on a scale go down to a 1 or 2 on most days. BUT, it has also given me a new sort of simmering anxiety. I am anxious sometimes about HRT ever stopping working. Or there being such a shortage I have to come off it. Yam and soy crops, which are used in the safer, newer body identical HRT I am on, are affected by the climate and by wars. Just saying....

11. It didn’t give me back a proper sex drive until I added testosterone.

It was not a miracle for my sex drive. Oestrogen gel and progesterone, the first regime you are given, gave me a few weeks of libido, but then it all dived again.

Things did improve after three months worth of testosterone, however. Not to levels that are like my old sex drive, but to okay levels. (You can, by the way, in some cases get testosterone in France! I found a loophole described in my book on 'How to Get HRT'.)

12. It adds a whole other (annoying) layer to travelling.

Ah yes, travelling with HRT. I find this so darn stressful. It’s not just the worries about forgetting to pack it, or not taking enough in the case that your trip gets extended. It’s the whole palaver of taking it in your carry on. As otherwise what if your checked luggage gets lost and you are screwed… Then having the male security guard going through customs question you about it as some smarmy business men look on, smirking. Yes, ladies, I have been there done that, and now dread security each time I travel as once was enough!

So given all the above, would I go off of it?

Hell no. Not a chance, unless I was forced off it. I had no idea how badly I was functioning in life and how much I was suffering until the HRT kicked in. Then I realised that my symptoms had just become so bad I took them for granted. I thought that was what life had to be. That my middle years and old age would be a simple, tiny life hiding at home feeling sick all the time. Now look at me, back at it, launching new businesses, getting myself out there.

As for women who want to tell me it ups my risk of dying from certain things, depression upped my risk of dying too, and here’s the thing… I’d long stopped living anyway, really. Now I am full of life again. So I’m staying on it. I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but I’m certainly putting a stake in the ground and saying HRT it is for me.

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