ASK CAROLINE: Our relationships expert Caroline West-Meads answers your questions
If you have a problem, email Caroline at [email protected] Caroline reads all your letters but regrets she cannot answer each one personall
I don’t recognise my husband any more
I have always felt fortunate to have a happy family life, but over the past year my husband has changed into someone I hardly recognise. Having retired a couple of years ago from a successful career, he has always been easy-going and confident, with a can-do attitude. He was happy being a good father to our adult sons, and kept himself busy with consultancy work, charity committees and playing golf. But recently he has become grumpy and distant. He is still working on his various commitments online, but whereas before he used to discuss them with me, he now says they are boring and he can’t be bothered to talk about them. This is his attitude to everything – even me. He never asks about my job or my elderly father (who is a worry and makes increasing demands on my time). He won’t help with the garden or around the house like he used to without a huge amount of persuasion – and then bad-tempered reluctance. He was never chatty, but now he clams up if I start a conversation. The only subject that gets him motivated (negatively) is that he says it is a disastrous world for our youngest son who graduated last year and how he is never going to get a job. My husband says he is not depressed, he just feels completely flat and fed up. I’m exasperated, especially as I have been trying to keep everyone going. Our sons have also been complaining they’ve had enough of his grumpiness.
Your husband says he is not depressed but I wouldn’t rule it out. Grumpiness on this deep level can be a sign. It wouldn’t be surprising. This is a man who had a very successful life by the sound of it but, like the rest of us, his world order has completely changed – and it has shaken him. I would guess, too, that he might have always been a ‘doer’, not a talker; the type of person who showed his love by being helpful and kind rather than having deep, intimate conversations. I’d be willing to bet when he plays golf with a friend, they talk about the game, business or politics rather than any emotional soul searching. As most action-based activities have been curtailed, he has had little but conversation to fall back on, and the frustration runs deep so he has closed off. It is tempting to say, ‘Look at the people who are really struggling, living on the poverty line or completely isolated – what do you have to be worried about?’ but that’s not how depression works, and it can affect anyone. Having said that, it would help him to look outwards not inwards, so it’s a question of how you approach him. Find a way to say to him that you know he is fed up, and that you understand but it is having an impact on the family. Tell him you’ll support him but you also need his support. Encourage him to see his GP for help with possible depression. You can also find some helpful information and advice about whether this might be the root of the problem at rethink.org.
I’m desperate to go back on HRT
Recently, I read in your column about a woman whose menopause had upset her equilibrium – physically and mentally. I had a similar problem and took an oestrogen-only pill. Unfortunately, my GP took me off it after over 20 years and I have steadily gone downhill since then: thinning hair, dry skin, and mood swings. I was warned of the problems that could occur if I stayed on HRT. But quite honestly, on reflection, I would rather have taken that risk. Have you any suggestions of natural alternatives which might help?
I’m sorry you are experiencing this. I am not a medical expert so I can’t recommend alternatives. But be careful as natural doesn’t always mean safe, as many ‘natural’ products are unregulated. However, your GP may be following outdated advice by taking you off HRT. Menopause Support (menopausesupport.co.uk) is campaigning for better training for doctors. Founder and menopause expert Diane Danzebrink explains that the current guidance on HRT is there should be no limit on how long you take it for ‘as long as the benefits outweigh the risks, and quality of life is taken into consideration’. You might feel you are too old to go back on HRT, but it is worth getting a second opinion. Menopause Support can arrange private consultations and a letter for your GP outlining a preferred management plan (though be aware, there is a fee). Low mood could also be related to fears around ageing, as well as the current situation, so confide in someone you trust – it’s important to talk these things through.