Carolyn Harris has spent 12 years on antidepressants.
For six months she sat at home in a pink anorak with the hood up, signed off from work, unable to finish a trip round the supermarket.
Convinced the grief of losing her eight-year-old son, Martin, in a 1989 road accident was coming back to haunt her, she started medication.
But the Labor MP now believes she might never have needed it – if she’d only spotted the signs of the menopause.
In a moving and frank interview today, she says millions of menopausal women are in the same boat, with some taking their own lives.
She vows to fight for better information for women and the Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) they need – saying a government taskforce to boost supplies is not enough.
“Nobody’s putting together those dots and saying hang on, you might not be depressed, you were menopausal,” she told the Mirror.
“So we have millions of women taking antidepressants, when in reality they lack in estrogen, or they lack in progesterone.”
The grim period of her life began in 2010 when she was working for Swansea East MP Sian James – who she replaced as MP in 2015.
“I had continuous bleeding for about six months, I was passing out on my office floor,” she said.
“A friend of mine was in the office and she said to me, ‘I’m going away for a fortnight on holidays. And I’ll see you when I come back – if you’re here’.”
Convinced by friends to seek help, she was sent urgently to hospital where medics removed “massive” fibroids, non-cancerous growths around the womb.
“When I walked into the hospital, the nurse on duty said, ‘Oh, you’re the woman who’s the living dead,’” she said.
“I needed four pints of blood and a pint of iron intravenously.”
When she left hospital around the time of 50th birthday, her periods stopped for good and she “spiralled down into a deep depression”.
“I literally could feel my life draining out of my body,” she told the Mirror.
“I had this pink anorak with a fur hood. And everywhere I went including my living room, I sat with this pink coat on with the hood up.
“I’d go shopping and… get halfway around the shop. And then we’d have to stop… I was absolutely a wreck.
“I was paranoid. It was just an awful time… I felt at the lowest I could possibly feel.”
Ms Harris also had aches, trouble sleeping, and hot flashes so intense she felt like she was “letting off steam”.
Yet she never “joined the dots” between her symptoms and the menopause. She will “always be depressed” since Martin’s death. And she thought the other changes in her body could be linked to her surgery.
South Wales Evening Post)
Even when she became an MP and began working with menopause campaigners, she’d tell them she had “sailed through it”.
But eventually she thought “my God, I’m on the menopause”. “All of a sudden it was like somebody put a lightbulb on in my head,” she said.
TV host and menopause campaigner Davina McCall convinced her to try HRT last summer.
Despite telling the doctor she was “probably wasting your time”, Ms Harris now takes progesterone, estrogen and testosterone.
She feels “much, much better”, has more energy and is now weaning herself off antidepressants.
She had never wanted to go on antidepressants, since she used to lie in the bath in 1989, contemplating taking her own life. It was only in 2010 that she began.
Looking back now, does she think that with proper menopause help, she wouldn’t have needed antidepressants at all? “Yeah,” she says. “But I don’t want this to look as if I’m blaming the doctor, because I did not tell him.
“I had made my decision that I was depressed – losing Martin, not taking antidepressants, trying to cope with it all these years.
“If I had gone to my doctor and said I’ve got A, B, C, D, I am confident that he would have given it to me.
“So it’s entirely my fault, because I diagnosed myself. But a lot of women do that.”
On Monday the Menopause Mandate group will hold a campaign event in Parliament with Ms Harris, Davina McCall, Mariella Frostrup and Tory MP Caroline Nokes.
Tory ministers have pledged to cut the cost of HRT and improve supplies of shortage drugs with a new taskforce.
But Ms Harris told a Commons debate the “delightful taste of victory is rapidly turning sour” as an annual prescription charge, making HRT cheaper, will only begin next April.
And she demanded the government “get a grip” by asking GPs to ask questions routinely that will identify women going through the menopause – and stop young women’s “terror”.
Ms Harris said there is an epidemic of women who simply aren’t told enough about what is happening to their own bodies.
“The earlier they are talking to women about this, the earlier they get them onto appropriate medication, the better women’s health in this country will be”, she said.
MP says smear claims were ‘nonsense’ and rules out a frontbench job
Campaigning Carolyn Harris’ Commons office is covered with her victories.
Letters from then-PM Theresa May granting a Children’s Funeral Fund – which she lobbied for after Martin’s death – are pinned to a noticeboard.
Beside them is a framed Mirror cartoon showing her cutting off fixed-odds betting machines. Right now, she is pushing ministers not to drop a statutory levy on betting firms.
Next stop, the HRT campaign. “I need a framed cartoon. I’d love a cartoon!” she jokes.
But the road is not always smooth. She resigned last year as Keir Starmer’s aide, as an MP reportedly accused her of spreading rumours about shadow ministers’ private lives.
Did she? “It’s not true. It’s a load of nonsense. But you can see what I’ve been doing with my time – campaigning.
“I really, genuinely never wanted a frontbench role ever, and I certainly don’t want one now.”
She is still close personally and highly loyal to the Labor leader. Would she ever take a front bench job again? “No.
“I’m a bit of a free spirit. If I have an opinion I find it very difficult to keep my opinion to myself. And when you’re on the front bench, you’re not allowed to have that many opinions.
“Where I am, nobody can tell me what I can say… it gives me fantastic freedom to get some work done.”