About 10 years ago, a friend of mine brought a handful of leaflets about the menopause to a social evening. I carried on drinking and chatting and didn’t pay any attention to the leaflet. I thought I was way too young and didn’t need to know about that yet. And then of course, I didn’t recognise the symptoms.
The crippling anxiety – I thought it was just how I was now. Forgetting words – signs of dementia? Disturbed sleep every night – is this what happens as you get older? Hot flushes, night sweats – I started to get the picture.
The effects of these symptoms were far-reaching and had a significant impact on my work-life. Events at work such as making an important presentation or attending a meeting somewhere new, which I would previously have taken in my stride, had me feeling physically sick with anxiety for days beforehand. I went from being someone with an excellent memory to someone who could forget an ordinary word in front of a room full of people. And the disturbed sleep made it difficult for me to concentrate at work and affected my ability to shrug off a difficult day. (I’m sure those of you who have young children can empathise with this too!)
After trying various solutions, I eventually went to the doctor for help. I found out that I was perimenopausal (‘perimenopause’ meaning the time in which the body is making the transition to the menopause), and a range of treatments were suggested: herbal remedies, medication for the anxiety and sleep-related symptoms, or HRT.
I never did get as far as trying HRT, because I ended up having treatment for breast cancer last year. The cancer was oestrogen-receptor positive, meaning that it uses oestrogen to grow. So HRT is ruled out and I now have to take an oestrogen-blocking medicine, which has side effects that are effectively menopausal symptoms. Just what I need!
I always try to look on the bright side – and there are many actually, so here are a few of them. I changed my job – and I’m so much happier now. I learned how to crochet; I love it, it helps with managing anxiety, and I even sell some of my creations. I faced the onslaught of breast cancer treatment-related side effects fairly pragmatically, as I’d already been dealing with most of them for several years. And now that I’ve started telling people at work that I’m menopausal, we can have a shared laugh about the unpleasant symptoms too.
My work is home-based, and I’ve discovered some coincidental advantages to this. If I suddenly feel boiling hot, I can change my outfit. If my face goes bright pink on a Zoom call, I can turn my camera off for a bit! Now that I’m not commuting, I can go for a walk before starting work, which helps me sleep better.
Why am I telling you all of this?
Menopausal women may need flexibility and understanding in order to keep working, but there is still quite a taboo around talking to people about it. Maybe we keep quiet about our experiences due to embarrassment or fear that we will be judged as less able to do our jobs.
There has definitely been some progress. There have been two documentaries on Channel 4 presented by Davina McCall about the menopause which, together with her social media campaigns, have really made a difference in raising awareness and enabling conversations about what women going through the menopause are experiencing.
The UK Government’s cross-party Menopause Taskforce met for the first time this year. The taskforce will tackle issues including increasing access to treatment and ending the taboos that still surround conversations about the menopause, including in the workplace. An increasing number of companies now have a menopause policy and specific menopause-awareness training.
There is noticeably more talk on LinkedIn about the menopause now. There are various websites set up to provide menopause advice. Products are now specifically marketed for menopausal women (from shampoo to tea), and the TENA #LastLonelyMenopause campaign on TV brings a tear to my eye every time I watch it. All of these things help to normalise the conversation and break down stigma, and it feels like we are moving in the right direction.
Menopause facts and figures
- Women going through the perimenopause/menopause can experience a wide range of symptoms, which may have a significant impact on daily life.1
- The most common symptoms include host flushes, night sweats, difficulty sleeping, low mood/anxiety, joint aches, and problems with memory and concentration.1,2 In fact, as many as 48 symptoms have been linked to the meopause.3
- In a survey featured as part of Davina McCall’s latest documentary on Channel 4, 44% of women said their ability to work has been affected by menopausal symptoms.4
- One in ten women who have been employed during the menopause have left work due to menopause symptoms.4
- NHS. Symptoms of the menopause. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/ Accessed July 2022.
- Menopause Matters. Menopause symptoms. Available at: https://www.menopausematters.co.uk/symptoms.php Accessed July 2022.
- GenM. The 48 symptoms of the menopause. Available at: https://gen-m.com/symptoms/ Accessed July 2022.
- The Fawcett Society. Menopause and the Workplace, 2022. Available at: https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=9672cf45-5f13-4b69-8882-1e5e643ac8a6 Accessed July 2022.