ONE positive impact of the pandemic was the speed at which organisations accepted the use of technology for business continuity. This important development has enabled many people to work anywhere and at any time and means that businesses could adapt to embrace remote and more flexible working.
This is particularly relevant when it comes to supporting menopausal women who may experience debilitating symptoms that can potentially impact their work and undermine their career advancement.
I am lucky that I work for a progressive company that treats every colleague as an individual and encourages them to bring their own self to work. We have a number of colleague support networks, one of which is MenoTalk, that was set up by a colleague and now has hundreds of members, including men, that facilitates more understanding and empathy. It is full of interesting information with links to advice and events. I wish it had been around 10 years ago when I started experiencing my own symptoms.
When I first joined the world of work, women could retire and receive a pension at the age of 60. The Pensions Act in 1995 equalised the state pension for men and women at 65 and has been extended since then so that most people won’t receive a State-funded pension until nearer 67, at the earliest. This means that more and more women are remaining in the workplace for longer and may experience menopause at the height of their careers.
It was almost a decade ago now when I first started to have night sweats. I would wake up in the early hours of the morning, sometimes after only an hour’s sleep, feeling incredibly hot and uncomfortable, sweat running down my neck - I couldn’t even bear a sheet covering me. I would struggle to get back to sleep and often would resort to attending to emails and other work matters as I felt so alert. That continuing sleep disruption inevitably leads to irritability and I found myself becoming more short-tempered and less tolerant of my nearest and dearest (especially my poor husband who came to be known as ‘#poorjim). I’ve got a great team and my colleagues got used to receiving random emails from me at all hours. Those unscheduled early mornings were great for catching up with work and ‘life admin’, but being sleep-deprived was not good for my health and wellbeing.
I knew the cause immediately because some of my friends had started going through ‘the change’ and we spoke about it openly, much more than my mother would have in her day. We’d also begun seeing extensive coverage in the media, in magazines, newspapers and TV shows dedicated to the menopause, led by campaigning celebrities, such as Davina McCall. With that has come more clarity of the huge range of symptoms linked to this drop in women’s hormone levels, that has in turn led to a better understanding and appreciation of the far-reaching impact this can have on the lives of women and those around them.
Through my job I was fortunate to meet Meg Mathews (who some will remember as the former wife of musician Noel Gallagher) who introduced me to her online platform MegsMenopause (you can find it on Facebook). She is one of the UK’s foremost menopause campaigners and uses her profile and own experience to reduce the stigma and provide networking opportunities for menopausal women to share their experiences and symptoms. I have often shared useful articles and advice with my friends and colleagues.
When I was growing up, the menopause wasn’t really discussed. I educated myself about what was happening to my body via magazine and online articles. I can’t remember it ever being spoken about at school.
I also noticed that I began to put on weight, especially around my tummy. I felt bloated and uncomfortable and found the extra pounds very difficult to lose even though I followed a healthy diet. In the office I sometimes struggled to get my words out, to string coherent sentences together. Expressing myself verbally in meetings could be difficult. My niggly aches and pains, probably brought about by a sedentary office life, got worse. But it’s difficult to know what was exacerbated by the menopause and what is a part of the ageing process.
The first time I had a hot flush at work I vowed to take action because I didn’t want it impacting my job. So, I read up about the different forms of treatment and was very aware of the link between HRT and breast cancer. I heard that one of the woman doctors at my surgery specialised in this area and I spoke to her about a treatment plan.
I was prescribed an oestrogen gel, which I rub on my shoulders first thing every morning. This is a common way of absorbing HRT without going through the digestive system. I’d suffered from endometriosis for many years, which affected my fertility, and subsequently had a Mirena coil fitted, that releases progesterone direct into the womb. Because the coil also stops your periods, the only tangible symptom I could connect to menopause was the night sweats. This was a particularly emotional time as I finally had to come to accept that I would never have children of my own and that was hard to deal with. More recently I have changed to progesterone tablets, which I take at night. This treatment plan seems to suit me.
Hormone replacement therapy isn’t for everyone but it was important to me that I maintained quality of life and that my symptoms didn’t impact my work. I listen to my body carefully, always attend the free mammograms provided by Health and Social Care, do regular checks at home and report any unusual symptoms to my GP. I believe it’s about taking responsibility for your own health and being aware of anything that feels a bit different and seeking your GP’s advice.
Hopefully we are entering an era of greater understanding. If we can all play our part and help each other get through this period of natural adjustment, then the menopause might not be such a challenging life event in future and will no longer be referred to in whispered undertones as ‘the change’.
For more information on the Embrace the Change menopause event on Tuesday 16 May and who will be speaking, go to www.guernseyskinandbeauty.com/menopause-event-2023