Could you tell us about your experience of menopause, and how it affected you at work?
With the menopause, there are so many symptoms that you may not realise are because of your drop in hormones. I got a few hot flushes, they were mild and maybe occurred after having a cup of coffee, so easy to deal with, by dinking de-caff tea and coffee. Sweating at night was worse and is more like a burning feeling.
When I was in my early 50’s, I went to the GP as I thought I had thyroid problems (my mother has underactive thyroid, so not entirely random), as I was always feeling tired, my nails were flaky and breaking, my skin was very dry and I had hair loss both on my head and body. The doctor gave me tests for thyroid deficiency, I had tests for iron deficiency, tests on my hands and feet as they were sore and tender, even x-rays for arthritis. They all came back negative and there was no mention by the GP that these issues could be connected to the menopause.
There are so many symptoms that you have that you don’t realise are related to the menopause. For example, another symptom I had was dry eyes, which the optician thought was to do with me wearing contact lenses, even though I have been wearing them since I was 15. I also started with hay fever. Some of the worst symptoms were not remembering things, getting a lot more anxious about things that never used to bother me and losing confidence. I got nervous about driving on the motorway, for no reason and scared of flying, when I used to love flying. I can thoroughly recommend the EasyJet ‘Fear of Flying’ course which was amazing and really works.
The other thing that was very difficult was waking up in the early hours of the morning, I bought a 100% wool mattress, tried lots of herbal remedies, gave up caffeine, diary, sugar, took up yoga, everything I could think of to try and get more sleep. I’ve since found out that this is due to the release of different hormones, so anything I did would only help slightly. For me, these symptoms were gradual and crept up on me.
I eventually read something about a menopause clinic in Stratford upon Avon, they were brilliant and I had an initial 45 minute consultation about my menopause symptoms and the options that I had. Following this, I started taking HRT. After 2 days on HRT if felt as though my brain was lit up like the lights on a Christmas tree, and I slept through the night for the first time in ages. I stopped feeling so old and my quality of life is so much better.
At work I hadn’t really said anything about the poor sleep and just carried on. I didn’t realise that this was connected to the menopause. If I had have known then I would have asked if I could have come in later and worked later, on those days that were particularly exhausting. Fortunately, I have a supportive line manager and colleagues, so I have discussed symptoms with them since I’ve been on HRT.
How would a greater awareness in the workplace have helped you?
We need to talk about the effects of the menopause and that it is not just hot sweats and needing a fan. If people knew it would make such a big difference. It was 4 years before I went to the GP, it is a creep of symptoms and things creep up on you.
What advice would you give others, both those going through the menopause and their colleagues, managers?
My advice to others would be – talk to someone about your symptoms and the menopause - your partner, a friend, a colleague, your mother and daughter. Find a GP who is a specialist, the Balance App is good for logging symptoms to take to your GP. Read up on the other symptoms, for example the anxiety, loss of confidence, brain fog, it is not just hot flushes. Read the University menopause policy and watch the online training session and talk to your manager, to see what can help you at work. I chose to take HRT and I found that extremely helpful, so that may be an option for you.