I remember my first hot flushes. I was at a special dinner at one of my favourite restaurants. It was early autumn, so not hot but not cold. Fresh. But that was the last thing I felt. I was so overwhelmed by inner body heat that I probably spent half the evening standing outside, trying to cool down, coming back into the room trying not to look red and sweaty.
I really didn’t know what was happening to me. In fact, it was probably a few weeks later that I realised I’d hit the menopause. Suddenly, my periods stopped. To be honest, I was pleased about that because they had always been really painful and heavy. Knowing I was no longer going to have that problem actually made me somewhat euphoric.
But soon after that, reality kicked in. I had countless hot flushes every day, terrible night sweats, sleepless nights, mood swings and a very strange sensation of just not feeling I was me. It sometimes felt like I was on the outside of me, looking at myself and having no control over what was happening to me.
It took me a while to talk to anyone about it. To start with, as I said, I didn’t really know what was happening. Then I think I was in denial. I didn’t want to be one of those women who blamed everything on the menopause. I wanted to be stoical (like my mother was) and just get on with it, with no fuss. Little did I know that so much could have been blamed on the menopause. I particularly didn’t want to admit to my husband that I was really struggling. I probably didn’t realise just how much I was struggling until about two years into the process.
Describing the menopause as “the change” either diminishes its significance or totally encapsulates it. Without wishing to sound melodramatic, I didn’t recognise myself any more.
I’ve always been emotional, so frequent tearful outbursts became the norm. I became super-sensitive, which I know was very hard for the people closest to me, particularly my husband.
Work, frankly, was tough.
Every time I experienced a menopausal symptom at work, I felt the need to cover or laugh off what was going on. I didn’t want to fall foul of ageism or be singled out for being menopausal, especially when sitting in rooms full of people half my age.
There were many times where I was in a meeting and suddenly be overwhelmed by heat and discomfort. I’d try to make a joke of it as I left the room to mask my embarrassment, or, heaven forbid, to stop anybody else from being embarrassed.
This put an extra layer of mental distress and exhaustion on top of what I was already suffering. And too many others in our industry have been put in the same position.
There were other times when I felt too tired or anxious to work. Times when I’d had insomnia so extreme that I could barely function the next day.
Being expected to work normally was at times excruciating. It’s the same story for the 15.5 million women in the UK who are going through the menopause.
The menopause is an undeniable fact of life for every single woman – and a lot of trans and non-binary folk too – so why haven’t we normalised it yet? What’s more, why aren’t we doing more to help those going through it? It’s time to get rid of the taboos around menopause in our industry so that we can offer meaningful and empathetic support to those going through it.
Employers must give menopausal people the flexibility and support they need so that they can continue to thrive at work, contributing to team success without unnecessary cost to their wellbeing.
Going through the menopause is a life-changing experience and one that can badly affect one’s self esteem both personally and professionally. More needs to be done to raise awareness of what the menopause means in real terms. Education,
In my experience, this is what proper support looks like. The ability to be open without fear of shame. More understanding from the people around me. And more flexibility, such as starting work later after a bad night’s sleep, and taking breaks when needed. None of these factors compromises somebody’s ability to do their work. In fact, they help to produce better results and a longer, more enjoyable career.
There have been some brilliant menopause initiatives in the industry. Channel 4 leading the way in 2019 with its menopause policy. Dark Horses’ open-source menopause policy. The recent open letter from GenM asking businesses to better understand menopausal women. And other organisations who have implemented menopause policies – Nabs being one of them, I’m pleased to say.
The marvellous team working on the Nabs Advice Line asks a brilliant question of the people they help: “What do you most need?” This World Menopause Day, consult with those affected in your organisation to ask what they’d most need to support them through one of the most significant life changes they’ll ever experience. You, and they, will reap the rewards.
Kate Harris is regional director at Nabs and managing director of Harris Talent