Scared, Alone and Misunderstood ...
In 2019, when the Guardian newspaper put out a request to its readers to share their menopause experiences, dozens of women responded, but the vast majority asked to remain anonymous.
That’s because menopause was still a social taboo, and things haven’t changed much since.
The trouble is that over 80% of women experience peri-menopausal or menopausal symptoms, making the term ‘the silent majority’ a true reflection of a dire situation.
If you’ve encountered the menopause yourself, you will understand why women feel it’s so difficult to talk about. If you haven’t then this might give you some insight.
You’ve managed to climb the ladder, then it feels like someone pushed it away from the wall ...
For many women the menopause hits in their forties, just at the point when they’re reaching the peak of their careers. All of a sudden, you can go from being a calm, confident high performer, with everything under control, to feeling like an alien has taken over your mind and body.
I know, because that’s exactly what happened to me.
I was a senior leader in a large organisation, and I’d just successfully delivered a significant transformation programme attracting praise for my team, and a bonus.
A week later, I had an awkward conversation with a colleague, who questioned my demeanour and whether it was befitting of a senior leader in the business.
In that moment, I felt my self-confidence and self-esteem plummet. I believed I’d lost the support of one of my closest allies.
I was devastated by what was said to me, and confused, because my team and I had received outstanding praise just a week before.
I was in my early 40's, a sole parent with a young child with lifelong medical needs. I couldn’t risk anything going wrong at work, but things certainly began to feel like they were slipping out of my control.
The stress I thrived on, working in fast-paced, business-critical change functions started making me anxious instead of excited.
Twice, I felt like I was going to pass out in meetings, my heart beating out of my chest, no idea how to control it.
I started to find it hard to focus and recall simple words.
I barely slept and when I did, I woke up drenched in sweat, to the point where I had to change the bedsheets. In the end I gave up and slept on bath towels as they were easier to change!
I was emotional and began to feel paranoid. I had no idea what was going on with me.
I was so grateful for my team because I was becoming increasingly dependent on them.
I no longer felt that I could talk to senior colleagues, and I was too worried to raise my concerns elsewhere.
I felt entirely alone.
I thought maybe I needed to rest and recharge, so I booked a week off and took my 8-year-old to Iceland for the week.
We laughed and joked built snow people, ate great food. We went to the Blue Lagoon and saw the Northern Lights; we were so happy.
On the last night, as I tucked my son under his covers and he looked at me through his lush dark brown eyelashes, he said "Mummy, I love you. Can we take happy Mummy back home?"
As he fell asleep, I sat bolt upright in my bed and called my GP, leaving a voice mail for an appointment when we got home.
I thought I had early-onset dementia.
Three appointments later, after a series of bloods, I waited with dread for the verdict:
“You’ve just been through menopause.”
I have to tell you I was the happiest menopausal woman in Bristol, because I didn't have early-onset dementia.
Ultimately, I left my job to research menopause and retrain to prevent any other woman from going through what I did.
The Opportunity to Make a Massive Difference
What support is available for women experiencing the menopause?
The truth is very little.
Society has spent years sweeping the menopause under the carpet, as something to deny, fear and hide.
This means women themselves understand very little about what to expect, and GPs are also woefully uneducated.
For those women who get to breaking point physically or mentally, reaching out for medical helps often results in no or a misdiagnosis.
Unfortunately, there also few counsellors, therapists, nutritionists, or fitness professionals truly serving the 13.5 million UK women experiencing menopause, and that’s one of the reasons my programmes are consistently oversubscribed.
In my experience, women want to understand what is going on with their minds and bodies, and they want to feel back in control, calm and focused.
But it’s not just in the medical system and or amongst wellbeing practitioners, that women are finding themselves ignored and under supported.
The burning platform for change exists in organisations too.
Amongst the 13.5 million menopausal women, nearly 80% are in employment and according to research by Nuffield Health:
72% of women in work say they feel unsupported;
9 out of 10 women say they feel unable to talk to managers at work; and
1 in 50 are on long term sickness.
And as many as 25% of these women seriously consider giving up work, with over 10% simply leaving their jobs.
It's not necessary.
It's entirely preventable.
And since I’ve started raising awareness of this issue, more companies are approaching me for support in making a change.
I’m asked to give talks, run workshops and equip the organisation with the tools to provide support and education to their employees.
Not simply because it’s the right thing to do, but because there is a positive economic return.
Many organisations notice flagging productivity, higher absence levels and low morale or motivation.
Giving women the information and help to understand and manage their own menopausal journey can reduce absence, sustain high performance, and result in better skills, knowledge and talent retention.
But it isn’t simple.
The Menopause Maze
There are over 34 recognised symptoms of the menopause, (and some studies now suggest there are more than 60), and every person’s experience of it is unique.
From head to toe, inside and out, mind and body, pretty much every inch of you can be affected.
It can feel like you’re going around in circles. What you do to resolve one issue may cause problems elsewhere.
So ... if you’re an independent practitioner wanting to add menopause support to your products or services or a company wanting to support women in your organisation, where do you start?
That’s the question I asked myself when I began my journey as an advocate, coach and speaker providing solutions for women and employers to successfully navigate menopause...
... and I share the answers I found in How I Navigated the Menopause Maze and Now Help Other Women Step Fully into Their Power
Your coach & trainer,