The menopause and the world of work

As a woman in business for many years, and a fervent believer in equality, I generally dislike ‘women’s issues’ to be debated in public. Any talk of excuses being made for women because of periods or menopause immediately make us seem less capable than men, which we are not. We have more things to deal with than men do, but we are no less capable and we take things in our stride.

However, during the summer, I saw something on the news that made me reconsider keeping women’s issues out of the public debate and question whether we should just take things in our stride. It was a woman talking about how the menopause had made her feel suicidal. That really struck a chord with me as all I wanted to do after two years into a really difficult menopause was drive my car into a lake and drown myself.

It was at that point in my life that I decided not to suffer alone and I went to my GP. I am a strong and determined woman and I do not give into things, so that in itself was a difficult decision. After all, the menopause is not an illness or a medical condition – it is a fact of life for all women.

All of my life I have supported and fought for fairness and equality in everything I do. But when I told my husband that I had had enough because I was not ‘me’ anymore and I did not recognise the woman I had become, he agreed with me and urged me to see the GP with a view to going onto HRT. That was difficult for me because a friend of mine had lost another friend to breast cancer and we had made a pact not to use HRT because of the risks. At that point I felt that I was betraying my friend but I had truly reached the point of no return and had to break that pact. My friend understood.

The decision to write about this has been hard for me as I am an immensely private person. Although I wrote this blog in the summer, it has taken World Menopause Awareness Day on October 18 to give me the courage to publish it. I have now come through the menopause, and have lived to tell the tale. It stole 8 years of my life and really tested my marriage. To hear someone else talk about it made me realise I wasn’t the only one who had suffered so badly with the menopause. I was not alone.

In work, to be accepted as being equal to men, women have actually had to be better at what they do. That is the way of life for women in business. All through my working life I have striven to be taken as seriously as the men I have worked with and to be accepted as being equal. Whether or not that was right, I have always accepted and coped with that, but what I couldn’t cope with was not being in control – of my hormones or my emotions. I have always been in control and losing who I was, was the hardest thing to bear. Not sleeping, losing words and language, experiencing really low tolerance levels and bad moods took a real toll on my health and on my husband. He suffered too because he bore the brunt of it. My team at work had a hard time too and when I look back I am horrified at some of my behaviour in the office in those early menopause days.

I went on HRT – a full dose for 6 months. Immediately I was me again. It was wonderful. But I didn’t want to stay on HRT so I started reducing the dose, with the help of my GP, so that when I came off the tablets, none of the symptoms returned. After 18 months on HRT, increasingly lowering the dose, I came off the tablets. I was still me. The hot flushes were still a problem, as was sleeping through the night, but the flushes were nowhere near as violent as they had been before HRT.

It has taken me another 4.5 years to really feel that I have come out of the other side, but I have done it, without further medication. I have beaten the menopause and I am still me. It is hard enough being a woman in business, but it is harder still being a woman in business with the menopause. Should allowances be made for us? Possibly. Should there be better understanding as to what it is like? Definitely. But – not if it demeans us in the workplace. Women are as capable as men, even with the menopause, and that fact must never be overlooked.