Menopause Awareness

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Menopause Awareness

Hello and welcome to today’s episode of the Mortgage Mum podcast. And I’m so excited to be talking about the M word today – and this time it’s not mortgages. We’re talking today about menopause and how it can affect women in the workplace and life in general.

Further to that, we’ll look at how companies and businesses can support women who are perimenopausal or menopausal and make the environment one where women can thrive.

I’m delighted to have Lucinda as my guest – we met back in March at a mortgage industry event where she was a fellow speaker.

About our guest – Lucinda Pincott

Lucinda and I really connected at the event. She is an incredible speaker who changes people’s perspectives as a menopause awareness advocate.

For the past seven years, she’s been introducing and explaining perimenopause and menopause to groups of all sizes and genders in both domestic and corporate environments. Lucinda believes that information and knowledge is the starting point of positive change.

In April, she started working part time as a consultant trainer at Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, delivering training to help ensure that no woman leaves a job due to hormonal disadvantage.

How Lucinda became a menopause awareness advocate

My personal journey, which started eleven years ago, would have been so much easier and so much less distressing, heartbreaking, lonely and confusing if I’d had more information.

More knowledge would have made it so much easier – not necessarily dealing with the symptoms, but knowing that you’re not alone and where to go for help.

So I started talking about Menopause because I was angry that nobody seemed to know enough. It is ridiculous that in our modern society this is a taboo subject – so that’s why I started, and I haven’t really shut up since!

Lucinda’s personal experience of menopause

I had recently had my third child and had I heard of perimenopause and that it might affect somebody in their early 40s or younger, I would have been looking out for it.

But I hadn’t. I thought menopause was something that affected women in their late 50s. I’d had my third child and wasn’t getting myself back together. I was feeling that I was failing as a parent, as a homemaker, as a wife… I just felt really rubbish.

I didn’t embrace parenting like I thought I would. I wasn’t working so I had this overwhelming guilt that I should have been enjoying everything more than I was. I think that’s really common – I talk to groups of women and I always see them nodding. They’re not quite coping either.

I was in and out of the doctor’s surgery for three years. With hindsight, all my symptoms were related to hormones, but they were obscure things like sore eyes, throat ulcers, erratic bowel movements, really low mood… but it didn’t feel like depression. My hair was thinning, my nails were really brittle, my brain fog was horrific. I even asked for a dementia test.

I was treated symptom by symptom. The doctor did a great job of addressing what I went in for, but it was only when I went to the dentist three years later that I found out that lower levels of oestrogen often causes gum disease.

I went home, googled ‘oestrogen and middle age’ and up pops ‘perimenopause’. It was a light bulb moment. I felt such relief that I wasn’t falling apart – but also knocked sideways by the fact that there was this whole state of life that I hadn’t heard of.

Lucinda’s next steps

I started HRT two years ago, and I was having periods when I started. They were stopped by my HRT, so I don’t know if my natural cycle has finished. But HRT has made me feel so much calmer than ever before – I think I’m probably early post-menopause now. But it’s hard to know. For all women, it’s impossible to know what stage you’re at for sure, which is what makes it so hard to manage.

When I found out about perimenopause I started chatting to friends about sleep, brain fog and the other symptoms, and other people seemed to have never heard of this. Lots of my friends were in their 30s and it shocked me that they were going to go into it as uninformed as I was.

So I gathered information and rallied lots of friends into a very large kitchen and told them everything I knew. It all started from there. Other women wanted to find out more, and some people wanted their husbands to understand, and so I’ve been talking about it ever since.

My first professional speaking event was in 2017 – two years on from starting to run community sessions and coffee mornings. I was talking to a small group of women and one of them asked me to deliver a similar session at their workplace.

But my confidence was at a massive low. I couldn’t remember anything. My brain fog was horrific so I had to tell myself that the worst I could do would be to forget all the words and go into the toilets and cry. And it went fine – and it’s sort of grown ever since.

The four stages of menopause

There are various stages and of course everyone is very different. But in general there are four stages:

Pre-menopause. For most people this is our 20s and 30s. Our hormones are up and down already – we’re very often having children and we might be in and out of birth control.

Menopause – A word most people know – but, as I say, I thought this was your late 50s. I thought it was a short time when you’re temperamental and a bit hot. But in the UK the average age of menopause is only 51. That shocks me every time I say it. At 51, 80% of us are working, it’s a really busy stage of life. And menopause is just one day – it’s the day when you reach 12 months period-free.

Post-menopause – The very next day we wake up and are post-menopausal. In our society that’s seen as negative – it’s a sign of ageing. But actually it’s a time of hormonal calm – I’m looking forward to it being the wonder years of my life.

Peri-menopause – a less well-known word. I’ve only known it for seven years. It’s the time before that last period. We don’t know when that time is going to be and it can last between five and ten years. It’s like puberty in reverse, where hormonal changes might affect you minute to minute or day to day or month to month. You don’t know whether it’s going to creep up on you or arrive with a massive impact. Panic attacks are quite common.

If you don’t know what perimenopause looks like or how it might affect you, that can be a problem.

The importance of self care

Let’s be real. The pace of life and the messaging we receive from the media makes us all feel that we should constantly be busy, productive and proactive – which creates insecurity about stopping and resting and looking after ourselves.

If friends come to us saying “I’m exhausted, I’m being a bad wife and a terrible mother and I’m knackered”. We would say to them, “Why don’t you take half a day off? Go and have a massage or a bath. Prioritise yourself.” Then we’d go back to our own struggles and not take our own advice.

And that’s where the support network is invaluable – knowing that you’re not alone. Being able to joke with people about forgetting where you left your car again makes us feel better about how rubbish we’re feeling.

But it’s really hard to go into work and be honest: “I can’t remember what you said to me. I thought it was Thursday. I got lost on the way to work.” In a patriarchal society, working in a predominantly male environment – it would be much easier to be honest among like minded people. But even then it’s hard to flag up our failings, for any reason.

 

What should we look out for?

We’re all so different, it’s hard to give any simple advice. But look out for changes in your ‘normal’. The best way for a woman to know she’s perimenopausal is to know what perimenopause is, when it might happen and how it might look. There are a huge array of symptoms, but it helps to know that tiredness, lack of confidence and being more emotional can be early stages.

You might see a change in the menstrual cycle – large or small. That could be heavy bleeding or closer together periods, or further apart, lighter periods. Some people, of course, don’t get regular periods because of birth control or genetic or hormonal conditions. Some people don’t get any signs at all, any fluctuation with their monthly cycle.

Some of us get very hungry, some notice changes to their hair, some are really tired or react more to alcohol at a certain stage of the month. It’s really about being body aware.

Lack of education in the health sector

You may be going to a doctor who isn’t particularly well trained in women’s health. They’re not experts in everything. And some trained 20 or 30 years ago, with very sketchy knowledge about menopause, the symptoms and joining those dots.

I went to the doctor for thinning hair and low energy and I was tested for thyroidism, which presents in a similar way. He didn’t make the link between my age and perimenopause. I was only 41 at the time.

But if you know about perimenopause you get a symptom checker from somewhere like the Menopause charity or the Henpicked website. Then you can go into the doctor, list the symptoms and that you think you’re perimenopausal. Then you can talk about it.

Too many women are offered antidepressants as a first course of action, which actually isn’t the right thing to be prescribed. HRT may be more suitable.

The really good news is that the NHS has recently announced mandatory women’s health training for all GPs going forward.

Can you be sure that your symptoms are menopause related?

Not everything is menopause, of course. Sometimes people are perimenopausal and might also be depressed. COVID is a good example – people are affected by symptoms that have crept up over two years of working at home and now they’re back at work, begin to notice them more.

Anxiety is anxiety, whether it’s caused by a perimenopause, you’re already an anxiety sufferer or it’s delayed trauma. Somebody said to me that if you haven’t dealt with emotional issues, they can come up like wildfire when you’re menopausal.

Seeing ageing as a positive

I remember when I was younger hearing women talk about ‘the change’ – which is a positive way of thinking about it. Perhaps we should embrace and lean into this, it’s something we should learn to accept.

As women, if we can collectively accept that we are going to age and that it isn’t such a bad thing, then it might make life a bit easier for those approaching menopause.

Personally, the older I get, the more fantastic it seems. Ten years ago, if somebody had said that to me, I would have cried. Not because I didn’t want to get older, but because being able to cope seemed so impossible. But the calmer my hormones become, the more fantastic it feels. I’m more in charge, more confident. I’m changing into the next level of grown-up.

I’m enjoying learning to be a bit more selfish, making decisions that matter to me and my priorities in life. It’s all about losing that self doubt, our imposter syndrome and that constant worry.

It’s always the same: knowledge is power. If we went into pregnancy and childbirth with no knowledge, we’d all be terrified. If we know what we’re going into, the fear and the worry about it goes away and we can look at it as just a stage of life.

If you could be told that perimenopause will be five years of your life, it might be a bit tricky but you’ll discover a lot about yourself and then you’ll calm down a bit, you’re going to think “OK, I can do that.”

How businesses can support employees through the menopause

Menopause is not just about us. It also affects the people we work with, our line managers, our team members, our children. So menopause awareness for everybody is good, but particularly in the workplace, it’s about being heard.

Can you go to your manager and say, “I’m struggling with some health issues I don’t want to discuss, I’d like to be able to work from home for three days”. How good would it be to know that they’re going to support you no matter what? You will feel like a valued, supported member of staff. It might be mental health related, yet sometimes it’s not.

Workplace training in an organisation means that everyone knows what the menopause is and how it might affect people, so that no one is scared of talking about it.

There’s an onus on women to know what’s affecting them and what to ask for. But there’s also an onus on workplace training so that everyone feels confident. Over half of the population are women and 80% of us have jobs. Support goes such a long way to give women confidence that they can cope and they can take a doctor’s appointment if they need to.

Workplace training is useful because people don’t get this information anywhere else. It’s not on posters or on TV.

What can menopause look like at work?

It helps if managers know what to look for in their teams. The first thing they might notice is reduced drive, or lack of energy in a team member. Maybe somebody who’s normally very positive and always volunteers for initiatives at work, or has a big personality, is less up for getting involved. You might expect them to put their hands up for promotion, but they don’t. They might take more sick days or be a little more withdrawn.

Lack of confidence, memory lapses and wariness of taking things on are common. It’s not really about mood swings. Anger really affected me in my early perimenopause, but I could hold it together with friends quite easily, then I’d come home and find it hard to bottle in the rage.

These people may well be the most skilled staff members on a team. So it’s worthwhile investing energy into their wellbeing, as opposed to just looking at outputs and dismissing somebody that’s been very effective for your business for a long time.

People do make the decision to change careers during menopause – but it’s much better that they choose to seek a new challenge than be forced out of work and losing confidence as a result.

Menopause and marriage

Some women also make big decisions about their relationships during menopause. Ending a marriage can be the right thing if a woman is moving into a different stage of their life and their job or marriage does not work for them anymore. That’s an empowering decision.

If you know that you are perimenopausal, it helps you be certain that you’re making a decision for the right reasons. You might be in a state of anxiety, mental imbalance or low confidence. Personally, I was really hard to live with. I needed my husband’s support. And I’m really glad we discovered perimenopause and he came on the journey with me, because it would have been really unfair to expect him to understand otherwise. It didn’t make me any easier to live with, but it did make it easier to apologise and try to work through it.

Making big decisions about staying together, or whether to stay at work, needs your rational head, not your emotional one.

Hormone replacement therapy

Hormone replacement therapy or HRT is essentially topping up the hormones that are falling away in our perimenopause: oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. HRT basically replaces them.

It comes as patches, gels, creams, sprays or pills. So if your falling hormones are giving you symptoms, you top up the hormones and the symptoms in most cases will be alleviated and sometimes disappear.

It sounds really simple as the first course of treatment. But it doesn’t suit everybody. Some people don’t like the idea of hormone treatment, some people can’t take it, some people are wary of it, or there are cultural or societal reasons that they decide against it.

For seven years, I kept hearing that HRT fixes everything, but I was told by the doctors not to take it. And so I looked into lifestyle and complementary treatments. Realistically, for most of us, we should be doing a combination of things.

Whether you’re menopausal or not, and whether you’re male or female, midlife is a really good time to look at what we put in our bodies and how we look after ourselves. With the menopause in particular, if you’re not taking any other treatment, lifestyle changes are the single biggest thing that we can do.

Lifestyle changes for the menopause

Examples of lifestyle changes are to cut down your drinking or choose the days you drink. Eating better and cleaner is important too. If you are somebody who loves carbs, have a big lunch instead of a late dinner, and try to avoid spicy food if you’re prone to hot flushes.

Look at your caffeine and sugar intake, get more exercise, and eat your vegetables. Knowing where to start can still be really hard. And that’s where work support and friends can be helpful.

It’s about finding what suits you. Some people run for meditation, other people simply meditate. I personally find sitting quietly hellish. My brain is always going to stress me out. Therapy can help too, whether it’s CBT therapy, friend therapy, paid for therapy or marriage therapy. Take a step back and ask yourself what you need to do.

If going for your run is your personal time out, prioritise it. It may not be the best exercise for somebody with aching joints, but there might be other exercises that work for you. Some people do get really achy joints, around the hips particularly, and the arms. When that happens, the last thing you want to do is go for a walk – but find somebody who encourages you to do that – a friend, a child, a group – somebody you can stick with.

Understanding menopause is the secret

This is a stage of life that’s a great big experiment in finding ways to please ourselves. Our brains don’t work in the same way any more. Anxieties won’t get put away, which can cause a lack of confidence and lack of joy.

That’s something I hear often – lack of joy, lack of self, where have I gone? I used to be fun and now I’m just a shouty, stressed person.

The more people know a little bit about it before they get there, it stops people feeling unsupported. It will stop people leaving their jobs because they don’t know what else to do. Hopefully it will stop people lying about taking time off work and then worrying about it.

If we can just say, “I’m struggling with menopause, I’d like to work from home for three days” – that takes away the stress. And if we’re not stressed, we’re less likely to struggle with our symptoms.

Finding out more

To contact Lucinda, email Perimenomentor@outlook.com. She also works for a company called Henpicked, who are the leaders in menopause workplace training organisations, rolling out programmes and train-the-trainer and advocate training champions. Organisations that treat their staff with respect makes the biggest difference in the world.

For further information and menopause help sites: