18 October 2021 is the 13th anniversary of World Menopause Day. The day was established in 2009 by the International Menopause Society. It is a worldwide awareness call for women who face health issues when approaching, during and beyond the menopause.
Here at nDreams, we want to bring the subject of menopause out into the open and encourage people to talk about it more widely. Alongside this Q&A, we are also launching a Menopause Policy to encourage education and show support for all of our team, not only our women, but also for those with partners and family members going through the experience. No two people experience the same symptoms. We want our team to understand that the menopause for some women can start as early as their twenties and it’s not just something that older women experience (although the average age is 51). We are also acutely aware that the experience for those experiencing hormonal treatment as part of gender reassignment may not be dissimilar from menopause and we make the same accommodations.
Today our HR Manager, Vikki Neale, talks to our CPO, Tamsin O’Luanaigh, who has kindly agreed to share her story of when she knew that she was entering the menopause, her perception of what would happen, and what the actual symptoms have turned out to be.
Vikki: Thank you for agreeing to talk to us about what is a very sensitive and private subject, Tamsin. It is something that still seems to a taboo topic to discuss yet every woman will go through. And the impact won’t be just on them as individuals – it can affect all members of the family and those working closely alongside.
You have experienced what is termed ‘early menopause’. Did it take you by surprise for it to happen so early on?
Tamsin: For some time, I experienced perimenopausal symptoms, (which is where you haven’t had the full menopause but you start to suffer the side effects), such as heavy periods, mood swings, anxiety. My symptoms were all exacerbated as I suffered from endometriosis and adenomyosis. It was decided the only way to resolve my problem was a full hysterectomy, but I had 8 months of hormone injections in advance of the surgery and then following the operation I plunged into surgical menopause.
Vikki: Many women report not knowing what is happening to them at the beginning and it is not unusual for women to feel as though as they have the onset of dementia. When you first started to experience symptoms, did you know it was the menopause?
Tamsin: When I was perimenopausal I experienced more anxiety, and my mood was lower. My body often physically ached a lot more. I didn’t really suffer from the ‘brain fog’ some people talk about, although I have friends of varying ages who have and it is worrying. You can start forgetting things and then questioning yourself and your abilities. It isn’t something that people typically talk about either so you can feel quite alone, and googling health conditions is the worst thing you can possibly do!
I was lucky that I knew my symptoms were perimenopause and menopause as I had been seeing a gynecologist for my conditions, but in the 8 years it took me to get those diagnosed I had GPs tell me that hormone imbalances ‘didn’t exist’ and I had to suck it up when I complained of life-impacting symptoms. It certainly feels like a women’s issue and one that perhaps doesn’t therefore get the public discourse it needs to help us understand that it is normal and that there are solutions out there to help.
Vikki: People often think that the menopause is just a series of hot flushes. This could not be further from the truth. Can you tell us what other symptoms you have experienced (or are experiencing)?
Tamsin: I can see why everyone focuses on hot flushes as they really are awful! It’s like someone is shining a blow torch on your body and moving it from top to bottom – you can even see the redness move. Night sweats are the same but you can actually wake up dripping in sweat so your sleep is impacted. Tiredness then links up to the brain fog and anxiety. Some people find that their skin changes – it get’s drier and feels thinner. You can experience hair loss – I had this for years due to lack of estrogen and it can really affect your confidence. Also your bones and joints can be painful and ache, all the time, which makes it hard to feel energetic and positive.
Not everyone has all of these symptoms, but these are the main ones I felt. There are others which you can read about here.
Vikki: Many women try to manage their symptoms by themselves, doing such things as changing their diets as some foods can have an adverse effect. Have you made any lifestyle changes as a result of going through the menopause?
Tamsin: As soon as I had my hysterectomy I went into surgical menopause which meant I went from ok to zero in days. I was given HRT but it took me a while for the correct dose to be found and the time that took to settle was really unpleasant with all of the symptoms above happening at the same time (whereas when I was perimenopausal they were spread out). Gradually the medication helped and I felt like myself again.
For women who are going through a natural menopause, not everyone needs HRT. Some people can alleviate symptoms through diet, exercise, mindfulness and vitamin supplements. Others do need HRT but whatever route is decided should be done through consultation with GP as there can be long term side effectives of doing or not doing certain things like osteoporosis, breast cancer, and so on.
For me, HRT really helped but menopause is such a personal experience that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment. Losing a bit of weight helped me too, along with being able to talk to my friends about how I felt. #SharingisCaring and we have to remove the stigma of talking about this.
Vikki: Do you have any words of wisdom and advice you could share with anyone reading this?
Tamsin: The main advice I have is:
- Remember you are not alone. All women go through this.
- Talk to someone. A friend, family, or GP.
- If you feel like your GP doesn’t take you seriously, find another one.
- Talk with your boss and let them know what you are going through. This is no different to any other physical or mental health issue.
- If your company doesn’t have a policy on menopause, periods, etc. then encourage them to create one. It will help all line managers know what to do when faced with a member of staff experiencing these issues.
- Buy a fan!
Vikki Neale [HR Manager]