I wonder how many women have left jobs while going through the menopause.
It happened to me, albeit alongside a toxic work culture and two family crises that upturned my home life.
At 50, I felt like I’d hit rock bottom and wondered what the hell had happened.
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The menopause played its part and has continued to add to my life’s rich pattern of ups and downs. The kids call me Stressy Messy and my partner creeps around the house hoping I’m in one of my efficient moods or even an angry state.
The one he struggles with is when I’m tearful, feeling like the world is going to end and wailing that we’re probably going to lose the house, that our children will be taken from us because I can’t have a shower and get dressed and that we’ll be homeless and childless within a week.
While I catastrophise, he asks if I want a cup of tea.
And all these emotions can also come with sweating and weight gain to boot. That euphemistic phrase “the change” does not do justice to the volcanic eruption to work and family life.
How it happens
So what happened first? It’s different for all women, but for me it probably began at 48 – without my realising it, but the signs were there. Mood changes, self-doubt (I’m usually a very confident person, especially in the workplace), anxiety, anger, disorganisation and short-term memory loss.
The final two were difficult to spot as I have attention deficit disorder (ADHD) so already struggle with these skills alongside a difficulty with sequential planning and working memory.
Previously, however, I would have told you that you missed out on having ADHD as it gave me an edge. I take risks, have an instant strategic overview and understanding of systems which comes naturally to me.
I am creative with few resources making the seemingly impossible possible. I was undaunted, brave and impulsive, bringing people along with me with a smile, stupid jokes and a scattering of swearing.
This changed. I became more negative and anxious and made mistakes that were out of character. The more this happened, the worse it became. I felt I was holding on by a thread.
Then conflict raised its ugly head at work at the same time as two significant family crises and boom - it felt like my life went from success to failure in a few months.
How to handle it
It didn’t need to be like this, however, and a supportive work environment can make a huge difference.
If you are experiencing the menopause, here is my advice:
• Do not try and cope and think that if you just work harder it’ll be fine.
• Ask your workplace for support. Tell them you are beginning to experience menopausal changes and find out what they offer.
• Contact your union; the NEU teaching union in particular is doing some great work on menopause at the moment.
• Find out as much as you can. Talk about it with your family, friends and colleagues, you’ll be amazed how many people have experienced similar symptoms.
• Love yourself, look after yourself, eat healthily and take gentle exercise.
• Don’t beat yourself up about it, be ashamed or think it’s your fault.
• Remember that it’s temporary.
If you think someone in your team is experiencing menopause, here is what I advise:
• Look to their strengths and try to remove any significant hurdles they are experiencing in the short term. For me it was admin. I could happily talk in front of 500 people or advise in a school effortlessly but paperwork became a struggle.
• Offer an occupational therapy assessment, in a gentle way, without blame.
• Be supportive. Don’t start threatening a capability procedure, as this will only increase the anxiety; they’ll be beating themselves up already.
• Create an open culture in the workplace that celebrates difference and includes everyone. Encourage discussion and have information about menopause readily available and visible rather than it being a taboo subject.
• Make sure you have a policy that supports women experiencing menopause and ensure you have cultivated a workplace where people can talk openly without fearing for their job or promotion prospects.
• Remember its temporary.
Finally, while it’s important to be aware of the menopause, don’t assume all women will require support – it is a natural part of female ageing.
Be aware and don’t discipline but equally don’t blame every mood or disagreement on the menopause; that’s no better than asking women if it’s "their time of the month".
Jules Daulby is a teacher specialising in English, literacy, communication and inclusive practice. She is also a co-founder and strategic lead for @WomenEd