In DWP we want to create an inclusive workplace where everyone feels that they can be themselves. To support this we have an ongoing ‘I can be me’ campaign that aims to get people talking about how being included makes them feel and about helping others feel included too. This is why I’m highlighting Time to Talk Day 2019, held annually on the first Thursday of each February.
Last year I was diagnosed with menopause symptoms – but before my diagnosis I went through ‘a fog of despair’ – with my mental health really suffering. The menopause is a pretty taboo subject, yet it’s something women all go through, so I feel really strongly that it’s something we should start to talk more openly about. The ability to talk about the things that affect our mental health helps people to be happier, work better and have improved wellbeing, so I want to share my experience.
My menopause story
Last year I became very emotional. After a family bereavement, though I was naturally very upset, I was still very tearful several months later. I found myself crying at the slightest things: when the strap on my handbag broke, when my Yorkshire puddings didn’t rise and when I couldn’t find a nice skirt in Marks & Spencer. I was also crying at work - the very worst time being when I cried because someone asked me to close a window. Looking back, I can see that these incidents were quite ridiculous, and I felt embarrassed at the lack of control I had over my emotions. It left me feeling humiliated, but there was nothing that I could do to stop it.
I also found that I couldn’t talk to people without flushing red and going sweaty. Things I had previously done without difficulty were now causing me problems. I couldn’t concentrate properly and I struggled to do the things that I was usually good at. I was making mistakes in emails, I found that I couldn’t take in new information and had so many ‘bad days at the office’ that I didn’t want to come to work anymore. I even thought about resigning – so in despair, and because I thought I was going mad, I went to the doctors.
I saw a GP who explained that it was fluctuating hormones that were making me tearful and unable to control my emotions and also causing the night sweats which were making me feel exhausted and lose concentration at work. She diagnosed menopause symptoms and gave me information about HRT and herbal remedies.
After weighing up the options and risks I decided to go with HRT. The patches, which I wear, help with symptoms and also protect me against osteoporosis.
They’ve made an amazing difference to my life: no more crying at work or at life in general, no more night sweats and very few hot flushes. The fog of despair, which I didn’t realise had been there until it had gone, lifted.
What I’ve learnt
I was 45 when this happened to me – I’d thought I was too young for the menopause, but actually while most women reach it between 45 and 55 it can happen earlier. The years leading up to it are called perimenopause and this is when symptoms begin.
I never knew that the symptoms of menopause were more than just ‘hot flushes and night sweats’. My hot flushes had started when I was 43 and though I didn’t know it at the time, this was the start of my mental health decline. But it was so gradual that I never noticed the changes until I couldn’t cope.
It’s important to talk about what you are going through. I’m feeling so much better now and my mood is noticeably different, but telling my colleagues about my symptoms and the HRT have really helped. People have been very supportive. It can be a bit daunting talking to men about it, but my experience is that lots of my male colleagues have female partners who are going through the same, so they are understanding.
Sharing my personal experience has been liberating. I recently gave a talk about my menopause experience at a DWP Women in Digital conference in Leeds. During the talk I showed Rosalind Jackson’s TEDxDayton Talk, The Woman You Become. She’s an American Obstetrician Gynaecologist, and in this talk she shares her candid views and some interesting facts and figures about the menopause and how it can affect women. And I’m hoping this blog will help people to open up more too!
If you’re feeling low – whether this is due to a health-related condition like the menopause – or something else, don’t struggle on your own. Make sure you talk to somebody, whether it’s a friend, family member or doctor. Use today to take time to talk.
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Comment by Gayle posted on
Great article Jo and you are right, all women go through it so we should be able to talk about it and we should know what happens and when.
Well done for raising awareness!
Comment by Sue Griffin posted on
Great blog Jo, it’s good to share and raise awareness - we really don’t talk about the menopause enough - for some reason seems to be a bit “taboo”. I definitely recognise the “fog of despair” and feelings of anxiety - something I’ve experienced too. Your talk was very inspirational and I recognised much of what you said in myself. Let’s keep up the support on this across Digital so all us women can Be Themselves.
Comment by Helen posted on
As someone yet to go through the menopause I'd like to thank you for talking about this - it's such a mystery to me and I want to be prepared, but hardly anyone talks about it.
Comment by Francesca posted on
A really interesting and informative blog, Jo. I'm on a learning curve at the moment with the menopause. It is true, it really does make you feel you are going mad. (It reminds me in a funny way, of when you go through puberty, you have no idea of what's happening to you or your body) ~ the more people discuss it, the more we'll hopefully understand. Originally my doctor thought I had just become very anxious and having a break down, sent on courses of cbt and given drugs. Now though, i'm on a concoction of vitamins, Iodine, Zinc, and B12. I've also taken up yoga, which I find really helpful. Still getting the hot flushes and 'odd' blank moments but hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel and blogs like this are really useful, thank you for sharing.
Comment by Joanne Gillies posted on
Thank you for sharing your experience Jo. I’m worried at 42 that I’m starting to experience symptoms. It’s great to have an open culture and know there are people who have shared experiences we can all turn to for support.
Comment by Tracy posted on
Jo - a fantastic and honest blog on what sadly is a taboo subject affecting so many women and also their partners who often feel bemused by behaviours and their inability to help ease symptoms. Your words will resonate so much with so many women - I completely recognise the fog, the complete inability to control emotions and the feeling some days that I was going completely mad. Things are so much better for me since seeking medical help.
Thanks for sharing - I’m sure as you say so many of our colleagues will relate to what you are saying not only for themselves but for their wives and partners - it’s only by sharing and talking that we can help highlight such issues ?
Comment by Angela Hughes posted on
Your talk at the women in digital day has really helped me to understand more about the menopause. The forgetting is the hardest part for me, I open a browser to check something and then forget what I was looking for.
Comment by Salma posted on
Thanks for sharing this Jo. This is very real. It's very brave of you to share the challenges you faced in the public domain. It's important to discuss and raise these issues in public, not just to raise awareness but also to break the taboo around these type of topics. We can then start having conversations about what type of support our organisations have in place. I suppose when is the last time for example we even heard anyone in the work place acknowledge or discuss period pain or mental health/stress?
Comment by Julie Graham posted on
Thanks for sharing this Jo, it isn’t talked about and well done to you for bringing this out into the open
Comment by Lynda Coates posted on
Great that you have had the confidence to share this Jo... it should definitely be talked about more to avoid woman suffering in silence.
Comment by Sue posted on
A great Blog Jo and thank you for sharing and talking about this taboo subject. I too can relate to everything you've said in particular the hot flushes, night sweats and complete lack of concentration. I don't think this is talked about at all within our organisation yet there are a lot of women who have these symptoms.
Comment by Louise posted on
Great blog, and I can totally relate to this and more. I went into surgical menopause 3 years ago. It's been a very tough road for me with the symptoms you mention along with a lot more. I have a great network of support within my family and friends fortunately, and am also on a The Menopause Support Network forum. My boss has been a great support too. It's an ongoing battle after complications with surgery.
Comment by Anne posted on
Fab article Jo and well done on raising awareness!!! With the workforce ageing (I know we have a few whippersnappers in now) it's really important to be able to talk about it so people get the support they need. God help me when I'm completely in the throws of it especially having no thyroid. My brain fog is bad enough without anything adding to it!!!!
Comment by Lyndsey Britton posted on
Jo, this is awesome - so open and honest which takes guts to put out there! Would love to incorporate this into our 50:50 podcasts or blog page if you would be happy to do that for us? I think it’s a really important issue that doesn’t get spoken about and I think many others will benefit from your experiences with this.