Menopause awareness is growing. But I’m determined to keep the momentum going.
And it’s all about the right conversations.
I experienced a great example of this recently. It was lunchtime at my university and I was chatting to the women behind the counter in the student canteen. A wonderful ‘ordinary woman’ with grown-up children at home, bills to pay, a job to hold down.
All the kitchen staff were used to me by this point. I was writing my dissertation in the library and would have breaks in the canteen to catch up on the work I needed to do to bring menopause awareness to women in communities.
As a mature student, I did not have a group of friends to chat to, so the staff were used to my banter with them. Maybe I was carrying my copy of ‘Menopause: The Change for the Better’ that day, or maybe they asked me about my work. But the woman’s face changed as I explained that my passion was to help ordinary women to navigate the menopausal years.
“Does it affect your brain?” she asked. “I keep forgetting everything and my family thinks there is something wrong with me”.
Beating the brain fog
I explained how brain functioning and memory were affected by the hormonal changes in the body and how it was very common for women to be scared that they were having an early onset of dementia during the menopausal years. I told her it was important to get this checked out, as I was not a medical expert.
There was a specialist menopause clinic in the town so I gave her the number. I love seeing the relief on women’s faces. It touches me every time and I know I am blessed to be able to share this information.
I am in my post -menopausal zest years now but will never forget that I was in her place several years ago.
A lack of support
In 2011, my partner developed a chronic anxiety disorder and the worst of my menopausal symptoms kicked in. I struggled on for years, without the proper support.
Women around me frowned on HRT, doctors tried to give me anti-depressants without mentioning the menopause, work treated me as if I was a risk to the company. When my mother died in traumatic circumstances in 2013, I could no longer function normally.
I left my job at the end of 2014 and started to investigate the support that was available to me. I noticed that if I wanted specialist help from a private doctor I would need a lot of money. This also applied to life/career coaching. I’d lost my confidence and applied for jobs without understanding what I really wanted to do. It felt like I would need to spend £2000 to compensate for misinformation on the part of health and other services.
I started talking to other women and realised that other ‘ordinary women’ were suffering as well. Doctors did not seem to be have the answers or recognise all the symptoms of the menopause. No women I spoke to said their doctor had referred to the NICE guidelines and no one knew about the specialist menopause clinics I had discovered.
The specialist clinic I referred to already had a waiting list of three months, but unbelievably, it has now closed due to cuts in funding.
Time for a change?
Apart from this, I find lots of elements of the menopause landscape challenging. A recent article in The Times accused women like me as being radical feminists ‘banging on’ about the menopause. But the work I do is more like a gentle drumbeat, beating the rhythm of natural change for women, bringing relief and laughter and end to shame and embarrassment.
Women must still rely on private medical care to get tailored support and better access to body-identical hormones. When over 50% of women struggle with adverse menopausal symptoms, why are doctors not systematically trained in the area? Yes, women died earlier 100 years ago but we have been an ageing population for a long time now.
I am also confused by the lack of research and access to testosterone, which may alleviate the symptoms of brain-fog, support bone density and increase sexual drive.
As I sat in the canteen that day, working on where I would deliver my next menopause awareness session, that woman walked up to my table and whispered “Thank you so much, you have no idea what a difference you have made to me. I was so scared and will go and get some help now.”
I know there are other women hearing these words daily, working together to change the menopause landscape for the better. We are inspired by the words of Margaret Meade, the woman who first coined the term ‘post – menopausal zest’ in the 1950s. She wrote:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”