Having been self-employed all of my working life, I’ve never worked in a corporate or public sector environment and until fairly recently hadn’t realised how lucky I was to be in that position.
Being self-employed has many obvious benefits, although I couldn’t have known that having the time and space to manage menopause would be a key benefit.
I say fairly recently because although it’s a few years since menopause first entered my life at 43, it’s only since making a mid-life career change that I’ve met women from the corporate and public sector who’s meno – journey has been entirely different to mine and certainly made more difficult by the fact they didn’t have the freedom within the workplace, to manage their own transition.
In my case and once I knew what was happening to me, I was able to put things in place that not only made me more comfortable both physically and mentally but made those around me more comfortable too and I didn’t have to seek permission or have difficult conversations in order to achieve that.
At work, I had an all-female team which made things easier and at home, my husband was beyond understanding.
Yes, I was unlucky in that, in the beginning, I did have a lot of adverse symptoms. (thankfully not every woman does). These symptoms were incredibly debilitating, embarrassing and at times very distressing for all involved, however, what I didn’t have to do was remain in an environment that elevated my symptoms simply because I was contractually obliged to be there and couldn’t escape.
During this early phase, I was able to take time off work and spend it in the gym or walking. I walked a lot, in fact for miles because I’d begun talking to myself and walking allowed me to have long uninterrupted conversations with me, which strangely enough I enjoyed along with the fogging and mental vacating, so long as I was alone.
Once I returned to work and being in the hair and beauty business at that time, my appearance was key. Unfortunately, my flushes (flashes for my U.S. colleagues often occured between six and eight a.m. so it wasn’t unusual for me to have to shower and do my hair and make up three times before I eventually got out the door……. it was exhausting and making me repeatedly late for work.
So I moved to flexible working hours because while an episode would absolutely wipe me out, once it eventually passed I was good to go and able to meet my obligations and rather than loose full days, or take sick leave, flexibility was the answer that served me, my team and my business well. These flexible hours didn’t just help me past the flushes. There were times when anxiety and a feeling of complete helplessness over took me and to be able to remain at home while this presented was again a powerful tool in my transition.
I had no history of anxiety pre-menopause and none since but while in the grip….. it was all-consuming. I cant imagine what it must feel like to have to remain at work while your mind is in la-la land, your body is in meltdown, and your confidence is through the floor and all at the same time…. and even worse, your colleagues are either amused, irritated or beyond embarrassed by your symptoms and uncharacteristic behaviour, which at the end of the day are the result of a naturally occurring phenomenon and out of your control.
On a never-ending crusade to fix things, it was during a conversation with my husband and biggest supporter, that we realised and eventually accepted we had no alternative but to wait this thing out. This came on the back of a two-week onslaught of heightened symptoms when in a moment of desperation because he, like me, was absolutely exhausted, he said to me just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it……. anything to make this stop. To which I defeatedly replied “ there’s nothing….. because what I wanted ten seconds ago, is not what I want now and what I want now, won’t be what I want in ten seconds time………..
And that was the reality of the situation, we had no control over how, when and what symptoms occurred or what the outcome would be on any given day. All we could do was wait, knowing it would eventually pass….. until the next time.
I continued to do all I could in terms of self-care including adding meditation and relaxation techniques to my day, not least because I’d made an early decision not to go for H.R.T.
Slowly but surely my symptoms subsided over time and with that my intelligence and confidence were restored along with my skills and competence. They hadn’t deserted me they’d just been on a very long break.
Peace and sanity also restored, I could feel a different kind of change taking place as I began to experience a personal freedom I’d never known before and one that moved me to reflect on all the things I still wanted to accomplish in my life.
This led me to realise I’d entered a phase of reinvention and contribution so far as my life and career goals were concerned. No longer was my job about mortgage payments and school fees or being that person others wanted me to be. In fact, I’d become so courageous and laser-focused on what I wanted, that I was able to pivot and combine my intuitive skills with my business knowledge and life experience so as to create a different kind of business.
A business that would serve other women like me who were ready to navigate a career change. A business that would give me the time and money I needed to embrace and enjoy a life that so far and like many women, I’d missed out on. The best part of this transition meant that for the first time in my life I could decide when, where and how I worked and for me that was gold.
By now I’d also been given the gift of two grandchildren and their very existence was a huge incentive to up my game, go after what I wanted and stand in my true value. My focus and priorities have dramatically shifted since they came along, meaning time and flexibility really are at the top of my agenda. I want to be available to these incredible children and happily my new found lifestyle-friendly business lets me do that along with lots of other things like lazy lunches, completing an MA, taking extended holidays and enjoying quality time with my husband; things that had eluded me for years Now I could do all of that while working on my own terms.
And by drawing upon my experience of adopting flexible working hours during menopause, I’ve been able to take what I’ve learned and applied that same flexibility to my business which means that during those hours I am at work, I’m committed, focused, happy and extremely productive.
Coming out the other side of menopause has been a freeing experience for me and it’s true…. we do survive the journey, so I do hope that instead of seeing menopause as a time for winding down you get to experience it as a time for revving up and an opportunity to begin living your life by design as opposed to a default setting.
In the meantime I mentioned earlier that I’ve recently come across other women who’s meno journey has been different to mine simply because they work in the corporate or public sector and on the back of those conversations followed by a lot of research and digging I discovered that men are conspicuous in their absence with regard to addressing menopause in the work place and I don’t say that as a criticism, on the contrary, I now realize that a lot of men choose not to be involved because they assume it’s going to be a very uncomfortable conversation to have.
Added to this there are many men who do want to know and are genuinely interested, not least because they are directly affected by this phenomenon, but who ultimately opt-out of the conversation because more often than not, it takes place at work, in a group, often with women present and is almost always female-led. And it’s filled with lots of clinical and physiological information…. and we wonder why they don’t want to be there? It’s like being present for the birth of a child….. yes they want to be supportive but they can live without a 360 view of the whole process.
One senior manager (male) told me “ I tried my best to stay in my seat at the conference but It was cringeville, too graphic for me and quite frankly I was embarrassed so I left at the coffee break”. He went on to say I don’t need to know all of that to be a supportive manager. And he freely admitted the conference probably did cover what he needed to know but he didn’t hang around to find out.
So with all of that mind, having experienced the journey first hand and not being one to shy away from a challenge I have teamed up with my good friend and colleague Tracey Tait and together we’re co-creating Menocourse an online solution that tackles the stigma and silence around menopause in the workplace, from the top down. And there’s a reason it’s from the top down. If you’re a leader who doesn’t know what’s going on in your workplace and how menopause will shrink your talent pool along with your bottom line, not to mention your reputation; if you don’t get a jump on this, then that’s a bad situation to be in and one we’d love you think about?
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