Taboo Tuesday – The Menopause

After promises of wall to wall sunshine and 30 degree heat tomorrow’s weather forecast has been revised to light cloud with a moderate breeze.

Does that disappoint you?

I for one am breathing a quiet sigh of relief. I have a busy day ahead – much of it outdoors and on my feet.

A few years ago I would have embraced the heat but now I have a bittersweet relationship with hot weather.  Why? The menopause.

As women age their oestrogen levels decline. For a few lucky women this can be a very slow gradual process with few noticeable side effects.  For many, oestrogen levels can be wildly unpredictable so that after years of getting to understand your body and its unique cycle the rules are suddenly thrown out of the window.

For other women like me, oestrogen levels drop like a stone. I’m taking Tamoxifen for a decade to reduce the likelihood of the return of the type of breast cancer which is fuelled by oestrogen.

Low oestrogen levels can result in hot flushes, night sweats, palpitations, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, bone loss and vaginal dryness.

For those of you who have never had a hot flush I will try to describe it.  It starts with a slightly woozy feeling in your chest turning to a prickle. Then the heat starts to rise like a blazing furnace through your body, feeling so hot you feel you’re going to explode.  Your clothes become stifling bandages, you can’t bear to keep your back on a chair or sofa as it doubles the heat. Your face and neck redden – like blushing multiplied by a hundred. Sweat beads appear on your forehead, down your cleavage, down your back.  You are desperate for cool air. You throw open windows in the middle of winter, you put your head in the fridge, you make a fan with anything you have to hand. Eventually it subsides leaving you uncomfortably damp and a few minutes later a little chilly. You crave ‘a bit chilly’ but ironically (especially in the colder months) often you then feel so cold that you feel like you could never be warm again.

Imagine going through that in a meeting – when it’s your turn to speak up, portray your most articulate side?  It’s embarrassing, cringe-worthy. It destroys your confidence. So we soldier on. We try to hide it.

This is what thousands of women have to put up with every day.

In a social setting I’ll get out my fan and laugh about having “a moment”.  Plenty of female comedians have milked it.

But it’s not really very funny.

Many women can get help with the symptoms by going on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) or taking supplements so they don’t need to suffer. That’s not an option for me as it would negate the effects of my medication.

What do we need?

More information about triggers (I’ve noticed caffeine and alcohol definitely contribute) and natural remedies.

More openness and solidarity from women about the signs and symptoms of the menopause and peri-menopause (the stage before it).

More encouragement to see your GP.

But also more support from employers and HR – talk to them about making reasonable adjustments – sitting near the window or A/C unit, taking more breaks, having a desktop fan.

More understanding.  If a woman takes out her fan no need to make a joke of it – just let her get on with it.  If it’s in a meeting make a point of coming back to her for her opinion when she’s feeling comfortable.

I’m very happy to see the tide turning on this taboo with more high profile people talking about this natural phase of life.

Talk about it.

Get help.

Don’t suffer in silence.

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