This is the second in a series of conversations with women in transition. When women claim space for their story, share it and then let it go, they mirror back to other women the messy magnificence of menopause.
Patricia (not her real name) works as an academic. Three years ago age 52 – for the first time in her life – she started waking up at night from time to time, not able to go back to sleep.
BR: What were you navigating at this time of your life?
Patricia: It’s hard to say how much of the wakefulness was menopause or other things going on in my life. At the time, my child was leaving home for university and I’d taken on a lot at work; it was so intense on several fronts. I’m convinced that menopause was a major element. There were moments when I felt hot but no full on flushes. My brain went funny and I think it was part anxiety and part overwhelm but I remember struggling and feeling like things were really tough.
This coincided with one of the most difficult times of my life. I had started getting eye problems. I had to deliver a paper at a conference and my anxiety went up, I got a terrible migraine, some kind of vertigo and ended up unable to deliver the paper. I lost a lot of confidence.
How have your symptoms changed?
In the last year I have had intense weeks of bleeding where I’ve been forced to change my schedule. Ha, ha – I had thought I would never have to use pads but guess what – I could not manage without them and went through them like crazy. For the first time I turned some commitments down purely because of my bleeding. I developed anaemia and I realised I couldn’t NOT deal with the whole new reality anymore. Menopause was no longer in the background. I had to be way more gentle with myself, rest more, sleep a lot. I remember lying on the couch for a weekend in preparation for a work trip. And magically, by the time I started off on my trip, the bleeding had stopped…
How did it play out at work?
It’s been tough but I’ve found really surprising ways to adapt my energy levels whilst teaching. That’s actually helped me take care of myself and be there for others, but in different ways. I have swapped physical energy with more calm presence. I’m wondering how I can apply this graceful diplomacy to other activities in my life that leave me less exposed to stress?
What kind of support have you found at work?
This is tough. I am now among the older women in my workplace; I feel that organisations are not very safe or supportive places for older women. There is no support network at work, and there is just no real space to talk about bleeding or other aspects of menopause. There’s also the nagging feeling that if women show they can’t be productive they are expendable. I feel really ill at ease if there is no space for alternative ways of being, truths or views. No space for expansion.
What about your family?
It’s funny how my sisters never talked about anaemia from excessive menstrual bleeding until I shared what was going on for me. Apart from another friend that shared her horrendous menopausal flooding with me a while back, I was completely unprepared for what to expect.
I’ve found a lot of help from essential oils. My husband bought me a book on essential oils and hormones and for the last 6 months I’ve been using oils for daily massage and for diffusing in rooms.
What have been some of your greatest learnings?
By allowing myself sacred space like doing morning yoga, meditation and walking, I feel the benefits of taking care of myself and can face the world on firmer ground. To say out loud to myself and my family, ‘I don’t feel good and need to be at home today’, have only really come about since I’ve allowed these symptoms to take centre stage.
How difficult it is to stay grounded! Workplaces are tough when there is less control over the work schedule. I find myself picking up a different pace, less of me and more of others’ way of doing things. I feel overwhelmed more easily. Next year I have the opportunity of being away from my workplace for a while and crave doing things differently at a pace that suits me.