I'm clear that one of the benefits of living with my mother through her change, is that it’s made me more open and direct with others in my life about my own experience with perimenopause.

At this stage in my life, I honestly don’t recall when or why I became familiar with the word “menopause,” or when exactly, I developed a basic understanding of what it was. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve worked in the aging services field for well over a decade, or because I have a clear and distinct recollection of being a young adult woman living in my parent’s home while my mother was going through “the CHANGE…”

Did I read about it in a book or magazine? Or could it have been something that I’ve picked up on over the years, amongst the various family, work and community circles of “women of a certain age?” Observing them with mild curiosity and lacking in empathy about something that wasn’t my experience…yet. Whenever or whatever the exact place or point and time, I’m pretty familiar with the word now (and a lot of what comes with it).

My first experience of being aware of intense feelings that I felt unable to manage – from anxiety to weepiness to hostility – was not surprisingly, during puberty. I’m deliberate in not saying “intense hormonal feelings” because I would have no real firsthand sense of what that meant until years later (but we’ll get to that)… Throughout my adolescence, my mother was pretty good in responding to my emotional fits (for the most part), giving little attention to what were frequent occurrences, and promptly sending me to my room “until I could be civilized.” With the wide berth of latitude in self-directed civility, let’s just say that between the ages of 14 and 17, I spent a lot of time in my room. Eventually, I reached a relative level of emotional stability and would not encounter the dreaded hormones until a decade later – though they would not be my own.

Not unlike many adult children in their earliest years of ‘adulting,’ in my mid-twenties, I returned home to live with my parents after a few years of living independently, to pay down some debt and “save some money.” It was during this two-year time frame that I watched and experienced my normally, reasonable and even-keeled mother turn into an erratic, irrational shrew – frequently launching into fifteen minute tangents about broken coffee mugs (it was an accident, for Pete’s sake!) or running the dishwater too long (“I guess if you paid the water bill you’d be more considerate!”) or some other seemingly inane thing. While I knew it wasn’t her, and that something was going on, it was nonetheless, painfully uncomfortable and often frustrating, to encounter or be the target of her unsubstantiated and disproportionate rage. It’s actually what drove me out of my parent’s house, accelerating my savings timeline and motivating me to get back to my own adulting (which was, admittedly, a good thing to do anyway).

My mother and I haven’t spoken much about that time period – not because she won’t or is embarrassed to talk about it – but, mostly because she mentally purges most things she deems “irrelevant” every three to five years (seriously), and now doesn’t remember a lot about her own experience with perimenopause. She does remember struggling with bouts of extreme hostility and taking a prescription of low-dose anti-depressants for “a year or two”. This, apparently, gave her some relief, until having a uterine hysterectomy for fibroids that were causing an egregiously heavy flow, not long after. Although it’s been just shy of twenty years since she had her uterus removed (her ovaries remain intact), she doesn’t remember having much of a problem with perimenopausal symptoms afterward and she’s never regretted having the hysterectomy…”best decision I could’ve made!”

Through my own experience, I really do understand what a unique and deeply personal experience perimenopause is. Even so, I find myself wanting to know every detail about my mother’s experience as a reference for preparing me for my own – now and into the ambiguous years ahead. But her perimenopause story ends with a hysterectomy at 45, the age that I am now… And for some reason of deep significance to me, and for reasons which I’m not even sure I’m fully clear about, a uterine hysterectomy is the absolute last resort (even though my uterus is riddled with fibroids). So, with that, even though she is my closest living genetic female tie, our stories, like most women’s, are distinctly different and I find myself at a fork in the road, unsure of which healing path to take.

I am clear that one of the benefits of living with my mother through her change, is that it’s made me more open and direct with others in my life about my own experience with perimenopause, as I’m living it. I committed to this about a year ago, after I was eerily transported back to one of my mother’s kitchen rants -- only this time I was her and my fourteen-year old son was looking back at me like I had two heads. It was his earnest look of horror and confusion that stopped me mid-rant and brought me the clarity of mind to apologize for yelling at him without cause.

But more important than the apology, I explained to him that I am going through menopause and that sometimes I feel really angry for no reason at all. I went on to say that while many times my anger feels almost impossible to manage, I still have to try and it’s not okay for me to be abusive to others. It seemed to resonate with him most when I likened my feelings to the times when he’s mean to me and doesn’t want to be, but can’t help it… ”These are called hormones, son. You’re going through puberty and I’m going through menopause. And sometimes they’re going to get the better of us, but in those moments when we can help it, we have to be really good to each other, ok?” Being the thoughtful and considerate kid that he is, he responded, “It’s okay, Mom. I understand.”

Of course, he’ll never truly understand the hell that is menopause, but he does understand that mom’s bad moods are not his fault, and that he is not (always) the reason for my wrath. Now, on the worst of days, I’m able to let him know that I’m feeling “hormonal” and that it’s not him. This usually results in him being unusually helpful with chores around the house or disappearing to his room until my mood has settled. Either way, we have an understanding that works.

I continue to talk to him openly about my symptoms related to perimenopause because it’s my hope that one day he’ll be able to sympathize with, if not support, the women in his life who may be experiencing it.

Updated: Jul 12

REPOST: As September winds down, so goes National Menopause Awareness Month. Alas! If only the torturous menopausal symptoms would follow suit. But with no such luck on the horizon, we’re left to soldier on, “scratchin’ and survivin’ (good times), hangin’ in and jivin’ (good times),” to get the support and relief we so desperately crave.

Last week I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek piece about dealing with menopausal rage at work. But for the millions of perimenopausal women who are actively working and may be dealing with severe mood swings, it’s not an issue to be taken lightly. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2018 there were more than 15 million women between 44 and 55 years old who were actively working. And with more than 33 million women over the age of 45, 20% of the American workforce has experienced, is experiencing, or will experience symptoms related to menopause. Even so, in the US, there are no workplace policies or programs that are designed specifically to support women living -- and working -- with menopause.

With such a significant segment of the labor force subject to this involuntary, biological, life-affecting issue, I think it’s time that menopause be addressed as a workplace inclusion issue that’s factored into comprehensive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) strategies. In the era of “bring your whole self to work,” what does that mean for those of us who earnestly struggle with managing our hormonal (i.e., emotional) responses at work month-to-month, if not day-to-day? Particularly, when we know this version of ourselves is not an appropriate one to bring to work. Yet and still, it’s a very real and troublesome experience that’s stigmatized and treated as an unmentionable topic to which illustrative code is ascribed…e.g., “Woman of a Certain Age” or “Her own private summer”.

More often, it’s just altogether unaddressed, with women working with perimenopause, too often labeled as “intense” or “difficult” or “scary”. Well, maybe, but please know that we’re wrestling with an eruption of hormones, while working on a dangerously low reserve of civility (and sleep) and would surely fix it if we could.

How Perimenopause Can Affect Work

While many women of perimenopausal age may experience few, if any issues, there are a range of disruptive symptoms that plague many of us and that have and can be particularly challenging and stressful to manage at work:

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder or PMDD is a more extreme case of PMS. PMDD usually starts a few days before your period starts and ends after the first few days of your period. The intense symptoms associated with PMDD can be disruptive and affect your relationships and daily activities, like work and other social interactions. While PMDD can be managed through lifestyle changes, it’s often treated as a medical condition for which medication is prescribed.

Hot Flashes or vasomotor symptoms are sudden sensations of heat and sweating that can overcome you and produce extreme discomfort (not to mention embarrassment). They are sometimes accompanied by an increased heart rate or followed by chills. Some women also experience redness in their face, chest and neck. Hot flashes that occur when you sleep are called night sweats. Night sweats can disrupt your sleep and make it difficult to get the rest you need. For many women struggling with hot flashes and night sweats, these symptoms can last for seven to 11 years.

Insomnia or trouble sleeping is common for menopausal women. Approximately 61% of menopausal women have sleep problems. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep can be impacted by many things, including hormonal and lifestyle changes. Of course, not getting enough sleep can lead to other problems, such as sluggishness and lack of energy during waking hours.

Brain Fog is a term used to describe a range of cognitive issues associated with menopause, including forgetfulness and difficulty staying focused. These symptoms are often related to “menopausal fatigue,” which can be associated with several factors, including fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels. These hormonal fluctuations are the primary cause of most menopause symptoms, which research has also linked to problems with memory and cognitive decline.

Of course, occasionally experiencing any one of these things might make for a bad day at work. However, when compounded over months, if not years, the mood swings, night sweats, sleep disruptions, hot flashes and forgetfulness can leave you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, and diminish your overall confidence and productivity at work.

How Employers Can Support a Menopausal Workforce

It would benefit employers to develop inclusive policies and provide supportive environments for women among their workforce that are dealing with these issues. The notion that employers play a role is not so far-fetched or without precedent. Just last week, in the UK it was announced that the Labour party would introduce a policy at its annual conference that would require companies employing more than 250 people to offer menopause supportive policies, like flexible work and break schedules, climate flexibility, and rescheduling of critical meetings or project deadlines.

In addition to this type of progressive thinking around policy solutions, there are several UK-based coaches and trainers offering workshops focused on expanding menopause awareness and education in the workplace:

The Hot Flush Club offers workplace programs through its HFC Training arm, which helps “address the complex issues around diversity, unconscious bias and menopause awareness in the workplace with professionalism and sensitivity.”

Menopause trainer and coach, Julie Dennis, offers Menopause at Work Training Solutions which are tailored to a company’s unique culture to ensure meaningful engagement and likelihood for success. Her “Menopause at Work” model is rooted in fostering awareness, education and support and is delivered through workshops, surveys and other information and resources.

Kelly Leech is a women’s health and menopause coach, who also works with employers to be more menopause-sensitive and aware. Through her Menopause for Business service, she offers workshops for female employees, as well as HR professionals and managers.

Changing Your Workplace

While we may seem light years away from implementing sound and supportive menopause-related workplace policies here in the U.S., stranger things have happened (and you can’t achieve a goal if you never set one). That said, if you’re looking for practical ways to make your current experience a little bit better, it really does start with conversation and awareness.

Seek out other women in your age cohort at work, and gently inquire if they’re experiencing challenges related to perimenopause. If this feels too invasive, then look for the context clues (e.g., sweating, fatigue, “train of thought” derailments, etc.) before asking the question, because they’re likely there. Connecting with other women dealing with the same or similar issues can reduce your feelings of isolation (i.e., I’m the only one) and provide a supportive and psychologically safe zone at work.

If you’re fortunate to enjoy a more progressive and inclusive workplace culture, there are a few things you can suggest your employer consider to demonstrate that they’re supportive of their affected workforce. A few include, but are not limited to:

  • Workplace Support and Resource Groups

  • Mental Health Days/Telework Options

  • Fitness Credits

  • Meditation Programs

  • Respite Rooms

So, while September winds down, we can either think of National Menopause Awareness Month as the end of a campaign, or the kick-off of an actionable agenda for the year ahead. Whether it’s starting a conversation, educating yourself, growing awareness by sharing information or driving for meaningful workplace policies, you can make a difference – and you can’t achieve a goal if you don’t set one!

Updated: Sep 22, 2019

Or, what to do when you're triggered by your mansplaining colleague.

So, of the 34 menopause-related symptoms a woman can have, raging bouts of anger and hostility (I’m paraphrasing) are a regular part of my perimenopause experience. It’s getting increasingly harder to manage at work, and I can’t tell if the late September heat (and humidity) is exacerbating the feelings or WHAT, but MAN ARE THEY INTENSE! While it’s not an everyday thing (yet), these intense periods are increasing at work -- which, if you’re like me and depend on that particular stream of income to support your existence, is a scary and very dangerous thing. Because of this, I’ve begun to develop strategies for surviving the “hostility hijack” at work. You know what I’m talking about! Now sometimes, you’ll recognize that you’ve been triggered and you’ll have the command of self to talk yourself down. In these instances, it’s best to have some reinforcing mantras you can use to channel your rage (think Drew Barrymore as the Firestarter, -- “Back off! Just BACK OFF!”). One of my personal faves is, “NOT TODAY SATAN!”

Now, those of us who are living this mind/body freak show in real time, know that sometimes talking yourself down is not a practical option. This is when you have to just get up and walk away. Admittedly, this may seem awkward -- to you and everyone around you. But I assure you, it’s a lot less awkward than actually punching your insufferable, mansplaining colleague in the throat or searing invisible death laser rays into his skull with a crazy lady stare that, let’s be honest, EVERYONE CAN SEE. If you’re the type that feels compelled to explain yourself (increasingly, I find that I am not), you can always pretend that you received an urgent email that requires your immediate attention. This will require mediocre acting skills that leave your colleagues feeling a mixture of concern, curiosity and possibly, resentment (but this will likely be because they, themselves are envious that you get to leave this dumb meeting early). Note, this tactic is most appropriate for peer-based meetings.

Another tactic (at which I’ve become expert – a topic we may discuss in a future post), is to develop a deep bronchial cough that gets worse the longer the meeting goes on. Now for this one, you’ll want to come to the meeting with a bottle of water and take tiny sips here and there to appear as if you’re really trying to clear up the cough. After about 10 or 15 minutes of this, you’re going to erupt into a furious coughing fit that will be UNCONTROLLABLE. One or two “cough tears” are helpful for effect IF you’re able to muster. This will elicit genuine feelings of concern and mild irritation amongst those in the room, and the narcissistic hypochondriacs will be replaying scenes from “Contagion” in their heads, imagining themselves to be the adulterous Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s at this point when it will be pretty clear that you have unspoken permission to gather your things and leave – quick, fast and in a hurry! Now, you’ll want to take care with this one. While it’s appropriate for use with your peers and above, it should be used sparingly and only if the alternative is an unbridled “hostility hijack” that you KNOW will result in a stability check, i.e., “gift of feedback” session with your boss, if not something worse…

Of course, “working from home” or taking a personal or sick day is ALWAYS the best option if and when, you can swing it. Because sometimes, IT’S JUST NOT WORTH THE RISK! Especially on those days when you wake up with the gnawing feeling that if you go in to the office today, you just might lose your job. THIS is called intuition, and she is a wise friend to whom we should all listen.

menopause made modern

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