Dealing with the Embarrassment of Menopause in the Workplace



The date is 14 August 2017.  I’m sat in the rather uninspiring Squadron tea bar in the Section where I work for the RAF, eating my lunch; a healthy homemade salad of rice and peppers with chicken.  I’m chatting with a male colleague who’s asking me what culinary delight I have in my tupperware box.

My daily food choices had become something of a talking point since I’d refined and changed my diet the year before!

As I attempted to answer his questions, I found myself unable to recall simple words.  For example rice or peppers!  I knew what they were – I was staring at them in front of me – but for some reason I simply could not make the words come out of my mouth.

I tried to make light of it, trying desperately to disguise the embarrassment and rising fear that was building inside of me.

About an hour earlier I’d had an ocular migraine.  I’d suffered from these painless visual disturbances for about the last 5 years.  They occurred roughly every 12 to 18 months and lasted about 20-30 minutes at a time.

But losing my words?  This was totally new to me, and very frightening.

My colleague picked up that something wasn’t right, but as I tried to explain to him that I’d not long since had a ……….. nope, I couldn’t remember the word for headache, or migraine, or the name of my friend and work colleague whom I’d been with when the episode had occurred an hour earlier.

I was frantically trying to explain to him that these migraines were a bit like that creature, you know the one in that film, you know the one called, you know…….. but I just couldn’t remember the name of the film – despite having used the same metaphor less than an hour earlier.  I was trying to say Predator, but the word just wouldn’t come!

I felt myself welling up, then tears rolling down my cheeks.

I felt mortified.  I hurriedly put the lid back on my half eaten lunch and virtually sprinted out of the tea bar to full on cry in the ladies’ loos.

When I’d finally composed myself and at last remembered the word rice, I dried my eyes, splashed my face with cold water and made my way out of the safety and solitude of the ladies’ toilets.

As I stepped from the loos into the corridor, my lunch colleague was waiting for me.  Looking lost and completely out of his depth, but with an obviously caring nature, he was keen to know how he could help.

I didn’t know what was happening myself and wasn’t in the right frame of mind to discuss it in the corridor.  Poor man, I think I must have been rather abrupt as I told him quite curtly ‘I’m fine!’.

Once back in my office I telephoned my husband Mark, who insisted I call and make an appointment to see my doctor.

I did as I was told, and was advised that a doctor would call me back imminently.

The next thing I knew I had a severe pain in my head and felt physically sick.  My memory for words seemed to have recovered but my head felt ‘cloudy’.  That’s the only way I can really describe it.

The doctor called me back as I was being driven home early from work.  He told me to come straight to the surgery.

On arrival about 30 minutes later, a health practitioner carried out a number of tests which, I began to realise, were to check for signs of a stroke.

I was given an appointment to attend the stroke clinic at Peterborough City Hospital first thing the next day.

I was given a CT scan, an ultrasound on my carotid artery and various tests which, thankfully, showed no evidence of a stroke.

As a belt and braces measure I was asked to come back in for an MRI scan and told not to drive.

Thankfully the MRI came back clear and by mid October I had the all clear to drive again.

I can honestly say this was one of the most frightening experiences I’ve ever had.

Interestingly, at no point was menopause mentioned as a potential contributing factor, despite the fact that the ocular migraines had only started since I’d reached the age of about 45.

Now, I don’t share this experience as an opportunity to berate the doctors of medical staff that treated me.  In fact, their swift action in getting me tested was laudable and testament to the amazing work done by our wonderful NHS (it may have its shortfalls but I believe we are so lucky to have it!).

No, my reason for sharing is to highlight that menopause can be a contributing cause of so many symptoms, way beyond the more commonplace hot flushes and mood swings.

Apparently there are over 140 symptoms directly attributable to peri-menopause.

Hormonal fluctuations, as occur during peri-menopause, are a major factor in migraines, although for some women who may have suffered migraines throughout their menstrual cycle, the onset of menopause may actually reduce them.

You may be surprised by some of these other, less obvious, symptoms of peri-menopause:

  • Poor or impaired spacial awareness
  • Acne, eczema and psoriasis
  • Itchy skin – often felt as like ants crawling
  • Bleeding gums
  • Panic attacks
  • Burning tongue
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Dry eye syndrome
  • Body odour changes
  • Electric shock sensatations

Whilst it would appear that menopause is responsible for more symptoms that we may realise, I would also stress that it is important to get any episodes that worry you checked out by a GP and don’t assume it is simply the menopause.

I was relieved to discover my incident was migraine and through my own research I’m fairly convinced that it was menopause related.  But, it could have been a TIA (mild stroke) or a full stroke.

In fact, if I’m honest, at the time I even wondered if it was early onset Altzheimers!

The other point I wanted to make was that I believe had I realised at the time that it was a menopause related issue, I may have been less frightened and more willing to talk about it openly with colleagues.

This may seem to run counter to current research which suggests that menopause is a ‘taboo’ subject in the workplace.   Certainly, research I have done through surveys of menopausal/midlife women suggests that this is the case.

However, my experience is, thankfully, more positive.  When I worked for the MOD, I found I was quite comfortable speaking about menopause, despite working in a predominantly male environment.

I appreciate this is not the case for every woman, but I believe that it is imperative that we, as midlife women, lead the way on opening up the dialogue around how menopause is affecting us.

Let’s face it, if we ourselves are embarrassed to talk about it, can we really expect those colleagues who aren’t going through it, either by dint of age or gender, to feel comfortable broaching the subject?

It’s time to make menopause mainstream and we can help to start this process immediately – simply by talking openly about it.

Bev x


Bev Thorogood is owner and founder of Floresco Health and Lifestyle Coaching .  She’s a PN1 Certified Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach, a personal trainer, exercise instructor, wife, mum and Nan!

You know, you don’t have to suffer through menopause.  I work with clients to help them make the health and lifestyle changes necessary to thrive, rather than simply survive, their menopause.

I’d love to invite you to book a FREE 50 minute menopause breakthrough call with me to see how I can help you to take full control of your menopause and get you back to feeling like you again.

You can book directly using the link below.  You’ll be under no obligation and the call is absolutely free.

If you’re ready RIGHT NOW to take back control of your midlife, make that call xx

Book My Menopause Breakthrough Call


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