They say death, divorce and moving house are the top 3 most stressful life events. Looking back on my 2019, I'd put the mix of menopause and self employment up there too.
I left the world of employment on the 31st October 2017 to become my own boss at the age of 44.
Not old by any stretch of the imagination, but my mental health had been on a particularly choppy roller coaster for the previous 10 years and it was time to move on.
Because starting up your own business is not at all stressful right?!
At the end of 2018, my anxiety and depression was bubbling up again. Significant tiredness came along with it and put it down to a lack of self care - not having enough down time combined with some winter blues perhaps?
Being a sole sole trader, you of course get to wear the important hats that are giving you that all important autonomy - those of the marketing director, financial controller, chief decision maker and PA as well as (in my case) consultant, coach and educator.
Particularly when you run your business from home, juggling a personal life with work life, it can all very easily start to merge into one single blob if you're not careful.
I had not got to the point where I could take my foot off the gas and probably too much of a control freak to outsource at that time but I was loving my work.
But the tiredness got a lot worse. It felt like the fatigue I had experienced in my teens. That deep level of tiredness that is not relieved by rest or sleep. My eyes felt constantly lead heavy. I could literally rest my head anywhere and fall asleep in 5 seconds.
I told myself the way I was feeling was my fault. I just needed to slow down. Work smarter and do a bit less.
But I struggled to drive more than half an hour without needing a coffee break.
If I delivered a workshop in a morning, I was absolutely good for nothing in the afternoon and had to go to bed.
I started to forget stuff too. Unimportant stuff to begin with; like what day it was, how old I was, stuff on the shopping list and what am I looking for in the fridge?
But then it turned into forgetting to reply to emails, following up my clients and doing the work by the date I had agreed to.
And the more tired I got, the longer things took and the more effort I had to put into concentrating and focusing. Which of course made me even more tired. I couldn't find my words, never mind get them out of my mouth at times.
This became incredibly worrying. Both in terms of my ability to earn an income to pay the bills and keep a roof over our heads but also the fear of 'there's something seriously wrong with me'
This of course added to the stress spiral and panic ensued as I though 'what the hell am I going to do?!'
Migraines had re-appeared; again something I had experienced before but not for a good 20 years, so off to the doc I went.
I explained how I had been feeling, focusing on the fatigue and apathy and got sent for a blood test. All was normal and they weren't concerned about the borderline anaemia.
At a second appointment (when I got the results I asked for one to discuss them) I brought up the word 'hormones' with my GP. I told him I felt 'things' were changing. I had a gut feeling that said 'this was different'. I just didn't feel 'me' anymore.
"You're rather young, I doubt it would be that" he said.
Nobody seemed brave enough to say the word menopause.
I certainly wasn't going to. That's what happens to 'old' people.
I have no idea why he didn't either. I look back now and still don't know if it was ignorance or stupidity.
I left feeling stupid.
I returned 2 months later, this time to asking to see a female doctor to ask her about why I suddenly needed to go pee at the drop of a hat. Too many near misses and the fear of creating a puddle in TESCO did that.
After telling her about my 9'7 lb son I had given birth to 7 years earlier and the surgical repair that followed, she told me it was highly unusual to experience bladder issues at my age and booked me into the incontinence clinic. Great. More shame.
Despite being a physiologist for 22 years with a career in health, I was completely ignorant to what was happening to me in my own body and head.
But no-one else was telling me either. Despite asking.
Being self employed can be a very lonely place. There are no colleagues sat next to you, to ask about this sort of stuff. Networking events aren't really the place to bring up 'I think I'm going mad'. My friends were not experiencing (or wanting to talk about) any symptoms themselves at the time so what the hell DO you do?!
I have no HR dept. No OH team. No EAP. There's certainly no menopause policy to help me create my own reasonable adjustments.
So it was time to find and create my own support team. It was that or sink.
I met the amazing Lesley Byrne at one of my own events. She runs a menopause support group on Facebook called 'Is it hot in here'. In there I came across women who were feeling just like me (and a hell of a lot worse to be honest). Holy shit, I wasn't going mad, it IS feckin' menopause!
I then heard about Diane Danzebrink, a menopause counsellor and the #MakeMenopauseMatter Campaign. Diane also runs an amazing Facebook support group called The Menopause Support Network and her website is super helpful (menopausesupport.co.uk). She has helped me immensely. Then I met Lynda Bailey and Sarah Davies, the co-founders of Talking Menopause, who I now work with! They have all become such wonderful friends which is a wonderful silver lining to all this.
Only then, after hearing about so many other women's experiences, being listened to and feeling supported did I go back to my GP.
It still took another month to get the right HRT I needed and wanted. Without the help of the women named above and determination that I found from somewhere. God knows where, I started to find myself again.
I'm still not quite sorted but I will get there. I understand getting my HRT optimised (for me anyway) takes time but I am hundreds of times better. I'm still being dismissed by my GP and encouraged to up my antidepressants but I know my own body. Thankfully my business is thriving. Something I thought was impossible this time last year.
It should NOT be this difficult. As a woman, a wife or a mum. As a capable, intelligent business owner. To be completely ignored. Belittled. Misadvised.
To hear of women so desperate they can't work. That they stop leaving their own home. They attempt to take their own lives. And some succeed. Families are broken.
Now it's GREAT that we are talking more about menopause. But we NEED to do more. We need mandatory education. I shouldn't have to take the NICE guidelines along to show my GP. We need less assumption and judgement. More compassion and understanding. We need more ACTION.
Information and guidance is out there but the right people need to read it.
My Menopause Doctor Louise Newson has masses of resources on her website HERE. Please take and look and READ them.
Thanks for reading