I knew the first time our eyes met. I just knew. We were far too young but I knew. She was my dream girl. She still is. And always will be. Forever, whatever.
Life throws challenges at all of us. As we leave our teens we decide on life-long relationships, on parenthood, or maybe just on living a fabulous life. Later, it’s about ensuring that our loved ones, as they age, are looked after.
Health impacts all of us at some point. Sometimes tragic, sometimes genetic, sometimes outside of our control. Many health issues are visible. We are warned, know what to expect, and what to do to mitigate the circumstances and remain healthy. But what if the health issue can’t be seen?
My first job in the 80s was in administration. I was 17 when I started and one of only six males in an office of 80. Each day, Monday to Friday, my life was directed by women, the youngest aged 16, the oldest aged 62. My male counterparts were all in their sixties and nearing retirement.
It was not uncommon to hear ‘Ignore her, it’s her time of the month’ but I quickly learnt to be sympathetic to the medical challenges thrown at females, regardless of age. ‘It’s an age thing’ was another one or ‘Ignore her, she’s menopausal, it’ll only last a year or so’.
Two of the five men I worked with in those early days divorced. They left their long-term partners for a younger woman. One, married with four children whose wife had just turned 40, often referred to his wife as ‘moody’ or ‘old’.
I take no satisfaction in writing that I was once party to an interview process where a woman was declined a promotion because she was ‘going through the menopause’ and was considered ‘irrational’.
I remember being shocked but mostly intrigued. Daily, I was surrounded by caring, supportive females. I’m not embarrassed to say that still to this day I am happier in female company. Because of those early days, I understand females far better than I will ever understand males. Most of those ladies who guided me are no longer in this world but they left behind a legacy I will never forget.
Looking back now, the attitude in the workplace was shocking. However, as a male at that time, I knew nothing about the menopause. There was zero education. No training for men, no support for women. In fact, it was rarely (if ever) discussed.
I have to be careful as I inject some Johnny Ireland humour into a subject that for many women and their partners simply isn’t funny, but I wanted to share some memories from my early career.
As an 18-year-old, I sat next to a female colleague who was sweating profusely as I made a coffee during our tea break. I asked, naively, if she’d been running. ‘No, I’m just menopausal’ was her reply.
On another occasion, I asked my female boss, aged 41, if she was going to Sandy’s 18th birthday party. Sandy worked in our department.
“Sandy? Who’s Sandy?” she asked. She blamed her confused response on a ‘menopausal moment’.
At Sandy’s party, I complimented a female colleague. Her reply? ‘Thanks, Johnny, but the mirror tells me I just look menopausal.’
Fast forward 30 years and I carry great pride in the fact that those five condescending, ignorant men I used to work with influenced how I now deal with situations where I can clearly identify issues that may be related to the menopause in women.
I now work for a business that places a huge emphasis on managing the menopause. As a male manager I am supported with a wealth of information to assist me in understanding some of the 48* symptoms that can affect my female team members. In fact, I have access to so much information that I often see a symptom presenting before my female colleague sees it in herself.
Whilst the average age for women to reach the menopause is 51, I know of colleagues in their thirties who, after failing to have a period for a number of months, and believing themselves to be pregnant, were horrified to find that they were not pregnant at all but were actually beginning the menopause. How cruel the way life’s dice can roll. For others, of course, it’s a liberating time with no worry of unplanned pregnancies and the start of a newfound ‘freedom’.
That freedom, however, can be short-lived. They may no longer have to deal with the menstrual cycle but, instead, suffer ferocious night sweats, difficulty sleeping, problems with concentration, mood swings and weight gain. The list goes on…
Remember the ignorant male I worked with back in the 80s? The one who said menopause only lasts a year or so? Total rubbish. Symptoms can last between four and eight years with one in four women experiencing such serious symptoms they struggle to function daily. Many feel they have no alternative but to leave their employment due to the effects.
Whilst most of the 48 symptoms are visible, it’s the invisible ones that worry me. The mental health aspect. The anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. Figures published by The Samaritans showed the highest rate of suicide among women was between the ages of 45 to 54. This cannot be a coincidence.
For me, in my own relationship, I see the symptoms on a regular basis. Some days I’m sure I witness all 48, other days only one, but each day brings something. To witness the woman I have loved for 40 years look in the mirror and truly believe she is no longer beautiful is heartbreaking. It’s that lack of confidence and self-esteem that really tugs at the heart strings.
As for the hot flushes…
Thankfully, humour has always played a big part in our relationship. And whilst short-term memory loss is one of the symptoms of the menopause, my own memory can also be unreliable. My partner accuses me of not listening so I use number 38 of the 48 menopausal symptoms and blame ‘brain fog’ as the issue. Fact is, I probably wasn’t listening but I’ll swear I’d never been told in the first place! I’m careful not to use this ploy too often.
Understanding the menopause and its symptoms is just as important for men as it is for women. It is a genuine health concern and should be taken as seriously as any other.
Three in four women will experience symptoms of the menopause. Be aware of what those symptoms are and offer love and support throughout.
*Figure obtained from GenM data.