Peri/Meno in the Workplace
How Do You High-Function At Work When You're Feeling So Dis-functional?
I spoke with a friend recently who is a wife, mother of a teenager and lab technician going through perimenopause and she remarked with a heavy sigh, letting me quote her here, "how hard everything is, not so much at home, because at least I can more or less unplug, but at the office, where lots of people are expecting me to be operating at 110% and I can't rightly gauge why I'm unable to reach 50% two weeks out of a month, it seems like these days." She also talked about how she was not receiving much empathy from colleagues and this frustrated her. She's been with her company for several years and now felt that she'd somehow exhausted her "right" to voice how she's doing and, just as importantly, found she couldn't explain how or why her responsibilities at work had become so taxing.
When I worked with patients and as an administrator in a small integrative functional medicine practice I struggled as well, fairly regularly for a time. I began a supplementation regimen that helped me deal with my symptoms but honestly nothing helped that much and there were days that were brutal. Lack of focus, fatigue, inattention to detail, anxiety, forgetfulness. This does not make one a successful office admin, lemme tell you.
I was fortunate in that the practice I was a part of was quite small and there was a rotation of patients who the doctor and I came to know, personally, in many cases. There was a lot of downtime and so a lot of time for me to give attention to administrative tasks at hand. You know, all the stuff I neglected to get to the day before. Double bookings, scheduling patient appointments at the wrong hours, not scheduling them at ALL!! I'm embarrassed to admit I had done all of this. I was also REALLY lucky in that the doctor I worked with was extremely understanding and aware and very patient. This is not the norm, I know, and I remain grateful. And let me just say the torment I felt at having made these errors was big. I felt TERRIBLE! And so guilty! I wanted to fire myself! For a time, my self esteem was pretty shot. So on top of suffering all symptoms I was now feeling guilt beyond relief. Again, I had an understanding boss, but I mean, come on, even that wouldn't have lasted forever.
Despite the fact that half the population will experience menopause, it does not receive the open discussion it warrants. And what's really tough for many women is that peri/menopausal symptoms will coincide often with a significant career stage. "So, great, I got a promotion and daily hot flashes...at the same time?!" This potential intersection means cognitive impairment, anxiety, migraines, fatigue, sleep deprivation, just when a woman needs to feel brand spankin' sharp? Argh!
Should women continue to make strides in the workplace, filling roles from top to bottom and making valuable contributions there, I'm thinking it's time to get a lot more vocal about what's going on with us. Because, look, when women experience pregnancy at work there's plenty of anecdotal banter, about feeling crappy and anxious and tired and whatever else, that many share to support each other through that time. But I think for many women reaching the end of their menstrual cycle and fertility, there's a desire to hide. There's perhaps a sense that "no one wants to hear about this." Or, maybe it brings up issues around ageism, "I don't want to get into this because I'm already starting to feel marginalized around here." For some, myself included, it was embarrassing and fluctuating hormones didn't feel like a "good enough" excuse. "Oh, sorry, I forgot to book your appointment because I have brain fog and as soon as I got off the phone with you I forgot you existed."
So what to do? I have NO IDEA!! Ha! Seriously though, it's hard. And complicated. But, it shouldn't be! I think that more than anything this issue speaks to the lack of dialogue around aging women and all that they experience, physically and emotionally. But listen, we have to talk about it because like so much else, it's a fact of life! I'm aging! We're all aging! Everyone woman on the planet is aging, even the 25 year olds, but they're too young to know it! Ha! See what I'm getting at here? Peri/menopause is real. It exists and every woman is going to go through it at some point in her life and she deserves all the support and understanding a workplace can offer.
I'm going to go all out and suggest that as long as we're talking about gender inclusion, racial inclusion and age inclusion, menopause should also be on the "things to sincerely tackle" workplace list. It's important and deserves to be there. Like so many taboo subjects, I think just laying it out on the table allows it to lose much of it's "don't talk about that!" quality. Things need to be normalized in order to be dealt with and I think that starts with education. You don't know what you don't know and although I demand and expect everyone to know what I'm thinking and feeling at all times.....I'm joking! I can't really expect anyone, and this includes my family, to know how I'm doing every moment. But they should! No, again, just joking. So, how to translate this into the workplace? It starts with you. I know, I know, this is next to impossible for some. I get that. But for those of you who can, who feel safe enough to voice what's happening to you, voice it. I once stepped out of the office because I was hot as blazes, flashing away and I just said it out loud, "I gotta go cool off, I'll be right back" But, that's me and that's where I worked, I know. I would also think that every decent workplace has some attention given in practice and policy to employee well being and/or mental health. Perhaps speaking to those in charge of all that about flexible schedules or delegation of workload is an option? Just a thought. I'm sure many of you have a slew of terrific ideas.
I know there are a lot of factors at play here and I know that not every woman has the luxury of working in an environment that's willing and wanting to support her through this significant, unreliable and perhaps lengthy life change. But, change has to start somewhere and like so much else that dramatically shifts in life, doesn't it often start with us Gals speaking up?
*I use this "/ " symbol to address both women in perimenopause and women in menopause. Because I don't feel like typing those words so much. Ha!