If you are born a female, the likelihood is that you will go through menopause, as many others have done for milennia. However, most of us struggle through it with a shocking lack of support. In my case, it almost cost me my career .
According to a new survey commissioned for Channel 4 documentary Davina McCall: Sex, Mind and the Menopausethousands of women could be leaving their jobs at this life stage. The research found that, out of 4,000 women, 10 per cent left their work because of symptoms; one in seven reduced their hours; and one in 12 didn’t go for promotion. As a journalist, I should find these figures newsworthy – but as a menopausal woman, they merely confirm what I already know.
In my early thirties, I successfully applied for new jobs every few years. Bosses moved to new publications and asked me to join them. I helped launch new sections and even new newspapers. Then, at the age of 33, I became my newspaper’s first female night editor in almost 190 years. Most times I’d be the only woman in a room full of men, giving my opinion and arguing with the best of them. It was hard and stressful, but I relished the challenge, even when it meant standing up and defending my team against some of the biggest names in the media.
Life moved on and so did I, eventually taking a career break and returning at a lower level, ready to work my way up again. However, this time, I found myself shaking when I went into the office. I’d wake at 2am , worrying about every story I had worked on. When I caught my mistakes, it would confirm what my mind was saying: that I was old, past it and no longer any good at my job. Double-checking turned into triple-checking, even when my eyes confirmed all was correct. I kept waiting for the boss to present me with my P45.
Senior colleagues left and I was asked to apply for their positions: not once, but several times. My confidence gone, I turned each opportunity down. During my lunchtimes, I began wandering down to the Thames next to our offices and wondering how much the impact of jumping into the water would hurt.
At the same time, I was having several health problems, which added to the stress and anxiety I was feeling. It started small, with hair loss and aching joints, but developed into palpitations so strong I ended up in A&E. My skin itched so much I left red welts scratching it.
When I wasn’t anxious or depressed, I was inexplicably angry. Anyone – from politicians to celebrities to people on the tube – could find themselves on the other side of my raging insults and attacks. I just wanted them to be in pain. Then my anger would leave, and I’d turn into an emotional wreck, sending guilt-ridden emails of apology.
I didn’t attribute any of these symptoms to the menopause, because I wasn’t getting periods as often and when I did, they were lighter and less painful than before.
It was my husband’s research that helped me make the connection. Soon after, I went on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and waited for the “miracle” people described. But it never came. In fact, I felt worse. So, I changed HRT and the same happened. Again and again. What I, like many others, did not know is that you should try each HRT for three months to see if it helps.
Due to Covid delays, NHS waiting times and the three-month trial period with each HRT I tried, it took me three years to find the right treatment for me. If it wasn’t for my work as a menopause campaigner, I don’ t know if I would have ever got to this stage.
It was only last January when I suddenly realised that I felt good. Better than good; I felt like my pre-puberty self, ready to take on the world. Best of all, my confidence at work has returned. I feel a worthy part of the team and able to take on more responsibility. In fact, I’m longing for it.
Outside of work, I am more creative and determined to help others going through menopause. I want them to know that we don’t just have to survive it, because we can thrive too.
Now I can confidently say that the menopause wasn’t the end of my working life. It was just the start of the next stage.
If you are struggling with menopause symptoms, please contact your GP. If you are thinking about suicide, you can call Samaritans on 116 123
Elizabeth Carr-Ellis is a journalist and menopause campaigner