Beverley Peace has been with HB Projects for 15 years. Joining as Health & Safety Manager for the Bradford office, Beverley developed and expanded her role to become the Compliance Director for the HB Projects Group.
Here she shares her experience of menopause, why being open about this ‘taboo’ subject is important and how, regardless of gender, we can help and support through this life change.
Menopause seems to be increasingly in the news at the moment. However it’s a subject that has historically been very much overlooked in the work environment. Why do you feel this has been the case?
I think, historically, women of a ‘certain age’ going through menopause have been embarrassed to talk about their symptoms and negative personal traits have been associated with the ‘change in hormones’ for a woman – getting old, erratic, grey and wrinkly.
I think initially women have suffered in silence at work, or left jobs, because of the effects of various (around 32) symptoms. The awareness of menopause seems to be picking up momentum as, thankfully in 2022, there are more women in work who are in senior positions; these women (i.e. me!) are now finding, after investing plenty of hard work and making certain sacrifices to be in their positions, that they are then suffering with perimenopause symptoms (which can start late 30’s) and then the menopause symptoms (which can start 45 years old) and what they are going through is temporary.
The physical and psychological symptoms can be managed and need to be talked about to ensure understanding and support in the workplace.
How have you been affected by your own experiences of menopause?
When I look back, the event which made me go and seek medical help was in 2017 (aged 43) when I had a crippling panic attack on the driveway at home and my husband had to carry me back into the house. Two years prior, my periods had been unpredictable, I’d been experiencing long term anxiety and an excessive number of hot flushes, with the cold shivers at all times of the day.
After the panic attack, I made an appointment with my GP. Unfortunately, my female GP was more concerned about the state of my mind being the cause of the panic attack and wanted to know if I was having suicidal thoughts and tried to put me on antidepressants. From that moment, I went on various internet forums to understand my symptoms; at that particular time the fatigue was becoming unmanageable, and I self-diagnosed myself to be going through the perimenopause (this is the time when you are still having periods and symptoms).
I decided I wanted to get through the symptoms with natural remedies. Over a period of over three years, I trialled any natural remedy and advise which was recommended and linked to the menopause. I eventually found a natural concoction of supplements which work for me and have also ensured I exercise, tried acupuncture and removed spicy foods, red wine and caffeine from my diet. However, doing all this still didn’t allow me to shake off the anxiety and the hot flushes.
In 2020, I was finally diagnosed as being in the post menopause stage (12 months with no period) and a year later I asked my GP for HRT (going natural was now no longer my desire! I’d do/or take anything to stop me from causing myself embarrassment of stripping off my clothes with the many hot flushes!) Going on HRT has improved my way of life, I feel ‘normal’ again and there was an instant relief from my hot flushes. In my senior role, I initially struggled to be open about my symptoms and how I was being affected.
Fortunately when we started our initiative to break the stigma of mental health at work in 2018, this has brought an opportunity to be able to confide in work colleagues, both male and female, about my health and wellbeing and the support received has been great. In fact, I’ve been able to talk about symptoms of Andropause, which is the diagnosis for males (gradual) decrease of hormones.
When frustration with symptoms raised its head, what did you find helped the most?
Where running has been my saviour for releasing frustrations, I was unable to run my normal distances as I would start to panic, or I was too tired to run…and having a hot flush when running is not the best experience! I therefore had to find an alternative exercise.
I have found yoga and believe it has really helped with my frustrations with symptoms. I also like to read and my social media feed is a constant flow of information on menopause symptoms and remedies!! I also downloaded the support app Balance, which provides challenges to help manage symptoms, which suits my competitive nature.
In terms of workplace advice, a search on the HSE website only results in a guidance document about older workers (which doesn’t actually mention menopause) and a few links to references around temperature control. How can businesses do more to support their employees whether directly or indirectly affected? And where can families, colleagues and friends find out more information?
Create an environment within the workplace which improves awareness of the symptoms of menopause and allows open minded conversations, be curious and ask questions. With regards to roles, consider reasonable adjustments and be flexible, this is temporary.
What did you find out about the support structures in place within HB Projects?
After a particularly tough meeting with a Client, I realised that I was not recovering in my usual manner and spoke to Ed (our Group MD) at my PDR about my symptoms and I suggested a business coach may be able to assist (somebody impartial to my private and work life.) This was approved and the business coach really helped me in my management style and self-belief, I believe I was ‘reprogrammed’.
I’m now developing the management support structures within HB Projects and created a private WhatsApp group ‘HB Menopause Support’ for those female employees going through peri or post menopause, this group provides humour as well as support to each other.
Information is available on various menopause webpages, I found Positive Pause helpful and the Balance app is brilliant. www.positivepause.co.uk.
Menopause directly affects 51% of the population, however the impact of women’s experiences affects work and family relationships also. What advice would you offer to women who are approaching or experiencing menopause, based on your own learnings?
Talk to the people who you live and work with about your symptoms. Some of the symptoms may affect your normal everyday relationship. Remember the symptoms are temporary however, at times, very disruptive. Thankfully my family and work relationships have been very strong in their support. Knowing what I know now, I would have gone on the HRT a lot earlier.
I grew up hearing that HRT caused breast cancer and my doctors also reinforced this message. After watching the Davina McCall programme on menopause, this report has been recognised to be flawed and there is a realisation that HRT can help with preventing Dementia and Osteoporosis in later years. I’m also grateful of the opportunity of going through the hormone change; it has made me take a real good look at the nutrition in my diet and I have discovered yoga and acupuncture, which has helped me to relax my mind.