Thanks to Davina McCall for opening the door to deeper conversation, better advice and education for all around the menopause. In my own personal testimony, I will share how it has shaped my life and decisions over the last 2 years.
In September 2021, having just turned 43, I was diagnosed as perimenopausal (not yet in the menopause as my periods had not stopped for over 12 months). From this point, with the prescribed HRT, my life changed immensely.
Rewind to Jan 2020, a brand new Primary Headteacher, full of enthusiasm and dedicated to a school and staff team in order to support the school community and drive through improvements for all. This enthusiasm waned somewhat significantly with 2 major events:
- The pandemic - March 2020, schools went swiftly into lockdown and then ‘bubbles’. For a head that meant I was unable to cross contaminate and so it was quite a lonely job doing assemblies, meetings and training over zoom. The job became less about teaching and learning and more about logistics, risk assessments and most importantly, Safeguarding.
- An unforeseen staff issue that I had not been made aware of fully before taking the post meant that my job was much harder and more stressful than it should have been.
By November 2021, I was struggling. My mental health and happiness had taken a huge hit and, as a single parent, whose teenage children were at home fending for themselves each day, I tended to take the work stress and pressure home with me, continuing to work hard and being organised helped massively.
However, creeping in as well as the stress, was a ‘brain fog’; a lack of clarity with the staff issue I had been given and the inability to remember clearly what had been done and said as I was more focused on running the school. This particular situation made me emotional on a number of occasions. There were times when I was asked about it by my superiors and I was barely able to respond as my brain could not seem to find the right words. As an articulate person and always proficient at presenting, this did not feel like me and my confidence was also beginning to ebb.
In January 2021, unfortunately I caught Covid and was very poorly, only officially taking a few days off however, as I was able to work from home due to schools being in lockdown. I remember my first day back in school breathing like Darth Vader behind my mask and the walk from the car park to the school entrance on the first day back was a killer. It took a good couple of months to recover in terms of my chest and breathing.
By now, my symptoms were many: emotional, tired, stressed, lack of confidence, erratic periods, brain fog and tiredness from disturbed sleep. At this point I thought it was due to the stress of the job and particularly the difficult situation I found myself in with the staff member.
1 out of 10 women quit their jobs due to menopause*
*from Sex, Mind and The Menopause - Channel 4, Davina McCall
At Easter 2021, the permanent position came up for the Headship and due to it not being the right place for me to thrive, in fact by then I was borderline depressed, I did not apply and left Headship.
From there, I needed time. I took two teaching contracts for a term each to reflect and regroup. I did not recognise the person I was. It felt like an out of body experience. I was no longer the smiling, happy, fun, energetic, kind and confident person I once was. It was only when my periods stopped altogether and I was having up to 10 hot sweats through the day and night that I consulted a GP.
In the time I had taken to heal from my difficult Headship, I had started to feel happier. I had prioritised my wellbeing: doing more exercise, spending more time with my children, family and friends but there were still days when I struggled to string a coherent sentence together. About a week after I received HRT, the light began to switch back on.
There was a point in my second term of teaching where I went for a job and didn’t get it. I thought I would be devastated but instead, although surprised, I was coming back. The ‘old Jess’ was returning and I knew my worth again and what I wanted to bring to the world. My energy levels were coming back, my joy and sense of fun for each day along with a new confidence to break out from the education system that I no longer aligned with in its current from and do something new!
I had already coached in my role as a senior leader and had wanted to bring it in as a Head but alas, Covid. In the summer I had decided to complete my L5 Coaching and Mentoring so that I could put a qualification to my coaching. For now, I wanted a break from education and, having been through my own difficult divorce in 2015-7, I saw Divorce and Break Up Coaching. I studied and was accredited by Sara Davison (The Divorce Coach) and knew this would be a great way to continue doing the bits I loved: supporting others to achieve their potential whilst using my own experience and empathy.
A work in progress
I am still on my own happiness and recovery journey from this health setback, but I am a true believer that things always happen for a reason. A tough divorce and decision to exit from my career in education has allowed me to do a job I now love, working with amazing clients who need the emotional support through a difficult time, meet a wonderful, inspiring partner who challenges and loves me every day. I meet amazing and inspiring women all the time now who achieve their dreams through hard work but remain kind and compassionate – these have always been the women I aspire to be.
The moral of this tale
Women – take time for you. Listen to your inner voice if it is telling you things are not okay. Listen to your friends and family who have known you forever. If you are suffering any of these menopause symptoms, do seek advice and help. Do not suffer in silence or think that you are failing. There is help out there and it works wonders!
Men – if you are able, please educate yourself on these symptoms as most women will experience some of them. Menopause policies in the workplace are more common and having an identified member of staff that can be confided in and is trained to signpost would be beneficial.
Thank for sticking through to the end. Please do comment if anything has resonated with you, it may help others.