The M word is still taboo
The menopause is still taboo for many, especially so in the workplace. Former paralegal Sandra Wilson explains how the menopause affected her legal career and influenced her decision to become a clinical hypnotherapist to help women mitigate the impact on their professional and personal lives.
I once asked an online support group for menopausal women to sum up their experience in a word. “#IWishI’dBeenBornAMan” said one.
I’m a clinical hypnotherapist. I help women to cope better with the psychological impact of the menopause, especially on their careers and personal relationships.
But I used to have a legal career, working for a large housing charity as a caseworker. I loved my job. I was impassioned, enthusiastic, young and ….. not menopausal. Fast forward 20 years and something weird started happening.
I stopped sleeping, seemingly without reason. A few one-off incidents burgeoned into a soul-destroying long-term relationship with chronic insomnia.
It snowballed into such a heightened state of sleep anxiety that I would often lie in bed awake for three nights in a row. I would toss and turn in a desperate state, and drenched in the kind of sweat brought on by some ghastly tropical disease.
Next came the panic attacks. I felt frightened, confused and powerless.
As I was only in my early 40s, it didn’t really occur to me that the menopause could have been the culprit. I put it down to work stress – by that time I was a paralegal, working under a restrictive and punishing legal aid contract with unreasonably-high income targets.
Tensions in the office were running high and I simply felt unable to cope with the pressure. I felt useless, an imposter. My self-esteem abandoned me. All the colour had been sucked out of my existence; I felt like a ghost in my own life.
How much of that was caused by hormonal fluctuation I will never know, but my experience is not unusual. I talk to many women who gave up careers because they felt the same. I saw several doctors, who all said that I was too young to be menopausal, and that there was “no such thing” as the perimenopause – the decade leading up to the menopause.
My manager suggested hypnotherapy. It was probably the best thing I ever did. I learned that my low self-worth had been hanging around in disguise for a very long time and this hormonal disruption had tipped me over the edge.
I learned techniques that enabled me to conquer my insomnia, calm my anxious mind and develop a stronger sense of self-worth. The fact that I later retrained and am now a practising hypnotherapist is a testament to the power of my experience.
I read a depressing statistic the other day in a 2020 report by the British Medical Association (BMA) relating to the number of female doctors who gave up their careers when they hit the 'menopause glass ceiling'.
Lack of support in the workplace was cited as a common reason, with a BMA representative stating that menopause is still a taboo subject in the medical industry.
Like medicine, law is an extremely demanding, fast-paced and challenging profession with gruellingly long hours.
Maybe you thrived on pressure when you were younger, but if you are now a woman 'of a certain age' in the legal profession, ask yourself these questions:
- are you able to access the support you need, if it becomes necessary?
- are you comfortable asking your firm to make reasonable adjustments to make your working life more bearable?
- are you taking sick days off to deal with hot flushes, but telling your manager you just have a tummy upset?
- are you afraid to let the 'cracks show', in case your colleagues think you are 'past it' or just incapable?
- do you suddenly feel like an imposter who has no right to be there because your brain fog makes it hard to focus?
I conjure up the image of a swan gliding gracefully across a pond but, under the surface, the little legs are paddling furiously. Is this you?
On reflection, I think I was lucky, because my manager at the time was very sympathetic and I managed to negotiate shorter working hours on the days following my sleepless nights.
I encourage you to speak up and ask for help if you need it. If you are struggling, believe that you can pave the way to make changes even if nobody ever has done this before.
A whole new generation of lawyers will thank you for it – I’m not going to be gender-specific here, because the negative impact of the menopause can ruin relationships, cause massive friction in families, and destroy personal self-esteem.
We all benefit from a better understanding of this deeply misunderstood life change. Believe it or not, many women come out the other side of the menopause feeling empowered, alive, and with valuable insight into who they are and what they are capable of.
If the menopause is affecting you personally, it’s worth arming yourself with all the information you can about your options, because no two women’s experiences are the same. For some, hormone replacement therapy is the answer; others respond well to therapy, like I did.
I want to emphasise that your experience is deeply personal and, as a therapist, I know that having the right mindset helps. You must believe that you are not worth any less because of this natural phase of life. You have a right to be heard, to be visible and valued.
If you find that you are drifting into a pattern of unhealthy coping mechanisms, it’s not too late to change. You’re likely to be a tough cookie if you’ve thrived and survived in the legal profession, so take heart that your resilience will serve you well when you are ready to take on a new challenge.
Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.
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