Melissa Robertson is the CEO at creative agency Dark Horses – and a woman who is showing incredible leadership when it comes to supporting menopause in the workplace.
Recently she has created an open source menopause policy that can be downloaded, adapted by anyone to use in their own business. Yes, anyone. So there really are no more excuses for workplaces not providing the education and empathy that their menopausal employees need.
Melissa shares her own personal menopause journey, and tells us why she feels so strongly about keeping the menopause conversation going – loudly. We need more leaders like her.
When did your symptoms start and what were they?
It’s difficult to put a finger on the exact start time, as the symptoms were subtle and changing. But when I look back, it’s probably been around three or four years. I’m now 49.
It started with a pervasive aching, particularly in my arms and legs, and then occasional night sweats. But when I really understood it to be perimenopausal symptoms, it manifested as a strong brain dysfunction. An inability to remember basic words that I use regularly.
And as for names. Or directions. Forget it.
Now, the symptoms range from aches to numb fingers, randomly itchy skin, night sweats, hot flushes, definitely a whole load more general anxiety, and – oh god – my hair falling out in what looks like bucketloads.
READ MORE What are the 34 menopause symptoms?
What has been the most challenging thing to deal with?
The word holes have been, and continue to be really frustrating, embarrassing and debilitating. It’s like playing a permanent game of ‘Articulate’.
I’ve created a number of coping techniques, from a ‘glossary’ of oft-lost words in the front of my notebook, to prepping colleagues to dive in when I’m floundering – and it has definitely helped.
But I still feel like a bit of an idiot on numerous occasions each day.
Have there been any positive symptoms?
Positive symptoms? No.
But in talking about it publicly, I have met many interesting and brilliant people, and I’ve loved that.
What are the things that are getting you through (from medical to lifestyle)?
The glossary I previously mentioned has been a lifesaver.
I’ve also become a regular Peloton user, in an attempt to ‘beat’ the night sweats by removing all possible sweat from my body in advance.
I’m taking some 50+ (let’s face it, I’m in my 50th year) Wellwomen supplements, which supposedly boost brain function, nail and hair strength, immune system and so on.
And really, the biggest thing has been talking about it. I’ve found that, in confronting it and being entirely unembarrassed in talking about it, some of the fear, discomfort and anxiety is extinguished.
READ MORE 10 of the best menopause supplements.
What has made the biggest difference
Pre-sweating has really helped. As has being more open.
Did you seek any advice from experts, friends or family?
I’ve got a good friend who is a GP looking to specialise in menopause, and of a similar age. And we’ve gone on lots of lovely long walks with the dogs and chatted a lot. It’s also a regular topic of conversation with a lot of my friends who are experiencing it. And I’ve done a load of research on it to create an accessible menopause policy, so I’m reasonably well-read on the subject.
What was the advice you received?
Read up about it, and HRT is not the demon that it has been built into.
READ MORE HRT, is it safe? Everything you need to know.
Is there anything you wish you’d known?
I’m a bit of a control freak, and as soon as I knew that things weren’t quite right, I tried to understand much more about it.
What has been the impact on your daily life? (ie. emotional issues, moods, anxiety, sleeping issues, challenges at work etc)
Sometimes it’s difficult to disaggregate lifestage and the associated challenges (teenage children and elderly parents) from menopausal symptoms. But I regularly feel that I’m holding it all together with cobwebs. I feel more tearful, more anxious, more brain-jumpy than I have ever felt. Yet I feel I have to hold it in. Actually, no, I want to hold it in, because I’m terrified of what would happen if I let go.
Has there been an impact on your relationships? (ie friends, family, partner)
No, not at all. My husband and family have been incredibly supportive, even if they do tease me just a little bit about being adamant about something (that I subsequently turn out to have not done or said).
Is there anything you’d do differently?
I’m not sure I would.
What do you say to other women about the menopause?
I’m going through it.
Talk about it. A problem shared and all that.
Understand it. Knowledge is power, and there are lots of things you can do to help yourself.
Don’t be afraid of HRT. Talk to your GP.
What are your thoughts on this time of a woman’s life?
It couldn’t come at a worse time, but….. despite the impact of menopause, I’m actually more comfortable with myself than I’ve ever been. I’m not trying to impress anyone, I have great people around me at home and at work, and I don’t need to worry about terrifying things like nightclubs or online dating.
Your menopause is….
Pretty shit, but it’s provided an opportunity to meet great people, so there is a silver lining.
You feel Hylda when…
I feel on top of things.