Sam Priestley on the support of non-menopausal people

I’m surrounded by younger people in my family. I’m 51. My partner is 10 years younger than me. My sisters are 11 and 12 years younger than me. My two daughters are aged 22 and 25. The only one in my family older than me is my brother, and even his wife is 20 years younger than me. I’ve never felt ‘old’ amongst them before, I’ve never felt the gap. Until I started experiencing the wild and wonderful symptoms of menopause.

When I first began experiencing symptoms of menopause, I didn’t talk to anyone in my family about it. I suddenly felt the pull of my years. It dawned on me like a heavy object from a great height that there was a separation because of my age compared to them. We were so far apart in age, in totally different stages of our lives and I assumed, being so young, they wouldn’t understand.

But as the years have gone on and my symptoms have intensified, I’ve started talking about it a lot. I was at an art class with my sister one evening when a wave of exhaustion rushed over me and I began to tell her how tired I was all the time, how it felt like battling with gallons of water weighing down on me. She was surprised at first, to hear me talk about my vulnerabilities. I’ve always been ‘the big sister’, but the more I talked about how I felt, the more all that melted away and she could empathise and stand next to me on this, instead of me being up ahead.

I explained how my joints ached when we took a family walk together and my sister in law pinned how I felt to other women in her family who had experienced something similar in their menopause. And I told my daughters about the strange feeling of not quite knowing who I was anymore, and they likened the sound of this to feelings they had when PMS struck them especially badly.

I became comfortable with talking about it, bit by bit. I still felt like some odd old person who was suddenly on the other side of a wall I’d never previously known was there, but at least I was communicating this.

I’m partly looking for support from the people closest to me, when I talk about my menopause, and partly giving my sisters and my sister-in-law, and my daughters, a heads up. They too will face menopause one day. And I wish someone had talked to me about what it can actually feel like. Menopause is different for everyone, but at least talking about the nitty gritty of it can help us feel less alarmed when it happens to us.

To my surprise my family members can empathise very well. They might not have gone through it yet, they might not have direct experience of this particular phase in our lives, but they know how it feels to have PMS and hormonal changes and pains. They know what puberty feels like. So, they can imagine it, and they can already understand to a certain degree.

But the biggest surprise by far was my partner. He had no framework to begin with, so listening was the only way he could begin to fathom what was going on for me. 10 years younger than me and a man, he joined a menopause meeting at his workplace to gain insights from other menopausal women, to see how he could better support me.

He was the only man who attended and his take-away was pretty much that everyone at his workplace who is experiencing menopause are exhausted and stressed and feel no one is listening to them. It was an eye opener. Before my menopause he’d had no idea that women in his work place were suffering like this. And why would he? If no one talked about it because there wasn’t the space to talk about it, how could it be supported?

We may not have seen the implementation of trialing menopause leave in the UK, possibly a missed opportunity, but anyone struggling in their workplace can ask for help with and adjustments to, their working routine. Even if someone works with a team where no one else has gone though or is going through the menopause, support and understanding is there. We may have to ask for it, but others around us can empathise and help us navigate these waters.

There’s only so much my partner can do to support the people struggling with menopause at work, in his position, but he knew that at home he could do a lot more.

He encouraged me to talk about how I feel and he began looking at ways we could do more together. He’s implemented an exercise routine into our lives that we follow together, to keep me, and him, healthy and strong. We run together, we weight train together, and through all of this we stay close and I feel I’m not taking this journey alone. I couldn’t do all this without him.

At the beginning of my menopause journey I felt alone. I had no one around me who was also going through this and I couldn’t imagine how the people in my family, all younger than me, could possibly understand. But they do. It turns out, the support of the non-menopausal people in my life is what’s getting me through.

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We understand there’s a lot of information out there on the menopause. You can read through the NICE guidance on menopause management, as well as the NHS overview on the menopause.