The number of menopausal women is expected to reach 1.1 billion by 2025. Whilst virtually every woman will go through menopause, it remains a hushed subject, a taboo, that in many countries sees women suffering in silence. Out of the 48 symptoms named in the Invisibility Report 51% of women can only name 3.
Woman often start to feel the symptoms in their 40s, when at the peak of their careers. In the UK, one in four women will experience severe debilitating symptoms from menopause. In the USA, 73% of women don’t treat their symptoms.
This week, I speak with Mandy Preece who shares her experiences of living with menopause for the past 7 years. It’s an insightful conversation as Mandy talks about the ups and downs….yes there are some ups! 🙂 Mandy is proof that you can live the s**t and start to come out the other side still smiling.
In This Episode
- How to manage your closest relationships
- Adopting a mind set of self-nurture
- Embracing sisterhood in menopause
- How to listen to your body compass to get help
- The gifts of menopause
Follow Cath at Drawn to a Story
- Share the podcast
- Be a Podcast Guest?
- Subscribe to the mailing list
Mentioned in the podcast
Fleabag – BBC Series by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (whole series)
Fleabag Menopause scene – BBC III
Music by Grant McLachlan
Gen M – The Menopause Partner for Brands. Home of the Invisibility Report
Menopause Support UK – Support and information
NHS Menopause – Information
The Menopausal Expats – Facebook community for support and information
International Menopause Society – Promoting education and research
Samaritans – FREE Help – Tel: 116 123, E: firstname.lastname@example.org
The British Psychology Society – Find a Psychologist
International Menopause Society – Promoting education and research
The Australasian Menopause Society – for medical professionals + the public
HealthTalk Australia – Resources and information
The Menopausal Expats – Facebook community for support and information
Mensline – help, support, referrals and counselling for men
Beyond Blue – Mental health support
The Black Dog Institute – Medical health resources, services and research
SANE Australia – Counselling support, Tel: 1800 187 263 (10am – 10pm)
International Menopause Society – Promoting education and research
Office on Women’s Health – Government website (info, support, treatments)
The Menopausal Expats – Facebook community for support and information
American Psychologist Association – Psychologist Finder
OR contact medical services in your country.
You're listening to Drawn to a Deeper Story. I'm Cath Brew from drawntostory.com. I'm an artist who illustrates and educates about marginalized experiences for positive change, with a particular interest in identity belonging, and ex-pat life. This podcast is about lives that challenge us and the difficult conversations around them.
Cath: It's a place to listen openly, to absorb people's truth and to learn how to show up differently for the benefit of everyone. And that's you included. Today's guest is Mandy Preece. She's an award-winning communications trainer and author. Her work in the field of listening in unexpected situations, grew from her experience of sitting with people at the end of life.
Cath: And in 2019, she was the NHS unsung hero volunteer of the year, but she's also had a bloody awful time with menopause, and I can hear an
awful lot of women's ears pricking up as I say, those words. Menopause Support UK says that approximately 13 million women in the UK are either peri or post-menopausal. Symptoms can last up to 15 years and over 60% of women experienced symptoms resulting in behaviour changes. One in four women will experience severe debilitating symptoms. I'm not there yet and already I'm quaking in my boots. So at this point, I'd like to bring Mandy in and actually say welcome to Drawn to a Deeper Story.
Mandy: Thank you Cath thank you so much for having me here and thank you for enabling me to sort of share my story of menopause because obviously everybody will have individual stories, but I think I really wanted to share what happened with me so that other women out there might feel less alone because I felt very lonely in the menopause because everybody talks about hot flashes
and nobody talks about all the other stuff.
Cath: The shit! The rest...
Mandy: The rest of it and, you know, hot flushes. Yeah. They're a bit of a pain but to be honest, nothing compared with some of the other stuff.
Cath: Actually, my wife was quite pleased with the hot flushes cause she's always cold and she, she was quite enjoying them. Okay, we're going straight in really. I mean, this is the thing, how it's talked about and what people think it's going to be like, and I wanted to ask you first up, did you have any preconceived ideas about what menopause would be like?
Mandy: Um, no, not really. The only, the only experience I probably had a bit is watching my mum go through it, but when she was going through it, I was probably late teens and, you know, doing my own hormones not really aware, you know, your mom's just a mom, but I think it's when you're older, you realize, you know, oh, we should have had those conversations. I do remember us having a very sort of
hormonal argument in Marks and Spencer's in Bournemouth,
Mandy: and, um, mum's simply having a hot flush where she literally went like tomato red and started dripping. And I just said to mom, oh my God, what was happening? And, and my mum was very sort of stoic sort of person. So she said it was just a hot flush um, so she didn't really talk about it, but I was, I guess, aware of that, but that that's it really, you know, women, women didn't talk about it. I think we're talking about it a lot more now, but women didn't really talk about it.
Cath: I'm interested in this because I remember growing up and like doom day as I, it was in my head was kind of like, oh my God, when I'm going to get a period. And that was, that was the kind of thing of having a period was the big thing. And then, so we're told about periods, we're told about having babies, but people don't talk about menopause. Like, has it come a shock to you of how awful your experience? I
Cath: [00:04:00] shouldn't laugh, but how awful your experience has been?
Mandy: I think we have to laugh Cath. The only other option is it's madness. It was a heck of a shock. And also, I didn't understand what was happening because the symptom started, obviously peri-menopausal were really bad. I was still having periods, so I didn't know what was happening. I genuinely did not know what was going on. Um, so I went from somebody who was regularly sitting in a hospice, was people at end of life as a volunteer, running a volunteer mentoring program, training volunteers, you know, I was out there working to somebody who was then suddenly not wanting to go in, finding I couldn't hold my emotions anymore, the thing that was my biggest passion I was beginning to dread doing.
Cath: That must have been really scary.
Mandy: It was really scary, cause I couldn't work out what was going on and of course then goes through your head on, I
must be in burnout. And I think that was definitely part of it, but ended up sitting in front of the GP in tears Cath, telling her all of these things that were happening to me, but particularly around my memory. I remember crying, literally floods of tears, very embarrassing floods of tears in front of the GP and she said, I think we're going to sign you off work and I thought for two weeks. She said shall we try two months?
Cath: Bless her.
Mandy: I ended up being a year and three months before I went back.
Cath: Wow. That's astonishing long isn't it? That's that is almost like having maternity leave, but probably better. Cause it's longer.
Cath: I mean, that's, I should, I can't help joking. It's like, but, but, but seriously that, I mean, that's a hell of a long time.
Mandy: Yeah. Because I, I thank God. She did
say all of those things to me. And the reason I went to see her is because I did an online Alzheimer’s test and failed it. I can remember running down to my wonderful neighbour, Alison and knocking on her door and bursting into tears on her. Alison was just amazing and made me a cup of tea and said, just go to the GP. It's fine. You know, I'm sure it isn't, but it was just terribly, terribly scary, what was happening to my brain.
Cath: And the more stressed you get, because of what you think is happening, you then are more likely to fail things cause your stress chemicals around your body are going to be playing up as well.
Mandy: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I think the best thing the doctor could have done was signed me off because that took away, like you say, elements of stress and let me sort of recalibrate and try and understand what was happening. At that point I had no idea that that was so embarrassing, isn't it? But I didn't really realize how
impacted women could be peri-menopausal. I thought it all happened when your period stopped.
Cath: Yeah. Yeah. It's just like wonder actually to be, this is going to make me sound stupid as well, to be brutally honest, I think for a long time and actually till not quite recently, I thought like you kind of find, it goes, it comes and goes a bit and then they just stop and that's it. And maybe you get some hot flushes, like I'm embarrassed, but at the same time, this is something I talked about a while ago with a straight friend, and we were joking about the lateness of your period coming and, and how that was a straight girl problem, not a gay girl problem. And, we were talking about the period process, from the egg being released and the period starting at all the stuff that happens. And I was very aware of how little I knew about my own body even, and that was terrifying. And I put some of that down to being gay and not needing to worry
about reproductive stuff in terms of getting pregnant or any of that kind of stuff. But it's made me think much bigger about how little women are taught about their own bodies and what the processes are. Do you think that menopause is a dirty word?
Mandy: Is menopause a dirty word? I think in a way, I think we need to re engage with it. So rather than it being a dirty word, I think we need to turn it into, it's a transition and it's hard while you're going through it, but there are definitely, as someone who's coming out the other side of it now, and I'm not completely free of it, but I'm definitely noticing changes.
Mandy: Um, As somebody coming out the other side, there are gifts to it. And I think when you're in any moment of transitional crisis, you can only see what you're in. It's only when you start coming out of it and start looking back with hindsight with it, that you think actually their were gifts, I just couldn't appreciate them at the time, and one of the gifts is I do feel,
I know me better. I do feel, I know my body better. I do understand that sometimes my body needs to rest and honour that, you know, that's important.
Cath: Have you found that honouring difficult to give yourself permission to do, because another thing is women is that there's always so much pressure on what we're meant to be achieving and what we should be doing, and women are very good at putting themselves last. So how have you managed that?
Mandy: I mean, one of the ways that I've managed that is to actually be really, really honest with myself and not try, you know, we all try to try to do self-care Cath and instead just thinking, actually what I really need to do is just do something that really gives me complete head space. For me at the end of the summer holidays, I just said to Simon, my husband. I said, I just need some space. And I just took myself off walking on
the coastal path for two days. No way I would've done that before I would have my, my, I have to be a mother and I have to be, you know, all of that stuff would have gone on. And I just know now that I can't, I have to gift time to replenish.
Cath: Absolutely and you're in this with him as a partnership and that partnership is, is the 50 50. Just because you're not there doesn't mean the world's going to collapse. Like you're not there, you will collapse. Like you need to look after yourself.
Mandy: Yeah and I think Simon would be the first one to say that if I'm asking that I need self-care, he thinks that's a good idea because he's had to live with the menopause too.
Cath: Poor man. Go, please. Just go. We'll be fine. Oh yeah. We've talked kind of around it being awful. But what I mean, what was your experience? You talked to me about some of the things that can
happen. What, like, just so listeners know what are the things that can happen and, and have you've experienced.
Mandy: Okay. So I've got this list here, which just for a laugh, we'll read it. It's from the internet. Good old internet. But, um, if I read it out and then I'll tell you what my sort of experience I was. So here's the list for you ladies? Uh, memory lapses, poor concentration, sleep disorders, fatigue, loss of libido, mood swings, depression, anxiety, loss of confidence, panic disorder, irritability, um, dryness, everywhere ladies, I have to say, just be honest. Um, Dry skin everywhere, but particularly you know, can cause great pain during sex, incontinence, joint pain, general aches and pains, breast pain, digestive changes, bloating, allergies, brittle nails,
skin, and dry hair loss, itching skin, a bit like, um, I've had moments where it feels like something's running over you, that sort of weird, weird thing. Palpitations, definitely have that one. Flustering heartbeat, weight gain, bloating and headaches. Um, obviously everybody's journey is different. I have got friends who have breezed through it absolutely not. I'm not needed HRT anything. They genuinely just breezed through it. I've got other friends who have had to work with trying different HRT regimes and finding something that suits them. Then there's been other friends like me, who can't, haven't been able to manage HRT and therefore have, you know, pretty much had to go through the menopause as it
presents and just sort of, you know, make the transition as best I can. Um, but for me, the biggest difficulty was the effect that it started having all my brain. That was super scary. I was with a friend who's 15 years younger than me and we taken, our boys out for a picnic in the New Forest and we take my little camper van and we get out there and all our stuff's in the back and I'm standing by the back of the van and she's just looking at me and after a while after probably like 40 seconds or something Cath, she just sits and she said, are you okay? I just started crying. I burst into tears, but just tears going down. And she said, what's happened? And I said, I don't, I don't know how to undo the boot of my car.
Cath: Gees, it's scary.
Mandy: Really scary. And it was just, everything had stopped by my brain didn't work.
It was really the weirdest thing. She laughed because she thought I was joking. And then I just, when she saw my face, cause she was kind of standing a bit behind me and she's like, oh my goodness and I was 'where's the latch?' I don't, I don't know. I've had, I've had the van like two years. When I told my husband really helped my husband to understand that what I was saying was I wasn't just having a few forgetful moments, but, but this was actually something a bit more serious. I made a cup of tea and thought, oh, I'd really like chocolate biscuit and so I put a chocolate biscuit on the plate, made my cup of tea, walked into my little dining room office bit, and there was a hot cup of tea and a biscuit already made.
Cath: Oh dear. That's quite a, in your face moment isn't it?
Mandy: And I just had no recollection of doing it, which must've been like five minutes before.
Yeah. What's the tea still hot? That was on, yeah. It was close enough that it scary enough that we should have remembered. Yeah.
Cath: What did you do?
Mandy: That was, that was the moment of which point I spoke to Si and we said, yeah, you know, really do have to go and see the GP and that's when she ran the hormone tests and said, you're peri-menopausal. Luckily I was really lucky because I had a locum GP who was an expert on menopause and I told her everything that was happening. And she said, obviously it could be early onset dementia, but actually, what's your saying to me, I think it's menopause.
Cath: Yeah. So how did you find the medical help and getting help with what you needed? Because there's an awful lot of horror stories out there of women really struggling. It sounds like you had quite a positive experience in that regard.
Mandy: Yeah, she was very, very helpful and I think she obviously said to me then, you know, we can do all the hormone tests and
there's things we can offer, and talked about HRT then, but on both sides of my family, there's breast cancer. This was a few years back before they had started talking about maybe the risk of breast cancer with HRT isn't quite as high as we thought it was but back then, and I just said, I'm not, I'm not going there. I just, I don't want to go there. Um, and what happened really Cath, is it's quite interesting is the doctor explained it to me that some women are hypersensitive to hormone changes. So you may notice that in your relationship when you're having your periods, you may notice that in terms of, if you have a baby, because the hormone fluctuations of having a baby. Some women will get postnatal depression, and some people won't, but can be due to the fact that they are finding the fluctuations of hormones, really tricky to manage. Um,
and some women will be the same with menopause and the doctor said that we all have this assumption that menopause you'll have all these hormone changes and then it slowly, slowly begins to dissipate
Cath: like a fairy tale....
Mandy: but actually for some women like me, what happened was I had a really, really horrible, horrible time where everything was going balmy. Then I had the time where partly, probably because I reduced a lot of stress. I wasn't working, where things began to stabilize a bit and then and my period stopped. And then, um, about a year ago it started again and it was just back there full on. Yeah. She said they don't know, some women will go in waves with it and some women will do a sort of, a bit more of a, a big thing and petering out, but there doesn't seem to be rhyme or reason to it.
Which is also probably why having these conversations is difficult because there's no blanket thing that there's such a variation and women can be stressed with family life. They could be busy at work that like just life generally, and you, you always can put down what you're feeling to other things that you're a bit tired and it might be just a bit of pre-menstrual tension and then suddenly you've realized that that it's getting worse. Because it can be subtle and slow, I think an awful lot of women remain not getting help for a very long time because, you can put it down to all kinds of other stuff.
Mandy: Absolutely. And also, I think we put it down to age rather than menopause. So we might say, you know, um, the ability to be able to hold a wee Cath is definitely not so good. But you put that down to the fact that I'm now a 57 year old woman, but actually
when I think about it, all started when I was peri-menopausal.
Cath: Yeah. Also if you're a woman who's had children, then there's all kinds of muscle weaknesses, so yeah. Yeah. There's so many things aren't there. It's just, it'd be nice. If you could just have a big box that said you are entering the menopause, and then you tick the box when you're done.
Mandy: Yeah. I think it is really hard and also, you know, we must have the conversation about as well about the women who are young, who they've had cancer or something. Part of their treatment is they now have to go into early menopause really, really tough because they're going to go through menopausal symptoms too, but nobody's expecting them to have them.
Cath: This is what's interesting, isn't it? That it's at your age, it's kind of expected and it's hidden, but if it happens when you're much younger, it's like doubly hidden and not talked about and
also I'm interested in the concept of shame as well, because I'm not saying that menopause is shameful by any stretch, but for women who identify as being a woman, like it's a very strong thing for them.
Cath: The changes in their body and what's happening to them is a huge adjustment anyway. And particularly if the way you see yourself and the way you project yourself in the way, then if you're in a heterosexual relationship, the way that men relate to you and if a lot of, a lot of your worth and who you are, is tied up in womanhood, but we've never been allowed to talk about menopause. So menopause doesn't exist within your womanhood, really, because it's not a subject we talk about, how on earth do women make that transition of kind of feeling like they're like, they're a sexual being, there they're worth something. If all of this horrible stuff is happening to them, there must be an awful lot of complex emotions going on around all that.
I absolutely think so and, um, you know, for a woman who's not particularly fashion conscious or beauty conscious, or, you know, I'm, I'm not, um, bit of a tomboy really. But you know, I've been talking to a couple of my friends and one of my friends said to me, have you noticed that we've become the invisible women? And I said, well, what do you mean? And she said, when was the last time a man letched at you? I laughed. And I just said, oh, actually I noticed a 70 year old man, we were just laughing. And I said, no, you're right. And she said, it's hard, doesn't it? Because it's not like we as women, we go, oh, we really like being letched at but actually you notice the absence of it, but nobody does a quick up and down look at you anymore. And so that, you know, it's really really hard because what does that mean?
And also what I've noticed you know, my hair is definitely dryer and it's harder to make it look nice. Um, not that that's a big, important thing for me, but if it is a big, important thing for you, that's really hard.
Cath: Yeah. But also things like there's such an external social image of what women should be and there's an awful lot of work being done about beauty market and modelling and all this stuff is such a kind of a false image. But, when people are out in public, they present their best self. So they've like plucked their chin hairs, they've beautified themselves. They've done all that stuff and so you don't see what women are really like, and then when it starts to happen, when you start to get chin hairs and, and dryness in places that you wish you didn't have dryness and all this kind of stuff, it just must make someone feel incredibly unattractive unsexual and trying to find what being a woman is, we don't talk about the crone era. Actresses talk about all the good roles go
Cath: [00:23:00] when they get to 45 50. There's this invisibility that needs to be talked about more.
Mandy: Absolutely. And it's just really, really tough, especially when you're feeling inside like, you know, everything's changing for you, you know, you can't rely on your body. Like you used to rely on it. You're getting very tired because you're not sleeping well. You know, I mean, hot flushes you know, I just found them a pain, but not really bad, but there's, you know, if I think back to how my mum used to have them, she'd literally, you could see like sheets of water going down her face, bless her. If you're standing up trying to do a presentation at work and that happens to you you know, that's, that's really, really tough. And then there's the other thing that, you know, goes along with all of this, is also our libido goes, I mean, I don't know where it goes, but it just packs its rocks back and goes. You know, I get excited now if I, I, if I'm in a shop or something and I see a good
looking man and I, I, my brain actually goes well, he's quite nice. And I think, still alive
Mandy: It, it just disappeared and it was really, really hard for relationships when that happens.
Cath: Yeah, I can imagine. And, and I mean, you don't need to tell me details, but that was something I wanted to ask you about is that it's easy to forget that it's just the woman who's affected and how did it impact your home life in that way then?
Mandy: Um, massively. So certainly, with my son. So he was, let me think he was about eight when I first started peri-menopause and I can remember me having to explain to him what was happening at that some days mommy would be a bit teary or mommy could be and a bit grumpy. Um, this is what's happening. And he said to me, oh, when I'm older, my girlfriend's not going to have any problem with her chemicals.
I really hope that's true. Um, my son and I we're very open
Mandy: with each other. We've rubbed along nicely with it really, but my, for my husband, who's incredibly supportive, I think he felt I no longer fancied him. He felt, what's our marriage then there suddenly was this this huge gap um, it
Cath: Makes you question everything, doesn't it? What is a marriage, is it just, does it have to have sexual relations? What are those things that make marriage and that's going to be different for everybody? Cause there'd be an awful lot of people that would be together whose idea of marriage is very, very different to someone else's and it's, whatever's important to you as a couple. Um, it's really hard.
Mandy: What was really hard is he's putting up with a woman whose mood swings could be quite dramatic and he's living with that and he's trying to support me as best he can and he was amazing cause he said, okay, well
we'll just have to tighten our belt if you're not working for a year. That's absolutely fine. I mean, he couldn't have been more supportive.
Cath: That's wonderful. Lovely.
Mandy: But the, I think for him to then feel that I didn't fancy him anymore.
Cath: It's like the last straw
Mandy: Yeah it was and, and there was, uh, there was rocky times, you know, there really was. I mean, we've come through it for which I am very grateful. You know, we really are a team, but yeah, I think you need to be a team. You need to have a conversation with your partner and sit down and say, these things are happening to me.
Mandy: And Simon said, you know, men need to understand what menopause is. They really do, because otherwise it can feel very much like they are the ones that are receiving the brunt of the mood swings and the stress and the tiredness and what's also happened to the women folk who used to manage everything and keep the house going and now they're like crumpled heap on the floor I thinking, I can't remember what I was doing.
And as a couple, you, I know when we've had tough times, you kind of feel like you can manage anything that's happening, like life stuff, as long as you're still together and your, you're a team, but when the cracks start to appear there, because how you are then makes him think something else, it's really scary and sitting and having a conversation, actually being very clear about letting him understand the symptoms in you are not necessarily what he thinks they are, and actually being very honest about what's happening. I think it's an incredibly important thing to the longevity and getting through all of this.
Mandy: Yeah and, and, you know, I finally, when I had my second sort of full on bout of menopause, um, decided to try HRT and I think Simon was very keen that I tried HRT, because I think he was really worried you know, how are we going to traverse this next stage to the point that I think our relationship at that point was so
fragile, that when I realized HRT was really not working for me, I didn't tell him that I stopped taking it because I can remember thinking, well, maybe he'll leave me if he thinks I'm not trying to work through the HRT. I felt completely numb Cath, it removed all the mood swings, but actually what it did would make me just feel like I, I was just like on some sort of auto pilot person, I didn't feel anything.
Cath: Like vegetable kind of.
Mandy: Like a vegetable yeah, but I got to a point where I just thought, you know, even feeling bad would be better than feeling nothing.
Cath: Yeah. That's really interesting isn't it? Even feeling bad would be better than feeling nothing. Yeah. That feels like, um, how I felt when I had depression and I was thinking about women who are experiencing the kind of a really difficult menopause, how many women actually don't make it and commit suicide. That mental stress must be enormous. And I did read
this week, someone was talking about the rates of suicide in women generally and they were talking about the rate being higher in this period of life. But it got me thinking about how far some people must be pushed and, and what are the outcomes of this?
Mandy: Yeah, I mean, I, I think, you know, I definitely, I did. I wasn't thinking I wasn't suicidal. I wasn't thinking about ways in which, I may leave this planet, but definitely, there were moments where I thought it would be better for everyone if I wasn't here.
Mandy: Definitely those thoughts were going on.
Cath: Um, and that's just, you desperately needing help, isn't it? You just want someone to take it all away and just make life better and, and just, just be looked after it's kind of an internal cry for help.
Mandy: Yeah, absolutely. And I think the one thing that really, really did help me which I wanted to
share with other women is that there was one day, where I woke up and I was back and it lasted about three weeks, but I was completely and utterly back, it was like I remembered how I used to be and my brain was working and I was firing and I was happy and then slowly and surely I felt the sort of fog come in again. And when that happened, I thought, oh, it is hormonal. Just knowing that. My body is doing something and
Cath: You're still in there.
Mandy: And now I can feel her coming back again and so I would say to anyone, who's struggling, you're going through a transition, which is being created by fluctuations of hormones. Hold fast, it will pass, do go and get help. Do reach out. You know, don't suffer on your own, but on the black black days,
remember that this will pass. You will come out the other side.
Cath: Yeah. And it's just lasting that distance.
Mandy: And last thing that I know that it isn't, you it's, it's the hormonal shift. Try, try to see it as that, you know, you are transitioning through a period of hormonal flux.
Cath: Yeah and when you get out the other side, it's going to be wonderful. Cause you're not having all the hormonal stuff and like a lot of us hanging to that time that you don't have to worry about it, period, every month.
Mandy: Oh God, I have to say, cause I do know some women who have said to me, they really miss that sort of monthly cycle. I don't.
Cath: Gosh. Who are they??
Mandy: Sorry. Oh God. That is definitely the silver lining.
Cath: Do they miss it because it's regular and it's predictable as opposed to,
Mandy: I think they, they missed. Yes. That's
sort of almost like missing the seasons. Do you know what I mean? If you, yeah, I know.
Cath: I'll be saying that one. I don't think that'll come out of my mouth. I'm just thinking though, as he was saying this, I mean, my, my wife has definitely gone through it because of surgical intervention with a hysterectomy, so I'll be doing it on my own in that regard, in terms of like, just the process happening physically but I was thinking about lesbian couples, how like your relationship and the stresses it put on, can you imagine lesbian couples going through it together? And how, I've never really explored that's how much that's talked about, but wow.
Mandy: I think that's a really, really important question to raise isn't it? I can remember at university, you know, sharing a house with four other girls and we're all having our periods and our PMTs all colliding. So it's the same.
Cath: A bit intense!
A bit intense! Yeah. So I guess, yeah, absolutely.
Cath: Do you think, um, or what do you think actually I wanted to ask is, do you think could be done to help men prepare for these years with their wives and partners?
Mandy: I think that really the biggest thing is for women to start understanding what's around the corner, more open conversation about it, and then going back to talk to their men folk, ideally before it happens, so,, you know, we might find that this is a walk in the park and I'm not really affected but...
Mandy: I could suddenly start having mood swings, or I could start having health implications and I'm going through the menopause and, you know, fatigue feeling really tired is one of them. And possibly that's because you're not sleeping well and boy the hot flushes tend to like, night time.
Mandy: I've talked to lots of friends, the hot flushes changed. They've changed for me during the whole journey, but
guaranteed, you will wake up and you'll think, why am I awake? And within about 30 seconds of hot flush will start. So it wakes you up. Well, I'm not woken up from feeling hot. I'm woken up thinking, why am I awake?
Cath: And then you're not coping even more in the daytime because you're tired and it's just completely layers and layers and layers.
Mandy: So I think a lot of partnerships find it quite difficult because they start sleeping separately. But that's a big thing that happens because the woman's just not sleeping. I know friends who've had sort of like twitchy legs syndrome definitely relating to it.
Cath: Is that part of menopause or perimenopause?
Mandy: It can be a thing. Yeah.
Cath: I get that hugely I've got massive restless legs and as you're talking, I've been wondering about me being peri menopausal cause there's other little things that you're talking about, but I get restless legs a lot and I've always, like we talked about, I've put that down to other things. I put that down to
tension in my body from exercise and muscles not being relaxed and, and it's always worse after I've done exercise, but I've definitely noticed it and I've definitely noticed sleep and some other things as well.
Mandy: Yeah, cause it's the dropping in estrogen, that makes us supple, makes our skin soft, makes our hair glossy, all of that and also makes our brain connections work. So when it drops, everything sort of goes to pot. And then the other thing that comes along with it is anxiety, you know
Cath: Anxiety's horrible.
Mandy: It's just vial and I've never had, I've had depression before in my life and I've had challenge, but I've never had anxiety and panic attacks. I only once, just after my mum died, I had some panic attacks. Um, but I think that was all around intense grief. Um, but I've never had anxiety.
Like I had losing my confidence feeling that I couldn't go back to work because, you know, how could I possibly, you know, stand up and do that for a workshop or,
Cath: uh, well, and as I said in the introduction, your you've won an award of the unsung hero volunteer of the year in 2019, and you'd have high to then what on earth is happening to me and I put a lot of story in my professional worth of who I am and it gives me a boost. It gives me a lot of my, my identity. And when, if that's then not there, it's all that reassessing of who you are and your worth I imagine as well. It's massive.
Mandy: Absolutely massive, but here's the gift Cath, let's take a stereotypical woman rather than me, but if I am not projecting my full beauty anymore, if I'm not projecting my full sexuality anymore, if I am not, a successful career woman in the same way that I was before, if I'm finding motherhood difficult, because I'm so grumpy and tired, who am I? 'Who am I?' is the
gift because it's really enabled me to start thinking. Yeah, actually, who is Mandy Preece? Who is that person, where are the gifts? You know, that coming out the other side, I can remember my mum saying to me, brilliant. She said to me, when you're in your twenties, you think, you know everything, but you know nothing. When you're in your thirties, she says it dawns on you that you know nothing and she's, that's quite tricky. When you're in your 40s she's saying, okay, I know I'm probably not going to know everything I thought I was going to know, but it doesn't matter. So it's okay. When you're in your fifties, you will go through the menopause and she said, it's throws up everything in your face and she said, when you reach your sixties and you know who you are.
Cath: Yeah, that's wonderful.
Mandy: So I've only got 3 years to go Cath! Have your right
Cath: I'll wait for your birthday and I'll knock on your door. I want your wisdom download.
I don't really like the word crone because it, it's not great, like spinster oh god, those words but I think, you know, there should be this big conversation about honouring these women who, you know, we've been through all of this that we're still showing up, showing up as women who've got this vast powerhouse behind us of coping strategies and wisdom that's come from having to be down in the dirt and fighting through.
Cath: Yeah. I wonder too the connections then with the invisibility and how, if we look at a patriarchal society, how women then when know who they are, they're potentially dangerous to the patriarchy... why there's a very good reason to keep us invisible.
Mandy: Well, yeah!
Cath: There's a lot of social stuff in that that fascinates me and it's no wonder that when you go to Glastonbury and just for people who aren't from the UK, the Glastonbury is a very kind of
spooky spiritual town here in England, that the people that are there that are doing courses are middle-aged women, forties, fifties, finding themselves there. These life things have thrown up..... menopause and it's a massive transition time.
Mandy: Yeah and it's really interesting cause I can remember hearing, um, a lady from the Sioux tribe, a Native American talking about how her tribe would have raised women. So they were raised to believe that they were at the strongest on day two of their period. That's how they're raised. You are in your absolute prime. You are so strong and when you go through the menopause, I know.
Cath: I'm only laughing cause I feel like shit on day two.
Mandy: Absolutely, because we're told aren't we, from little, that periods are debilitating, which they are. I mean, let's be honest. They hurt, the physical
Cath: I love that though.
Mandy: Yeah. And then she said, when you get to menopause, that
period of your life is honoured and we all understand that you're transitioning and she said, when you come out and you have the side of it, then you are the wise woman of the tribe. You were one of the elders and it's celebrated. Wouldn't that be nice?
Cath: Absolutely. Yeah. It's yeah, it is fascinating isn't it, like on the one hand, there's just surviving the physical side of it and the emotional side and then when you really start to have a conversation like this, you look at the, the social and cultural aspects that all come into it and internal questioning and it's like literally becoming a new person. It's completely new person in many ways with kind of traces of who you were before, but a much stronger self, I guess.
Mandy: Yeah, if you'd said this to me, you know, a few years ago, I would have said, no, it's shit.
Cath: At that point,
But now I'm beginning to think oh, okay. I can see, I see that there's strengths behind me that I didn't realize was there before.
Cath: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, exactly. You talk about that Sioux woman, um, makes me think I've seen quite a lot recently, a lot of petitions, um, on change.org and places like that, where there's, pushes to get menopause talked about much more in the curriculum in schools.
Cath: And I know there's been some changes recently, um, but get it brought into, uh, the kind of life sex, education, wellbeing, whatever that that course is called to start that conversation much earlier so that it's not a surprise.
Mandy: Absolutely, what I think will be interesting for me as I go forward now is thinking about, you know, when we talk about menopause, um, we talk about all the tricky stuff, but we're not then balancing that out with, well, there's also some gifts underneath of those of this.
So I think it is about having a balanced conversation and saying they're are things that come out of it that are good and it'd be interesting to get your listeners to, you know, to comment on that have they been through, it feel that they were gifts or was that not the case for them? You know, I think we do need to have these conversations. My heart goes out to the younger women, you know, I think you don't want to be going through menopause when you're young, that's just horrible but you know, perhaps the silver lining might be that they find out who they are quicker and
Cath: Yeah absolutely. Yeah. I think I shared with you a, um, a wonderful scene that I'd watched, that was in the show, Fleabag where Kristin Scott Thomas' character talks and she's talking wonderfully about menopause and she talks about how awful it is, but then how wonderful is that at the end and I remember just loving watching the scene cause it
was really powerful, but I was also very curious in my reaction. I was aware that my body felt slightly uncomfortable and shocked that as I was watching it and I was trying to work out why, and I realized that it was just that it was not something that I very frequently saw on TV. It it's just not in our everyday and people are talking about it more, but like you say, if younger women are having these experiences, which might be, painful for them being so early, maybe, maybe if it's just out there more and people were talking about it, like on that TV show, then there's power in visibility and it just that's what will help change society and help people's awareness.
Mandy: Yeah I think you're right. I think it's really important. I think Davina McCall's done some really good work around that you know, and I love the fact that she's so honest. I think that's just liberating for so many people, but yeah, I think we all need to be having
conversations about it and like you say, with the men folk too and talking about how, you know, it's part of aging, it's part of getting older, but it's also part of our womanhood and we need to understand that
Cath: I was talking to someone actually on Saturday night. We were talking about menopause policies in workplaces and the difference it makes when the policymakers have a woman's input. And we were talking about how, uh, she'd seen a policy that talks about that women were allowed a day off a month leading up to perimenopausal but also just in having periods and talking about how the policy actually said, it was a bit of a tongue in cheek joke but also saying that chocolate would be available and just that little line in there shows that someone sees you. And I think if we can bring these things into our everyday living on all areas of our lives, it just helps raise awareness
more. And I mean, I used to take days off from work when I had period and regardless of whether my boss was a man or a woman, I would say first day period, and I feel appalling and I can't come in and I was always honest about it, because I thought, I'm not hiding this stuff, it's too important.
Mandy: Yeah and I know there's been some good work done through the police as well. There's been a few high profile women who have risen up the ranks and then really struggled with menopause who've made some big changes and I think the police have been driving some changes, certainly like, you know, the availability to have showers if you've had, you know, a massive hot flush out, you know, and to be able to go and change a uniform or whatever, um, it was really important.
Cath: Yeah, I've never thought about that.
Mandy: I think for me, one of the biggest things was trying to get through travelling to a workshop, teaching all day and then going home and thinking about, wow, I've had four hot flushes. Have I perspired too much? You know, how much deodorant can one person wear?
Seriously, I've got to the point where I was buying identical clothes, Cath so I change at lunchtime.
Mandy: I don't think I ever was, you know, odorous, but in my head I was clammy and felt uncomfortable and I needed to be changed.
Cath: You just feel grotty regardless of whether you smell them.
Mandy: Yeah. Yeah, exactly and also, somebody said to me, it's not embarrassing if you end up with wet patches under your arm. And I think it's, so is I'm sorry, that's not how I want to be standing up in front of a group of people presenting the workshop.
Cath: But that's also still the social standards, isn't it all the time. It might be embarrassing, but it's also something that we deem as embarrassing when actually there shouldn't be that judgment all the time and there shouldn't be the space where we need to feel embarrassed. That's what I don't like. There's nothing wrong with feeling embarrassed, but it's going back a step from that for me and wanting to question why we do in the first place
Mandy: For sure. I think probably because your
body changes so quickly, it feels like you'd go from somebody who could just stand up in front of everyone and present, to somebody who's standing up in front of everyone, dripping and forgetting your words. I mean, the worst, the worst possible thing anyone can do to a menopausal woman who's presenting a workshop is to ask two questions rolled into each other because I can guarantee I'll only remember the first one.
Cath: I hope I've managed to ask single questions
Mandy: Because I'll just think what was the other one?
Cath: But also it ends up being more expensive that like you buying double outfits. That's just bonkers, but you can see why you would. I was thinking about people who live in countries who have no access to help. So women that are going through this without medical help and they haven't got money or there's poverty and even in this country whoever you are, whatever rank of position you hold or anything like that, you as a woman still want to go into your job or your life, whatever you do and
feel complete and comfortable in yourself. And some people can do that and others can't. There's the finances that goes with that, that if you're massive high fly international kind of big person, then you've probably got a salary to match being able to do that, but the average person who doesn't have the money, it must be incredibly stressful working out what to do and how to manage your life day to day.
Mandy: I know so many women have had to give up work. So many women who just can't manage their jobs, you know? A lady spoke to me who was one of my son's teachers and she just said to me, I'm going to have to give up because she said, I just can't hold everything in my head anymore and I can't cope with the busy-ness of the classroom.
Cath: Do you think that there's an awful lot of women going into a retirement much earlier than they would ideally want to and they don't ever go back?
Mandy: Yeah. Not my close group of friends, but I know four women in
my circle who have had to make that decision.
Cath: And then you think about the impact in terms of people getting a state pension and it's getting pushed back at 67 and if you've had to stop at 55 or 50, it's like, what do you do? Particularly, if you're a single woman, if you're not in a relationship with somebody and you're on your own. Hung out to dry... I guess there's also a lot of women who just keep pushing through because they have no choice and end up much more struggling, and hating what they do and just not enjoying life because of how difficult it is.
Mandy: Yeah. Yes. And I think, I think that is a big part of it is if we, as women don't share and talk about this and we haven't got the support network to get us through because you really do need a support network and there will be women who will say, you know, well, just take HRT or just do this and you'll be fine or start taking whatever sage tablets work for me and everything and that's, that's
fine. But we also have to understand that for all of us, it will be different experience. And I think it's much more helpful if we all say we are going through a transition, how can I help you in yours and what works for me because everybody's different.
Cath: Think of it as a sisterhood too.
Mandy: Yeah. It's a sisterhood thing. I will say one thing, Cath I think, you know, for anyone out there, I started relying on sugar and chocolate as my go to coping strategy. Yeah. It definitely whether it may does the things worse I don't know, but it definitely made the hot flushes worse.
Mandy: Yeah. I can guarantee that sugar, there is definitely a relationship between sugar and hot flushes for me.
Cath: That's just cruel.
Mandy: Isn't it? That's just, that's like God's having a laugh.
Cath: It's like shoot me now and then shoot me again just to check I'm dead. Oh, that's awful.
Mandy: Thank God for tea, that's all I say. Yeah. So one of my coping strategies was
I definitely have my cup of tea and my chocolate biscuit and my treats in the morning because I don't want to make the hot flushes at night worse. So I say to people, if you love your glass of wine, have it, when you get home from work, don't have it like nine o'clock because that might experiment with it. Are your hot flushes, worse because of any sort of sugar intake later on in the evening. I definitely have done practices with myself. I can see the difference. So that'd be interesting for your listeners. Have other people noticed that sugar definitely has an effect?
Cath: Yeah. Interesting. I was thinking too, in terms of support and the kind of sisterhood, I read somewhere that a woman was running a menopause cafe in the same way that you do death cafes. Have you ever been to one or thought of running a menopause cafe cause I know you've been involved with death cafes.
Mandy: I did think about running a menopause cafe and then I thought
all I'll do is talk about myself. Maybe I'm not there yet.
Cath: I've still got an issue I need to resolve.
Mandy: I think it's a really good idea. I think it probably needs someone to run it who can say I understand what you're going through now I promise you, with support and sisterhood and looking at diet and stuff like that, it can be easier than it is now. And it will pass. You know, I love it when women say to me, oh, you're almost through it. You know, the average, when people have talked to me, the average people have said, it's about 10 years. I've decided I'm not doing 10 years. I've
Cath: You've decided.
Mandy: I've decided yeah. Seven years is long enough thank you.
Cath: That was going to be one of my last questions actually was how long did it last for you? What is this time span?
Mandy: We're on year seven. I'm determined, but I am just going to kick it's
butt this year. That's it. Done.
Cath: On that note then, I know you kind of joking, but there's also kind of serious as well. Um, do you believe it's possible to make horrendous experiences like these happen more smoothly. I know there's all the help and the things that you've talked about, but is there anything else that would help prepare people? Or is it just this is biology, we just have to get through it. Is there anything else that would have helped you that you didn't have access to?
Mandy: The biggest thing I would say to any women experiencing it is go with your gut. If you feel you wake up some mornings and you feel like I just want to be on my own, can you create that space for yourself at some point during your day, can you do that? If you feel I really, really need somebody to help me to get out of my head then get a group of girlfriends together or, you know, go to the pub with
mates, have a laugh, do something, you know, clears your head you know, I think what happens for lots of women is as menopause hits and we're less able to cope with every day and all the challenges of every day, we just try harder and harder and harder and the self-care care, or I don't really like self-care as much as self nurture, the nurturing goes out the window and becomes very, very small and the only, only way that I found is to turn that around and think this is non-negotiable, my time. I have to give some time to myself. Whatever that looks like. So sometimes that'll look actually I'm going to eat a huge piece of chocolate cake. That's going to make me feel better, or I'm going to go for a walk or I'm going to have a laugh, or I'm going to reach out to friends or whatever it is. But the important thing is to do it and to recognize, keep reminding yourself, you
are going through a transition. You are creating, think of yourself as a teenager. You know, when teenagers, as they slow down and can't talk properly because they're creating new, amazing brains, you're doing the same thing you're telling yourself, you're doing that. You're creating a whole new you. Find her on the other side.
Cath: Yeah. That's a wonderful way of looking at it that you're growing, finding a new, you. And although it's challenging, it's going to be amazing as well.
Mandy: Yeah. I keep telling myself that now Cath. Really helps.
Cath: I think it does. And I think you talk about self nurturing as well. I've had periods of my life where similarly, I was just not paying attention to myself and getting more and more tired and not kind of happy with things. And what helped for me was I thought if I was in a job and I had a meeting with my boss, no way I would let that boss down and not turn up to that meeting. So why am I not turning up for myself? And I decided that I
actually started to make meetings for myself and meeting with myself was going to the gym, going and sitting in a coffee shop, doing some drawing or something for me. And it really helped. It actually took the emotion out of it and made it just something I had to do in my day, but it then fed me emotionally in a way that it didn't before.
Mandy: That's a great idea.
Cath: I found that really powerful and I just wanted to say that in companion to what you talked about, because I think looking after ourselves and not being too hard and just realizing it's a process and that you will come out the other side, is a really nice way to finish.
Mandy: It's beautiful. I like that. I'm going to have me meetings now. I love that.
Cath: It's really important because it's too easy just to give up on yourself and oh no, I've got to do this, go to that and there's no way I do that with a boss at work. You'd be too frightened. You've got to bring out your inner bitch like that's going to get you in trouble if you don't.
You're in a bitch to really come out in menopause.
Cath: Well thank you so much, Mandy. I've really enjoyed this conversation. I wasn't sure at the beginning, whether we would be very serious or jokey and that's one of the things I love about you is there's a seriousness and, uh, an authenticity to everything that you do, but also doing it with a sense of humour, because if, if you don't, you'd cry. But thank you so much for sharing and please thank your husband and son for allowing you as well to, talk about their stories and I'm very grateful for your time and to the listeners, I really hope that this has been helpful. And I hope if anything, that it makes you feel a bit more seen, even if it just you're having a crappy day and it gives you a boost to think, right? Yeah. I can keep doing this. Not that you really have a choice. I'm sorry. But,
but yeah, but yeah, no, thank you very much Mandy.
Mandy: Thank you, Cath and thank you for what you're doing here. It's just brilliant. These podcasts I have found really, really helpful. So, yeah. Thank you.
Cath: Fantastic. Thank you very much. You've been listening to Drawn to a Deeper Story with Cath Brew.