1 in 3 employers do not feel equipped to support their employees going through the menopause, according to a recent survey from Acas. In this article, Detective Constable Keeley Mansell, Nottinghamshire Police shares her experience with the menopause and how this helped shape Nottinghamshire Police’s menopause strategy.

Keeley’s Experience with Menopause

Menopause wasn’t something I ever thought about until I suddenly noticed my body changing when I was just 37 years old. Before this menopause to me was a myth, something that happened to the older generation. The impact it has had on my life and career, has been severe and it still is impacting my life at present.

I am proud to be a serving police officer and have been for 20 years. For the majority of these years, I have worked in a busy Public Protection Department in various safeguarding roles.

My menopause journey started with my periods changing. I noticed I was having irregular bleeding and it wasn’t just light bleeding I was experiencing.

Interviewing a suspect sometimes meant endless hours of sitting in the same position, and when you have sat with your legs crossed it can be quite awkward to get up, leaving a room knowing and feeling that you have literally been flooding.

This was just the beginning. Then brain fog started to creep in, I found myself forgetting the words I wanted to say midway through sentences. It felt like a mist in my head that I just couldn’t clear. I started to lack concentration and was constantly exhausted, almost as if the energy had been zapped from me. Trying to describe this to others made me feel like a broken record on repeat. The number of times I was saying how tired I felt started to grate on me never mind everyone else.

I found I was gaining weight around my middle, I didn’t feel like anything I put on to wear fitted and I felt so emotional. Waves of emotion would just come over me and the tears would just flow, in the most inconvenient places. I had no control and would feel so embarrassed by the sudden onset of tears I couldn’t stop from happening. These outbursts ashamed me, the way I had no control over them. I was a professional, working in a professional environment.

I felt so lonely and isolated even though I have an amazing support network. Unless you live through it you can’t describe to others how you feel.

What’s Changed in the Public Perception of Menopause?

In 2013 when I started my menopause journey, the conversations we are having today were just not happening.  I was willing to share my experience with anyone who would listen. I found this helped in some strange way that I was trying to convince others I was not going mad even if I didn’t make much sense.

On a routine visit to the GP Surgery, I spoke to the practice nurse saying how unwell I was feeling and she suggested I should have a blood test to rule out Menopause. Even now, I remember coming out of her office thinking I was too young for that to be happening.

A few days later, I received a call from the GP as they wanted to see me. The conversation was with a male doctor started along the lines of “How many children have you got? You don’t want any more do you? Because I’m afraid you are going through the menopause!”

The doctor confirmed I had no oestrogen left in my body and this was the cause of why I was feeling so fatigued and not myself.  They advised me to start taking Hormoe because of my age and that he would be referring me to a specialist.

I didn’t really know how serious this Menopause stuff could be nor did I think 9 years later I would still be having the same conversations with my GP.

My Experience with Hormone Replacement Therapy

I thought HRT was supposed to be a miracle drug, I’m going to be a new superwomen, run marathons, have glowing skin and flowing hair. More importantly I would be me again…life and soul of the party!

How wrong.

After a few weeks, on HRT it made me feel like I had been hit by a bus. The tiredness again took over, brain fog came and went, words would get mixed up, I couldn’t think straight and the depression started to sneak in, I started to get anxious about leaving the house and going to work. I wanted to hide away from the world. I was no longer confident.

I had a constant battle with my head saying get up and fight whilst my body would tell me not to, instead, sleep, stay in bed and hide away. I had this constant feeling of anxiousness for no real reason.

How Menopause impacted Keeley’s Professional Life

This happened at the worst time too. Promotions were out in the police which in 2013, only happened once in a while. I had worked so hard to gather my evidence, pass exams and assessments. It was the time to prove to senior managers I was a good leader, yet the nagging voice in my head was at war with this. It would question “how can I pass an interview when words don’t come out or they come out mixed up?”

How can I present myself as a viable candidate when I have no confidence? In the police there’s no room for error, you have too much competition and they didn’t have hormones to contend with. You have too much competition and they don’t have hormones to contend with. I gave up really before I started!

I chose to not go for promotion which was a huge decision for me at the time, since I had worked hard for it. I just knew it wouldn’t have been possible for me to lead a team with what I was going through, it would have been unfair to both the team and the organisation at large. Plus it was more important for me to get my health sorted.

Her ongoing journey with HRT

As months went on, I tried numerous HRTs, patches and tablets. Nothing worked. I would take them for few weeks and new side effects would appear. The headaches had now become migraines, and the feeling of not wanting to get out of bed in the mornings was now a permanent aspect of everyday life.

I felt like a different person. I once desired a promotion, however at the time, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a police officer anymore. I had doubts that I was able to do the job I once loved, and this was because of the impacts menopause was having on my life.

My concentration levels were at an all-time low too. I would spend afternoons staring at my computer screen pretending I was fine when really inside I was having the battle of my life to keep my eyes open and wear a smile. The hot sweats would make an appearance too. I felt like my whole body was on fire and steam was coming from my ears. 

The Effect Menopause had on Keeley’s Mental Health

At this point, I didn’t recognise the woman in the mirror, the impact it was having on my mental health was huge, and I had some very dark thoughts. Balancing menopause, shift work, the impact of the medication I was on and everything else in life took its toll. I had to give into my body and went on sick leave, letting the hormones win for a short time.

Being off work gave me the opportunity to rest, but then the guilt set in as I felt like I needed to be at work helping my team.

After a few months off of work, where I tried a new course HRT patches and anti-depressants,  eating healthily and exercising, I was hopeful that I was on the way to recovery. This was very short-lived. Every time I would get rid of one symptom, it would be replaced with another. There was never any break from the cycle, but I continued trying. 

Developing a Menopause in the Workplace Policy

At this time, I was back in the workplace and just felt isolated and lonely. I had a great support network in place but felt like no one really understood how unwell menopause can make you feel. This led me to start researching what support was available for women in the workplace, especially those working shifts.

I was shocked to find there was no guidance or policy to aid women at this time in their lives. Perhaps, this is because such guidelines were not needed until now, but with women working longer, it appeared to be on peoples’ agendas. However, nobody wanted to raise it as an issue in the workplace.

I wanted to press pause on my life. I felt I was missing out on a lot because of my hormones. It’s like a deep dark hole that you cannot get out of, I didn’t want to be menopausal. Really, all I wanted was to have the life I had before back, the time before dodgy hormones took over.

The Nottinghamshire Police Menopausal Policy

There is some good from everything I went through though, due to my research and perhaps my stubbornness to not give up, I designed a menopausal policy for Nottinghamshire police. The organisation went on to commit to this policy, formally publishing it in 2017, becoming the first organisation nationwide to introduce a policy which supports Menopausal women in the workplace.

The official policy includes measures such as easier access to showers and a lighter uniform for officers for women having hot flushes and more flexible working hours for those experiencing fatigue. It’s also been part of a culture shift, giving people an opportunity to talk about menopause and get the support they need in the workplace.

This is an achievement I’m proud of. I did this all whilst battling with the symptoms I have discussed in this piece. The policy was not just for me though, with it, others can also feel safe and supported in the workplace.

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1 in 3 employers do not feel equipped to support their employees going through the menopause, according to a recent survey from Acas. Keeley Mansell, Detective Constable, Nottinghamshire Police shares her experience with the menopause and how this helped shape the constabulary's menopause policy.

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