Managing the menopause at school: your stories
For World Menopause Day we hear from a teacher and headteacher about how the menopause (and perimenopause) has impacted both their mental health and wellbeing and their ability to do their job.
Articles / 3 mins read
Teaching and menopause
When I first started to have symptoms of the menopause, I had the classic hot flushes. I negotiated getting access to a fan in each room I taught in. That was tricky as I teach a practical subject and so I’m on my feet monitoring pupils and often doing demonstrations. I felt really self-conscious, often becoming very hot and sweaty at the drop of a hat - sometimes until my hair was dripping with perspiration.
As things developed I inevitably ended up with my periods becoming more and more erratic, and very heavy and painful when they did make an appearance. This was very difficult to manage in a school setting with very little privacy.
I went for a promotion and got part way through an interview with the headteacher and the chair of governors, until I completely fell to pieces. I was asked by the head the next day what had happened and I couldn't tell him. It wasn't that I was embarrassed, it was just that I really didn't understand it myself.
A few days passed and I spoke to another senior manager who suggested that perhaps my menopause symptoms were the cause of what happened during the interview. I remember saying "I feel like I am going crazy, I don't know what I am doing some days". That senior leader told me about how she had felt completely lost, confused, and that she was losing her mind - until she realised that it was the menopause that was causing her to feel that way. That one conversation really helped me, because I know that it isn’t just me experiencing these challenges.
"When my symptoms change, I talk to my line manager and the senior leader in charge of wellbeing to express how they are affecting me at work."
Since then I have been a lot kinder to myself at work. When my symptoms change, I talk to my line manager and the senior leader in charge of wellbeing, to express how they are affecting me at work.
I have been lucky that I have very supportive colleagues and managers. I had a hot flush in a meeting recently and continued talking while everyone else in the room saw me go from a normal colour to very flushed with wet hair in a couple of minutes. The person in charge of the meeting stopped and said that he had never actually seen someone experience a hot flush before, and it was quite humbling to see me just carry on as if nothing was happening. But what else can I do? I am trying to remain professional and take it in my stride.
Headship and menopause
I have just turned 52 and have been a head for 12 years. I was diagnosed as being perimenopausal in 2019 at the age of 49 - obviously I was adamant that I was far too young!
I don’t like to admit that I was totally uneducated about menopause and perimenopause, but it just hadn’t really been on my radar.
At the beginning of 2020, I found that on top of forgetfulness, I started to have the dreaded hot flushes at night, which impacted on how much sleep I was getting. I was also suffering with chronic diarrhoea, sometimes for weeks on end and I endured all sorts of investigations over many months, all of which were inconclusive. Since then I have educated myself on gut-health and perimenopause – who knew they could be linked?
The real climax came with the crippling anxiety that I started to feel at all times of day and night. I spent hours questioning my ability to do my job, be a good mum, partner and friend – I felt like I couldn’t do anything anymore and felt that I had lost who I really was.
After a particularly stressful day, I went home to bed and literally stayed there for days. I am incredibly lucky to have an amazing GP who recognised all the signs of perimenopause and burnout all in one heady mix!
"The real climax came with the crippling anxiety that I started to feel at all times of day and night."
I ended up having almost 6 months out of school as it took me so long to recover – going into our first lockdown shortly afterwards did not help the process. Cognitive Therapy, HRT patches, anti-depressants and sharing stories with my female friends helped me back to the old me. The last piece of the process was endometrial ablation which I had in August 2022, as I was still suffering from heavy periods that I was hospitalized for and that went on forever – my record was 16 weeks.
The good news is I have not had a period for over 2 months, I can remember things that I was told yesterday, my anxiety only pops up now and then and can be easily controlled, and sleep is my new super-power.
If I can give you any advice – go to your GP when your symptoms first start to affect your quality of life and do not be afraid to take medication and accept the help that you need.
How we can help
Despite the numbers of people going through the menopause in the education sector, many people have no awareness of what’s involved. This has led many women to hide symptoms and to avoid asking for help. Read our guide to find out:
- What is the menopause?
- What are the symptoms?
- How to look after yourself if your experiencing menopause
- How to look out for colleagues
- What school leaders can do to support staff effectively
If you are struggling with the menopause and your mental health and wellbeing is being negatively impacted, please call our free and confidential helpline on 08000 562 561.