Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.
This is an inspirational quote that I look at every day as I have it sitting on my desk.
In February 2015, I am sitting in my doctor’s surgery in floods of tears, I am exhausted, emotionally and physically drained. I cannot understand why I am feeling this way as I am not ill.
I am a 47-year-old Police Officer with 27 years’ service within the Ministry of Defence Police and have always been physically active with a strong positive outlook.
Yet for six months I have known something isn’t right. Instead of waking up refreshed, I am physically exhausted due to getting up at least five times per night to change my PJs and bed as I am drenched in sweat. At work, I become emotional, crying at the slightest thing, mood swings are an everyday occurrence, I have started having cognitive lapses and instead of going home for a run or to walk my dogs I am sleeping on the couch. Even my periods are going crazy, despite being on the pill and having the Mirena coil inserted, I am bleeding for over half of the month.
So here I am, sitting with my GP, feeling ridiculous crying over everything, telling her my woes and symptoms when she gently says:
Lesley, you are peri-menopausal.
I look at her and cry: “I’m too young to be menopausal, l I’m only 46!”
After a long consultation we decide that HRT is not the way for me, and although holistic remedies are raised, my GP cannot guarantee that they would work for me. So, prescription in hand for Clonidine (a drug that is more commonly used for high blood pressure which I don’t have, but is also recommended for hot flushes) I head out of the surgery thankful and relieved that I am not mad or ill, but also feeling very down that I am menopausal. I go home and cry for two days.
I return to work and ask for a meeting with my line manager (who is a male Sergeant). I explain to him through a flood of tears that I am peri-menopausal and that I have been prescribed Clonidine, which restricts me in my duties as a firearms officer.
He is understanding but informs me that I shall be put on to an unsatisfactory performance review due to the medication, and will be referred to our Occupational Health department, as the side effects of the medication (drowsiness) are restricting my capability as a firearms officer. Again I cry, I feel overwhelmed.
Not only is my body changing but I am being told my professional role is in jeopardy because I am going through the menopause, a natural hormonal change in life! I ask if there is any guidance or policy or support in place for menopausal women in the Force, to which he replies no. I am then referred to Occupational Health, which also has no policy on menopause; they ask if I am suffering from stress or anxiety. I explain that I am emotional due to a hormonal change called the MENOPAUSE!
So I have a choice:
Do nothing and get on with it, as working in a male-dominated environment, the menopause isn’t taken into account.
So, change it is.
Firstly I contact my Police Federation to ask the Force why there is no guidance or support in place for the menopause, and why a woman at a certain stage in life is subject to performance review. The answer is that I am the first officer in the Force to raise the issue of the menopause!
Then it is research, research, and research. To make change happen, I have to raise awareness on the menopause in a positive and pro-active way.
It quickly becomes apparent that this is still a taboo subject in society and even more so in a police force. I had to tackle this head on.
I contacted companies and health professionals to learn about the subject and to gather information leaflets and samples of products to trial. Our Police Federation asked me to make a presentation on the menopause at our Police Federation Conference in June 2015. This is progress! It feels like support.
However, it is also daunting – less than 10% of the audience is female and I am talking about vaginal dryness, hot flushes and osteoporosis accompanied by a slide show.
I also have a stall with posters and literature regarding menopause symptoms and relief, and I am pleased to see male officers reading, taking away information and asking questions.
The Police Force is a male-dominated environment and it would not have been unreasonable of me to assume that the subject of the menopause would not be taken seriously… Would it be the butt of jokes? Would it make my job more difficult? But thankfully it has caught everyone’s attention and started everyone talking about the menopause – including our Chief Constable, who’s in the audience.
Also due to proactively raising awareness about the menopause, I now have male officers asking me for information for themselves, their wives or partners, which is encouraging, as it opens up the conversation between men and women, and from understanding comes support. This is also helping other women not to feel isolated within the workplace.
Following the conference, I am asked to become part of the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group (DIWG) for the Force, with my strand being the menopause.
I start off in the DIWG by laying the foundations for Force guidance on the menopause; I then approach various companies for more free samples and information of their menopause products.
In August I attend the International Association of Women in Policing (IAWP) in Cardiff, which is attended by women police officers from around the world representing their Force. This is where I meet Kathryn Colas who is part of the British Menopause Society (BMS); she conducts a very informative menopause workshop. I have never seen so many women coming together to talk about this subject, all of whom felt they had been alone and isolated at this time of life. At the end of this workshop the room is buzzing with women exchanging stories.
Excited and inspired, I then attend the BMS conference where again I learn so much not just from the speakers but from the companies promoting their products that aid the symptoms of the menopause.
I suggest to the Force that we do our own survey and make packs with menopause information and samples of products available to our female officers; this is met with enthusiasm from all. So we produce a Force Order inviting female officers to participate in a trial of various menopausal products with accompanying information leaflets and feedback forms with the support of the companies involved. The response is overwhelming and very positively received. I also source 100% cotton police uniform tops, which is a more breathable fabric instead of nylon tops for females to help with the hot flushes, and it becomes available.
The main messages that I wish to get out to our officers is that self-help plays a key role with menopause symptoms, including:
I am still at the beginning of my menopause journey and my body is still adjusting to the changes in hormonal depletion. Some days are emotionally and physically better than others but thankfully through the support of my husband and the research I have done, I am more prepared for this stage in life now.
If the subject of the menopause was more proactively discussed and embraced as in some cultures, then I think that more women would feel that the change in life is a positive new chapter not to be feared. I feel that the knowledge I have gained through research has empowered me as a female to take action in a positive way and to accept that getting older is good, with age comes wisdom and experience!
I am learning to accept that when I am fatigued I go with it and rest, and when I feel emotional I cry. I have tried mindfulness and some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques, which I find helpful. I have now accepted that I am going through the menopause and look on it as a new but emotional stage in my life. We all evolve in life and this is just another part of my evolution.
My mission now is to educate and promote the menopause in a positive way and to assure women that there is support out there for them, also to educate the workplace that changes may have to be made for some female officers as the menopause affects each woman in a different way.
We as a Force are near completion of our Force Guidance on the Menopause and hope to have this published by December 2015. There is still work to be done within the Police Force especially regarding changing the Unsatisfactory Performance Policy that some women are being put on due to menopause symptoms.
Women should be supported not be penalised for going through this natural stage in life. I am still being prescribed Clonidine for the foreseeable future as it has controlled the hot flushes considerably and I have had to weigh up the side effect of the medication to the quality of life I had before it.
This is a condition that shall not last forever. I refuse to give into the stigma attached to the menopause and actively say it is ok to have a bad day and not to feel ashamed. I am still subject to the UPP and I am still angry at this, but through channelling my anger into being proactive for change give me strength.
I also I hope to have a support network in place for both male and female officers who are suffering the effects of the menopause, but change takes time and we have achieved so much in nine months.
I am also fortunate that I have had the support from my husband, doctor and individual colleagues as well as the Force itself. I didn’t know if that would be the case when I began to create a pro-menopause environment, but I am glad that I made the decision to try.
Lesley Hill is a firearms officer with 27 years’ service in the Ministry of Defence Police. When she discovered that an array of distressing symptoms were caused by her reaching the menopause, she found herself without guidance in a male-dominated environment and facing the prospect of being put into a procedure for under-performance through no fault of her own. So Lesley, 47 embarked on a mission to change the way the menopause was perceived and handled within the Force….with encouraging and inspirational results.