Schools are places for learning – for the adults in them as well as for the children and young people. Those adults tend to believe in the value of learning and enjoy it – that’s how they came to be there in the first place!
But menopause? One of the reasons that menopause merits a school’s attention is that until recently it was a subject that was rarely discussed. And while for some of us, it feels as if that conversation is everywhere – for others, it really isn’t.
It’s that lack of information – and the fact that the information that we do come across, on social media for example – may not be reliable means that perimenopause can remain undiagnosed or be mistreated.
Perimenopause is weird. It shows up in different ways. It’s often assumed that it’s all about missed periods and hot flushes. But what if it’s about chronic memory loss and menstrual flooding? Or joint pain? Crazy allergies? Rage? What if it’s mistaken for anxiety or depression? It happens a lot.
Doctors often do not spot perimenopause so it’s important we recognise it for ourselves. Sometimes we’re lucky and someone drops a hint at the right time. But even when there’s a close personal relationship, those conversations can go horribly wrong – so it’s really not a great idea in a professional situation.
So schools need to make sure staff have reliable information about perimenopause and menopause, empower them to identify what’s going on and take appropriate action.
But what about those who aren’t there yet? There may be a few for whom it’s closer than they think. Those first signs frequently show up in our late thirties or early forties – and for some, it can be much earlier or happen as a consequence of surgery or medical treatments. Knowing what’s coming means that we know what to look out for – and how to enter that phase of our life in as healthy a way as possible.
The rest of the staff also need to have an understanding and awareness of what their colleagues might be experiencing. We all live and work alongside people experiencing menopause and perimenopause.
The menopausal transition can cause very particular issues in school. For example, it can be very difficult to get to the toilet when we need to – and when we have sensitive bladders or unpredictable menstrual bleeding then we can need to get to the toilet in a hurry! We may need a little help with that!
We may need ways of managing brain fog and memory loss. We may need our classrooms to be made more comfortable for us when we’re suffering from hot flushes or joint pain.
To have the whole staff learn about menopause can make it easier for those experiencing it to ask for help and for their managers to navigate those very personal conversations.
The thing that those of us struggling with perimenopause and menopause most often need the most is understanding and compassion. We may need other staff to realise that this is tough. It helps if they are able to listen to what their menopausal colleagues need to say and are able to deal with those conversations in a way that doesn’t involve covering up discomfort with the wrong sort of joke.
While we need support we also need our colleagues to understand that we’re not past it. That just because we occasionally overheat or forget our words, or get flustered or upset in a way we never used to, doesn’t mean we’re not up to the job.
We just need a little extra support sometimes. And to know that our colleagues and the school are on our side.