“I would start crying in the middle of meetings”
Steph Kelby, 51, from Lincolnshire tells how menopausal symptoms derailed her 30-year business career
For 30 years I have dedicated myself to climbing the corporate ladder and served as COO of a leading online educational institution for organic formulation and independent beauty entrepreneurship , managing multi-million pound contracts.
At the beginning of 2019, I started noticing that I was forgetting a lot of little details at work. Nothing too serious at first, but within a few months the hot flashes and night sweats started and my memory deteriorated. It didn’t occur to me that it could be menopause. I just thought it was all stress related.
I had to be “online” all the time, sometimes on the phone at 2am with clients from all over the world. Stress was the culprit of my symptoms, so I thought.
I had a light bulb moment when I connected all the dots and realized I was going through menopause. When I saw a doctor, I was prescribed HRT, but the foggy brain and forgetfulness didn’t go away. It started to have a huge impact on my work.
There were a few times when I missed meetings with external partners. Even though I wrote them down in my diary, I forgot to check my diary. When I attended meetings, my mind would go blank of what we were supposed to discuss. It was completely unprofessional and massively embarrassing, but I couldn’t control it.
My emotions were also everywhere. There were even times when I started crying in the middle of meetings, explaining it as “feeling just under the weather”. I was supposed to be the leader of a team of 30 people, in charge of HR, finance and all our contracts, but I was increasingly failing in my role.
I attempted to talk to my boss and one of my co-workers about my menopause symptoms in the summer of 2019, neither of whom had been through menopause, and was told it could be stressful for them. women – difficult for us to manage. After this conversation, I went on vacation with my husband and my daughter. When I checked my email, I saw that my boss had hired a new colleague to take over part of my role without telling me.
It was like a punch in the stomach, a reminder that I was no longer able to perform at the necessary level. The shame and guilt were unbearable.
I knew I couldn’t go on and in December 2019 I quit working, telling co-workers I was leaving to focus on my vegan side of skincare. I couldn’t tell them that I was leaving because of menopause.
My identity has always been anchored in my work and giving it up has shaken my confidence. I would love to go back to the workforce, but I don’t know how I would explain my big career break to a new employer. In just three years, life seems completely different, all because of menopause.
Debi Wallbank, 48, from Shropshire, lost several jobs when she was overcome with fatigue and started making mistakes
When I was 39, fatigue invaded my life. I was working an administrative job booking job for engineers. Although I had previously held a senior position in Aberdeen, I moved for my husband’s job and took up a job just to help pay the bills. I could do administrative work with my eyes closed and thought that my general fatigue stemmed from a feeling of dissatisfaction with my career.
Every morning I couldn’t muster the energy to get out of bed, often leaving only 30 minutes to get dressed and out. I started coming to work five minutes late almost every morning.
In addition to constant fatigue, I made endless mistakes. I’ve missed phone calls and entered incorrect information into our database. Even though I made to-do lists, I forgot to read the lists and missed everything I had written. It was as if my brain had been taken out of my head.
My boss called me after a few months to let me know about my lateness and frequent mistakes. I didn’t know what to answer because I didn’t know what I could change to do better. I knew I was letting people down. I knew I was letting myself down. I became increasingly stressed about my performance and ended up being signed by a GP for three months. When the time was up, I knew I wasn’t good enough to come back, and my boss had to let me go.
Without work, I didn’t have enough money to support myself, so I was hired for three other jobs. With each, the pattern continued. I got hired, worked for a few months, then had to leave sick, stressed by my inability to remember the simplest tasks at work.
It was incredibly upsetting. I’ve always been proud of my work ethic and couldn’t pull myself together to keep my job.
Even though the signs of menopause were all there, no employer knew to suspect menopause. When the GPs called me sick, they never suggested menopause. If someone had spotted the signs and suggested it to me, I could have avoided feeling incompetent as a working woman.
In early 2020, a doctor finally suggested I get tested for early menopause. When it was confirmed I was given HRT but only took it for a month as there was a shortage of HRT and I could no longer access it.
By the end of 2020 I had sunk into a deep depression, moved back in with my mom and felt like I had hit rock bottom. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to live either.
When HRT became available again my doctor immediately prescribed it and the change in my mood and behavior was dramatic. I feel alive again. I now work as a menopause coach, guiding women through one of the biggest changes they’ve ever gone through.
As told to Lauren Crosby Medlicott