Working Through Menopause

How women deal with menopause symptoms at work. Hot flashes, brain fog, sleepless nights: How do we manage our careers when our bodies are on a roller-coaster ride?

By Mary Lou Quinlan
Mary Lou Quinlan
Photograph: Photo courtesy of Mary Lou Quinlan

"My emotions were on a roller coaster. I was absolutely in a brain fog, which I didn’t recognize till afterward was related to menopause," says Intermill, now 55. "I just thought I was not capable of doing the job, especially since numbers are not my forte. The more I felt that, the less I was able to do it." Intermill stayed in the job, miserably, for about a year until she was able to swing a move back into strategic planning. But eventually she realized she wanted to leave state government and be her own boss. Now Intermill is an independent distributor for a national beverage company and teaches sociology at a local university. "I needed to move on," she says, "and menopause got me going."

For Diane Ormerod, 52, of Crestwood, Kentucky, menopause itself pointed the way to a new career. She suffered severe premenopausal symptoms — heavy menstrual bleeding and sleeplessness — for two years while managing the labor relations department at a large government hospital. Finally she agreed to a hysterectomy that put her into full-scale menopause. Back at work after the surgery, she began to wonder, "Was it worth it working these long hours with no consideration from management about how I was? The more I talked with women who were going through this," Ormerod says, "the more I realized that women needed to share — that we could help one another with ideas and information instead of just suffering through it."

Ormerod decided to switch to a government agency job that was less demanding. Then she and her best friend canvassed their circles of friends and found that many midlifers need a place to go to open up and learn, yet are reluctant to join something that would be time consuming or, worse, age labeling. They created Bikinis and Bifocals, a Web site designed to bring women together for networking with peers.

Looking back on how long it took her to face and share her health issues, Ormerod is bittersweet. "I wish I had been more aggressive in my early 40s to learn more about perimenopause and menopause," she says. "I think women are looking for alternative means to improve the quality of their lives. I’ve found my passion, and though I work late into the night on the site, it’s something I do without hesitation or complaining. Now this company — not menopause — is my driving force every day."

Mary Lou Quinlan is CEO of the marketing firm Just Ask A Woman and author of Time Off for Good Behavior: How Hardworking Women Can Take a Break and Change Their Lives.

Originally published in MORE magazine, June 2007.

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