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Maria - Interview 45

Age at interview: 43
Brief Outline: Maria's menopausal symptoms started two years ago with severe hot flushes, sweats, scant periods and 'mad moments'. A recent contraceptive implant has led to heavy bleeding. Men at work laugh and joke about the menopause but have little understanding.
Background: Maria is a retail assistant. She is divorced with three children. She started the menopause at age 41. Ethnic background/nationality' British Afro-European.

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Like her mother, Maria’s menopause started in her early forties. ‘Unbelievable’ hot flushes and sweats have left her feeling dizzy and faint, and ‘dripping from head to toe’. She describes how the worst sweats tend to happen in the morning ‘after I’ve got up, had a wash, shower, got myself dressed’. At night the sweats wake her up and she has difficulty going back to sleep. At work she finds herself taking her fleece on and off and fanning herself to try to relieve her symptoms. She wonders whether the sugar in the chocolates she eats might trigger off the sweats.

Although Maria’s periods had almost stopped, a recent contraceptive implant in her arm has caused heavy and erratic bleeding. This has led to a number of accidents at work when her period has come ‘out of the blue’. Feeling drained and ‘forever yawning and tired’, she plans to see her doctor soon to discuss other options. Despite her symptoms, Maria is adamant that she will not go on HRT as her mum and friends have had bad experiences while taking it.

Maria’s job on the checkout makes her symptoms very public. She describes how hard it is to leave the checkout to sort herself out when her period starts unexpectedly. Her forgetfulness sometimes means she gets the total wrong when serving customers, ‘the total’s fifteen pounds but I might say ten or say the numbers backwards’. Yet while she may laugh and joke about her hot flushes and forgetfulness with colleagues and customers, she describes how deep down ‘you’re upset, you’re sad, you’re emotional because it’s happening in a public place’. She suggests the need for ‘a quiet room where women can potter off to deal with what they’re going through’.

Since Maria and another colleague agreed to take part in this research, the menopause has become a more open topic of conversation at work, with women more willing to share their experiences. Maria believes that male colleagues need to be more considerate and aware of the impact of the menopause on women’s lives, ‘They joke, joke, joke, joke. Whatever joke they can think of they’ll say it and I don’t know if it’s because they don’t understand or if it’s because they just they don’t care’.

Maria has celebrated this stage in her life by cutting her hair, going ‘blonde at the front’ and updating her clothes. Despite putting on two stone in recent years, particularly around the midriff, she is determined to look and feel young.

Maria was interviewed for Healthtalkonline in November 2009.

 

Maria’s hot flushes are ‘unbelievable’ coming over her ‘as a wash’ anytime of the day. She feels...

Maria’s hot flushes are ‘unbelievable’ coming over her ‘as a wash’ anytime of the day. She feels...

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I’ve been to the doctor and they say I’m borderline, perimenopausal and, oh, the flushes are unbelievable. Yes, there are times at work where I’ll just be fanning myself. It just comes over me as a wash at anytime of the day and I just sweat. I will be dripping from head to toe and then you feel uncomfortable because you’re wet. I just assume oh, I wonder if people think I smell, I’m sweaty. It’s not nice.

First thing eight o’clock it seems to be the worst. When I’ve got up, had a wash, shower, got myself dressed that’s when it happens. Not before I’ve had the wash, after. So you feel as if you need another wash, but we’ll go to work and literally I’ve always got a magazine or a catalogue or some form of paper and I fanning myself and my whole face and I just get sweaty around my nose and mouth and under my armpits and my back.

I don’t know if anyone’s noticed that I’m sweaty but I just completely and I have to fan myself because I get to the point where I feel that maybe I might faint. You know that sort of dizziness and sometimes it lasts a few minutes, sometimes longer and then you can come out of a flush and go straight into another one or they can just stop and later on. It’s very random.

 

Maria has ‘scatty’ moments at the grocery checkout when she ‘says numbers backwards’

Maria has ‘scatty’ moments at the grocery checkout when she ‘says numbers backwards’

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I do have moments as well when I’m scatty. I don’t know if that’s a combination of it but I go a bit scatty. I forget what I’m saying or forget what I’m doing and yes, so those are my moments. Yeah and it’s exactly the same as what my mum went through.

It’s strange, I don’t know if it’s just us, but for instance, you’ve come to the checkout, you’ve bought your shopping, the total’s fifteen pounds. I might say ten and I look and I can see fifteen there or I say numbers backwards. I just laugh, customers know me. I’m always laughing and I think that’s just to hide the embarrassment really because I’m thinking, “What am I doing?”

 

Maria is pleased that, since taking part in these interviews, her colleagues have become more...

Maria is pleased that, since taking part in these interviews, her colleagues have become more...

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It’s only recently through speaking to you that, especially at work as well, the girls are willing to talk about it [the menopause] more. They want to sit and discuss it and they were a bit nervous. They were waiting to see how this went and then maybe you will have got more response from them because some of them are a bit shy or nervous about the situation. Like I said, there’s two ladies, well, one I know in particular, she’ll cry when she has a flush. She’d rather hide in the toilet. It really upsets her but I think her upbringing, she wasn’t able to talk about it. She has no one to talk to about it so when I started broaching the subject at work they were like, “Wow, oh, someone’s speaking to us about it.” And so it’s a more open subject at the moment.

How many women do you think at work are going through this?

There’s loads. I know of six off hand really, at the moment and we all laugh, well, we talk about it but we make a joke about it at work because they’ll take their jackets off as well and they’re fanning. One lady is looking into herbal remedies. I’m not sure exactly what but she was going to get back to us about what she’d researched and somebody drinks iced tea. They’ve all got their own theory as to what makes them feel better. So yeah, but it’s an open subject now at [supermarket].

I’m actually glad that you’ve appeared in my life because, like I said, I was debating, I was saying to [friend] the other day that I might try and start a support group or something, even if it’s just a little discussion group or something. I want to do something, just for women to talk. Nothing else because I can’t give them anything else but just to sit and talk like you are now, like I am to you. Because I think it makes people feel better. [Friend] was fabulous. She was absolutely over the moon after you’d gone and she said, “Oh, I feel a bit relieved that I’ve just told somebody what I’m going through.” And I think sometimes that’s all women need, someone they can sit and say, “Oh, I’ve had a flush today. I feel terrible. Blah blah blah.” Get it off your chest you can deal with the next day.

 

Maria locks herself ‘away for a bit’ in her bedroom to avoid confrontation

Maria locks herself ‘away for a bit’ in her bedroom to avoid confrontation

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So I personally will just make myself go quiet because I’m trying not to. I remember my mum, she used to moan about the silliest things. The cushion wasn’t plumped up properly or and I used to think, “Oh, this woman’s mad.” So me, I try to control it by just not saying anything but the kids will say, “Oh here, here mum’s off again.” So they know, so maybe it’s hereditary. I’m not sure why that happens but I just pick on the silliest things and you’re actually doing it but I still do it even more, it’s sad. So usually in that case, I potter off to my bedroom and just lock myself away for a bit.

 

Maria has had problems with a contraceptive implant in her arm

Maria has had problems with a contraceptive implant in her arm

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What about your periods? What’s happening there?

They’re very erratic at the moment. I have recently changed to the implant which I have in my arm and I had that last February just gone and I think it’s made it worse.

That’s a contraceptive.

It’s a contraceptive, yes yes. Prior to that I was on the Depo [provera] which is the injection every three months which had settled me. I’d been on that for about twelve years so since being divorced and everything and I was settled with that and since I’ve had this implant I am up, down, long, short. I don’t know if I’m coming or going. I’m actually going back to the doctor’s in a month to maybe have it taken out or discuss something different because this implant is not for me.

 

Maria’s male colleagues joke about the menopause. She laughs but deep down feels upset

Maria’s male colleagues joke about the menopause. She laughs but deep down feels upset

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How do the men at work respond to all this?

Oh. Don’t ask. They make a bit of a thing about it, “Oh, here Maria goes again. She’s flushing.” They joke, joke, joke, joke. Whatever joke they can think of they’ll say it and I don’t know if it’s because they don’t understand or if it’s because they just don’t care. I don’t know but many of the men they will just laugh about it. I don’t know one that’s considerate really about the situation. They just laugh and joke about it.

How does that make you feel?

I’m thick skinned. It doesn’t bother me. I deal with things my way. Sticks and stones, it doesn’t bother me but there are people that it does bother, and I’ll try and defend them. And I do try to explain to these guys but they don’t want to know. They’re not interested. It’s just a joke, you get your blonde jokes, you get your menopause jokes. They have these jokes and they just think it’s funny so me personally it doesn’t bother me.

Why do you think there are lots of jokes about it?

That’s difficult. I don’t know. I don’t know. I think it’s to hide the embarrassment, to hide the embarrassment you joke about things, you laugh about it but really deep down, you’re upset, you’re sad, you’re emotional and because it’s happening in a public place. So what can you do? Stand there and cry or have a laugh about it. I think that is what a lot of us do do. Because we’re going through that scenario and we feel that people are looking at us and thinking, “Oh, what’s wrong with her?” You’ll joke, “Oh, I’m just having a hot flush.” And laugh about it and then they’ve gone and walked off. They don’t care, and so yeah, I think that’s why people do, just to hide the embarrassment really.

 

Maria has started talking about the menopause at work with her colleagues since agreeing to take...

Maria has started talking about the menopause at work with her colleagues since agreeing to take...

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It’s only recently through speaking to you that especially at work as well, the girls are willing to talk about it more. They want to sit and discuss it and they were a bit nervous. They were waiting to see how this went and then maybe you will have got more response from them because some of them are a bit shy or nervous about the situation. Like I said, there’s two ladies well, one I know in particular, she’ll cry when she has a flush. She’d rather hide in the toilet. It really upsets her but I think her upbringing, she wasn’t able to talk about it. She has no one to talk to about it so when I started broaching the subject at work they were like, “Wow, oh, someone’s speaking to us about it.” And so it’s a more open subject at the moment.

How many women do you think at work are going through this?

There’s loads. I know of six off hand really, at the moment and we all laugh, well, we talk about it but we make a thing, a joke about it at work because they’ll take their jackets off as well and they’re fanning. One lady is looking into herbal remedies. I’m not sure exactly what but she was going to get back to us about what she’d researched and somebody drinks iced tea. They’ve all got their own theory as to what makes them feel better. So yeah, but it’s an open subject now at [supermarket].

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