Hi, I'm Angela De Souza, founder, and CEO of a small business called Women's Business Club. This is a photo of me after a good cry at a team meeting! One of many I must add. This is my journey of coping with peri-menopause while leading my company because I've struggled to find anything about coping with menopause while running a business. I'm calling this Small Business Menopause as there is so much for Menopause at Work, which is brilliant, but what about us small business owners? I wonder how many just threw in the towel and closed their business because it was too hard. I'll start with my story, add business tips along the way, and interview some experts so hopefully, the end result is a valuable resource for other women facing similar struggles. Here goes...
It's Monday morning. Although I woke up naturally at 6 am I am still in bed at 9 am. I can't bring myself to get up. I feel guilty. Checking in my diary I see no calls booked until this afternoon, so I can be gentle on myself as I try to work up the courage to face the day.
Then the tears come.
"Oh no not again, I am so fed up with crying!"
Acutely aware that I cannot go on like this, I search the internet for advice. It's too confusing, so many conflicting suggestions. Facebook is my next port of call with the question "HRT or no HRT?" and the comments came flooding in. Some swear by HRT others had a very negative experience. I am none the wiser after spending an hour chatting with 10 women who have tried HRT.
An hour later, I'm still in tears, no closer to getting up and worrying that my staff is going to wonder where I am but I don't have the courage to face the day yet. My amazing daughters force me to call the doctor. Why is calling the doctor so hard? A few years ago I went to see a doctor to discuss my symptoms, at that time I was completely ignorant of menopause, I just told him that something weird is happening and I was forgetting words. He sent me for a MRI. I didn't go, thought it was a bit much and I am terribly claustrophobic, you could not get me into that machine. So I thought I would just keep going.
My first real experience of peri-menopause was during one of the most stressful weeks of my life. Women's Business Club acquired a competitor, Girl Tribe Gang who had gone into administration. It was a great move as they were strong in the North of England and we were strong in the South, together we would be strong across the UK. A great business move but the stress of the merging of two brands triggered hot flushes, around 20 a day plus I turned into a monster overnight. Stressed out, hot flushes, shouting at my husband and children, trying to deal with a bunch of angry GTGers and still trying to run my business was all too much for me. I did a little internet research and discovered the whole world of menopause. Who knew? Well, I certainly didn't and was a bit shocked. How come no one ever told me about this season of life? Up to that point, my entire understanding of menopause was that when you get older (60 plus) you get some hot flushes and your period stops. I had no idea it starts around 46 not 60, that is can last for 10 years or more and that there are around 34 symptoms not just hot flushes. I also didn't realise how horrible and draining hot flushes are, I thought you just got a bit warm. It's hard to explain but I felt totally wiped out after a few days of hot flushes and started to get a little anxious each time I felt one was coming.
And so the internet research began and I got some Evening Primrose Oil as Dr. Google advised. After a couple of weeks and the maximum dose of 6 capsules, the hot flushes subsided and life seemed to get back to normal-ish. At this point I was completely fascinated but what was happening to me and what was still to come and continued to self-medicate with various supplements.
My next visit to the doctor was because I was struggling with my weight, unable to lose weight despite eating healthy and exercising. This was during the lockdown and was a phone consultation. He told me to start running and to lose weight as my BMI was too high. This made me feel a bit low, now I feel guilty for being overweight and still have no solution to the problem. I did start running and did the Couch to 5k which was extremely rewarding. Lockdown gave me the time and space I needed to focus on my health and my health did vastly improve and I lost some weight.
I'll stop my story here as I have to get back to work but my top 3 takeaways at this point are:
- You're not alone. Find a community of other women where you can share and learn together. It really helps to talk, even if it's just a social media post like I did today - it helped me so much!
- Ask for a menopause-trained doctor. I've seen two doctors who clearly didn't consider menopause as the problem but I have since learned that I can ask for a menopause-trained doctor, and look forward to my appointment next week.
- Natural supplements do help and there's no harm at first to try a few natural remedies, however, I'm quickly realising that there should be no guilt around trying HRT. I will document that process when I get there.
I would love to hear your comments, tips, advice or recommendations. If you are an expert please get in touch so I can interview you for this Small Business Menopause series.