East Sussex menopause advocate and author Kathryn Colas will be at Crowborough Library on Thursday, July 14 to talk about her book, How to Survive Menopause Without Losing Your Mind. She will also be discussing her experiences of the menopause and her work to inform and educate individuals and businesses about the issue.
Kathryn spoke to YES recently about her menopause journey and her work to raise awareness and promote a greater understanding of menopause.
‘10 years of hell’
“I was diagnosed with depression. I self diagnosed with bipolar. My marriage was all over the place. We wanted to divorce. It was an exasperating time. 10 years of hell I call it.”
Kathryn suffered years of debilitating symptoms which resulted in an incorrect diagnosis of depression and her quitting her much loved job as a sales and marketing director, before she finally established what she was experiencing was actually the menopause.
“I was post menopause before I realized that had been the root cause of all the ‘illnesses’ I was experiencing.
“I’d practically camped in the doctor’s waiting room and then I discovered that I’d gone through perimenopause, and I was now postmenopausal but I was only just finding out all these things. And I’m just saying to myself ‘why?, what?’ ”
Wanting to raise awareness of the menopause and to stop anyone else experiencing what she had been through, Kathryn set up SimplyHormones in 2007 to provide support and advice for menopausal women.
“I just thought what a relief that would have been, to have been told what was happening so that I could then have made some choices about trying to help myself.”
Kathryn joined the British Menopause Society, and was also elected by her peers to be a member of their medical advisory committee.
“But I realised it was academics talking to academics. Nobody was telling us women what was going on, what was happening, why it was happening, and what we could do about it.
“I was very scared – I was a hotelier. What did I know about women’s health and menopause? But I thought what do I do with all this knowledge? So a friend built the website for me and I developed SimplyHormones.”
2020 and beyond
Following the success of the website, Kathryn realised she had a “mountain of paper because I was always writing notes. I thought – what do I do with it? Do I write a book?”
“I had my story, which is very poignant, and lots of other people’s stories as well, plus the experiences in the workplace. And so I thought let’s put it together as a book.”
How to Survive Menopause Without Losing Your Mind was launched a week before lockdown, in March 2020.
Just before the book launch, Kathryn met her now business partner and nine months later they launched the Kathryn Colas Academy, which is focused on helping employers and employees establish supportive and understanding work environments for women experiencing menopause.
“Women are making history all the time now because we’re working longer. We’re working full time. The pension rules have changed. Women are staying in the workplace for longer because of that. But they’re hitting barriers when things are happening to their health, particularly around menopause, where there’s nobody in the workplace they can talk to.”
Discussing menopause at work can be difficult for many women and Kathryn says at lot of women will resign rather than approach their employer.
“If you have a manager or an employer who just is deaf to the whole situation that is the most difficult thing. I would encourage women to introduce our website to their employer and say ‘Look at this. I’m really struggling. I’m getting some advice from these people and I really think it’s something that we could benefit from.’ ”
I will survive!
Women can suffer from a huge range of symptoms when experiencing menopause including heart palpitations, brain fog and forgetfulness, hot flushes, irregular periods, heavy bleeding, night sweats and debilitating anxiety.
But there are steps women can take as they become perimenopausal to help ease the symptoms.
Kathryn urges women not to ignore their bodies: “I think as a woman, we recognize when things are changing, but we’re not sure why. Think about your mental health if you’re becoming more argumentative and aggressive.
“If you get heart palpitations, do you think you’re having a heart attack? Do you keep forgetting things and think you’ve got early dementia?
“We thought this [menopause] was happening to women in their mid-50s, but of course hormones start changing when you’re 35, that’s when they start the decline. So just take a step back and say why is that happening?”
Kathryn found she was forgetting appointments and often couldn’t remember how to get where she was meant to be going. So she advises: “Make lists. I was forgetting appointments and I wasn’t building in how long it would take to get to that appointment if it was a physical appointment. So I make list of where I’m going, what route I’m taking, whether I’m going by train, how long I have to leave to catch the train, all those things. Lists do help.”
And she encourages women, and men, to talk about menopause and share information. “It’s definitely much better today than it was before. I was virtually talking to myself! Nobody wanted to listen and now everybody seems to be interested. When I start talking, when people hear that I’m talking about menopause, it’s like bees around the honey pot.”
Awareness about menopause has grown dramatically in recent years. Kathryn hopes that this, coupled with a greater understanding of menopause, will ensure women receive the help and support they need.
“Women used to have a hard time when they became pregnant, often having to leave work. Pregnancy is now an accepted part of life and there’s a health and wellbeing strategy in the workplace to cover it. Well, let’s have that with menopause.
“I went through such trauma and if only I’d known then what I know now I could probably have avoided all these issues, all these challenges, all these problems.”
Kathryn will be speaking about her book and her experiences at Crowborough Library on Thursday, July 14 from 7pm to 9pm.
The author talk is free but registration is required. Please visit the East Sussex Libraries website to book.
More information about the menopause is available online from the NHS and The British Menopause Society.