Menopause on Martinis Founder Sarah Connor Tackles a Hot Conversation Topic
Sarah Connor, founder of Menopause Over Martinis, at her home in Haitaitai, overlooking Wellington Harbour. Photo/Mark Mitchell
The View From My Window: A Hot Topic of Conversation with Sarah Connor, Founder of Menopause on Martinis and Workplace Advocate
When I started talking about menopause, people came up to me and said,
“I read your story” or “I heard you on the radio – you are so brave.” But swimming in Cook Strait without a life jacket or climbing Everest in your underwear is brave. Menopause is a normal and inevitable stage of life, not something to fear or hide. For me, it’s not a women’s problem, it’s an “everyone’s” problem. The other day I talked to the IRS and there were 270 people on the call. Twelve of them were men.
I live in Haitaitai on top of Mount Victoria, with the horizon all around me. I can see ferries arriving and planes landing literally outside my window. So even though I’m working from home as a freelance writer and advocate, I feel connected to the world around me.
Three years ago, I was driving home on this steep, windy road when I suddenly felt unbelievably hot, as if my brain was melting from the inside. I thought I was going to faint. I stopped, took a few deep breaths and it passed, but that’s when I knew something was wrong.
I went to see a locum GP, who told me I could be in perimenopause. “What?” I said. I had no idea what it was. My mum and I had never talked about menopause, which isn’t a big surprise in hindsight because we didn’t really talk about periods and menstruation either – all I remember is that. is this [puberty] booklet landed on my bedside table one night. I knew my periods would stop eventually, maybe in my 50s or 60s, and I might get a little hot. I was only 46, I just brushed it off.
Over the next few months, I had this accumulation of symptoms. Waves of physiological anxiety caused a few panic attacks, which I had never had before and which were really scary. Once I ended up at A&E with abdominal pain and nausea, and once with a paramedic at my house. My mood was really low for no particular reason; I was doing the dishes and bursting into tears. I didn’t sleep well, just a few hours here and there, and I had this creepy feeling like ants were crawling under my skin. I lost all my joy, all my creativity, all my energy. I became unrecognizable to myself.
My GP sent me to a cardiologist, thinking I might have heart disease. I was referred to a counselor for anxiety. I saw a hypnotherapist, who actually helped me learn how to use my breath to calm me down and put me back to sleep at night. I saw a naturopath, thinking maybe my diet was wrong. I learned to meditate. I was prescribed antidepressants. No one seemed able to join the dots.
Finally, after three or four months, a menopause specialist took a look at my long list of symptoms and the state I was in – I mean, I felt like I had got hit by a bus – and said it was completely normal. My hormones were everywhere. I started an HRT [hormone replacement therapy] and slowly started to come out of this awful, awful hole.
My experience has been more extreme – 20% of people go through menopause without any problems. But even the 60% who have moderate symptoms need reassurance that this is a temporary stage and that there are solutions. A health practitioner once told me that no one ever died from menopause, but when you had something like anxiety or a panic attack, you feel like anything is possible. The second highest suicide rate among women is in their 40s. If someone had appendicitis or gallbladder stones, we wouldn’t expect them to deal with that without support.
In the workplace, employers can take some very practical steps. This can be flexibility around deadlines or schedules; if someone is not sleeping well, an 8 am meeting is going to be difficult. In the UK, it’s common for everyone to have a fan on their desk if they need it. Some organizations have had to shell out large sums of money because people have been unfairly fired or treated with disrespect because of menopausal symptoms.
I still have to manage what I take and stick to a good sleep routine. But someone told me now is the time to step up and be a different version of yourself. I feel like I’m living and breathing this now, seeing the opportunity to make real change not just for myself, my friends and family, but for many people who would otherwise live in the dark.
– as told to Joanna Wane
October 18 is World Menopause Day. The Menopause over Martinis (alcohol optional) movement began when Sarah Connor hosted a potluck dinner to break the taboos surrounding menopause. She now runs a website and holds sessions with businesses and government organizations to advocate for more open and supportive workplaces (see menopauseovermartinis.org).
Sarah Connor’s 10 reasons to talk about menopause at work
1. Develop everyone’s understanding of this normal and inevitable stage of life
2. Proactively support the health, safety and well-being of people.
3. Foster a diverse and inclusive culture.
4. To build trust between colleagues.
5. To reduce the impact of some people’s symptoms.
6. Identify and make appropriate changes in your workplace so people can perform at their best.
7. Enable people to develop their full potential.
8. To retain valuable talent and reduce the cost of recruitment.
9. To attract new people to your organization.
10. To make menopause less taboo.
A vegan balm for women going through menopause, developed by a small craft company in Hawke’s Bay, has been shortlisted for the 2022 Pure Beauty Awards in London. Archeus founder Georgina Langdale’s NatFem Super Soothing Balm relieves vaginal dryness and is part of her natural botanical line, which uses medicinal plants grown organically in her garden (see nfbalm.com). It’s for Best New Intimate Care Product in the awards, chosen by public vote, with the winners announced Oct. 27.