Natalie Beresford, Former Detective Inspector and Chair, Menopause Action Group, Thames Valley Police, is brutally honest about how the menopause wreaked havoc on her career and her relationships, both at work and at home.
On a mission to raise awareness of the menopause, she’s spearheaded her Force’s trailblazing initiatives on this front, making it the first (and only) ‘menopause friendly’ Police Force in the UK.
Retiring after 30 years of service, she’s continuing her work talking about it, so other women (and men) can avoid struggling, like she did, because of the menopause.
We are delighted she’s sharing her personal story so openly, of a woman in leadership dealing with the menopause, and her practical tips for how to get through, at the Watercooler. This is a free to attend conference and exhibition taking place at Excel London on 25th & 26th April 2023, where Beresford will be appearing on a panel about supporting women’s health in the workplace.
In this article and video, she shares a bit more about what she intends to talk about.
Why are you so passionate about being unashamedly open about the menopause at work?
When I was hit by the menopause, it was utterly crippling. It affected me both personally and professionally. I genuinely thought I was losing my mind, perhaps getting dementia. So much was going wrong. My body and my mind were letting me down at every turn and every part of my life crumbled in some way.
Then I discovered it was this thing called ‘menopause’. I thought, ‘this is crazy, if I’d known about this, the symptoms, the impact and the age it generally hits, my life wouldn’t have crumbled in the way it did’.
If I had recognised the symptoms three or four years earlier, when they started, then I could have done something about them. You can’t stop the menopause, but you can get ready for it and put things in place.
I just felt that my life would have been very different, and I was astounded that half the world’s population transitions through menopause, yet nobody talks about it! So I pledged to start talking about it so other women could avoid struggling like I did.
I don’t want anyone to experience what I did. By the time I finally admitted defeat, I’d caused much more damage than just the symptoms of menopause alone. I was broken and ended up taking some time off work. And that’s not me.
What was it like starting the conversation about menopause in a male dominated culture?
It’s been incredible. I absolutely, genuinely, have never, ever once come up against any negativity from any men. If anything, there’s been more negativity from women… that kind of ‘why are we talking about this? I just got on with it!’ response. I remember one woman even saying ‘I don’t remember going through it, I must have been too busy’.
That’s obviously not helpful and shows the lack of knowledge about how differently the menopause affects women. What was it like trying to be a Detective Inspector with all that happening? Can you paint me a picture?
At that point I was actually a uniform inspector, wearing a stab vest and representing the face of the Police force to the public, running the frontline response teams. I had to make fast, critical decisions. What I found with the menopause was that I suffered massively with confusion. ‘Brain fog’ as it’s called. Occasionally, for example, I would get to work and wouldn’t know why I was there.
What did your colleagues think?
Well, they didn’t necessarily see what was happening because in a job like ours, when you wear a uniform, it’s like a shield you put on.
But I knew that I was making mistakes. I spoke to my boss and said ‘I’m not right’ and my boss said I ‘seemed fine’, but he didn’t see me very often, and certainly not at three ‘o’ clock in the morning when I was working alone. So it was quite easy for me to hide.
But I couldn’t hide it when I did things like forget words, which I did regularly. It made me avoid speaking on the radio and, because I was in charge, I didn’t want to sound stupid or start stuttering and stammering. I didn’t want to do briefings for the same reason. So I just kept putting safety nets in place. It felt like I wasn’t me anymore. I was failing everywhere. And I was surviving on adrenaline.
You said it had been hard personally, too. What about your personal relationships, did it complicate them, too?
Menopause certainly played a part in destroying my marriage. Most definitely. And it’s interesting that it’s really common for women to divorce in this country between the ages 45 to 49.
What was it like when you first starting talking about the menopause at work?
Nobody around me was talking about it. And so I thought, ‘am I just being a prima donna? Is it just me?’
But when I started talking, the floodgates opened. The stories came pouring in from women trying to survive and they were utterly heartbreaking. I’d have to walk away from my computer when reading some of the emails.
Why were they so heartbreaking?
Because they were from women feeling like they just had to get on with it because that’s what the generations before us did. But I thought ‘well, I’m retiring, I have nothing to lose, so I’m going to go all out talking about this’.
What did you do?
I got an audience with the Chief Constable, and other senior management, and I told them everything. I told them things that I hadn’t even told my friends and family about how the menopause impacted me. And I said, ‘I know I’m not alone and I know that there’s women in our organisation that need help’.
So our Chief Constable – who didn’t know me from Adam as I’m one of 8000 people that he manages – asked me to go away, find answers and come back to him. That’s what we did.
The initial intention was to raise awareness, offer support and provide training. Then the project grew. It went from some posters to raise awareness of symptoms, to learning about premature menopause, surgical menopause, et cetera, to making our Force the first (and only) menopause friendly Police Force in the UK. We have created a conversation in our workforce where everybody talks about it – men and women.
And that’s what you are going to talk to us about at the Watercooler?
Absolutely! As well as my personal story, I’ll be talking about the way we did this and the five areas we targeted.
Women in leadership roles have got to be open about it and, if we aren’t, we are letting the next generation down, just as the generation before us let us down by not talking about it.
(Click on the video above, or here, where Natalie develops her point about women in leadership going through the menopause and practical strategies to deal with symptoms when they arise, as well as more on her personal story of how the menopause destroyed her life, personally and professionally).
To meet Natalie in person, come along to our sister event the Watercooler on April 25th and 26th, 2023. She will be speaking on a panel entitled ‘Supporting Women’s Health in the Workplace’, alongside Lisa Macis, Menopause In The Workplace Project Lead and Senior Key Account Manager, Bristol Myers Squibb.
The Watercooler, named in recognition of those crucial moments of connection between employees, is a free to attend conference and exhibition which demonstrates that wellbeing IS the future of work.
Taking place at Excel London, The Watercooler event is where you can gather to join ideas together, make connections, learn from peers’ experiences and find the right solutions for your organisation – whatever its size and shape.
For reasons why this is a must-attend event for anyone interested in workplace wellbeing, see this article here.
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