ASK HOLLY: Can I ask my friend to shut up about menopause?

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Dear Holly - I work for a medium-sized business in a pretty busy office. Most of my colleagues are younger than me, by quite a long way. 

I have one workmate, though, who is a very similar age. I’m 47, she’s 49. She’s a big personality, which I don’t mind because her jokes and stories can make the time go faster and help make boring things fun. But lately she’s been going on and on about perimenopause, and telling everyone who’ll listen that she can’t remember anything anymore, that her brain is mush. She also declares loudly that she’s having hot flushes, and will fan herself and make jokes about it in meetings. 

I don’t think I’ve started Peri yet but I see the way the younger people - including the managers, of which I am not one - look at each other when she’s doing it. I’ve seen my boss look irritated when she said she had to leave a meeting because she was having a flush. I am worried that she is giving older women a bad name, and that my boss and colleagues will be looking at me and thinking I’m the next one there to become unreliable and vague!

Am I being unreasonable to ask - Can my colleague please just shut up about 

Thank you - Cold Flush.

Dear Cold Flush, 


My friend, I hear you. Hormones are deeply inconvenient, and, in case you hadn’t got the memo (although I think you might have), getting older is deeply shameful. 

It’s awkward for the young people at work that the older women haven’t shuffled off out of sight. No-one wants to see Hot Flush dripping on her keyboard, or drinking directly from the kettle, or walking into the lift backwards, or whatever it is these brain-fogged, peri-addled old biddies get up to. 

JKS, of course. The thing is, I deeply sympathise with your dilemma. Until last year, any time anyone around me said the word menopause, I would look at my shoes. What’s that you say? The Change? I wouldn’t know anything about that. I am ageless. Hormoneless. Always capable. Always reliable. Always relevant, always cool. 

I didn’t want to be defined by my hormones as a woman of A Certain Age. I didn’t want to be defined by my hormones when I was a young woman, either, with all opinions or anger dismissed as That Time Of The Month, or Baby Brain, or even Baby Blues

But none of those hormonal moments carry quite as much baggage as this one. Because this one means that, as a woman in the world, you’ve bumped up against your expiry date. 

At least, that’s how it feels, in a culture that values youthful potential, beauty and energy above all things. So, yes, shush. Let’s not talk about the forgetfulness and the sleeplessness and the itchy skin and the flooding and the anxiety and the weight gain and… yes, the Hot Flushes. 


Soldier on, friends. Soldier on. 

The problem with my approach, and maybe yours is this: Suffering in silence has never helped women. 

When we were trying to trick our ways into the Professions, there were reasons to downplay the fact that medicine knew almost nothing about our bodies. To pretend that we weren’t the remarkable beings we are, with the ability to bring life into the world and sustain it when it arrives. These were sensible incentives to survival.

But now? We’re here. And we don’t have to pretend we’re men any more to get by. Women need to hear each other talk about this so when it's their turn, they don't feel so alone, so afraid, so ashamed. 

I think you need to let your “big personality” Peri colleague express herself. And let your young colleagues learn that what they’re seeing in her free expression of her Peri Era is that this is the experience of working with ONE older woman. She is a person who lives and thinks out loud, and not a representative of every female over 40. 

Women are not a monolith, we are infuriatingly, very humanly, various. Your manager, if they’ve been paying any kind of attention, knows that you are a different personality, and perhaps are unlikely to announce your irregular, suddenly inexplicably heavy periods to the entire office. Or maybe, if and when it comes, you will. You never know, you might be grateful, if and when your Peri moment hits, that she’s softened the ground. Many quieter souls benefit from our mouthy mates. 


Because yet another thing that people need to understand about menopause is that there’s a huge range of symptoms and experiences, and that if you’ve met one Peri or menopausal woman, you have not met them all. For some, it’s debilitating, for others, it’s a blip, for many more, it’s somewhere in between. 

So no, I don’t think it’s time for your friend, or women in general, to shut up about menopause. 

If it is, the permission period for women to speak openly about something that will affect every single one of us if we’re lucky enough to live to see it was a window that opened just a crack before being slammed down on our gnarly old knuckles. 

So I suggest we keep that window open, and you sympathise with your colleague while also making it clear, through your own actions and attitude, that you are not her.  

Yes, I’m suggesting you start wearing ankle socks and ballet flats, like the Young People do. No-one will suspect a thing.

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