Menopause – Another Reason to FIRE?

(Warning – this post might be of more interest to women and mentions female bodily functions…)

Looking around this community, people cite numerous reasons for wanting to FIRE including:

– they hate their jobs
– even if they don’t hate their jobs, they don’t want to be working into their 40s/50s/60s/70s (delete as applicable)
– they want freedom to do what they want to do
– they want more time for families/friends/hobbies/travel/keeping healthy
– they want to be in control of their personal finances
– they want financial security so they don’t have to rely on anyone else for income (including the state)

One reason to FIRE which I haven’t seen mentioned is the menopause.

Menopause

Image from Raleigh OB/GYN Centre

The menopause isn’t mentioned much at all in the FIRE community because it applies mostly to older women and there aren’t so many of us on the FIRE blogging circuit.

Something similar apparently can also afflict some older men – here’s what the NHS says about that.

The menopause generally marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle, due to changes in hormones in the body. The average age for menopausal women is 51 but some women can enter menopause in their 40s.

Whilst no longer being able to get pregnant will be welcomed by some women (eg, me!), there’s a big long list of not-very-nice symptoms which often accompany the menopause including:

  • Hot flushes/night sweats (which can disrupt sleep)
  • Irregular and/or very heavy periods (for women used to regular bleeding, unexpected heavy bleeding will catch you out – I speak from experience…)
  • Weight gain (curse of the middle-aged spread!)
  • Mood swings (these can be even more erratic and extreme than ones experienced in younger years)
  • Headaches and migraines (again, more extreme forms of the ones previously experienced)
  • Joint pains (feels like arthritis but isn’t)
  • Digestive problems (changes in hormones can lead to stomach upsets/cramps)
  • Tingling extremities (bouts of pins and needles)
  • Fatigue/Disrupted sleep
  • Depression
  • Heart palpitations
  • Anxiety/panic disorders
  • Osteoporosis – bone density begins to drop during menopause
  • Memory lapses and difficulty concentrating – lower levels of oestrogen can often lead to lack of focus, forgetfulness and lapses in concentration.

There are other possible symptoms which I’ve not included and whilst it’s unlikely (I would hope) that I will end up suffering from all of them, speaking to my Mum and my aunt, I’ll probably unfortunately have to put up with at least some of them…

Why would the Menopause be a reason to FIRE?

Following a few departures at work, I am now the oldest woman in our office, with the majority of other women being in their mid-20s, early 30s. Us women are, however, vastly outnumbered by the men (current ratio around 25/75).

My day-to-day job is quite fast moving, with tight deadlines, quick turnarounds of requests, lots of multi-tasking and juggling of priorities. At the end of the day, it is just an office (wfh) job, nothing special or critical, but I do it well.

What if due to suffering from menopausal symptoms (particularly the last ones I mentioned on my above list) I am unable to perform my job effectively?

Forget to do tasks. Miss deadlines. Get confused due to lack of concentration or sleep. Respond too slowly. Panic about the workload.

And that’s not even accounting for the physical effects which my body might be enduring.

I will of course try to help myself by eating well and exercising but ‘brain-fog’ will be harder to deal with and may lead to me not being able to do my job properly.

It’s never really in the news how menopausal women are treated at work (they will probably be called ‘miserable’, ’emotional’ and ‘dizzy’ behind closed doors) but I can imagine not really sympathetically, if this article I found is anything to go by.  Will HR be sympathetic and provide support? Would I ask for such support? I’m not sure…

I hope I won’t suffer too much and that if I do get the symptoms, the onslaught isn’t for a few years yet and I’ll be able to get out of working before it all kicks in.

I might not be able to control my hormones and how they affect my body, (although HRT (hormone replacement therapy) can help some women), but I can control my finances and if it gets to the point where I can’t work or do my job properly, at least I will be still be able to pay my bills and have some time to allow the worst of the symptoms to pass.

I’ve just had a thought – which would be more surprising/shocking?

I left my job because:

  1. I’m retiring early
  2. I’m menopausal
  3. I’ve had enough

Answer number 2 might be worth going for, if I want to kill the conversation dead!

I hope this hasn’t been too dreary to read – for those interested (and still reading), I reckon I’m probably pre-menopausal right now, just starting to get one or two of the above symptoms this past year, but nothing significant.

Other than that, I feel well and fit, am at my ideal/chosen weight, sleep well at night, feel as content as I can be, pandemic notwithstanding. My Sis would probably argue that I have mood swings but that’s more likely to be as a result of us both cooped in under the same roof during lockdown!

I am in a way looking forward to my periods ultimately stopping so I no longer have to spend money on sanitary products  – yes, I know I could really follow the FIRE ethos and switch to menstrual cups to save money but I’d rather not make those times of the month any more inconvenient!

Ok, womanly stuff over (for now) – normal blog posts shall resume in due course! 🙂

 

31 thoughts on “Menopause – Another Reason to FIRE?

  1. Although not a woman, I can relate. From my mid 40s, I increasingly struggled with brain fog, sleeplessness, aches & pains, gut problems etc. I could function on one level, but not in a way I was happy with. Eventually, it resulted in major surgery (a chronic condition had slowly relapsed until it became a crisis). But interestingly, I went through the same thought process around retiring early because of what was essentially ill-health that had gradually crept up on me.

    Thankfully the surgery did its job and I now feel more like my 30 something self and while now financially independent, I’m not quite ready to retire.

    • Hi C

      Thanks for sharing your experience and interesting to read that the thought of retiring crossed your mind at the time.

      Great to hear that the surgery was successful with your condition and congrats on being FI!

  2. It’s interesting that most menopausal symptoms seem to be a mainly Western phenomenon. Women in other regions, particularly East Asia, seem to have fewer and less severe symptoms; for instance, Japanese and Chinese women rarely report hot flushes or night sweats. It’s still unclear whether this is down to genetic differences between different populations or whether it’s due to other factors, such as cultural or dietary differences. Either way, keeping weight down, exercising, having a plant-heavy diet and just a generally healthy lifestyle seem to help.

    I’m a few years older than you, and I’ve had very few symptoms (touch wood, cross fingers) apart from the dreaded weight gain (partly due to lockdown). I’ve taken supplements of Vitamin D3 (2000 IU/day, i.e. 50 mcg/day) for about 20 years and I really do believe that’s helped. There is quite strong evidence that this vitamin (which is really a pro-hormone) reduces menopausal symptoms and preserves bone health, as it acts in a similar way to oestradiol (type of oestrogen) and assists in calcium absorption. As an added bonus, it appears to lower risk of infection with COVID as well.

    • Hi Tina

      Well I hope my Chinese ethnicity will mean my symptoms aren’t so severe, but going by what my Mum and aunt said, they both suffered from anxiety, brain fog, joint pains and disrupted sleep during their menopause.

      I too have been taking supplements for about 20 years but I think I will up my Vitamin D3 dosage, especially as you pointed out that it seems to be something to take to help minimise risk of COVID infection.

  3. Hi- I’m in the process of retiring, and also suffering from the dreaded menopause- or really, pre menopause. I can tell you that the ability to take a nap after a sleepless night is definitely a benefit. Also, when I’m at home, I don’t have to argue with anyone except my husband when I turn the air conditioner down!

    • Hi She’s FIRE’d

      I’m not normally a nap person – in the past, when I’ve taken naps in the day, I’ve felt worse afterwards but that was when I was younger so my older body might appreciate them now – thanks for the heads up!

  4. What an interesting post, Weenie! As a woman who was still working at the time of the menopause, I hope my own experience may be useful.

    I had no peri-menopausal symptoms: as a fit, slim woman whom everyone said looked years younger than my age (I, too, took supplements) I thought I had it nailed and was mentally primed for an easy transition through the menopause.

    Hah! You know the saying “(wo)man plans, God laughs”? Well, that’s how it was – at age 51, it hit me with a vengeance! Like most of my friends, the main issues were night sweats (leading to lack of sleep), deterioration of connective tissue (leading to sore joints, including hands, and sore back) and anxiety (hardly surprising, really ;)).

    It was often a struggle to keep a consistent level of performance in my job, even though I was senior enough to, for example, have a PA who covered most of my routine admin and made sure I got to the right place with the right papers. I was also lucky enough to be able to just go home, without having to explain myself to anyone, if it was a really bad day. My old friend who was a senior nurse did not have those options, and it was very tough for her.

    I retired from that job at 55, and was so pleased that I had the means to do so. I actually continued to work for a further 4 years but in a different role, at home and only 2 days a week, so that worked well.

    The moral of this story? That the menopause is, indeed, something women should bear in mind when considering FIRE. Having the means to either stop work entirely or drastically reduce your working hours at or before menopause is worth working hard for.

    Jane in London

    • Hi Jane in London

      Thanks very much for sharing your experience in such a detailed response.

      “a fit, slim woman whom everyone said looked years younger than my age” – this is me now, so when I wrote my post, it was me reminding myself that I was not Wonder Woman and that I could be hit hard with menopause symptoms, no matter how prepared I was!

      I think working from home will make the transition and coping with it a lot easier – one positive thing to come out of the pandemic!

      I’m glad I’ve written this post as it’s not something people even generally talk about, never mind with FIRE in mind.

  5. Hi Weenie, my wife has been struggling with menopause for a while, with many of the symptoms you’ve highlighted – night sweats, flushes, big mood swings (that can be quite scary). She’s resisted HRT but has now decided to take a course. It did affect her performance at work too. It’s not a subject I’ve seen much written about. It’s often joked about, but it’s no laughing matter from what we’ve experienced. It’s good that you’ve brought it up because it is part of growing older, where health starts to overtake finance in terms of what you worry about!

    • Hey Jim

      No, it’s no joking matter – many women suffer in silence for fear of being ridiculed but it must to so difficult for them and their loved ones.

      Yes, you’re right – as we get older, health moves higher up the list of priorities!

      Anyway, hope the HRT is working for your wife.

  6. I think reason 2 should be used anyway but just for the people you never got along with just to see how awkward you can make them 😛

    “Why are you leaving?”
    “Reason 2….BYE!!!”…and leave the convo there.

    In all seriousness I think it’s quite interesting to hear this side as a guy too though so understand more about what colleagues might be going through.

  7. Very sadly we lost of close friend to suicide during lockdown, & in her note she mentioned her near endless depression which she put down to her menopause. Truly horrible times & she leaves behind her a family too.

    FWIW, my wife swears by her oestrogel pump.

    Take care, LCIL.

    • Hi LCIL

      I’m sorry to hear about your loss – sadly, lockdown has meant that people with other (physical and mental) afflictions have not been able to get the support and help needed.

      Not heard of the oestrogel pump so I will do some research – thanks!

  8. Thanks for this post, I just turned 50 and starting to experience some of this but not sure if some of it is down to lockdown lifestyle. I am taking some supplements for women over 50 and I am undertaking some other lifestyle changes which seem to be helping. My job sounds similar to yours and worry about dropping the ball at work. Glad I have savings to bridge the gap if I want too, though I don’t know if I have the courage to go with option two Will wait till we are post virus though before I make a decision.

    • Hi thecurioushebridean

      Hear what you’re sayinbg in wondering if some of what you’re experiencing is due to lockdown lifestyle – perhaps when things return to ‘normal’, it might become a bit more obvious.

      Yes, having the savings to be able to bride the gap or just take some time off is very comforting.

      Good luck with your decision!

  9. Hi Weenie, this struck a chord as Mrs Accumulator was very worried about how her workplace would react to her reluctance to take on extra responsibility as she deals with the menopause. We feared the worst corporate two-facedness but in the event they were fantastically supportive. Mrs Accumulator was able to negotiate a compromise including, like Jane, the ability to get out of Dodge when needed.

    Your post also reminded me of Michelle Obama’s insights into how the women of the Obama administration coped with menopause:
    https://www.harpersbazaar.com/celebrity/latest/a33594883/michelle-obama-talks-menopause-barack-response/

    As an aside, my own workplace has transformed over 20 years from a male-dominated establishment into a more balanced environment with a female CEO, a female CFO and women in leadership positions throughout. The antiquated attitudes of the past have pretty much been swept away as you’d hope. No doubt cluelessness and discrimination still exists but the change I’ve witnessed does make me optimistic about the future.

    • Hi TA

      Thanks for sharing Mrs TA’s experiences and it’s good to know that she was looked after by her work and was able to negotiate a compromise.

      I hadn’t seen Michelle Obama’s insights on the menopause – thanks very much for the link to the podcast.

      We too have a female CEO but the rest of the leadership are men – I just hope my workplace will be just as supportive if I need help.

  10. Really interesting read, thank you! Finance blogging really seems to be a sausage-fest so it’s heartening to see this.
    I’m peri-menopausal right now and starting to feel the effects, despite years of taking 5000 IU D3. Who knows, things could be a lot worse without taking it. So very glad for TMF all those years ago starting me on an investment journey so we (or I) will be hopefully able to FIRE if the need arises. WFH has been a godsend in times of hormonal insomnia and rising anxiety. In case of increasing symptoms, having the option to leave work, even temporarily, gives me one less thing to worry about. A sentiment applicable to all sorts of circumstances, I can’t see a downside to aiming to FIRE for anyone if they have the ability.

    • Hi Rachel

      Hah, agree – finance blogging does seem to be a sausage-fest, hence I wasn’t really sure how this post would go down but it seems to have gone well with readers!

      I think I’m with you – things could be a lot worse without taking the supplements. I have friends who steadfastly believe that supplements are a waste of time (and money), but is it really a coincidence that I’m ill far less often than they are? I’m not so sure.

      Yes, so glad to be in the same company as you, where aiming for FIRE has meant that money problems will be one less thing to worry about if I’m unable to do my job properly. I really never thought that WFH would end up providing so many benefits!

  11. This is a really interesting read Weenie, thanks for writing about this important subject. I’ve not really been impacted as yet, but it must just be around the corner.

    I had a conversation last year with one of my colleagues who is just a year or so older than me. She was starting to find the brain fog too difficult to deal with and still be able to do her job properly. Like you, we have lots of juggling to do and deadlines to meet. She was worried that she was going to start making mistakes. She didn’t have the option of leaving work (no FIRE for her), so she had taken herself off to the docs for HRT. Loads of women swear by HRT, and I wouldn’t rule it out, but I’d like to make that choice based on what’s right for me, rather than because I’m worried about losing my job.

    That list of effects is quite long! I’ve been putting my sore hips and sides of my legs down to not stretching enough after running, and maybe sciatica. Looking at that list though it could well be a delightful side effect of the menopause. I hope not because it’s making staying asleep all night tricky when I’m sleeping on my side. I really don’t fancy that for potentially years to come.

    As you say, great to have FIRE options for as and when they’re needed, for whatever reason, menopause included.

    • I’m a side sleeper as well, and I found I was waking up with stiffness in my shoulders and legs. I bought a contoured memory foam pillow (the sort that looks like a wave) and a leg pillow that straps round one knee – it took a few weeks to get used to them, but the stiffness resolved gradually and I sleep much better.

    • Hey SS

      I’m the same, if it came to it, I wouldn’t rule out HRT but if I can get away with not taking it, that would be my choice.

      I sleep on my side too but haven’t (yet) been experiencing any problems. However, last year my sister purchased one of those leg pillows which Tina mentions and I didn’t know then that it could be the menopause (not sure if she knew….I’ll ask her!). Something to consider buying if my sleep gets affected due to my positioning.

      Yes, FIRE just gives us so many options!

  12. Good post! Am in my mid-40s and I think I am pre-menopausal and certainly seen some changes that have not been pleasant. I am definitely finding it harder to remember everything I need to remember and find myself much more tired these days. I work from home which I have certainly appreciated especially on heavy days. Older friends discussed the horror of flooding and I never appreciated it until it happened to me. I really think that the symptoms of menopause should be openly discussed so employers can offer women going through it more support and where possible the chance to work from home.

    • HI Catsitter
      Unfortunately, the first time I experienced ‘the horror of flooding’ was at work (in the office) – I felt like a schoolgirl all over again only there was no school nurse to help me out! Luckily I wasn’t totally unprepared (and there wasn’t a visible mess) but wfh provides comfort for me in the event it happens again!

  13. A fine piece, Weenie. I forwarded a link to a friend in her mid thirties, in an email titled “15 years hence”. Though perhaps by then there will be more medical help with it.

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