If you've ever seen the movie Office Space, you have a pretty good picture of cubicle life. You are crammed into a tiny area with your computer, a standard stapler, inspirational magnets, and a dying plant or two. Your neighbors are close enough to hit with a spitball, and the only place you can get privacy is under your desk. That lack of space and privacy becomes more problematic when you are going through perimenopause or menopause. Hot flashes, weight gain, and frequent (constant) irritability can make working out in the open a problem for you and your co-workers. Fortunately, you can take action to minimize your symptoms and still be successful at your cubicle job.
As your estrogen levels decline, your body temperature can go insane. You may suffer from hot flashes and the lesser known cold flashes. I refer to it as having a broken thermostat, much like my family's old 1973 Chevy.
I was working the phones at a major insurance company when my internal thermostat became totally unreliable. I could be sweating one moment and freezing the next. I wasn't alone. Almost 75% of women suffer from hot flashes, which are periods of overwhelming heat, increased heart rate, and extreme perspiration. Afterward, you may be overcome with (literal) cold feet and violent chills. As a result, you may look as if you were caught in a tropical monsoon.
Since you are trapped in a cubicle with half walls and no HVAC control, you can't manage your area's temperature or hide when that heat surge strikes. Having understanding neighbors helps as they can use the latest monthly report to fan you as you melt.
Purse-sized fans, wet wipes, a cubicle quilt and a change of clothing also work wonders. You may need to use all of these aids in a matter of minutes, but there is no reason to be ashamed. If you work in a business with a number of employees, other women will be going through the same thing.
Remember, if some uninformed person does mock you, tossing a stapler at them is considered acceptable.
During the entire process, you will find yourself swearing more often and frequently yelling, "I'm losing my mind." You may constantly forget your passwords, have trouble understanding the new attendance policy, and wander away from your desk in search of candy. The good news is that you aren't crazy. You're just acting crazy. Women going through menopause often complain of "foggy brain" or reduced memory, concentration, and clear thinking. Recent studies have shown that the complaint is real and usually occurs around ages 45 - 55. Again, the drop in estrogen is considered the culprit.
Foggy thinking isn't an asset in any job, but there are ways to navigate it better in a cubicle setting. Perimenopause made working at that large insurance company challenging. I had lots of new information to process and remember every day. When "foggy brain" struck, I could put the phone on hold, lean over the cubicle half-wall, and ask for assistance. My supportive coworkers were glad to help, at least for the first six requests. Posting notes on the computer monitor also worked as well as setting alarms on my cell phone. Women are often unaware of this phenomenon and assume they are suffering from some cognitive disease. It's a relief to know that your hormones are to blame and that the condition generally improves over time.
I've never had rock-hard or even semi-firm abs, but once I neared menopause, the situation got worse. I didn't gain weight on my hips or thighs, but I did grow an impressive gut. Ever wonder why you see so few women in bikinis after 50? Mystery solved. Hormones are partly to blame, although doctors are quick to note that aging, lifestyle, and genetics enter into the equation as well. Weight around your middle increases your chance for a variety of health conditions, particularly heart disease, so you need to keep it under control.
When I was working, I found ways to deal with my weight gain. The company held a weight loss program/competition, with weekly weigh-ins. They also encouraged us to spend our breaks walking around the property. Having others around me losing weight was helpful, and we could pass vegetables over the cubicle walls. (That never happened.) My eating was out in the open, though, so scarfing brownies was more difficult to do. Public shame has its merits. I would also stand up and do stretches while I waited for the next phone call. Sometimes, I would do standing push-ups using my desk.
Cubicle work makes it hard to hide anything, but it also brings you closer to your co-workers. Being honest about menopause makes it easier to survive and takes away any embarrassment you might feel. Pack your supplies, use any aids that you need, and work on your health. Let your cubicle co-workers help you any way they can. And remember that there are natural products out there that can minimize your symptoms. This too shall pass, although it may take a few years. I can guarantee that once you are through these changes, you will be one fearless, badass woman.
Beth is a breast cancer survivor, with a tremendous amount of experience with women's healthcare issues. She has worked as an Issue Manger for several medical publications, including the American Journal of Gynecology. Beth's colorful background also includes stints as a high school English teacher, college composition instructor, radio continuity director, and customer service representative for Blue Cross Blue Shield.