When Helen Brown found herself in the perimenopause, she – like so many women out there – felt alone. But after reconnecting with old friends who were riding the same hormonal rollercoaster, Helen quickly realised the power of sharing. Read on to find out, in her own words, how a regular lockdown Zoom catch-up between girlfriends turned into bringing real womens’ stories to listeners around the world…
Two years ago, BBC Breakfast News took an in depth look at menopause. At the time, I was working as a radio producer in the same office where BBC Breakfast is based. During that week, every woman over 40 in the office was talking about it. It felt like something important was happening.
I’d been experiencing what I thought were perimenopausal symptoms for a couple of years – brain fog, migraines, anxiety. Antidepressants hadn’t helped. I found myself shuttling backwards and forwards to my GP surgery, getting frustrated and wondering why no one ever said the word perimenopause to me. My symptoms were clearly cyclical, so it had to be my effin hormones, right?
BBC Breakfast’s menopause week had a major impact on me. I thought: “Wouldn’t it be great to hear a podcast about perimenopause?” I particularly wanted to hear a group of women talking about it, because by that point, I felt isolated. I was experiencing debilitating symptoms. At their worst, I’d have two weeks out of every month with awful headaches that really impacted my quality of life. It was getting me down. The women around me who were talking about it were talking about menopause, not peri and they were a decade or so older than me. I started thinking: “Am I making all this up? Is what I’m experiencing real?” It was a pretty lonely place to be.
“41% of women going through the menopause feel ‘lonely, invisible, irrelevant or dispensable”
Having spent my career enabling people to tell their stories on the radio, I know how important it is to be able to express yourself, to feel heard. Sadly – and this is evidenced by the data in GEN M’s invisibility report – far too many women feel like I did. Alone. It reveals the startling fact that 41% of women going through the menopause feel ‘lonely, invisible, irrelevant or dispensable’. It might be a staggering number, but when I first read that, I wasn’t surprised at all.
The best way to combat loneliness is by having access to a group of people who share some of the same experiences. By being able to talk about those experiences in a safe space, with other people who can empathise. That’s exactly what we’re hoping you’ll get from our podcast Effin Hormones. We’re four friends who want you to feel like you can be part of our gang.
Podcasting is growing exponentially. Around 7.6 million people in the UK now listen to podcasts each week – that’s around one in eight people. The majority listen on their own, on smartphones or tablets, so it’s an intimate medium. It’s not like radio, which you can leave murmuring on in the background. Podcast listeners choose to listen and if they like it, they stick with it. They’re incredibly engaged, so it’s the perfect medium to make something that’s all about helping you feel like you’re part of something bigger.
“Around 7.6 million people in the UK now listen to podcasts each week”
It was on a Zoom call during lockdown that the idea for Effin Hormones was born. I’ve known Emma, Terri and Beena for so long, though these days we’ve swapped the boozy nights out for yoga, meditation and early nights. We’d reconnected during the pandemic and one evening, talking online about our various hormonal ailments, I thought: “This is it! This is the podcast!” I’d been a producer for so long, it hadn’t occurred to me that I could be one of the women talking about it. I asked the girls and luckily, they agreed to get involved.
Since then, we’ve recorded our first series, interviewing some amazing women. We’ve learnt there’s real power in women sharing their stories, because they know what you’re going through. They can give you some hope that yes, it’s really hard but you can get through the other side, just like they have.
Effin Hormones podcast guests:
We’ve been really excited to talk to some fantastic women about their experiences of perimenopause and menopause.
The actor Sue Devaney, who plays Debbie Webster in Coronation Street, is our guest in Episode 3. Sue’s always been open about her mental health struggles during perimenopause and menopause. She’s also incredibly passionate about making sure other women aren’t left blindsided by it, like she was.
As she says: “You're not on your own… There are women that have gone before you, that can talk to you about it… It's nothing to be ashamed of. And if you feel that you're losing your mind, it's fine because you might lose it, but you'll get it back.”
Our other guests include Alison Stankard, known on Facebook as ‘Totes Inappropes’. Alison is a blogger who writes about family and fashion. A couple of years ago she set up a spin-off group just for perimenopause, called Totes Merry Peri, which now has over 20K members. They swap tips, share stories and have a good swear – because sometimes that’s important! Most importantly they support each other.
Karen Arthur, the creator and presenter of Menopause Whilst Black is another of our brilliant guests. (She’s also featured on this website!) She’s a strong believer in the power of women telling their stories too. As Karen says: “You need to hear stories from people who look like you. I've heard a lot of menopause stories, but up until this point, it was all white women.
“You can hear a story, the same story, five, six times… The seventh time, you hear it from someone who was brought up in a similar way to you, and then it will land. And that's the point. That's why I speak, because I want black women to see that yes, menopause can be awful, but one of the reasons it can be awful is because we don't know what's coming.”
That’s why we speak too. I hope you enjoy listening