This week for The Leak Jane Bennett interviewed Chalice Foundation Director Jane Mallick about changes that she has made in her life to better support her physical and mental health when she arrived at a crossroads in terms of experiencing menopause and her work.
Jane Bennett: Can you tell us about a watershed moment you had when you were experiencing menopause while working a corporate job?
Jane Mallick: I was in a change management role for the education department that was incredibly stressful. It became even more so when there was a change of government and the project I was working on was not supported through the transition. I had been suffering from insomnia, which was becoming progressively worse, with no resolve to my workload which kept on growing and changing. My body eventually gave in to a severe rash all over my body, that my doctor informed me was the next stage of adrenal exhaustion. I was 42 and blood tests revealed I was heading for a crashing menopause with the state of my hormone system due to the prolonged stress.
JB: What did this experience reveal to you about the way menopausal bodies are treated in the workplace?
JM: At a meeting with my manager, when we were discussing my stress and my workload, she asked me how I was. She knew that I was attempting to manage my stress with Naturopathic supplements and my yoga practice which had always been my ongoing self-care. She suggested I go on HRT, as in her experience she had tried natural methods, but found in order to ‘keep up with the boys’ (her words) I would need to take HRT. I did not, as this was not my path, but it did create a significant cognitive dissonance for me. While I am passionate about social and educational change I realised I could not manage, nor work in the way the organisation was asking of me.
JB: What would have helped that experience be a positive and supportive experience? What do you wish you had at that time?
JM: In all of my leadership roles in Corporate Australia, I found while I was always supported in part-time roles and unpaid leave for school holidays, which was my request, so I had time with my young children, the workloads remained full time, if not more! This made for work always being stressful. I am an efficient worker, and contribute an enormous amount to organisations. In my experience women are often required to prove their worth, when they are part-time, or juggling children and career. I once had a finance colleague who took it upon himself to always check in with me each week on my days that I would work from home. He would tease me in the executive meetings that I was home hanging out the washing! At that point I was a researcher managing a research team, and I know we were all more productive when we were given work from home days to write our reports.
I wish organisations were genuine in supporting flexible workplaces, and genuinely manage workloads, and would not tolerate underhand bullying that was often disguised in ‘can’t you take a joke’.
JB: Where did that lead you and what are you doing in your work now that is helping those experiencing menopause have a more supported experience?
JM: My stress breakdown led me to retrain as a yoga teacher. I now specialise in women’s yoga for health and leadership. I teach a range of yoga courses, workshops and retreats both online and in-person in Central Victoria. These are all designed to support and awaken the divine feminine. In my experience working with hundreds of women, many are looking for a more feminine approach to yoga, so as to heal their bodies and awaken their feminine wisdom.
My recommendation for any women who find themselves in a similar situation as I did, is to remember the advice for young women from Quentin Bryce, former Governor General of Australia:
“You can have it all, but not all at the same time. How important it is to take very good care of yourself, of your mental and physical and spiritual wellbeing, it’s hard to do. It’s easier to be a workaholic than to have a truly balanced life. It’s very tough for a lot of women teetering on that tight rope of balance and balancing too many responsibilities.”
And remember to communicate to your friends and family, and workplace even if they do not listen initially, about what is going on for you. And remember we always have choice. When I was at rock bottom in stress response, I had lost the ability to realise I had choice.
Thank you to Jane Mallick for her vulnerability and wisdom in navigating the world of work and showing us how she found work that is fulfilling and nourishing!
Jane Mallick PhD
Jane Mallick PhD is currently working as a yoga teacher and coach and growing a permaculture garden in Central Victoria. Jane brings to the Chalice foundation years of training and experience with a specialism in women’s health and women’s leadership as Director.