Bernadine turned 50 last year and had only experienced 3 months of hot flashes during perimenopause – until brain fog hit and changed everything she seemed to know. She tells her story here…
“I’ve worked in contracts and financials for the government for 4 years across 6 different agencies so I’m used to changing jobs and quickly adapting to new pressures. I’m very detail orientated and logical but when I started a new role 3 months ago, everything changed.
It was a fast paced, high functioning role and I’ve always liked a challenge. But as it progressed, I began really struggling to focus and sticking to just one task. I kept making mistakes, little errors I normally wouldn’t make because I was usually so detailed and diligent on spreadsheets. I suddenly found it very, very hard to concentrate and I couldn’t understand why my work was suffering.
It was bizarre. I went from being really detailed OCD at work to not being able to follow through on anything properly.
I also found that a quick conversation with a co-worker could throw me out 20 or 60 minutes, or even 3 hours, from what I was focusing on. In the past I could quickly pick up from where I was. But I was forgetting to go back and pick up that task and I had to start writing everything down. When my manager gave me two or three instructions, by the time I’d get to my desk I’d forgotten what she told me.
During the first week I thought I was just getting used to the new role but by week 3 and 4 of my thoughts solidly deteriorating, I felt down, depressed, and even considered resigning. I was also getting heart palpitations and anxiety, which I don’t normally get.
My short-term memory seemed shot and it became a 50/50 chance that I’d forget what I was told at work. I’d walk upstairs to get something, get distracted, and forget why I went up there in the first place.
At the same time, I started doing weird stuff outside of work, too. One day I put my laundry in the microwave instead of the laundry basket. Another day I put it in the trash.
Instead of thinking I need to go to my car, my brain would tell me ‘I need to go to my horse’. I would have to tell myself ‘No, that’s a car, a horse is something you may have ridden 100 years ago, you have a vehicle’ and I’d be like ‘Yeah, that’s right’. I felt like I was going crazy.
My family and boyfriend didn’t seem to notice but I started feeling like I was in this thick quicksand. I knew there was an issue because that wasn’t like me.
I began thinking there was something mentally wrong because of the way I was suddenly acting. I don’t drink or take prescription drugs so it had to be my cognitive functions. My intuition told me to research menopause and brain fog and it started to make sense.
It didn’t get better though. After 4 weeks I told my manager I didn’t know if I could improve my performance. I even told her that due to my brain fog maybe we should consider demoting my position down a level along with my salary because I was losing my confidence. She said ‘You don’t have to do that, but if that’s going to make you feel better and increase your confidence then I will accept that but don’t feel that you don’t have to’. She was really understanding and supportive.
So instead, I tried hard to concentrate even more and be extra conscious of my thoughts. To not be distracted while I was focusing on a job and be extra methodical with the way I did things.
It worked to a certain extent but it was exhausting. Then one day my manager was away for 3 days unexpectedly. We had a deadline and I was thrust into the director position and had to make all these decisions and negotiate contracts with 13 suppliers. I had to bite the bullet, step up and gain my confidence back, which I was losing because I knew I could perform better.
I just thought, ‘Right, I don’t have time to worry about it. I need to get my team around me and start delegating tasks and work together’. It was literally sink or swim. When my manager came back and saw how much work I’d done she really praised me, so that was the best thing that happened to me.
I’ve only worked with her for 3 months and she’s been the best mentor I’ve ever had. I was nervous to tell her I think I have brain fog and how she would react. She’s 45, so younger than me. I told her my research and she would give me reminders throughout the day. She was my backbone.
I had no friends who’d experienced it to talk to and if I didn’t have a supportive boss, a female, like I did I think I’d be out of a role. I’d been so close to quitting and that mini miracle happened and I had to make it work.
I realized then that if something comes up that isn’t urgent, I have to park it. With menopause, I’ve realized I cannot be multi-tasking anymore. I need to stick to one task with a methodical process.
I did slip up after 3 weeks when I veered from my process but my boss pulled me back in with all the stuff I started missing. She’s been amazing.
I’ve decided to give it 2-3 months and if things don’t improve, I’ll get my cognitive functions checked and hormone testing done.
I’m normally a happy person and I began thinking ‘Is this it, am I going to continue declining?’ I thought maybe I had early onset dementia or Alzheimer’s, which caused panic attacks. Now I tell myself, ‘Don’t panic, calm down and give yourself a few more weeks’. I seem to have stabilized but only because I know what I need to do and have the support of my manager.
I keep a mantra in my mind of my new process due to my lack of concentration and memory. If I don’t stay focused, I’ll go off on tangents everywhere. My analytical mind is definitely struggling with the brain fog.
I’ve thought about stopping doing government admin work and becoming a pastry chef so I can use my hands and don’t have to think in an analytical way anymore. Baking, cooking and being creative are what’s helped me get through this and keep my confidence up.
Brain fog doesn’t affect my baking and I love making beautiful pastries. It doesn’t require attention to detail because I’m ad hoc and skim over recipes and use my intuition. I also love to play tunes on my flute not reading the music.
My advice when you’re overwhelmed and brain fog is affecting your self-esteem is, take the pressure off yourself. Step back and mind map the priorities, the process of what needs to happen and how to bring that together.
I went really, really deep for one month and now I’m in the third month and I’m coming out of it. Brain fog can come out of nowhere and lead to anxiety and depression. I won’t go back there.”
Bernadine B, Australia.