“I am committed to raising awareness about menopause and diversifying the landscape surrounding this topic.” So says Karen Arthur, founder of bespoke fashion label Reddskin, and a leading figure in raising issues of menopause and diversity. “As an older black woman with silver locks, I am learning to take up the space that I deserve. I encourage other women to join me!”
As Karen shares in this interview, she hasn’t always found “taking up the space” she deserves to be easy. These days, she is a powerful role model for all midlife women – just watch this video and you’ll see what we mean. It’s inspiring and uplifting, and exactly why we’re thrilled to share Karen’s story here at Hylda.
What is your age and stage?
I’m 58 and post menopausal
When did your symptoms start?
My physical symptoms started when I was 52. I had awful tingling in my legs at night. I made the mistake of Googling ‘menopause symptoms’ late one night when I couldn’t sleep and frightened the living daylights out of myself.
My brain fog and forgetting things started months before. But I didn’t make the connection between that and menopause so I thought I was going mad.
What has been the most challenging thing to deal with?
Well I suppose dealing with anxiety and depression has been right up there as the worst. I was diagnosed in February 2015. I had been signed off from my teaching job and I struggled with trying to make sense of what was happening to my mind and trying to get better to return to work.
I didn’t know that this was the beginning of my journey towards where I am now. I had to go down or through or however you want to name it a lot further before I could heal.
Hot flushes come a close second simply because I didn’t know that’s what they were. I thought my heating was faulty!
Have there been any positive symptoms?
To be honest, poor mental wellbeing was a positive in that it forced me to stop and take stock. I hadn’t been listening to signs that I was unwell and I was forcing myself to power through with a stressful lifestyle. I was barely managing to keep my head above water. Becoming ill meant that I had no choice.
I floundered because I had no idea what to do after leaving teaching. My identity was tied up in my working status. So I turned my focus on me. Depression and menopause helped me to be honest with myself for the first time. Learning to put myself first also means that my two daughters (25 and 29) see that they can too.
What are the things that are getting you through?
Leaving my career behind, scary as it was at the time, has allowed me to slow right down when it counts. On a practical note I had time to extend my morning routine. It involves a good stretch, lemon tea and a short meditation. I like to go walking, too. Plus dressing to lift my mood by choosing clothing based on what I love. Wear Your Happy!
What has made the biggest difference?
Over time I learned to care less about what others think about me after years of self-doubt. I think that meditation helped a lot in this aspect.
Did you seek any advice from experts, friends or family?
I went to a herbalist in the beginning to work on my symptoms of anxiety. Often, sitting in her room weekly and having someone to listen was helpful too. My visits to the doctor centred around being off work and my mental wellbeing.
What was the advice you received?
The advice from the herbalist involved a diet tweak. I’ve always been a fairly healthy eater but I added some specific supplements.
Even now in big bold 2020, when you search for the term ‘menopause’ the images are overwhelming of white, middle class women (try it yourself).
Is there anything you wish you’d known?
That deterioration in my mental wellbeing could be linked to the onset of menopause. I will say that I feel like I went through menopause alone. Everywhere I looked I didn’t see any information that was specific to black women. No one who looked like me.
Even now in big bold 2020, when you search for the term ‘menopause’ the images are overwhelming of white, middle class women (try it yourself). Any research that mentions black women is dated (2007) or from the US.
This is why I am doing my own research that centres on black women based in the UK. The overwhelmingly positive response is a clear indication that there is a need for our stories to be heard.
What has been the impact on your daily life?
Forgetting simple words and things I had to do. Sleep was an issue too as I’d take an age to settle then have vivid dreams.
Has there been an impact on your relationships?
It strengthened my relationships with my friends, who are also experiencing symptoms. Having a circle to share with has been helpful.
What do you say to other women about the menopause?
It’s a journey but it’s not the end. It can be the beginning of a whole new adventure. I might say to look at diet or lifestyle a bit earlier so that menopause arrives less abruptly. Knowledge is power.
What are your thoughts on this time of a woman’s life?
Growing older can be scary but much of it is down to fear of the unknown. Society’s fixation with all things youthful – especially where women are concerned – certainly doesn’t help.
Your menopause was…
You feel Hylda when…
I feel passionate about what I’m doing and hopeful about the future.
Karen is the founder of Reddskin, a bespoke fashion label. Find her on Instagram @thekarenarthur and @menopausewhilstblack