The first person I started following on social media who was talking about menopause was Amanda Thebe, a British trainer with 20 years of experience in the fitness industry.
She was a driving force in getting me to strength-train – oh, the benefits to that – and her attitude did a lot to help shape the way I look at this transition now. She has a thriving Facebook community, Menopausing So Hard, a solid Instagram following and now, a book – Menopocalypse: How I Learned to Thrive During Menopause and How You Can Too. It’s out today, just in time for World Menopause Day.
I was lucky enough to read an advance copy and it’s great: chock-full of no-BS info, insight and inspiration, as well as really tangible hacks and action steps for not only coping but thriving. Thebe joins other, more famous writers in this menomoir genre, people like Meg Mathews, Sam Baker and Caitlin Moran, in helping us all by illuminating her corner of this massive journey we go on. And even though she’s a busy trainer and mom of two teen boys, and I’m just starting out, Amanda made time to Zoom with me about it, US to UAE-style. And while we disagree on a few things – a video I made for Oh Hello Perry last week about trusting yourself when choosing a trainer and the role of science in complementary medicine, for starters – if strong women agreed on everything, in menopause or in life, this would all be very boring indeed.
I needed someone like Amanda sticking her neck out when I really didn’t even know how much I was struggling, just like tens of thousands of other women. She really knows her stuff, and I’m incredibly grateful to her. Also, as someone who has been wanting to write a book for the last 10 years, and has not, her determination, fortitude, courage and work ethic in getting one published is a lesson for all of us. Here’s an edited version of our conversation:
How did you get started with your Facebook group Menopausing So Hard?
I couldn't find a lot of information, so I wrote an article. The article was called The Shite That Nobody Tells You About Perimenopause. I posted this article just to vent, just to write down everything that was happening and how little information was out there, and it went viral in my world because I didn't have a lot of people following. I think it was shared 60,000 times, maybe a bit less. Enough that it made me realize that there needs to be a place to chat. I just wanted a place where women could go and talk without fear of being sold an MLM (multi-level marketing). That was basically how it started.
What are women mostly talking about, from your perspective?
There's a really great sketch from a Canadian group of women called Baroness von Sketch. They're really funny. They do this one video, Could this be perimenopause? They ask the doctor. Nobody really knows and so that's definitely the number one question.
Women come over and it's like, 'My joints are aching. Could this be perimenopause? I've had this headache for three months, could this be perimenopause?’ Nobody really knows what it is. They have these crazy symptoms and we look at the symptoms in isolation, instead of looking at everything as a big whole thing, exactly how it is. There's always this question like, ‘Am I going crazy or is this for real me starting to go through the change?'
What bothers you on there?
There's always a weight-loss question that makes my eyes roll. I hate those questions, because when you've studied any nutritional science to any decent level, you know how the science works. We know factually what works. Then anecdotally someone will say, ‘intermittent fasting or keto or go vegan’, and it's almost a given that's exactly what they need to do. It goes against what the nutritional science says, but if they were to present it like, ‘This is what worked for me. You know what I did? I cut out eating refined carbs and actually that worked for me'. That's different. I'm okay with that conversation but when women say, ‘Sugar is addictive. It causes inflammation. It's the reason you're having a bad menopause’. I'm like, God, we have to stop those types of conversations because you're just adding noise to something that is actually fundamentally quite simple. Not always hard to implement, but the foundations of nutritional science and exercise science are fairly easy. They must be, because I did them.
Sometimes you get angry at the holistic side on your social media...
I think we need to clarify that. For me, if I talk about something holistically, I think of it as the whole body. That's what holistic means to me, and my approach to menopause is holistic. I talk about your exercise, your nutrition, your mindset and stress management. They're all from fact-based data. They're all from evidence-based sources. Alternative medicine, on the other hand, is pseudoscience. The whole point of complementary medicine is that they reject science. If somebody is saying to me that the reason you're having menopause symptoms is because your gut health is off and you're not methylating estrogen, that's unfounded and not true.
It's also so confusing for women. They're like, ‘I have to spend $600 on these privately made hormones or I have to spend $800 on this test, that's not validated by any of the governing bodies’. That's the thing that pisses me off. I don't actually get angry, but I'm just vocal. I have no problem standing up and saying, ‘Why are you falling for this?’ It's just unfair. That's what I think, right? I'm okay to challenge things but I'm also okay to say, ‘well, okay, then maybe it does work’.
You embrace mindfulness, too, right?
I talk about my experience. What I do in the morning is, I take the kids to school or get them out of bed and put them in front of a computer right now. I go and have a coffee and sit outside and just be alone with my thoughts, and that's mindfulness. I wouldn't have grasped onto that until I'd seen the scientific data to show that it can actually change the way the brain structures, your thought processes and helps you.
I just need to be shown the evidence. That's basically me. There's different ways to make it work. You don't have to go into some tantric meditation and some orgasmic state like that to be Zen to get through this, but I think just being really aware of your thoughts and how you process your thoughts. Actually, I'll move on from talking about strengths and values and how you actually approach life based on what your values are and what you're good at. It can actually change the way that menopause is. I truly believe that, but not in a hippy way.
Mindset is huge, yet a lot of the talk about menopause is pretty negative. I wondered if you think that's changing at all?
I think the whole menopause world is changing. I think the UK maybe have kickstarted that. I feel like they're on this menopause kick and everybody's talking about it. It's on the national news for Christ's sake. It's not like that over here in the US. I think that we're opening up a conversation now.
It can be a very trying, horrible time. I also think that it is worth saying that as soon as we start the conversation it does normalize those feelings. It's similar to the mental health conversation. Menopause essentially to me is a mental health condition, because we go through some terrible changes cognitively with our anxiety, depression and inability to just function sometimes. Having those conversations definitely removes stigma around it. I think it's okay to have those ‘Oh, woe is me’-type conversations, but I also think it's okay to say, ‘then this worked for me and this is what I'm doing now to try and help myself’.
I have an observational theory that the UK is farther ahead of the US because celebrities talk about it more… What do you think is happening?
We've got some massively influential women in our lives now and we need to hear how they're coping. We don't need to hear from Gwyneth Paltrow and Suzanne Somers who have definitely adopted this alternative way of approaching menopause. We need to hear more from Michelle Obama. She mentioned it in her podcast recently, but it was a one-liner. Brené Brown should be out there talking about it, because this is a huge time for women to refocus their priorities as we know. It's such an important time in our life.
I think menopause has been my most pivotal time in my life and I think most women feel that, but I am postmenopausal now so I feel like I've got the grace to be able to say that. I'm not in the thick of it anymore. We're not hearing people talking about it in the platforms as we need to, but I think it's starting to peter in.
The amount of male trainers that have reached out to me and said, ‘I need this book’, because the lion's share of their clients are us. Most of their clients, I would say 60 percent, 70 percent are 40, 50, 60-year old women who pee their pants when they skip and don't want to tell you.
I think that when I started talking about it, and I'm obviously not a celebrity and I have a modest following, I had to make the delineation like, ‘where am I prepared to go with this?’ I spoke to my husband, who's very private. I even had to run things by him in the book. I got the thumbs up from him, but I don't mention his name ever. He doesn't exist. I was like, you know what? It's all data. I just look at this as information. I don't want to attach a personal worth to it. When I say I have these GSM symptoms, that I went for a 10km run and peed my pants and that I started tearing, I'm okay saying that because it's only a vagina. It just happens to be mine, but I'm okay with talking about it.
I'm curious about the symptoms. I've become obsessed with this: is it 34, 40, 60? There's this one menopause guru in New Orleans who has a list of 87. What do you think?
In the book I list what I think are the symptoms, but it's only what I've gathered from me, the personal perspective or reaching out to my community group. You go to the medical journals or you go to the governing bodies like the North American Menopause Society and they'll talk about eight symptoms. Vasomotor symptoms, migraines, joint pain, and then they'll go through the main ones.
Then you go into a group of women and if you list those 34 symptoms that you are talking about, most women will say, ‘Yes. I've had every one of those’. I don't know how important it is that we have a central repository for what all the symptoms are, but it would be good to have an acknowledgment that these are genuine symptoms and they are valid.
If the medical community could have an idea about what it was about, that would be helpful. You go to the doctor and say, ‘I've got a migraine’. They'll treat your migraine instead of asking the broad scope question, ‘Is there anything else happening? Are your periods irregular? Have you noticed any joint pain or anything else?’
Actually in the book, I do a menopause tracker and encourage women to write down their symptoms and consolidate it. Because you know what it's like when you go to the doctor. You want to cry, you feel all tense, you can only remember the one thing and you forgot what it felt like three days ago when you were full of nausea and whatever.
It seems like one of the biggest changes for you was opening your mind to the fact that depression could be part of it. That you might be a person who would be depressed. What was that like for you?
That's one of the hardest things, right? You're in the depth of perimenopause. You may even begin treatment from some of the doctors. You may be on HRT or on an antidepressant or whatever, but you still don't feel yourself. You still don't feel like you're thriving. I did question if this was a personality shift, if this was how I was always going to be. Then I realized at that point, if that actually was the case, then what do I do about it? Do I just keep complaining or do I try and not embrace it, but try and run with it somehow?
Inevitably it turned out that it wasn't the case. I really did see a shift going into post menopause. I feel like I'm back to my old self again.
I love how you now say ‘Don't let the old lady in’ based on the Toby Keith song Don’t let the old man in.
When we were in a pandemic, I would go to the local gym and it was always the same people. It was like my little social morning. One of the guys who was this 70-plus old guy, he came up to me and went, ‘you look so good and strong and I love seeing you’. It wasn't in a sleazy way, he was a friend.
I said, ‘but so do you’. I said, ‘You actually inspire me’. He went, ‘That's because I don't let the old man in’. That's such a great attitude and it doesn't place any shame on us. It just is a little reminder in the back of our heads that you're capable. You actually can do this.
Menopocalypse: How I Learned to Thrive During Menopause and How You Can Too is out today.