By Nat Ellis, writer, artist and menopause coach.
I came into the health and fitness industry by complete surprise. It wasn’t my plan. For someone with social anxiety, I have always felt happiest as a writer and an artist. The thought of leading a fitness class, with all eyes on me, following my every move, made me feel physically sick to the stomach. However, a few years ago, something changed in me, I started to see my life differently, and I began to force myself to seize every opportunity, no matter how scary. That change was all thanks to perimenopause. I know, sounds crazy right? But once I started to understand what was happening to me, I started to embrace ‘the change’ and make it work for me, not against me.
So, let me just take you back a few years more, before my perimenopause adventure began. During my 20s, exercise and being healthy was pretty straightforward – thanks to a youthful metabolism. If I wanted to lose weight all I had to do was cut some calories and do an 80s inspired old school aerobics DVD. Remember that iconic scene with Jamie Lee Curtis and John Travolta in the movie Perfect? Well, that was me, gyrating around the living room floor like a thing possessed.
Fast forward a few years of yoyo dieting and crazy fitness fads and I noticed things were starting to change in me physically as well as mentally. As I started to creep towards my 40s, my ‘go to’ way of dealing with weight gain through crash dieting and cheesy aerobics just wasn’t working anymore. What shocked me the most was that my body was beginning to change where it was storing fat. Typically, I had always been pear-shaped, with a smaller upper body and waist, and a curvy bum and thighs. Imagine my shock when I turned into an apple, with all my weight collecting like the Michelin Man around my middle. I mean, this is what happens to older ladies right? Not someone in their early 40’s.
No matter what I did, how I ate or exercised, the weight just wouldn’t shift. Not only was the change happening in my appearance, but I was also experiencing hot flushes, night sweats, irregular periods, insomnia, aching joints, headaches, fatigue, mood swings (including anxiety and panic attacks and an inability to cope with stress), loss of libido, brain fog and memory loss. Phew … being a woman can be exhausting.
As a fitness instructor this made me feel a hundred times worse as I felt I had to look and feel a certain way to set an example to the ladies I was teaching – I have since realised that this isn’t the case and being relatable and real makes me a much better instructor. I must admit, I was confused about why things had changed, but menopause never crossed my mind.
I had never even heard the term perimenopause and had no idea that it was during this time that all those changes came into effect. I mean, what did I think, that one day I would wake up and just like that I would be a grey-haired, moody, hot-headed, dungaree-wearing, crazy person? Well, some of that might be true, but the media has so much to answer for in how menopausal women were being portrayed and perceived. I wish I had felt then that it was totally okay to be all those things, as instead I started to feel depressed and alone, and even quit fitness teaching for a while. Although, I did continue with small yoga classes as it was the only thing that kept me strong, mentally as well as physically.
Then, one weekend, I was running a wellness retreat with two other instructor friends and there was a talk all about menopause. At the time I didn’t think this would hold any interest for me, but I sat at the back to check it out anyway. Suddenly, it was like a light went on and I was awakened. All the symptoms I was feeling and going through matched perimenopause to a T. It was there and then that I decided I would investigate further and start to educate myself on how I could manage my symptoms better.
Realising that I didn’t have to give up and accept what was happening inspired me to train to become a 3rd Age Woman Menopause Transition Coach, so that I could not only help myself but also so that I could help other women going through this phase of life with some confidence and empowerment. Through raising awareness, I met other ladies who shared the same experiences and were just as fed up as I was. It felt liberating but also frustrating that there was not enough proper information or support to guide women on how to manage their symptoms. The feeling of ‘your life is over’ message was still felt very prominent, and this angered me. Women shouldn’t be made to feel that their usefulness and sexiness is over at a certain age.
However, on a positive note, since receiving my menopause diploma two years ago, things are starting to improve. More helpful and useful information is becoming available, and even celebrities are getting involved and speaking out. Talking about menopause is becoming less taboo, and as a Menovist* I encourage being outspoken and urge women to feel empowered enough to embrace this new phase of life.
I discovered that once I started to work out how I could manage my symptoms in a way that worked for me, my life changed. I started to welcome the new woman I was becoming and started to treat her with kindness. I am no longer ashamed of my changing body, my mood swings, and forgetfulness, and just feel more comfortable in my own skin. If anything, I feel more in charge of my life now than ever before. So, I am tightening my polka dot headscarf, wearing my dungarees with pride, and rockin’ the fit, fierce, and fabulous perimenopause years one hot flash at a time. Who’s with me?
*[men·o·vist | \me-no-vist\]
Definition of Menovist:
One who stands up for those going through the menopause: a person who openly encourages and engages in conversations around menopause and plays a part in stamping out the taboo. (https://rockmymenopause.com)