From Perimenopause to Pandemic: How Menopause Helped Me Conquer COVID-19
by Amanda Thebe
Amanda Thebe is a force of nature for women who are experiencing "menopause hell" and want to start feeling healthy + fit in their 40s and beyond. Through her very frank writing, hilarious social media posts, and inspirational and entertaining talks, she’s here to help you find the tools to have more energy and zest for life.
I don’t know about you, but when we initially went into lockdown at the end of March—as the kids got sent home from school and the hubby had to work in our home office—I was a little bit excited.
It’s not very often we’re all home together as a family and further, I thought, “Great! I can use all of this extra time to get super fit and be a brilliant at-home tutor to boot!”
It’s fair to say, the excitement didn’t last. Unfortunately, I caught coronavirus and ended up spending the first three weeks of lockdown fighting a raging fever in bed. It was a tough illness to conquer, but I suspect perimenopause trained me for my battle with COVID-19.
Throughout perimenopause, I experienced so many symptoms that I felt like I was always second-guessing myself, wondering whether I was just being a wimp or if it was all in my head—mainly because I couldn’t get any straight answers as to what was going on. Interestingly, catching a novel virus is much the same.
Nobody could tell me anything. What do you do when you don’t know the enemy you’re facing? I had to stay isolated in my bedroom, wondering if I was ever going to get better. Would this elephant squashing my chest, preventing me from breathing, ever lift? Were these hot flashes or was this a low-grade fever?
The whole experience was isolating and very scary, much like the beginning of my perimenopause experience, but I gained strength by focusing on the things I knew I could control. The virus was in me, so I knew I had to take care of my body to help it heal.
Whether you’re recovering from the virus or hunkering down in lockdown, this has to be considered one of the most stressful times in our lifetime. But when you add into the mix the hot and sweaty agony of menopause and all its associated symptoms? Well, it’s just a perfect breeding ground for some mental health issues.
Be it a highly contagious virus or menopause symptoms that ruin your quality of life, I’ve found that there comes a point when you have to take ownership of your situation. When we choose to dwell on the future, which we can’t control, anxiety takes over.
Likewise, living in dread of things that have passed can make room for depression to rear its ugly head. For me, during both perimenopause and my bout with COVID-19, I fell into despair; my overthinking brain sent my anxiety through the roof.
The isolation of both experiences caused a depression to set in. I couldn’t stay in that mental state—something had to change. I learned from perimenopause that the first step was to take responsibility for the things I could control.
After the first two weeks of my battle with COVID-19, I started to feel a little better, the fever reduced and I finally got out of my bed, so my main focus switched to recovery. I dove headfirst into taking charge of my nutrition, getting in some daily movement, and attempting to clock in plenty of sleep.
But I also used this strange time to reassess and slow the feck down. Menopausal women have to be the roadrunners of our age—we never sit still for a moment. I don’t know about you, but my life consisted of being pulled in all directions from my family: being a short-order cook, an unpaid Uber driver, a therapist, a tutor, all while trying to manage my own fitness business, and attempting all of it at record-breaking speeds.
After dealing with these extreme health conditions, I realized just how tired I was of this crazy existence, so I prioritized changing the pace and boy … did it feel good.
Taking time for myself triggered my creative juices, and all of a sudden, I realized that I had been waiting for this moment my whole life—I was always meant to be a 1940s wartime housewife!
I mastered the skill of sourdough baking, thanks to the starter called Paul that I created; I planted a vegetable garden and even remembered to water it; I crocheted enough baby blankets for a whole NICU ward; and started my first paint-by-number masterpiece (which remains unfinished, but still, I tried something new).
Slowing down gave me the opportunity to truly appreciate what was important. I knew I had too much going on in my life, and I knew I needed to put my ducks in a row, and that meant shifting from a “WE” to “ME” philosophy.
Perimenopause actually gave me this epiphany and it was playing out to be true during my recovery. If I didn’t put myself first, do the things that made me feel well and happy, then everybody else suffered. Just ask my kids!
Seriously, if I don’t get up, have my coffee, and get my workout in, I am like Momzilla. It’s not a selfish attitude, it’s an attitude of self-preservation that I think every woman should adopt.
The whole pandemic has been hard: for those with coronavirus, for those who have lost loved ones, their jobs, their homes, among other things—and we know it’s not over yet. Despite all of this, on a personal level, I’ve been able to take the opportunity to slow down and shift into a mode that makes self-preservation and care a priority, not an afterthought.
If there’s anything to learn from menopause and how to manage stress, it’s the importance of making good choices based on the knowledge that is available to us. And using that knowledge to harness control, as it gives us the strength to make good choices.
This thought has carried over in the pandemic for me when taking care of my mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Knowledge is power, and that power gives us the confidence to make choices and decisions about our health.
Although the initial excitement of lockdown didn’t last, I do believe that I learned a lot of positive things from the experience. And, although I didn’t become an ace tutor for my kids or the triathlete star of my dreams, I now have a renewed sense of importance about how imperative both physical and mental health management is during our most challenging times.
Do I still want to do it all? Hell yes, I do! But it just looks a little different. I get no joy from being flat out exhausted at the end of the day, barely being able to lift my wine to my lips.
Instead, I manage my days so that it all gets done, maybe not perfectly, but good enough so that I’m able to slurp my chardonnay gracefully—without nodding off.