On the fifth episode of the Period Story podcast, I had a wonderful conversation with Tamu Thomas, the founder of Three Sixty. We talked about Tamu’s first period and how this rite of passage was celebrated by her family and how she tracks her energy levels along with her menstrual cycle and uses this to plan how much work she’ll take on.
Tamu and I also talked about how she’s talking to her daughter about periods and menstrual health and how she’s moved past the secrecy around menstruation she grew up with to now having a very open and free attitude.
We discussed how Tamu uses her menstrual cycle as a North Star to track her moods and energy levels and how this has been a gamechanger for her. She says this helps her connect her mind and body so that she’s actually working with herself rather than against.
Tamu says that tuning into what your body is telling you creates such freedom and that’s definitely something I agree with!
Tamu Thomas is founder of Three Sixty; a brand she created for women in their late 30s and 40s that want to simplify life and create space for everyday joy. Tamu created the brand as a response to her own emotional and physical situation. At the age of 40, and after years of compromising her health, joy and pleasure to meet the demands of her career as a social worker and her role as a mother, she realised that feeling emotionally and physically depleted was not a necessity, or a given.
As Tamu slowed down and stripped back the layers to try and understand why she had allowed herself to become so burnt out, she realised something important. She held onto internalised beliefs which related self-worth to being overloaded, and somehow she had confused being busy with being productive – a belief system that Tamu claims many Generation X women uphold.
During this point in her life, Tamu chose to move into the centre of herself, taking full ownership of every part of her, thus Three Sixty was born – a brand that encourages women to accept and love themselves fully, in all their shades from light to dark, their entire 360 degrees.
Tamu has combined over fifteen years Social Work experience with Mindfulness & Life Coaching and Group Facilitation training to create a body of work that helps women to accept themselves fully and lead with joy. Tamu’s intention is to guide you to create a pathway to deeper connection that she believes leads to accepting yourself fully, self-love and everyday joy.
Le’Nise: On today’s episode we have Tamu Thomas, who is the founder of Three Sixty, a brand she created for women in their late 30s and 40s that want to simplify life and create space for everyday joy.
Tamu created the brand as a response to her own emotional and physical situation. At age 40 and after years of comprising her health, joy and pleasure to meet the demands of her career as a social worker and her role as a mother, she realised that feeling emotionally and physically depleted was not a necessity or a given. Welcome to the show, Tamu.
Tamu: Good morning! Or good afternoon depending on whatever time everyone is listening. Thank you so much for having me.
Le’Nise: Thanks so much for coming on the show. So let’s start off by getting into the story of your very first period. Can you share with us what happened?
Tamu: My first period was about a month before I turned 13 and I was really really excited, I couldn’t wait. I was one of the “later bloomers” in comparison to my friends. So I was really excited to have joined the club and when I was thinking about coming on this podcast, my period was probably a month prior but I wasn’t too sure. Well this is a period podcast, so I’m just going to talk about it, my discharge was different and I wasn’t really sure what it was so I just carried on as normal and did what I was doing.
I’d had tender breasts, well, the semblance of breasts that I had at that time. I’d had mood swings, I’d had some form of cramping, but I wasn’t entirely sure what it was. I suspected it was my period coming because my mum has always been very open about the practicality of periods. So yeah, mine came just before I turned 13 and I was really excited about it and I told my mum but I was really aggrieved, that she told, what felt to me at the time, everybody about it so like my dad, was never emotionally communicative. He was not that dad that worked in from work or I walked in from school and was asking me how my day was. All of a sudden he kept asking me if I was ‘okay? how am I? Do I need anything’? To have my very stern West African dad trying to be soft, but being so brisk with it, ‘do you need anything?’ ‘Are you okay?’.
That was really like urgh and then it just so happened that one of my aunts from overseas came over and she was like “oh Tamu, you’ve joined the club!” and my aunt that lived down the road came round. There was all this hoopla about me joining the club that I really did not want and my mum bought me this kit, it was bright fuchsia pink and it had tampons, sanitary towels and it was a fuchsia pink tampon holder and I remember not being given much information about how to use these things but being told that this was what I needed and using a tampon for the first time, hymen fully intact, never even masturbated at that point, not digitally inserting a finger or anything and using this tampon and having it halfway out and walking like John Wayne and my mum saying “what on earth is going on” and me saying “well I used a tampon” and her saying “well, don’t use that, use a sanitary towel, your body is not ready for that” and overhearing the conversation in the kitchen between my mum and dad and my dad was very much against me using tampons, he was really into this old West African Virgin Mary kind of train of thought.
So yeah, it was something I was excited about and I was excited about it for me and I kind of felt that got taken away by being shared at that time. As an adult now I think, well now I understand it’s a big coming of age thing, it’s a really big marker in human development, in female development and my mum was celebrating that. I thought a period was just for me and no one else to know about and I carried that with me for a very long time.
Le’Nise: What you said about the excitement and the hoopla around you getting your first period and your family getting involved is so interesting because it’s very different to a lot of the stories that I’ve heard where it’s something that these women were ashamed about it. They kind of had a cursory chat with their mum. Whereas yours was totally different, yours was celebrated, your mum gave you a kit with tampons and pads and she had a conversation about what was the best menstrual product for you to use at the time for where your body was, which I think is so so wonderful. The openness about your period and menstruation, did you carry that through the rest of your teenage years?
Tamu: No, not really, and it was because, so my mum has always been very open. So, for example, my grandmother became pregnant because she didn’t know what a period was, when she had her first period, she was told by her elders, that means if a man touches your breast, you will become pregnant. So she became pregnant because of a lack of knowledge. My grandad was very green, my grandma was green, so yeah that was her experience so my grandmother was very open with my mum and her siblings so my mum carried that through.
But my dad was very much, women’s things are women’s things or women’s business and you lot carry on with it, you do your womanly thing. So even things, like you couldn’t put underwear in a washing load with his washing, there was no way those two things should mix at all. So although he didn’t say hide your period or your period products or anything, I knew that wasn’t something that could be open and then at school it was very secretive, I so I kind of just didn’t question, I just thought it was very secretive. So although for me, when I first started, I was excited about it, as soon as it became in the public domain kind of thing, I very quickly learnt that it should be secret so it was going to the toilet with your sanitary towel somewhere very covert. Making sure the main door to the toilets was closed because the sanitary towel incinerator thing that we had in school was right by the door and you didn’t want other girls, never mind, other boys, to see you putting your sanitary towel in incinerator.
It very quickly became something that was a secret and you kind of operated in a way whereby your goal was to make sure your period happened without anyone knowing about it. So that’s what happened with that, but I understood the mechanics of it. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t having some sort of conversation with my mum about how your body works on a practical sense.
What I didn’t get from her was the emotional side and the understanding about hormones. So she would say things like you will get moody but there was no breakdown and no explanation and as I reflect on that period in time DA DUM DUM TCHHH there weren’t wide conversations taking place about hormones and periods, I think that’s quite a new thing so I didn’t really believe in the impact of hormonal changes so I was very hard on myself when I wasn’t able to do things at certain times of the month and that’s something I carried with me for a very long time and also certainly definitely through my school years my period was very heavy and was very long. So there was a lot of work that went into making sure my period was private, that sometimes meant leaking because I got so into this private mode I wasn’t always letting my mum know when I needed new products and she was new to this too, I’m the oldest, she hadn’t experienced raising a child that was having periods. There wasn’t a cupboard with stash of sanitary ware in, so it took a while for us to get into a rhythm with that side of things, even though I had my lovely pink kit.
Le’Nise: I just want to go back with what you said about secrecy and things being private and actually go into what you were saying about the secrecy at school. So, you didn’t discuss it at all with any of your friends?
Tamu: I discussed at times with one friend who coincidentally I spent the evening with yesterday, still really close. So I discussed it on and off with her but the only time period conversations came up was for example girls not wanting to do PE or swimming because they were on the period. Yeah, that was pretty much it; any conversation was around what you couldn’t do because of your period, it wasn’t anything more than that.
I really tried to recall and there was no sisterhood at all in that regard, as we were all keeping it a secret. Even things like, if I think about at home there was a sense that men shouldn’t know about this, this was for women and its only for women so period products regardless whether it was morning, noon, or night had to be disposed of in the bin outside, it wasn’t to be in a bin in the home and things like that.
Le’Nise: You mentioned the West African cultural element of underwear being separated and what your father said about “it’s women things”. How much of that cultural element do you think you carried into the way that you think about your period and your hormones and your menstrual cycle?
Tamu: Well I haven’t really, as a child or adolescent having periods, you just did what your parent said and did and that was it. As I started to make my own way in the world, to be honest with you, it’s only in the last few years that I haven’t been secretive about periods and period products so if my bag is wide open and there’s a tampon there, whoever sees it see it because I’m really not bothered, whereas before, the tampon would be in a non-discreet bag tucked into somewhere within my bag and all that kind of stuff.
I haven’t carried it with me because my adult experience is very different to my child experience, I talk a lot within my brand about my childhood being analogue and my adulthood being digital because I do have the sisterhood within digital spaces that have become sisterhood within real life spaces and because of people like you and Sally Beaton, me tracking my periods, learning about hormonal phases and in tracking my periods, seeing how my hormones impact my life, that doesn’t exist for me anymore and I know definitely due to friendships that I had actually from my late teens, one of my friends, she’s always been very open about conversations about periods, she was bought up in a house full of women so there was lots of conversations about periods, nakedness and whatever else so she spoke about periods quite openly which led me to talk about periods quite openly but without the wisdom we have now about hormones and what periods means and about it being a vital sign of health.
Le’Nise: So talking more about something you said about your childhood being analogue and your adulthood being digital, with that kind of framework in mind, what do you know now that you wish you knew back then?
Tamu: That it didn’t need to be a secret, that it could have continued to be a celebration of my womanhood, of my humanity and that it was a sign that my body was working as nature intends. I also wish I knew that it meant that I could look to my cycle for clues, not excuses, but clues as to how to manage my health in a more holistic and supportive way because I didn’t have that knowledge it really fed into the narrative of the time which was about working against yourself, pushing through, keep on going regardless of what your body is telling you, I wouldn’t have worked in that way.
Perhaps I would have had more of an opportunity to do what I’m doing now, which is to be guided by my own North Star rather than following the winds and the systems of other people.
Le’Nise: Do you feel differently about your period now, having incorporated the idea of it being a vital sign, the North Star, listening to your cycle and your hormones for clues?
Tamu: Understanding my cycle and its natural ebb and flows has been absolutely game changing, it’s been one of the most fundamental parts in me being able to commit to myself with real depth and meaning and its really helped me to understand myself as a natural being.
I think that we walk around quite often feeling like our mind is in one place and our body is in another place. Whereas in my personal development journey, in my training to become a life coach thinking about women, learning about how my cycle impacts me has helped me to be kind to myself and remind myself to meet myself where I am.
We’re all human beings we are all quite similar yet very different but that whole thing about being very cognitive and living in my head, tracking my cycle helps me to connect to my mind and my body so rather than focusing on what my head tells me I should be doing, tracking my cycle and using apps to remind me of where I am in my cycle helps me to connect mind and body so that I’m actually working with myself.
So, thinking about nature, there’s a variety of flora and fauna and they bloom and blossom in different ways but using similar principles and that’s how I think about myself. Okay, today I’m a daisy, so I need more tenderness or gentleness, I need to go at a slower pace if I can and if that’s not possible, I know what I need to put in place to support me being a daisy amongst oak trees and I have other times when I am an oak tree and I know how to support myself during that time.
Also, it’s helped to curb parental irritability, because the reality is sometimes your children are really irritating but not because they are irritating, they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing but because of where you are in your cycle or whatever you have got going on, an average thing or nice conversation on some days can be a major source of irritation, so it just helps me to check in with myself and give myself some context, not like I’m censoring myself all the time but I’ve got that information so rather than being in a situation where I’m snapping at my daughter for something that she should be doing, as the snap starts to come, I remember where I am in my cycle and everything else that I have going on and do whatever it is I need to do so that I can show up for her in a way that isn’t full of grit and irritation.
We have all of these dreams, “I should be doing this” or “I want to be doing that”, “next year I want to be doing whatever”, okay you want to do all of these things and these things require consistency. I know day 24-28 [of my cycle], consistency goes out the window, so I give myself the grace of doing whatever I can during those days, but also knowing that day 8-12, I’m dynamite, maybe it’s even 8-14, because the dynamite kind of evens off when I start to get my ovulation pain but I can do a months’ worth of work during that time because I’m just on fire so it’s just learnt to know my natural ebb and flow and not use my time when I’m at my peak as my base line. I know that’s a peak, it’s not my general, whereas before I’d be like “why aren’t I churning out the work?” “Why aren’t I being as productive as last week, that should be my standard?”.
No, that’s not my standard, that was my standard for that phase, my standard is this for this week. It’s been a major source of not just me being compassionate but empathetic with myself.
Le’Nise: It’s amazing how in tune you’ve become with your cycle, how it affects your moods, your energy levels and also your mental capacity and how you’ve tailored your work to where you can to those phases of your cycle. This idea of compassion is really powerful because so many times, I hear women, they beat themselves up because they say “well, why am I not focused?” “why can’t I get the work done?” and “why was I able to do so much work last week but this week I’m so tired?” and they just push through and to their own detriment.
But also you don’t blame them because we have been given these messages by society that we need to live in masculine energy which is go, go, go all the time. But what you’ve been saying is around honouring this idea of feminine energy and knowing that the ebbs and flows of the menstrual cycle is we have a big connection with our energy and when we honour that, it is actually so much better for us.
Tamu: Absolutely. It just enables you to acknowledge that you’re human that you’re not a machine because we tend to treat ourselves like we are an iPhone that can be upgraded and rebooted and whatever else when actually I’m at my most powerful when I’m honouring myself but don’t get me wrong I do think that there’s masculine and feminine for a reason so masculine structure like using my diary which the structure is quite a masculine way of thinking but using that structure, to support my femininity is really helpful so when I’m paying attention and I’m being mindful, where possible, I structure my workload accordingly and I know that it’s easy, I know that people can sit down and think, it’s easy for you when you work for yourself if you look at your workload as long as you’re doing your work in timescales you can, where possible make allowances for yourself.
So, if there’s a presentation that you need to do, is it possible you could schedule that presentation for week 2 of your cycle, for example and if it’s not possible for you to do that what can you drop from your schedule that will allow you to have the space that you need to recharge and restore if you’re needing to do that presentation during the run to your cycle. What can you do to make sure you’re feeling vital? You’re feeling alive? Rather than dragging yourself around. There are a lot of mothers that I speak to that are constantly scheduling things upon things upon things for their children. Actually ask yourself who is that serving? Is that serving yourself? Or is it serving your need to say I’m doing all of these wonderful things for my child, I’m really enriching your child’s life? Because actually we are depriving our children when we want to make sure their schedules are full all the time, than being bored and just playing around and being soft and crashing around of sofas is really beautiful and really essential development for them.
So do you need to be running yourself ragged, jumping from pillar to post doing all these things. Are there times in the month where you can slow down and do things at a slower pace with your children, could you occupy them with more slow and mindful activities which supports them as well because motherhood and martyrdom are not adjacent to each other, contrary to popular belief.
I just think really tuning in to what your body is telling you just creates such freedom and something else I’ve noticed is that I have been less bothered about what other people think, feel and say in relation to what I’m doing since I understand how my cycle works. So, for example, if friends and family want to see you blah blah and they’ll say things like “you’ve just got to make an effort”, I don’t. If I’m at a point in my cycle where I’m feeling depleted, I’m not going to take myself closer to burnout to meet your need and neglect myself. That is actual neglect, that is actual emotional abuse and I know they are really strong words and I’m using them with intention. As a social worker, my area of interest was neglect and emotional abuse and when you distil it, it’s the same thing but applied in different ways. I’m not neglecting or emotionally abusing myself so you could feel good that I was eating curry and rice and peas at your party, I can see you another time.
Le’Nise: You’ve said so many interesting things there, I wanted to circle back to what you said about the way that you speak with your daughter and how you’re more aware of things that might be irritating at certain times of your cycle and things that would just be normal. In all of the things that you have learned and applied, how has that changed the way that you speak to your daughter about periods and about menstrual cycles, if you have had that conversation yet?
Tamu: We have been having that conversation, so since the moment I became pregnant, so as I said my mum is an open book, you can talk about everything but the emotional element, so the feelings part of those conversations are something that she was bought up with and not something she is used to, she quite a stoic person.
I really enjoy conversations about the depth of our emotions, I’m not skating around on the surface, I’m going to get beneath the surface and see what underpins those feelings, see where those feelings come from. So, from the moment I became pregnant, I was having deep and meaningful conversations with my unborn child from that point on. Whatever conversation she comes with, we are having that conversation and sometimes we are having a conversation about something that can seem quite light and fluffy, but I really try and get her to look beneath that so that she understands how she’s operating rather than being on autopilot. I’ve had conversations about periods with my daughter since she was, oh there was one day when she was three, we were on the bus and we don’t often go on the bus and you know three year olds, their voices are loud so she was saying something, something, something, about those nappy things! She was talking about sanitary towels, I didn’t have the conversation with her on the bus, it was almost as if the bus went dead silent as soon as she was about to say “those nappy things”.
So we had a conversation about what the nappy things are and it was just in a very childlike way, I didn’t talk about blood or anything like that, I just said when you’re a grown up sometimes you need to wear these nappy things and that was it she just left it at that but I’m very open, she sees me naked all the time, I’m all about the house, I’m not hiding the sanitary products. I can’t really remember the first time we had a proper conversation about periods but when she was in Year 5 or 6 and they had a conversation about puberty she “oh Mum, it was so lame and basic, I knew more than the teacher”. Obviously, she didn’t know more than the teacher but she knew more than what the teacher was presenting. It’s always been a very open book, as soon as I understood the power or hormones and hormone phases and how it impacts you, it was inserted into conversations so you know, I’ve got a child that isn’t fearing periods, she’s forever talking to about what her body is doing, about what her body isn’t doing.
We talk about the sort of food that supports your cycle, that supports you as a human being full stop. Sometimes I’m like “I do not want to have this conversation”, sometimes I’m like “I don’t want to know” but I do want to know and I just take a moment to say I am appreciative of myself, that I have a relationship with my daughter where she’s able to talk about anything. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, meditation, who she’s fallen out with at school, what science grade she wants to get and all of it is as normal as each other. So she has noted that there are times of the month where she’s more moody and more tired, she’s noticed how her body is doing different things at different times of the month so I’ve said to her to keep a diary and she knows that it means that very soon, she’s going to start menstruating and the way she talks about it, she’s looking forward to it because she knows that it’s a rite of passage, it’s something that should be happening. It’s a joyful experience even though it is challenging because I know in my mind, no not even in my mind, in my heart, she’s still 4 years old but in reality she’s about to be 13.
Le’Nise: Do you think you will celebrate in the way that your first period was celebrated?
Tamu: We are going to have a full on celebration, not in the way that I’ll be telling everybody (I will be telling everybody) but in the way that, I want to take her for a meal, I want her to have a kit like the one my mum gave me, I want the kit to include things that support her emotions so a journal, a period tracking app, because she knows about the apps I use but she can’t use them yet because she hasn’t got a period that she can actually track but she’s had a look at them for some of the information so I want the celebration to be a gateway to a really empowering, grounding experience so that she understands the mechanics but also, the kind of like, spiritual element, I want her to feel like a ritual rather than a curse.
We aren’t going to be talking about Aunt Flo, the painters and decorators are in, all that kind of stuff. We are celebrating the most natural signifier that as somebody that was born female and is aligned with the gender or the genitalia they were born with, you can celebrate it every month. It doesn’t have to be “my god, I’ve got my period”.
Le’Nise: I think that is really beautiful so if there is one thing you can leave our listeners with about their periods, menstrual cycle or hormones, what would you share?
Tamu: That our periods are a really useful way of remembering that we are human beings. We are mammals at the end of the day. Just because we can drive cars, build houses and use social media, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t a part of the natural world and this is a reminder. Nature has all the guidance we need and our period is a way of reminding us, even the absence of a period, whether that is because you have got an issue or you’ve reached menopause, still our periods, our hormone cycles, our hormone fluxes are a real reminder for us to connect the knowledge of our minds with the wisdom and heart of our body and plug into nature.
Le’Nise: Wonderful, well, thank you so much for coming onto the show, Tamu. Where can listeners find out more about you?
Tamu: You can find out more about me in a really solid way on my website which is www.livethreesixty.com as you can tell I like talking so numbers wouldn’t do and my social media is @livethreesixty again that is all alpha, so yeah that’s where you can find me.
Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Tamu: Thank you, thank you for doing this work, we really really to be having these conversations especially as you mentioned in the beginning, some of the women you talk to, their journey into menstruation wasn’t a celebration and I think we need to refrain.
Le’Nise: Absolutely, hopefully this is a starting point of changing the way we talk about periods and menstruation.
Tamu: Absolutely. Oh and one last thing, sorry, I have to say that you were definitely one of the absolute keys in helping me to understand that periods are a gift really, so thank you very much.
Le’Nise: Thank you for saying that. Thank you for your time today.