Whenever the topic of hormones or periods (I'm talking about menstrual cycles here people..) comes up with friends, I often get the same response when I share my story. I'm twenty-five and I lost my period two and a half years ago. I get a lot of people saying to me "Are you kidding, that's a dream come true!" or "I skip my sugar pills every month just so I don't get my period". The way I see it, these women just don't know what they have.
No other experience in my life has stolen my 'womanhood' or sense of vitality more than losing my period.
Initially I didn't mind it so much, I used to brag to my girlfriends about how great it was that I didn't have to suffer through the monthly discomfort and inconvenience. This was before I understood the long-term consequences of losing my cycle.
Before I lost my period completely, I was already struggling with very low libido. Not even just the desire to be physically intimate with someone but I also completely lost any feelings of sexuality or attraction that I used to feel towards my partner, myself or even the random stranger passing by. I remember a time when I used to look at my body in the mirror; I could appreciate my own imperfections and felt a strong sense of attraction to myself as a young woman. I don't believe that anyone should feel vain for having those feelings, we are all entitled to be able to look at ourselves and admire our own power and sexuality. In the worst of times I contemplated if I was asexual.
You're probably wondering what caused my period to stop. Women can lose their menses for a multitude of reasons, some of the more common reasons why they do are: low body weight or extreme weight loss, over-exercising, poor diet (ie. low fat or low protein diets), chronic stress and/or going off hormonal birth control. All of these reasons fall under the general diagnosis of Amenorrhea. For me it was pretty clear that when my period never returned after I stopped taking the pill, that was the most likely cause.
Additionally, at the time I was dealing with suffocating anxiety and considerable amounts of external stress. In fact the ND I was seeing at the time suggested if I was comfortable discontinuing use of the pill, we find a non-hormonal form of contraception because the synthetic hormones my body was receiving on a daily basis were likely playing a role in the weight gain, acne, low libido and depression I was dealing with at the time. My ND informed me that my menses could take a few months to come back but if it doesn't return that there are herbals she could use to help bring my cycle on. I kept this option for treatment in the back of my mind but secretly I was wishing my period would stay away for longer.
That was two and a half years ago. Truthfully there are two reasons why I never returned to seek treatment. (1) Money. I was paying for each visit to her office out of my own pocket and being a recent university graduate working in the service industry I had no extended medical coverage. (2) I was naive to the situation and had no understanding of how much this could affect my life and my health down the road, so I chose to ignore the problem.
In combination with other stressors hovering over me at the time, it didn't take long until I sunk into a pretty deep pool of depression. I can guarantee you that most of my coworkers and family members had no clue; I became an expert at becoming seemingly productive and optimistic everyday. My friends knew however, more so than my partner even did. Although we live together, our schedules were and are still almost exactly opposite. When he was gone, I was at home sulking and while I was at work, he was at home sleeping.
I used to describe it as this feeling of being in my room, feeling so enveloped by my bed and staring at the door wanting to desperately to get up and open it but never being able to muster up the courage to do so. I was a prisoner of my room, I did nothing..but I guarantee you that most people would be surprised to hear that.
As per my mothers suggestion I visited a primary care physician to see what forms of treatment they could offer. After explaining the series of events in the past year with him, he told me that it was irresponsible for my ND to suggest I stop taking the pill and if I wanted my period to come back he could prescribe me a different oral contraceptive than I was taking originally or anti-depressants for the way I was feeling. This is a perfect example of how conventional medicine functions primarily by administering band-aid solutions. He wasn't in the slightest concerned about how the pill could have altered my hormonal balance after taking it for seven years. His best solution was to prescribe the same thing that brought me here in the first place. Thanks but no thanks.
Slowly I was able to pull myself out of the worst of my woes and I dove deep into holistic health and nutrition. A friend once told me that once I begin to show interest in something, I have the tendency to invest 100% of my time and attention into that new endeavour. In the same way that for some religion can provide hope and guidance to a recovering addict, the thing that brought purpose and a sense of satisfaction back to my life was health and nutrition. I had gone through a transition similar to this a few years earlier but my obsession then was exercising; specifically running. During my third year at university I became obsessed with going to the gym. I could easily wake up at 5am, get in an hour long workout, go to school and somedays even go back to the gym and run on the treadmill for 45 minutes or run the seawall. Yes I saw changes in my body, that was probably the most drastic weight loss I ever experienced but it wasn't sustainable and soon enough I got tired of this routine and quit.
This time around my new 'all or nothing' was food and although I was still dealing with issues around libido and lack of menses, my energy was a hundred times better morning till night, I was a happier person and I started showing my love through cooking for my partner and my friends when I could. Unsure of what to do with a degree in Resource Conservation, I enrolled in a program at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition to become a Certified Nutritional Practitioner. The stars seriously aligned in the last year and I was fortunate enough to meet some people that connected me to the student clinic at Boucher, the Naturopathic Institution located in New Westminister just outside of Vancouver, BC. There services are far more affordable and for the last seven months the ND I see there has been treating my condition with a variety of herbal tinctures, supplements, dietary and lifestyle modifications.
Although right now is not the best time in my life to have children and I'm certainly not quite ready yet, its becomes quite concerning for my partner and I that it has been close to 2.5 years since my last period. With school done and time to work on myself, I have become serious about doing whatever I can do help my body regain hormonal balance.
Sleeping has to be the biggest change I've made to my routine. When I went to school for nutrition, I was dedicated to getting the grade and doing the best I could that I would sacrifice my sleep most nights; getting an average of 4-5 hours a night. This was not cutting it and because I was so tired all the time, I over-consumed coffee and was constantly fighting a battle with my blood sugar. It's a little ironic that in going back to school to become a nutritionist and getting A's in all of my classes, I failed to take care of my own health so much that I put on upwards of twenty pounds in one year. I felt like a phoney, preaching good habits to others while I couldn't manage to fit them into my own routine. Since finishing the program it has become a priority for me to sleep a minimum of 8 hours each night. I'll admit, somedays if I can I will sleep close to 10 or 12 hours.
Second to improving my sleep hygiene was getting serious about using the supplements and herbals provided to me by my ND. One of them was a desiccated glandular called Cytosome P-50, which is a blend of pituitary, thyroid, adrenal and ovarian tissues. He and the primary student working with me also formulated two tincture blends to encourage my pituitary to secrete adequate levels of LH (Luteinizing Hormone) and FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) which tell the ovaries to synthesize estrogen and progesterone. Some of the primary herbs in these tincture blends were Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa), Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), Blue cohosh (Caulophylum thalictroides), Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), Lady's mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Red clover (Trifolium pratense) and Chastetree berry (Vitex agnus-castus). With most herbals, especially those that act on hormonal pathways; they require consistent use for their active ingredients to accumulate and have an impact on the bodies systems. Before finishing school, I was not dedicated to taking these herbs everyday.
As soon as I started sleeping an adequate each night, I stopped craving coffee everyday and was able to pretty effortlessly stop drinking it for nearly a month. A couple years ago I got into the routine of making a Bulletproof-like coffee or tea in the mornings and having my first meal around lunch time. Since this was still what my body was craving in the mornings, I substituted the coffee for either a dark herbal tea or Harmonic Arts Kick Starter mushroom blend which has a little Yerba Mate for a mild caffeine boost in the mornings. Additionally, since I had more times in the morning I tried eating breakfast a few days a week to see how that would impact my energy levels and cravings later in the day.
My energy levels were through the roof in comparison to a few months back when I was burning the candle at both ends working nearly full time and putting the rest of my time into doing the best I could at school. I knew one thing I really needed to do to get my health and confidence back was to start exercising regularly again. I started with longer than normal walks with my two dogs, medium intensity hikes, short 15-20 minute runs and before I knew it I am back to being able to run a quick 5km a few days of the week. With increasing how much exercise I was getting in, came spending more time outside, which led to feeling better about myself and getting a firmer hold on the stressors in my life. Slowly but surely, one positive change led to more positive outcomes.
T.M.I. WARNING (hahaa sorry but it's my blog so I'm going to share all the info I want!) - A few weeks ago I could start feeling changes in my body. They were very unusual but apparent to me. My libido was slowly coming back, I started waking up feeling energized and not groggy in the mornings and my body temperature was much warmer than it normally is. These changes could have pointed to other things but what stood out the most to me was the sensation in my breasts. It was like I was going through puberty again - they had filled up with fluid, were incredibly tender and looked nearly a full size bigger. Even my nipples which are generally pretty flat or even partly indented, were sticking out for a few days and had so much sensation.
I feel like by now you know what I'm going to say. One night a couple weeks back, I was home alone, my partner gone camping; sitting in the bathroom having a full on breakdown. If anyone could have seen me in that moment, they would have thought I was completely nuts.
Through the hysterical tears was the biggest and most genuine smile, cheek to cheek - because after two and a half long years I finally felt like I had regained my sense of womanhood, vitality and sexuality.
It was short and sweet, maybe lasted a full 2 days...but it was certainly a real thing when it was there! So now I am focusing on continuing these habits that are conducive to bringing back my cycle every month. 1. Adequate sleep every night. 2. Supplementing regularly with supportive herbals. 3. Exercising and modulating my stress.
You might be wondering if I ever changed my diet to help bring back my periods? Some young women will lose their cycles or the regularity of them by following restrictive, low-calorie/low-fat diets. Although I will admit that food restriction and low-fat diets were a thing of my distant past, in the last few years I have been predominantly Paleo and have been supplementing my diet with lots of quality fats, protein and local/organic vegetables for some time now. Grains, gluten, conventional low-fat dairy and sugar are just not something on the list for me. I have been pretty confident that although my diet was supportive all along, the stress response in my body from being chronically fatigued was mostly standing in the way of regaining hormonal balance.
So there it is. Who knows, maybe no one reads this post and its all for me. Either way I feel like writing is a good way to let go of something. Those couple of years completely robbed me, leaving me feeling lifeless and sexless. With this post I am exhaling that stagnation and breathing in a brighter and warmer energy, and a new love and appreciation for my body and my sexuality.