Health, Hormones, and (not) Working Out Pt. 2
Part 2: Treatments and Protocols
I’m beyond overwhelmed from the response to my post last week. I received so many kind messages and I can’t tell you how it made me feel. A combination of super embarrassed with very touched. There, I guess that sums it up. That being said, welcome to the second installment of how I’ve been working to heal my gut, hormones, and overall health.
If you haven’t had a chance to read Part 1, I highly recommend starting there.
Writing out what you’re dealing with and feeling is hard. Very hard. It’s become trendy to journal and while I fully believe in the power of writing and getting things out of your head and onto paper, it can be terrifying. It takes time, it takes effort, and it takes consistency. Like all other beneficial things in life. Time, effort, consistency.
But not knowing what sort of gremlins, yes gremlins, are going to make themselves known on the paper can be paralyzing. I know it was for me. But it does help.
And if it helped me then maybe it can help someone else. Even just to read it. But my gosh, please know it is never my intention to put out a “poor me” post. I know my stuff is valid, just like I know everyone else’s is too. And there are people dealing with way worse that might love the chance to say something but truly can’t. But I know how common what I’m describing is with females, and I know how frustrating it is to find no answers. So if you resonate with any piece of this, then I hope it helps just a little. And if you’re going through any or all of it, then I’m also so so sorry. The physical symptoms suck, but if you’ve been in this situation or any situation that has caused your body too much stress, you know it’s the mental symptoms that are way worse. Not recognizing yourself, not feeling like yourself, putting on an act day in and day out to appease those around you.
So however you came to be here reading this, and why you’ve chosen to stay, I want to say thank you.
Today, I’m going to focus on the various types of treatments, medications, natural remedies, protocols, etc. that I have undergone to help heal my gut and balance my hormones.
Disclaimer: I’m still very much living through this right now. I’m not ‘done’ or healed. My period came back, that’s a huge positive sign that my hormones are working better. But there is a lot of this that has yet to get better.
Second disclaimer: I’m sharing pics of myself over the last several months to show what a nasty gut and unbalanced everything can look like. My face is burning just showing this.
Here’s me casually looking 6 months pregnant after work. This was taken in June. This is what severe IBS/SIBO/gut inflammation can look like.
Okay, so treatments and protocols. Let’s go back to when I lost my period pretty much for good. March of 2017. At this point, I was turning into a ridiculous workaholic and over-exerciser who felt the only way to deal with anything was to keep going, keep working, go go go faster faster faster. For what? Great question. I had my “rational” reasons, but they were all bs. I bring this up to make it known that my situation, which had been present since I was a kid, really started spiraling in early 2017. That’s over four years ago. Meaning, that’s four years (and then some) of re-wiring thoughts and behaviors that I have had to identify and work on. And still am.
It took the better part of 15 years, and most definitely the better part of the last five years to get my body into its state of total shut down and dysfunction, meaning it could take that long to get it back to a place of balance.
Lucky for us, and I’m talking about all of us, our bodies are smart.
They are smart. They are kind. They are important.
I’ll say it one more time. Our bodies are smart. They know what they need. They send us warnings and red flags all the time if we just stop to pay attention. Not sleeping? Warning. Anxious? Warning. Migraines? Warning. Losing weight unexpectedly?? Hi warning! Bloated, depressed, acne, rash, losing your hair, ulcers? WARNINGS left and right.
But. Even though our bodies are smart, our minds can be really dumb and stubborn. Yeah, you.
*looks in mirror*
We ignore these warning signals. Or don’t realize they’re happening until we’re too far gone and realize we’ve been living with them for so long we don’t know the difference anymore. We lose track of what might be causing what.
And, for me, while I feel like I really tried getting myself back in the last year or two, there was too much still happening and not happening that I know I needed medical intervention with.
Oh wait. Another strange example of my body sending me signs was this time last year. End of Summer-ish 2020. I remember I started getting these weird rashes on my elbows. My elbows. Like come on. What on earth, honestly.
But, funny enough, I also happened to be very stressed out. I was in a world of professional chaos between multiple jobs. Wondering if I’d even be able to stay in Columbus. Many thanks to Covid and other things for this. And I feel like my body was like, welp we give her migraines, she sleeps very restlessly, we hit her with an anxiety attack last month, and yet she’s still being stubborn. Maybe a rash would be nice.
All of this to say I needed help.
Screenshot of a video I took for my mom to show her how tight and inflated my balloon belly felt. This was February 2021.
In March of 2021, I went to the OBGYN. As I mentioned in the last post, I was very intentional about finding the right OBGYN for me. She is a tried and true MD first, but takes a functional medicine approach, meaning she wants to get to the underlying causes rather than jump right to prescriptions and birth control. And for patients of hers that are interested (hi me I’m interested), they can also seek out one of the health coaches that work with her to help address broader lifestyle changes to keep these problems from returning.
After going through the bloodwork and talking through my many vitamin deficiencies, we addressed the elephant in the room. The being the fact that my period had been gone for nearly four years. I was told I had the hormone levels of woman approaching menopause. And basically, my body had been in a state of fight or flight for so long that my body was shutting down what it didn’t need. But not only were things not working, but they had gotten so out of balance that all the other awful symptoms were happening. The fatigue, weight gain, rashes, anxiety, all of it.
I took it all in and talked about my options, knowing I was going to trust her opinion and try anything she recommended. We ended up going for a combination of traditional western medicine, in the form of hormone replacement therapy, with some functional approaches thrown in as well, meaning I would be setting t up a call with a health coach to address my gut and lifestyle. Unfortunately, as is the USA way, the health coach and functional part is not covered by insurance so any calls, tests, or supplements I did through the functional medicine side was all paid out of pocket. (And I did a lot).
The hormones were pills. Nothing fancy. The goal being that taking the hormones would “kick start” things and give my body what it should be producing naturally anyway. I began taking estrogen every day in the morning and progesterone at night. The progesterone I cycled 14 days on and 14 days off, to mimic the rise and fall of our lady hormones during our cycle.
In addition to that, I was told to start taking a bunch of vitamins to make up for other deficiencies in my body. I ordered a ‘wellness pack’ of vitamins that had Vitamin B, fish oil, calcium, sodium, etc. And I got Vitamin D. I quickly built up my own pharmacy and went from taking next to no vitamins to taking all of them plus the hormones.
Now. If you’ve ever had gut issues or know anything about the human body, you might know that our bodies can only absorb so much. And in my toxic and inflamed gut where nothing was being absorbed properly, I think it’s safe to say that only a small fraction of what I was taking was actually getting through and into my system like it should be.
A lot of it I was peeing out, and it was neon.
And the rest was just swimming around in there adding to my shitty (pun intended) symptoms.
This was taken in the morning after waking up. Still looking pregnant first thing before any food.
After starting the hormones and the vitamins, I booked my call with Caitlin on the health coach side, She was great and truly wanted to help. She had gone through a lot of the same issues, had a fitness background, and was super genuine in wanting to help me get my gut in check. She could see how anxious and unhappy I was and desperate to find any relief.
She asked me when the last time was that I took a break from exercise. Even for a few days. The answer is never, even though at that time any and all workouts felt absolutely horrible. And as hard as it was, in the back of my mind I think I was looking for someone, anyone to tell me it’s okay to take time away from the gym or away from anything for that matter. It’s okay to eat more and workout less and in fact your body needs it. And yes, it will keep getting harder before it gets better. But at the same time, that’s what lockdown was. And screw lockdown.
But I agreed with her and decided to take a break from this part of my life that had always been there and also happened to be my job.
This is the part where friendships and relationships really come in handy. Having anyone to talk to and vent to and tell you it’s going to be okay. Which is hard sometimes. If you’ve never dealt with this then it can be hard to relate to and hard to talk about. At this point – April/May – I was feeling horrible. Same symptoms as before now compounded with the symptoms of taking hormones. Cramps, weight, pain, fatigue, all of it. For weeks and months my belly was affecting every part of my life. People noticed at work, I had a lot of questions from my friends at my gym, and I basically just tried to either keep a good face or stay hidden.
You might be wondering why this was happening. Why did my body think it was going into menopause and why did I have to give up exercise? The short and infuriating answer is – stress.
That annoying blanket term used to describe everything.
There is good stress and there is bad stress. When we work out or do anything physically or mentally challenging we are pushing our bodies, brains, and muscles in a way that is stressing them out. And once we get through the task – like a workout – and stop putting that stress on ourselves, we come back down to baseline and our bodies recover. Then the next time we encounter that stress our bodies (being the smart things they are) are better equipped to deal with that stress. That’s good stress. And we all know the bad stress, the one that comes with bad news, a hard day at work, an illness, a break up, a job loss, Covid. There’s a reason why the whole self-care industry is booming. We all need help dealing with this stress.
But imagine living in that state of stress for years and years and never actually coming back down to baseline.
That’s the best way I can describe what had happened. Even when I thought I was at rest or taking care of myself, my body didn’t believe it. It had been in fight or flight for so long, so many years, it didn’t feel like it had gotten back to baseline. And if I wasn’t stressing it physically like in a workout, I was probably stressing it a different way, like under eating. Or over working. Or dealing with lockdown, no job, and everything that entailed. For a very long time I lived, and I think still am living in a way, in that state of chaos. Because it’s what I know.
You see I let myself get so lost that living in chaos and stress became normal. And comfortable. And my body was doing whatever it needed to do to keep me alive. Sounds dramatic, but that’s what was happening. And while I think there is very much a necessary time and place for stress, all of these physical symptoms were trying to tell me to listen up and chill out.
This is me feeling the ultimate sense of healing and chill holding baby Cade this past July.
When I talked to Caitlin she also recommended I do a test that will measure all the different bacteria and things swimming around in my gut. It’s called a GI map. I’ll let you Google it. But just know it’s a test that is sent to you in the mail and you send it back. Moving on.
This cost about $350 and after waiting weeks for my results I finally got them and went over them with Caitlin. It showed what I expected. Lots of overgrown bacteria and inflamed everything.
Our gut and gut microbiome is made up of bacteria. There is good and bad bacteria. And sometimes, the bad bacteria can go on a feeding frenzy and get overgrown, getting into your small intestines. This is what is known as SIBO, or Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth. At the end of the day, it’s something extremely uncomfortable that is very tricky to get rid of.
There are antibiotics one can take, or you can do what I did which is more herbal supplements and teas. More supplements.
Some of the supplements I ordered through Caitlin were:
Glutashield – this actually tasted very yummy and it was supposed to help “heal and seal” my gut lining
DGL Plus – more of the same ingredients found above
Adrenal-All – Vitamin B and other things to help ease my exhausted adrenal glands..
Something with a very long name that was to help support my liver because my liver was not doing what it needed to do regarding absorbing and processing all the junk in my body
Long story short, I added another half dozen supplements to the mix.
March: See doc
April: Begin HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) as well as about a dozen vitamins
May: Stop exercise, do GI map, continue HRT and vitamins. Lose my mind
May/June: More gut healing supplements, HRT, vitamins.
June: Freak out and stop nearly all of it.
Ah, June. As noted above, I was not handling things well.
I was taking so many things, not working out, couldn’t stop sleeping, and feeling more anxious than ever due to those aforementioned things.
I’ll talk more about the sleep, workouts, and lifestyle changes in Part 3. But I was in bad shape.
My stomach was worse than ever, I didn’t have a period, and I wanted to scream. So in June, I had a breaking point. I stopped taking the hormones after about 2 months because I felt that everything I was trying, even though the majority of it was all natural, was doing more harm than good. It was too much on my already very sensitive and inflamed insides.
After one very bad weekend in June during which I was severely bloated, couldn’t go to the bathroom, and when I tried I was left with a bowl full of blood, (sorry but I feel like you need to know how bad it was getting), I decided to call it quits on all of it.
No more. No more hormones, no more vitamins.
Everyone. Go. Away.
It was awful. Even writing this out. I’ve dealt with a lot of these symptoms before, even the nasty one above, but nothing felt quite as desperate as what I was feeling in June.
After my freak out, I tried to take matters back into my own hands. I had spent months at this point trying to do what I had never full done before which was take any and all advice and direction from any doctor or coach I spoke with. But I was at a breaking point and felt more out of balance than ever. And I knew I needed to hit pause and learn to trust my own intuition again.
That’s the thing with social media and the world we live in. We chase answers and protocols and look at others living their lives. And some of it is really great. But we’re all different. And what works for others might not work for me.
At this point, in July, I started looking into alternative methods, and getting more into managing my nervous system and physical body. We all love to preach mindset and while I believe that is an important part, telling myself over and over I was strong and healing and trying to keep my thoughts and mindset positive was just… not working. It was forced and it was not doing anything.
I felt like I had to do things to take care of my physical body to make my mental one easier to handle. Then those positive mindset things that we all know and love and roll our eyes at (just me?) will be easier.
This was less than a month ago. Not as bad. But not good. This is still first thing am and by the look on my face, I’m very uncomfortable.
Like I mentioned, during July I started looking into alternative ways of understanding and healing my body. I reached out to my former boss, someone I will always hold in a very high regard and who’s opinion I will always value. I know she had battled her own situations and I knew part of her attempts at healing naturally involved acupuncture. And I wanted to know about her experience with it.
She instantly sent me tons of great info on her experiences as well as a tea that was recommended to her by her sister in law. (Don’t ask me where to find it because I have no idea). In fact, the two teas I started drinking daily in July were both provided through an acupuncturist so if you’re interested, I’d recommend checking out any herbal medicine, acupuncture, or natural medicine places around you.
Anyway, I did go to an acupuncturist. Once.
I want to note that even though I was clearly overwhelmed from everything that was being recommended to me, it’s not to say that none of it was working. When we go to a doctor or coach or seek out anyone’s help with something we’re dealing with, it is their job to give us what their interpretation and recommended protocol would be. And that’s all anyone I’ve seen was doing. The rest is up to the person. What works for me might not work for the next person and vice versa.
Okay, back to acupuncture.
It was, different.
I kind of liked it. And I’m sure there is a lot of benefits to it. But I think if I was in a different head space and hadn’t already been trying so many things, I would have gotten more out of the experience.
At one point when I had been laying there for at least 30 minutes with all these needles in me, she came back in and asked if I had been able to rest or even doze off a little.
I know you don’t know me well.
But absolutely not. That’s a hard no. The hardest no.
Now get these things out of me.
But what I did get was more tea. And a big curiosity of what Chinese medicine was all about. For anyone who likes to go done health and wellness rabbit holes like I do, I recommend reading about TCM.
This is a small amount of what I was taking, some I still take. Note the Plum Flower tea. It tastes like mud.
At this point, we’re up to July.
And in July, it was all about tea. Tea and getting back into some exercise. And just doing the things that I felt good doing and wanted to do. I started dropping into OrangeTheory classes here and there, lifting at CrossFit, and of course walking. I tried to keep to a normal eating routine, and allow myself anything while being mindful of what I know hurts my stomach or might irritate it. More on these in the next part.
But you know what?
I’ll tell you what I think has helped me feel better and heal more than anything else. And it has nothing to do with pills, supplements, teas, herbs. or any prescription.
Skydiving and being with my dear friend and former roommate Katie in May.
Spending the weekend with the person who I have felt freakishly connected to since college, Mallory in June and getting some much needed long conversations in.
Going on walks, FaceTiming, and being with my best friend since high school, Amanda. And being there to meet and hold her precious baby boy Cade.
Celebrating my friend Ty and his fiance Rachel and seeing some of my oldest friends from high school in July
Letting go and having fun and work parties and happy hours
Getting coffee or lunch with Orangetheory friends
Constant food and cat conversations with my dad-joking beautiful best friend Stephanie.
Having a staycation with my parents and getting a day with my youngest best friend and nephew Joe.
Saying yes and living with an open mind.
Stopping myself from thinking “I shouldn’t work out like that or eat that or do that.” No shoulds, no can’t, no fear. Nothing off limits.
And then August 28th happened. And that was a very happy day, my friends.
I’ve tried a lot. Nearly everything there is to try. And there’s still more I’m going to do and already doing.
I think it’s important to go for any and all of it. Like any workout routine or diet, there is NO one size fits all. There are some common principles, but no one solution. And the only way to find what works is also to find what doesn’t work. And to add or eliminate one thing at a time. Ride is out, see what works and what doesn’t, then course correct.
And don’t go into anything thinking it will solve all of it. None of the “if I just do..” or “if this would just…” or “if only…”
None of the chasing.
We are in control of our lives, even when our bodies or minds feel like they are controlling us. And while I have hit many desperate moments trying to get my symptoms under control, I have to keep looking back and reflecting on all of it. And being grateful for the body that is still here doing what it can to get better. After all the pushing I’ve done to it over the years. So I have to look back on all of the things I’ve tried and think, okay, what was working and what wasn’t? And if it wasn’t working, was it because of the thing itself or was I in a bad place while trying it?
Time, effort, consistency.
And even if I have felt like the last year has been anything but consistent, I guess I could make the argument that I never stopped trying.
Today, I take vitamin D, zinc, magnesium, and this EPA supplement. I put this L Glutamine in water or mixed in with these electrolytes most days. And I put my favorite collagen in my coffee, just like I have for years now.
I used to take this probiotic, and might again one day. I highly recommend it to anyone. But for now I’ve stopped because even though it’s the good bacteria, I’ve learned the hard way that putting in too much good can set off a lot of bad.
I cook with a lot of bone broth (as always), and I’m still drinking tea, but just the normal store bought kinds.
Start with the basics. Sleep, eats, movement, water, connection/love.
What feels really good in those basic areas and what maybe used to feel good but doesn’t anymore? And whether it’s jotting down some bullets, talking to a friend, or just making your own protocol. Start there. And if you’re in the vicious cycles that I’ve been in or feel like you need some expert opinions, it’s because you do and you should listen that.
Time, effort, consistency.
Because you is smart.
You is kind.
You is important.