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Health, Hormones & (not) Working Out Pt. 1

Part I: The Timeline & Overview

Before we begin, let it be known that I will be talking a lot about periods and lady issues. You have been warned. Today, I will be getting into hormones, gut health, and how I’m working to heal both of those things.

I’m going to start with this and work backwards: At 31 years old, I got my period back.

And this is a very, very big deal. For many obvious reasons. And it’s the biggest thing I’ve been working on, but it’s just one little piece to the larger picture.

I’m going to do my best to describe this and other issues I’ve been dealing with, some for a long time, others more recently, and still others that come and go, and how I’ve been trying to overcome and manage them.

Knowing me, I might go off on a tangent, so please bear with me. I’m not one for short and sweet, so grab a snack and tuck in.

Photo by Miti on Unsplash

Today, I’m going to stick to the highlight reel. Focusing on the key moments and events through the last several years in order to give you a good understanding of the bigger picture. We will hit most of these big items, and then dig into more of the nitty gritty around the why and how in subsequent parts.

This, ladies and gents, is about my hormones, overall health, lifestyle, how much has changed, and frankly, the hole I’ve dug myself into over the last five years. But this is also about my current attempts at digging myself out.

Part I will be about the overall timeline

Part II we’ll dig into treatments and protocols

Part III we’ll talk about fitness and lifestyle

Part IV I’m not sure yet. But I bet we’ll need it.

I think a lot of this is very common, particularly in high functioning females. The ones that like to work and move and work and move some more. I know a lot of this is common in female athletes, stressing the body too much until things break and/or shut down.

Let’s start with where I am right now in my fitness and wellness life and work our way backwards. Currently, I am working out. I’m walking, I’m dropping into OrangeTheory classes here and there (more on this at another time), dabbling in CrossFit on occasion (not often anymore, which pains me), and trying to find what makes my body feel good.

Back in May of this year, I hit one of many breaking points, and made the call to take a break from all exercise indefinitely. And I did. I walked. And kept walking. A week turned into two weeks, which became the better part of the last 4 months.

Why?

The biggest reason was and is to get my period back and keep it back. I lost my period completely in March of 2017. Things in my life were causing me a lot of pain that I didn’t know how to deal with. And while I was shutting down as Emily, my body was too. And my period went away. This isn’t the first time it’s happened, but because of where I was at in life it felt much more hopeless. Prior to losing it in 2017, I had always been irregular and inconsistent. Starting gymnastics young and being active most of my life made things difficult. And when running took over my life in college, it disappeared for awhile or would show up here and there.

After graduating in 2012 through leaving my first big girl job in 2016, I remember more of the same. Maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t. But I didn’t think too much of it. I knew it was odd and probably worth looking into but I didn’t at the time.

It really wasn’t until September of 2016 when it came back and stayed back until the following March. I remember being so excited that it was back and overall very regular. As much as females love to complain about this lovely part of our lives, any period I’ve ever had (again I’m 31 and there’s maybe only been a couple dozen total in my life) was something to celebrate.

At the time it came back and stayed back, I attributed it to a few things. I had given up alcohol after bartending all summer and wanting to dry out and move on from the service industry life. I had started a new job with really cool people, I was excited about what chapter in my life I was entering, and I had a really big crush on a boy.

All things that make my heart happy and ache at the same time.

She (I) was so naive but so excited. And her (my) body and hormones reflected that in a positive way.

Fast forward just 5-6 short months later when things got hard and felt icky. And, well, goodbye period.

And that was it.

From the time I was barely 27 basically until now, it was gone.

This past December of 2020, I got a miracle period. At least that’s how I refer to it. After a weird and terrible year, I was about to start the position I’m in now and I had committed to making the month of December 2020 the time to give my body the rest and recovery it needed. I soaked up the holidays, took advantage of family time, and tried to let my mind find peace. And on December 23rd – yes I remember the date, again this was a miracle for me people – my period came back. After nearly 4 years. I cried.

But then January came, and it didn’t come back. Nor February. Or the next month. Or the next. In fact, physically, things kept getting worse.

The other big piece to this whole situation that I should have mentioned sooner is my gut. And the role our gut plays in our mental and physiological health. My gut and gut microbiome are…unwell. So really, I’ve been working on repairing this and getting my gut under control more than my hormones.

I’ve suffered from gut issues since I was a young kid, but nothing I felt was serious. Most of the time it was the general discomfort we all fact. No big deal. Until it was. The last time I remember it being bad enough to go see a doctor was right before leaving my first job. But after a colonoscopy that told me nothing, a dietician who mocked me for asking about a paleo diet to help my gut, and a doctor who prescribed sleeping pills with the rationale that if I slept better my intestines would be able to do their job better, I did some research for myself and got things back on track. Leaving the stressful job (which of course looking back is laughable to think what was stressing me out back then), getting proper sleep, and yes adopting more of a paleo lifestyle with less grains and more bone broth helped me immensely.

I’ll go into this more when I talk about all the treatments and protocols, but just know that my gut being super out of whack has played a huge role in my life lately.

At one point in the last few years I couldn’t stop losing weight. I could point to a few reasons for that happening, but sick insides could have also been playing a role in that. Today, it’s the opposite. I’m bloated and in pain most days and can hardly fit into my old clothes. Again, I’ll talk more about healing the gut in the next parts.

Photo by Ben Neale on Unsplash

So in January of this year, when the new job started and I transitioned to a ‘normal’ 9-5 life, my digestion issues and hormones got way worse.

In March I finally saw an OBGYN. I did a lot of research to find this particular doctor because in addition to her gynecology practice, she also has a holistic medicine approach and a small team of coaches that work with her and her patients. I’ve never been and never plan to be the type to take birth control or any other prescription for that matter as a band-aid on a situation. I understand those can help in the short term and I’m willing to use them, but I needed someone or a team of people to help me address the root cause and help me get out of this vicious cycle. (And get back my biological one).

I know in my gut (pun intended) that everything I’ve ever felt and experienced in my body and my head is connected. And I’m willing to keep digging to work on each piece.

Let me revisit the timeline here. I know I’m jumping around, but what I’m focusing on overall is the last 5 years, between August/September 2016 until now, September 2021. This time 5 years ago, my period was about to come back and stay back, and I was a happy and excited human starting a new adventure. In early 2017 that all went down the toilet. Right now I’m going to black out most of 2017-2019. I’ll get to those when I’m ready. But for now, clearly the takeaway from those years is whatever I was doing and going through was digging me deeper and deeper. And, in fact, ‘blacked out’ is honestly a good way to describe them.

In early 2020, before the pandemic was about to rock our worlds, I had officially handed off my position as Studio Manager and went back solely to coaching in order to free my time and my head for what my next adventure would be. I had ideas but all I knew was I needed, needed, to start distancing myself from that world. And then March 2020 hit and, well, we all know the rest.

It was around this time, late 2019 and early 2020, that I noticed my body changing. As it should for females. We get older, our hormones change, our bodies reflect that, and we need to adapt. But this felt different. Deep down I knew, although I’d never said it, that I was hurting my body. And had been hurting it for years. That for the better part of 2017 until now, I was not treating my body how it should have been treated.

It wasn’t intentional. And it was never about my body. The only thing intentional was doing whatever I could, and this was most often some sort of physical exertion, to dull the things going on in my head.

At this point life had given me new and difficult situations and put me under different types of stress that I’d never experienced before with my family, my work, and my personal life. And what scared me more than anything was how badly I was reacting. So I just kept running. Literally.

I began experiencing anxiety and panic attacks.

I had to google what anxiety actually was because it always sounded kind of made up. Turns out it’s not. Crazy, I know. But these situations that I wasn’t prepared for and was not dealing with properly combined with how I was actually choosing to deal with it – long days of coaching, training, and multiple intense workouts – were all leading my body to failure.

I did what many of us do. I took the things I could control and did them x100. How I worked out, how I worked, how I could and should be both working and working out harder, what I ate, what I didn’t eat, how long I slept, etc. And my body, being in constant fight or flight, shut off what it didn’t need in order to survive. Goodbye period.

But then, in 2020 until now, other things started happening. When at one point I couldn’t stop losing weight, I was now gaining for reasons I didn’t know. I lost all my energy. We’re talking sound asleep in the middle of the day which has never EVER been like me. And my gut was more inflamed than I ever recall it being.

So this past March I finally got myself to the doctor, and I decided to go all in. I couldn’t keep waiting for things to fix themselves. And I knew I needed help. Whatever I needed to do, I’d do it. Having a period and having the option to have a baby one day had to be and is the most important thing. And not only does amenorrhea (no period) put you at risk of infertility, but could also lead to other issues like bone loss. Which made sense as I had started getting minor stress fractures and injuries in the last year or so.  When I got my bloodwork back I was told I had the body of a menopausal women. My ovaries were not working, my cortisol was high and adrenal glands shot, and I was on the cusp of hypothyroidism.

The fact that my gut microbiome was and is a mess only supports my hormones not firing properly. The body has certain systems it relies on and when things are not balanced, it won’t fire how it’s supposed to. But the question is why. Why is my gut so inflamed and why are my hormones that of a menopausal woman? Is my gut causing my hormones to drop? What is causing what? And how on earth did I get here?

The first attempt at treating it was to combine some traditional western medicine with some holistic health practices. I began taking both estrogen and progesterone and started working with a health coach to help heal my gut.

It sucked.

So much. I knew it would. Taking the hormones sucked, my belly kept getting bigger, and I kept feeling worse. In May when I hit one of many breaking points, I stopped exercising as a last ditch effort to do one more thing I had yet to do.

That sucked even more.

At one point I think I was taking over 15 pills a day. The HRT, and a lot of vitamins. Oh a bunch of tea. Gross tea.

I’ll go into detail with all the tests I took, protocols I tried, and what I started taking, still take, and threw out altogether. But for right now, just know I tried everything.

And the thing is, and this is the kicker, there is no ‘fix’. There’s no tried and true protocol. This isn’t a situation of, okay here’s the problem, here’s how to get better, and in six weeks you’ll be good as new.

This is bigger. And even though I had many moments of desperation looking to any person, resource, or place for the answers. I know, and still know, that deep down, this is in my control.

Too many times, I’ve been the person clutching my overly bloated belly in so much pain wondering what happened to the girl that was crushing Spartan races not that long ago. But she’s in there. She hasn’t gone anywhere. She just needs a little love and a lot of time.

And I’m not in any way healed or in the clear yet. Yes, I got my period last month. My body is showing me it’s trying. It’s feeling safe enough to do so. And that’s huge. Truly. But I will never be done. There’s a lot that still doesn’t feel…right. But I’ll keep working on it, knowing I won’t ever be done. And that’s okay with me. But maybe I can get really really close.

I also want to be clear that I’m in a really good place. I feel like a lot of this is a lot to digest. (Nailing the puns today).

But I’m still very much me. Goofy, laughs a lot, loves to cook, dances at random, obsessed with her cat. And still loves grueling workouts.

And I couldn’t be more grateful for the people in my life who have and will always be there. And the opportunities I’ve been blessed to receive. So it’s holding onto that, and telling myself I’m happy and healthy even when I don’t feel that way, that I know will see me out. I’m trying not to fall into old patterns and behaviors simply because it’s what I know and what feels comfortable to me. It’s those patterns and behaviors that dug me into this hole. But we’re trying. Always looking to find that balance.

There’s so much more to say here. I only barely skimmed the surface. But for now it’ll have to do. If you read this, thank you. Jerry and I appreciate it.

Until next time,

Em

 

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