This is a guest post by Elyse Lawry @yourperiodPT. Elyse is a member of The HA Society and is studying to become a sports physiologist. She hopes to use her career as a way to help women avoid the pitfalls of period problems!
Thinking about trying to get your period back, but assuming it isn’t important until you want to start a family? Well let me tell you, recovering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is much more than just getting your period back, it is about getting your life back.
For years now I have lived in my body, unhappy with how it looked. I felt like no matter how much I tried to manipulate it, it was never good enough. If you really think about it, our society and culture has taught us that we can never have enough. That if you are content with what you have, you are in some way failing at life. This is manifested through the fact that there is always something that is bigger, better or fancier than what you currently have. Things such as cars, phones, clothes, houses and sadly even our bodies get dragged into the mix.
When I realised that all my hard work to become healthy was actually doing the opposite. I felt guilty. I felt like a fool. How could I have done this to my body? This was when my mother shared Maya Angelous’ quote with me, “You do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, you do better.” Something that has stuck with me throughout my recovery journey. Beating myself up about my old lifestyle wasn’t going to be productive.
Looking back, I think that my old lifestyle served a purpose, a purpose that was no longer needed. I now understand that my issues with exercise, food and my body began many years ago as a teenager. However, that is a story for another day, I am going to start us off in early 2019. This was around the time I started to really feel like a stranger in my own body. It felt as if I was living in someone else’s body and I realised for the first time I didn’t know who I was. This was such a scary thought to have in your early twenties, a time in your life where society is telling you that you should have it all figured out.
I began listening to different podcasts, to help figure out why I was feeling this way and to ultimately figure out who I was. I stumbled upon one that talked about the negative side effects of the pill. Now, at this point in my life I had been on the pill for ten years and everything that was being described in this podcast was me. I had this sudden realisation, I spent a whole decade of my life overriding my body by shutting down many of its natural processes. All this time, I was tricking her and I thought I had a normal, regular cycle. Boy was I wrong!
However, it took me another year to commit to come off the pill. So, in March 2020, I did. (I also ran out of my prescription so if there was ever going to be a sign, this was it!) I truly thought that this would solve all my issues within myself. Issues which transpired into my relationships with my partner, family and even friends. I mean how could it not? For so long, many of my body’s hormonal processes had been chemically altered!
Now, it wasn’t until four months later, in July, that I went to see my doctor for a check-up when she asked if I was still on the pill. I had mentioned that I had come off it in March and still hadn’t had a period, which I figured was to be expected and that one day it would just show up (like magic… Massive facepalm moment!). What she said next changed the course of my life. I know, it sounds dramatic but it is the truth. She looked at me and said “This is very common but it is not normal. We should run some tests to see if we can figure out what is going on.”
I know now that a lot of women, and I mean a lot, have had difficulty finding support when it comes to getting to the bottom of their missing period. I count myself very lucky to have had someone right from the get go tell me it wasn’t normal.
I should probably say at this point, I am studying an exercise and sports science degree, so it is safe to say I love research. I love learning why and how things happen and in a way I need science to clarify things. However, I am also into the intuitive side of life, in the sense that I believe the universe will not throw anything at us that we cannot handle. I even have my own set of tarot cards on my bedside table when I need a little extra guidance. With that said, you will understand the impact of what happens next.
When I left the doctors office, my university lecturer had posted a list of dietitians who had either blogs and podcasts, in case anyone was interested. Seems irrelevant, I know but because of this I found Nicola Rinaldi, I was finally introduced to the world of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. Listening to Nicola describe HA I just knew, deep down, this was me. This was why I didn’t have a period. At this moment, I realised this information had always been out there but up until now I was not ready nor open to hearing it. If someone had told me I had a problem with exercise or with food, I would have felt personally attacked. I would have told them they didn’t know what they were talking about or that they should mind their own business. (I mean now I understand why, I was
That night, I bought the ebook and couldn’t put it down! Every page was screaming at me. It was as if the book was written about me, not for me. I thought the pill was my issue, but that was just a bandaid for what was really the problem. My lifestyle! The pill may have altered my body but it was my relationship with food and exercise that altered my mind.
I knew instantly what I had to do. I had to go “all in.” It was my only option. You see, I knew my personality was all or nothing. I either give 110% or none at all. So, the very next day I spoke with my gym and put my membership on hold. I increased my calories from around 1500 per day to 2200 and eventually the minimum of 2500. (I mean 1500 calories really?! There is no way I could only eat that much now, nor should I!)
Now, I think I may have jumped “all in” too quickly but I wouldn’t take it back. When I say too quickly, I mean I knew physically what was going to happen to my body. I knew I had to gain weight but I never really stopped to imagine how that would make me feel. I never imagined the feelings of grief that were associated with letting go of my smaller body. Honestly, the first week cold turkey was the hardest thing I have ever gone through. I cried day in and day out, I mourned what was going to happen to my body. Something I had worked so hard for and a body I still wasn’t happy with. Yet here I was crying like someone had just died because in a sense the old me did. Crazy right?!
My older sister told me to go back and see my doctor, my partner supported me in seeking professional help through a psychologist. I knew I was strong enough to get through this on my own. I also knew I didn’t have too and if the first week of going “all in” was any indication of how difficult recovery would be, I saw how quickly my own thoughts could turn against me. Now seeking out professional help has to be one of the best decisions I have made for myself. There is nothing weak in asking for help, I now see it as an act of bravery.
Moving forward I continued to practice yoga and I would go for a walk everyday. It was around 6 weeks “all in” when I connected the dots. I still needed control, I had not let go completely, I had still not given my body full permission to do what she needed. It dawned on me that this toxic relationship I was in with food, exercise and my body was very real. I needed to cut it entirely, that is if I was going to rebuild a healthier relationship in its place. I went away for a week to see family, and I didn’t have the time or the means to be practicing my yoga or go for a scheduled walk, which was exactly what I needed. I can say this with certainty because two weeks later, I was pleasantly surprised with my first recovery period!! This to me, was validation that our bodies, ladies are truly magical!
It is safe to say that I was over the moon that it had taken me just shy of two months “all in” and only 10kgs to get my period back! In a way I was relieved, I had gotten my period back at a weight I felt comfortable with and it wasn’t as much weight I thought I’d have to gain. Now, it should be obvious by my thoughts, I was still very concerned about my weight, especially the idea of gaining more!
If I can, I want to fast forward to right now, this very minute, I am on cycle day 60. It has been absolutely heartbreaking all over again. The thoughts are almost twice as powerful the second time round.
“I had one period, why not a second?”
“What am I doing wrong?”
“Doesn’t my body trust me?”
“What is going on?”
You should hopefully know by now, I am willing to speak openly and honestly about my recovery. So I will tell you, what I believe is behind my missing (second) cycle. In some way, I subconsciously tried to control my weight. I am not entirely sure how I did this but I realise now I still had not handed over the reins to my body completely. My mind and my body were still at battle with each other, maybe not as much as they were before but a battle nonetheless. My body knew this, she tempted me with my first period. Gave me a taste of what recovery feels like but knew I wasn’t ready. I still had lessons to learn and things to let go of.
What this has taught me, is that you cannot trick your body into recovering. You cannot tell yourself that you have accepted your new body if deep down you have not. Please do not get me wrong, of course you can eat all the food and rest all you want and eventually you will get your period back! I mean at the end of the day that is the science behind it. Although the inner work is where the real recovery happens. The inner work in my opinion is the sole purpose of recovery. It is what prevents you from relapsing, from falling into the old habits of exercising and restriction. So, until you finally accept yourself for who you are and the body you are in you will never truly be free.
As I write this today, I believe wholeheartedly I have let go of the control. I am more receptive of what my body wants and needs and more importantly what she doesn’t. With each new day, I become more accepting of who I am. I am making sense of the idea that my identity is not tied to the size of my clothes or what the scales show but is tied to my ability to listen and treat others with respect and compassion.
Through this journey, (it really is a journey because there is no destination) I have begun to find who I truly am. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, an aunty and a girlfriend, things I was before my recovery began. The difference now is I get the chance to be a better version of each of these every day. Why? Because I have more space, more energy and more time for others now. Don’t get me wrong, I was always there for people when they needed me, however I was not present. I feel as if most people going through their own recovery will understand where I am coming from. I didn’t realise how much noise I had going on in my head distracting me, until it got quieter and then one day it just stopped.
I am also starting to recognise little things about me, that somewhere in the last ten years I lost. I remember when I was younger, I had so much empathy towards others, I used to feel so much, something I had thought might be gone forever. I used to be funny, I used to laugh a lot and do silly things, things I stopped doing when I started taking myself too seriously.
Just the other day, my mum asked me, “When did you get so funny?”
I replied with “When I stopped working out!”
I guess it is true what they say, recovery slows down every aspect of your life, not just exercise. You relax more, smile more, laugh more and man do you cry more. Throughout this ongoing journey, I am determined to really own who I am. I am determined to be my authentic, truest self. I have spent too long trying to be somebody I am not. I mentioned earlier that the pill altered my body but my lifestyle altered my mind, two things I am now free of. I can now allow my mind and body to connect with each other and now my mind can begin to love my body.
Like I said in the beginning, there is more to recovery than getting your period back. You are going to get your life back and then some! You are going to get the life you really dream of, the life you deserve. A life where you are no longer a slave to the gym or a prisoner to food. A life in which you can exercise and eat what you want or don’t exercise and still eat what you want. In a way isn’t that what we are all searching for in some form or another? Balance. I mean hands up who thinks there is no greater freedom then eating PB out of the jar without worrying about calories? I can’t be the only one!
No matter where you are on your recovery journey, know that you are exactly where you need to be right now. Enjoy it, learn from it and allow it to shape you into the wonderful human being you were destined to be. Remember, your darkest days are where you’ll find your strength.
You cannot have joy without pain;
laughter without tears and;
you cannot have compassion without suffering.
Lastly, I may not know what it is like to have a regular cycle yet, but I do know what it feels like to be me, for the first time in my life. I know that my journey is far from over, it is only just beginning and I am very excited to see where it takes me.
Let this be your reminder to keep going, your future self will thank you.
*Edit – Now, I could not make this up… The day after sending Dani my first draft, I woke up with this cramping sensation in my lower stomach. I went to the toilet, not trying to read too much into it. You won’t believe this, but there was blood. Here was my second period, safe to say I cried. I squealed with pure joy and sheer happiness. Ladies, our bodies know what they need to do if you just give them the chance!