This is the story of losing and regaining my period. I am sharing this tale in the hopes that my story will resonate with a friend or follower who currently doesn’t experience her monthly bleed. I challenge that woman to take an interest in reclaiming that power and health. You can also read along if you’re simply interested, for whatever reason. 😉
My first “visit” arrived in the 5th or 6th grade. I really can’t pinpoint my age, but I do remember calling for my mom from the bathroom while still sitting on the toilet. “Mom, I got my period!”. She entered the room, looked at me sympathetically and said, “Okay, no big deal!”, then handed me a pad. I know she was just trying to make me feel comfortable, but I couldn’t help feeling awkward and unsure about becoming a “woman”. Little did I know I wouldn’t become a “woman” again until I was nearly 30…
As far as I remember, I had normal, light periods throughout junior high and high school. Although, I’d be surprised if I didn’t experience anovulation (sporadic missed periods due to not ovulating) here and there. Fast forward to late college though- I’m managing a salon, attending classes full-time, and paying private out-of-pocket tuition all by myself. I wasn’t sleeping well, maybe 4-5 hours a night at best. On top of all of this, I was barely eating. I recall going through a phase of only consuming 1 plain packet of oatmeal for breakfast (made with water), working a 12 hour shift, then maybe having a snack before bed. I was starved and stressed, and so was my reproductive system (the last thing on my mind at the time).
This chronic stress caused me to develop hypothalamic amenorrhea (the absence of your period for 3+ months due to hypothalamus insufficiencies). I didn’t think much about my missing period. Heck, I thought it was kind of awesome not getting one in my early 20s. I didn’t have to buy tampons, so I saved money there. I also escaped the monthly woes of the dreaded bleed, including mood swings, cramps, breakouts, cravings, etc. Bonus points for not having to worry about it interfering with sex! Hey-o! Not getting a period was great, or so I thought.
A Story Within a Story
I met my husband in the winter of 2011. We did long distance from Chicago to Nashville for about a year, and then I moved to Tennessee to be with him. In the following years, I started training for marathons. Boy did I love running and the stress release it provided. In fact, I still do. When training for and running my first marathon, I could barely finish due to under fueling. I was incredibly tired and drained. Plus, my recovery was killer from the lack of nutrients and depletion. I’m actually shocked I didn’t injure myself that first training cycle, especially because amenorrhea can have adverse effects on bone density (something I wasn’t aware of or cared about at the time).
As my training and experience progressed throughout my 9 marathon training cycles, I came to realize that I was not going to get faster without proper fueling. This realization, a couple of injuries, and the desire to recover from my eating disorder made me dive deep into nutrition research, purchase my favorite “Run Fast. Eat Slow.” cookbook, and it even inspired me to major in nutrition & dietetics! 🙂
I proceeded to learn how to properly fuel my body and ALL of its systems with what it needs- macro + micronutrient- wise. I gained a bit of weight, and guess what? I ran my fastest race and qualified for the Boston Marathon! In April 2019, I PRed at Boston with a 3:21.. Do you know what else? I had regained my period a couple of years prior leading up to that, which I attribute to my bone health, injury prevention, hormonal balance, increased energy levels, a quicker recovery time and improved athletic performance. Regaining my period was a blessing in disguise, and I never take its presence for granted now. Here’s more info on Why You Shouldn’t Dread Your Period, and to even embrace it for what it’s doing for you, your overall health, and your ability to conceive if you so wish.
What I have learned from my hypothalamic amenorrhea was that just because it didn’t appear to be doing damage, the absence of a period can cause long-term health consequences. These consequences include, but are not limited to: infertility, osteopenia or osteoporosis, thyroid issues, adrenal disorders, PCOS, and hormonal imbalances. I was lucky that my running injuries were fairly minor and that I didn’t suffer any stress fractures. The plan is to get a DEXA scan to check my bone density. I’m hoping there is no serious damage or signs of onset osteopenia/osteoporosis.
While amenorrhea occurs naturally while pregnant and breastfeeding, it should be taken seriously as a health concern when caused by an eating disorder, extreme exercise, being underweight, medications, stress, and sometimes birth control (among other causes). Many OBGYNs claim that there is nothing wrong with the absence of a period while on birth control, but I strongly suggest that you educate yourself on how birth control works and what that means for your body. For example, hormonal birth control suppresses ovulation (an entire phase of your cycle) and therefore induces a “withdrawal bleed” during your placebo week. In other words, you are not getting a real period on birth control. This is something to think about.
My last message about amenorrhea is to not take it lightly like I did in my early 20s. Having the mentality that you are saving money on sanitary products, avoiding period symptoms, and changing the game with your lifestyle and sex schedule can be detrimental and negligent to your long-term health. I know it is difficult to adopt a new perspective after learning new information, but I promise you it’s worth the investment in yourself and your health. If anything, do me a favor and educate yourself, continue to learn, then make changes that are right for you and your body.
Please feel free to reach out without questions regarding amenorrhea, and check out my previous post, “I Don’t Have a Period. Now What?“.
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