Nearly every woman I know is either dealing with or has dealt with hormonal imbalance. And I know a lot of women.
Sometimes it shows up as a direct acknowledgment of the imbalance. Other times, it’s a deep desire to know why they can’t lose the weight. Why their skin continues to breakout. Why they get migraines or can’t pull themselves out of bed right before their period comes.
We joke about how Mother Nature is always throwing us a curveball with our hormones, and yet the unfortunate truth is that these negative experiences are not a right of passage. They are a result of chronic stress. Of environmental toxins and chemical-laden food, cookware, and beauty products. Of unnatural methods of birth control.
They’re a result of being completely out of tune with our bodies and losing touch with our natural inner cycles. Which, by the way, are shifting all throughout the month, not just when we get our periods (need a refresher on how your hormones fluctuate throughout the month? Give this podcast episode a listen).
What makes this even more sad is that there are so many women suffering in silence. We’re not “supposed” to talk about our periods, so talking about the fact that they’ve completely disappeared is equally taboo, right? We don’t want to come across as the weaker sex, so we should just buck up and ignore our PMS, right?
It doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re experiencing any one of the symptoms of hormonal imbalance, including but not limited to: acne, weight gain, inability to lose weight, irregular or absent periods, moodiness, fatigue, migraines, insomnia, breast tenderness, low sex drive, infertility, bloating…
You don’t have to stay quiet.
You don’t have to put on your happy mask and pretend that everything is fine.
You’re allowed to speak up, ask for help, and not settle for bullshit answers (a couple of which I’ll share below).
You deserve to feel good.
A brief history of my hormone journey
I started taking birth control when I was around 13, due to severely painful cramps. The doctor told me the pill would make them go away, and since I was desperate for a solution and didn’t know any better, I agreed. Looking back there were so many other natural avenues we could have tried, but holistic health wasn’t as big in the early 2000’s as it is now 😉
Fast forward 10 years. Still on the pill, still pretty oblivious to anything hormone-related. I started to notice my PMS symptoms getting more intense. My anxiety would get extremely high the week before my period, the sugar cravings were uncontrollable, and my patience was non-existent.
I was annoyed but still didn’t think much of it. My life started getting more hectic as I worked towards my personal training certifications on the side while working full-time, all while training for my first half marathon AND lifting six days a week on top of that.
And then in June of 2013 my period didn’t come. I panicked and picked up a pregnancy test which came back negative. Not totally convinced, I went to the doctor for a second test. Nope, still negative.
I figured it was a one-off, and I actually felt grateful for not having to deal with the inconvenience of having a period. I was “too busy” for that shit anyway.
But when my period was non-existent again in July, I started to believe something was up. I visited my family doctor and expressed my concerns. His response?
“You’re just evolutionarily advanced. Your body knows you’re too busy for a baby, so you aren’t ovulating, and therefore you aren’t having a period.” (Bullshit answer number 1).
I left feeling confused, but not really sure where else to go.
Another month went by without a period, so I visited a women’s health clinic. I was told this is a fairly common thing, and to ride it out for a few more months to see if anything changed. Maybe I just needed to try a different pill (bullshit answer number 2).
And then finally in September, a period. Hallelujah! Despite the increasing acne on my face (something I had never experienced until this point), I was oh-so grateful for that monthly visitor. Until she was gone again in October. And November. And December.
This once-every-three-months period continued until July of 2014, after which point I decided to go off the pill.
My PMS was getting progressively worse. My acne was getting worse. I wasn’t getting a period. Besides keeping me from getting pregnant, it didn’t seem like the pill was doing anything. Why bother pumping my body full of fake hormones if all they were going to do was wreak havoc on my natural hormones? (By this point, I was starting to catch on 😉).
Between July 2014 and April 2015, I didn’t get a period. I would still get symptoms of PMS at irregular intervals, but there was never any sign of a period.
After around 5 months without a period, I decided to visit the women’s clinic again. It was suggested I go back on the pill to see if that brought my period back (bullshit answer number 3). At that point, I decided I would not be seeking a traditional medical doctor’s help for this problem anymore.
Side note: Doctors are great. I love having the ability to visit one when I need antibiotics, when I’m having troubles breathing and worried about an embolism, or when my hypochondria tells me I have some other random disease. But over the last couple of years, more often than not I’ve been seeking more natural forms of healing which has felt much more aligned.
At the time of writing this, January 2018, I can’t yet say that anything has truly worked. My cycle is still irregular, but there have been HUGE improvements in the last 2.5 years, and some of my more recent attempts at balancing my hormones have left me feeling even more hopeful.
So when I use the term “worked”, I mean it in terms of making progress.
What initially brought my period back after an 8-month hiatus was weekly acupuncture appointments and a foul herbal concoction twice per day. My acupuncturist (whose name is Peter Wood, if anyone in Vancouver is looking for a kickass Doctor of TCM) focused on spleen qi deficiency with the needles, and those awful, awful herbs were for decreasing blood stagnation.
When my period came in April of 2015, I couldn’t believe I was so happy for that monthly visitor I used to resent. Unfortunately, my excitement was short-lived, because I went another few months sans period.
It was around this same time where I constantly started to feel fatigued. My skin wasn’t getting any better, I was still getting PMS despite no period, and I was getting fruuuuustrated.
I stuck with the herbs until the end of 2015, with the occasional period popping in here and there, at which point I decided to take a break. I wanted to try focusing on more lifestyle factors, like my stress levels and diet. I continued to work with my acupuncturist on spleen qi and whatever he felt was necessary, and spent most of 2016 focusing on self care as a means of balancing my hormones.
I’ll say right off the bat I wasn’t perfect. Not even close. But by reducing my caffeine intake (ie. down from 6 cups of coffee a day to 2-3), paying better attention to my diet and eating more plants and less refined carbs, and adding a little (and I mean a little) more chill time into my life, I started to get my period alternating between 4- and 6-week cycles through most of 2016 and 2017.
My PMS, on the other hand, was getting worse, primarily manifesting as chronic fatigue and anxiety. The week of my period I would feel calm and energized, but for the remaining 3-5 weeks, it took ALL the mental strength to pull myself out of bed and do life for the day (and run a business, and train for triathlons).
In October of 2017, the fatigue was getting to me. I was tired of feeling tired, so I decided to try a different approach and started seeing a naturopath. I was expecting a crazy elimination diet and a life-sentencing of no more coffee, but instead, my previous thoughts were confirmed: my body isn’t going to heal itself until I really focus on the lifestyle factors.
Less physical exertion.
Along with some adrenal and sex hormone support supplements, and closer attention to my diet. Not no caffeine, but less. Not no sugar, but less.
At my own will, I also started paying more attention to the products I use in my day-to-day life. I switched to natural skin care products and became much more conscious of the meat I chose to consume (and started consuming less of it in general).
I’m incorporating more maca and medicinal mushrooms into my life, and I’ve decided against doing any triathlons this year. My physical activity consists primarily of yoga, outdoor activities, and the occasional strength session and spin class. Meditation has become a huge part of my life, and I’m down to 2-3 cups of coffee a week.
I’ve also started reading WomanCode by Alisa Vitti, and am learning how to sync my cycle with my life.
And as a result, I’ve started feeling better. I have 1 or 2 exhausted weeks as opposed to 3-5. My skin is improving, my sex drive is improving, I’m less moody, more productive, more relaxed, and generally feeling like a happier human being.
Am I exactly where I want to be yet? No. But am I grateful for how I’m currently feeling?
The point of this long-winded post was not to pump out a woe-is-me story. But rather, to open the dialogue. To show you that if you’re suffering in your own hormonal way, you’re not alone. We just don’t talk about these things as often as we could.
I want to show you that healing is not a linear process. There are ups and downs. Two steps forward, five steps back.
And above all else, I want you to know that you know your body better than anybody else. If something’s not feeling right and you’re not getting the answers you’re looking for, don’t give up. Find somebody who’s willing to work with you, and do your research.
Ultimately, we are responsible for our own health.
If you’re experiencing any symptoms of hormonal imbalance, please consult with a professional you trust. Maybe it’s a Doctor, maybe it’s a Naturopath, maybe it’s a Doctor of TCM. Look for options in your area and seek some answers. You don’t have to do this alone (and Dr. Google on its own is not necessarily the best option).