Missing periods mean something

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I didn’t have a period for four and a half years.

It disappeared about six months into my struggle with anorexia. I had only lost a quarter of the weight I would eventually lose.

Still, those ten pounds and my low caloric intake put too much stress on my body. I had developed hypothalamic amenorrhea, the absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles in a female of reproductive age. 

At the time, the loss of my period meant that my food restriction, excessive exercising, and weight loss had paid off. The loss of my period meant that I had taken the right path to reach perfect thinness.

The loss did not mean poor health. In fact, it didn’t seem to mean poor health to anyone around me either. 

Friends envied that I didn’t have to deal with a monthly inconvenience. 

Doctors said, “it just happens sometimes.” 

The first ten pounds I lost made me underweight, but not severely underweight. 

My doctors didn’t ask about my eating habits, exercise routine, or body image. They didn’t consider whether I had an eating disorder. 

So I lost 30 more pounds.

With 40 pounds gone, my doctors knew I had an eating disorder but remained unconcerned by my amenorrhea. This time, because they did expect it. Of course someone so underweight wouldn’t have her period. 

They told me I just needed to eat more and gain weight. 

At my first routine gynecological appointment, the doctor refused to examine me.  She said, “there’s no point. You basically have the ovaries of a nine-year-old.” She told me to return if I ever got a period again.

I left mortified and still not sure if missing periods were a real concern, thinking maybe I wasn’t sick at all.

Thankfully, I recovered even with that uncertainty. My recovery involved a much more complex regimen than simply eating and gaining weight– but those two components were a part of it and I fought for every single bite and every single pound. 

To my surprise, weight restoration combined with consistent daily consumption of 3,000 calories did not bring my period back. I waited a year. I maintained my weight and continued eating 3,000 calories. No period.

My own research, prompted by the concern of my mother, informed me about the consequences of amenorrhea.  

Regardless of weight, amenorrhea can cause infertility, bone loss, increased risk for heart disease, dry skin and hair, difficulty sleeping, digestive issues, and low sex drive.

I began to worry. I worried I could never have children. I worried I had let down a future spouse. I worried I would suffer from osteoporosis early in life. I won a battle with anorexia only to face the reality that its consequences could remain with me for life.

I begged my GP for a referral to an endocrinologist, someone specializing in hormone function. At first, she didn’t think it necessary, but relented. I waited months for the appointment, but it led me to finally meet a doctor who cared about my amenorrhea. She ordered a CT scan of my reproductive organs, an MRI of my brain, and extensive blood tests to rule out possible complications like tumors, cysts, or hormone imbalances.

Everything came back normal. She said despite her concern, she didn’t have any ideas beyond ordering those tests.

I gave up the search and hope. 

A year and a half later, my period returned.

I didn’t gain more weight. I didn’t change my caloric intake. I didn’t stop exercising. 

I don’t know why my period returned. 

I have suspicions, but only suspicions.

I can’t tell anyone else how to get theirs back.

I do know that amenorrhea served as the first significant measurable sign of my eating disorder— a cry for help from my body. It went unaddressed. 

Thirty percent of women suffer from amenorrhea for various reasons.

But a period never disappears for no reason. 

I shouldn’t have needed to lose thirty more pounds for my eating disorder to become apparent. It shouldn’t have taken three and a half years for a doctor to care.

If your doctor doesn’t show concern for amenorrhea, find a new one.

I Chose My Scars, Not My Wounds

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        My left wrist holds the only remaining visible signs of my eating disorder. A patch of abstract light pink lines. Self-harm scars. Physical marks of the battle I fought with anorexia.

Continue reading “I Chose My Scars, Not My Wounds”

Recovery and the Art of Not Knowing

 

“Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.” – Edgar Degas

The paintings of impressionist artists have taught me how to live.

I could spend hours staring at the works of Renoir, Degas, and Monet.

The interest I have for these artists and their work began in middle school art class when I learned impressionism can be identified by several unique characteristics:

Continue reading “Recovery and the Art of Not Knowing”

The Gift of Recovery – Moving Beyond ‘I’m Sorry’

 

 

We ask our loved ones to help us for many reasons – a ride home from the eye doctor, a home-cooked meal after we’ve had the flu, an extra $20 until our next paycheck.

Those are the debts we can repay easily, the kinds of favors that leave us with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

What about when you can’t ask for help? When you don’t want help? When the help you need is long term?

People with mental illnesses or addictions often feel this way. I did during my recovery from anorexia nervosa.

Continue reading “The Gift of Recovery – Moving Beyond ‘I’m Sorry’”

Life Sucks Sometimes and I am Grateful

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For many people happiness stands on a pedestal, while other emotions fall far below.

But danger lies in thinking this way. It leads to the idea that feeling other emotions indicates a lower quality of life.

 That’s not true.

A full and vibrant life requires the full spectrum of emotions – pleasant and unpleasant.

I know because I have lived through feeling nothing at all – even when surrounded by those who love me.

Continue reading “Life Sucks Sometimes and I am Grateful”

I Didn’t Take a Year Off and Neither Should You

 

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My recovery required that I stop doing two of the things I loved most. I couldn’t go to school and I couldn’t do any cardio activities. I was pissed. I was angry and sorry for myself and I couldn’t understand why those two things had to be taken from me.

I remember thinking, “How will I survive quitting running and school? How can I ever be successful?”

Continue reading “I Didn’t Take a Year Off and Neither Should You”

You WILL Screw Up

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This semester has been a challenge for me academically. I have had to start two additional blogs for my already writing heavy classes and regularly post content to them– which is honestly why I have not posted here lately #oops.

I love it. I know that I am learning a lot.

Yet I still sometimes cry my eyes out at 1 a.m. in frustration at all of the work I have to do.

Why? Because learning freaking hurts. 

Continue reading “You WILL Screw Up”

What Not to Say This Holiday Season

For most people, the holidays are wonderful. They are full of  family, friends, laughter and love.

For people who struggle with things such as illness, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm, and familial difficulties, the holidays can bring tremendous stress and anxiety.

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The best way to help everyone have a stress-less holiday season is to be conscious of what comes out of our mouths- shocker, I know.  It is easier said than done, though. I have compiled a list of things NOT to say this holiday season. Many of them are seemingly normal. They are ingrained in our culture and I hear them WAY too often and I even catch  myself saying them sometimes… without even realizing it.

Continue reading “What Not to Say This Holiday Season”