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hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery

my hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery

my missing period has finally returned. hurrah!

I got a bleed!!!

A real bleed. Not a hormone induced bleed. I could not be happier with myself but I know the journey is not over yet.

So last time I checked in with my blog post about my current situation, I detailed how I had essentially got myself into this condition of hypothalamic amenorrhea, and the steps I was doing to reverse it. Since January 1st 2020, I’ve been eating a lot of/all the foods, I’ve stopped all forms of exercise, and I’ve been attempting to rest, relax, not stress (easier said than done!). I also started to take a supplement Acetyl-L-Carnitine, although I do not think that was the be-all end-all as for why my period returned. At the end of January, I did get a bleed, and it lasted five days and it appeared to be quite “normal” for all intents and purposes, but I was confused at the time if it was really my body or if it was the few days of estrogen pills I had started, before I thought better of it. Again, I detailed this all in my first post explaining my condition, so if you haven’t read that yet, check that out here and you will be fully up to speed with all my period problems. To quickly re-iterate though, often times when your period has gone M.I.A., your gyno will put you on what is called the “Provera challenge”, where you take hormone pills to “jumpstart” your period (even tho that’s not a thing, it’s just a withdrawal bleed that does not jump start a thing!). So when I saw my gyno and was waiting to do a baseline ultrasound, she recommended I continue a cycle of fake hormone pills and withdrawal bleeds while I waited to figure out what’s wrong, exactly. Yeah. Hmm. Does that make sense?

hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery
Pre-HA – running everyday!

Not really. Most people will do it though, not knowing any better. I already had a very good idea about what my issue was by this time (HA) and I knew after all my reading that ultimately taking hormone pills would not fix my condition, but would simply mask it, and set me backwards if I didn’t actually do my own part to fix myself. So after a few days of taking those hormone pills, I decided once and for all I was not going to continue taking them, I was going to do everything in my power to get my period back NATURALLY! I knew I had all the information I needed and that it could be achieved if I put my effort into it, the same way I put my effort into starting the SCD diet. Three days later: I got my period. So at the time, even though I had been “all in” for one month already (meaning I had actively been eating a lot more calories and not working out) I wasn’t sure if this was that “withdrawal” bleed (even though I hadn’t finished the round of hormones properly, I had quit them very early on, like I mentioned) or if it was REALLY ME. I did not want to get my hopes up at the time. A month later, I’ve got my answer! It’s 100% all MEEEE! I got a second period, and while if everything was perfectly on schedule in my body, it “should” have arrived on February 24th, a Monday, it actually arrived on the Thursday, February 27th! That’s not even very late, all things considered! AND IT’S 100% ALL ME! (Did I mention that). When you are first regaining your cycle, it’s normal for the cycle to be a bit longer than usual, for it to take a bit of time to settle into its properly timed routine. So all this to say, my fifth vital sign is back, and it’s looking healthy! My period lasted five days, same as the first one, which is extremely in-range and quite normal for me, before I was on the pill my cycle would be similar length if not a full seven days (however I was far less of a healthy eater at the time, which undoubtedly affects the length of your cycle).

hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery
This is what my HA recovery looks like. Before (L) and after (R). Same bra (actually have to wear TWO sports bra in the second pic), same leggings.

The day I got my period, I had an eerie feeling it was coming, with a few tell-tale signs, although I didn’t want to say anything aloud until I actually saw blood. However the tell-tale signs, if you’re curious: I had a big under-the-skin pimple that never quite broke the surface but is the type of painful pimple I used to always get before a period, as well as a specific type of leg cramps (I don’t know why my cramps would often occur in my legs), which I felt the night before and the day of.

As far as signs leading up to it, the week prior my boobs had been feeling painful and extremely heavy and definitely larger than usual, and I felt emotional AF, I was crying all over the place, but of course at the time I had no idea what the cause was and I thought it was just because of a fluctuation in hormones, in general, and the fact that I was just sad about not being able to exercise/not feeling like myself/uncomfortable in my own skin, as I continued to try to regain my cycle.

The day before my period arrived I actually had a call with Jill (@acaseofthejills), who, if you too have been searching for information and insight on HA, you might have stumbled across her fantastic series of YouTube videos. Of course, I had read No Period. Now What?, the book I reference quite heavily in my last post on HA. But, as time progressed on my journey, I had been feeling a bit miffed about the book and the Facebook group I had joined initially to find some support. I found, because the book and support group was so focused on the eating disorder aspect of HA, it was making me feel out of place and out of sorts – I felt more lost than usual – I know I’ve never had an eating disorder and that just wasn’t my issue, so I found it difficult to be completely absorbed with other people on this Facebook group constantly posting about ED and, with the book hammering that in to you too, it can make you start to question yourself (which is not a good thing: I know who I am and I do not have food issues). As well, when I would write in the FB group about certain issues unique to me, such as the fact that I have Crohn’s disease and am on the SCD Diet to keep myself in remission, I would get comments back from people that completely did not understand the diet or me; telling me I “need” to eat rice and not understanding why I would restrict certain foods– coming at it from an eating disorder perspective. I began to dislike this particular approach to HA recovery that was being espoused. Thus, I found Jill!

She has Celiac’s Disease and was an ultra runner, so I felt she would understand my perspective on HA. I had an amazing call with her the day before my 2nd period arrived, which I think was actually very important in getting over my last “mental block” to allow my period to arrive the very next day! We discussed the restriction that goes along with the SCD diet and she brought up some valuable points about my diet lacking in starchy carbs when I WAS at the height of my running, and how the carbs I get from fruit and honey and raisins were not the same kind of carbs nor the right kind. She also brought up some good points about how a restrictive diet such as SCD can have a negative mental effect, despite all the good it’s been doing in my body, which I considered as well. When I started my journey to recovery, I began craving warmer foods, and I veered away from the usual big-ass salad plates I was used to having. I tried lentil pasta for the first time on my HA road to recovery (which is actually not considered to be SCD legal if you’re going by the book because of the way it’s been processed), and I began to make it almost once a week: this is a great source of those starchy carbs I didn’t know I was missing, but clearly my body was calling out for! I began eating many more plantains, baked, fried, and in chip format, almost every day in these past couple of months that I’ve been focused on recovery: another source of those starchy carbs. I also began to incorporate more butternut squash into my diet, a mission I am still on right now. I spoke to Jill about these food items, as one of the missing links to restore my period. I have definitely been eating way more of them, but I have more yet that I’d like to give a try, a few of which are completely NOT SCD (!) however I’ve been on the SCD diet quite strict for over a year, and I want to see how my body reacts / if it can tolerate other sources of starchy carbs so that I know I have enough sources to fuel myself when I get back into running (!!) (not yet). The starchy carbs I will be trying slowly but surely include: chickpeas, sweet potatoes and possibly rice. Like you do with any new food on the SCD diet, I will introduce these one at a time, a bit at a time, a few days or more apart. I’ve yet to try them yet, but I’ve continued to eat plantains, lentils and butternut squash all of which are SCD legal and contain that starch that you need for your hypothalamus to function properly. It’s worth noting, that even Elaine Gottschall said in the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle that it’s not out of line to introduce in illegal SCD items once you’ve been in remission for two years.

hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery
taking any opportunity possible to get a workout in, even on vacation!

what am i doing to maintain my period now?

Now that my period is back though, you may be wondering, now what??? Can I go run 10k??? Not quite. I am trying to stay patient, I want to wait another whole month to ensure I get my period a third time at the end of February before I make any significant changes in my diet or exercise HOWEVER after speaking with Jill, I do know it’s okay to still move my body a bit, and I shouldn’t be afraid of doing some light yoga or walking. I’ve done yoga three times this month now, and I have no plans to do it more than three times a week for the month, but I do want to be able to do it a bit if I feeeeeel like it. This month I also read two books just for fun in all my spare time! That was cool. I’ve also been able to sleep in before work which I’ve been thoroughly enjoying. I hope to find a happy balance once I can properly resume an exercise routine (I definitely miss it and can’t wait to do it while properly fueling myself before and after). I have 15 + extra pounds on me, if not more, which is still very uncomfortable to live with day to day, but I did finally cave and buy a new bra and new jeans which do make a big difference in self esteem during this process, for sure. I also took an entire week off work, before I knew I was going to get my period this month, but really because I needed some time to properly de-stress and do nothing, go nowhere. Staycation.

I wanted to share a bit more information about the tests I’ve done, since I have yet to be formally diagnosed with hypothalamic amenorrhea, I’ve still been going through the motions of the Canadian healthcare system. I was supposed to go do a baseline ultrasound  and blood tests this month once I got bleed– the doctor told me to take the estrogen pills again to induce one if if I did not get naturally (!!). This is another reason that I was so relieved my my period came NATURALLY, just in time for me to schedule my baseline ultrasound and blood tests, so I didn’t have to take more hormones in order to get these tests done, since you’re supposed to be on day 2-5 of your menstrual cycle. The ultrasound and blood tests are meant to rule out any other diagnosis for your lack of period – but as we all know now, it was a self-diagnosed HA and I healed my damn self! Gah damn! Having the ultrasound and blood tests were simply confirmation of this! While I do not yet know the exact results of the blood tests, the ultrasound results are immediate. The doctor confirmed with me that everything looks normal, my uterus lining is just as thick as it should be for where I am in my cycle and my follicles looked good (if you want some exact details/numbers, feel free to message me). The slowness of the Canadian health care system just meant that I had more time to work on healing MYSELF NATURALLY! I am so grateful for my body and my health, in a different way than I am when my Crohn’s is in remission, though. I am grateful that we are able to heal our bodies naturally, that food and exercise (done right!) can be medicine enough. I’ve learned this from my Crohn’s disease and healing my gut through the SCD diet, just as much as I’ve learned it through this more recent experience of HA. I am seeing my doctor again at the end of the month, around the exact same time that I will be getting period #3!

Until then, here’s what I will be doing as I want to keep my cycle and never go back to having HA:

  • Continue to eat as many calories as I want/my body demands; listening to my body
  • Continue to introduce in some yoga 3 times a week
  • Meditate daily- I began this practice when the stress and sadness felt overwhelming, a little bit before I got my period this month, and I think it’s proved extremely beneficial
  • I will not be continuing to take the supplement, I don’t think I need it anymore
  • Continue to listen to my body when it wants to sleep/rest/relax or possibly even exercise (lightly!)

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