The dark side of healing
A bit over a year ago, I came off the contraceptive pill – not because I’ve been trying to get pregnant, but because my health was at risk (I shared a lot more about that in a video a little while ago, I’d recommend taking a watch). As I mentioned in that post, I have been feeling much better in so many ways, but I don’t want to lead you astray – the last 12 months have been hard, filled with challenges (I also want to thank a reader and friend for suggesting I share this with you all).
Taking your life into your control and making decisions is damn tough work, and don’t let anyone (even me) let you think otherwise. Rewarding, absolutely, but it requires determination, perseverance while things are difficult or “going wrong” and constant faith in yourself. And at many times over the last year, I have doubted my own sanity, and wondered if I could deal with the hard work. I withdrew last year and didn’t share too much with all of you (or many people in my life, actually) while I was working through some of these challenges, but today I want to share them with you. Even if you’ve never been on the pill, I hope everyone can learn something from my experience.
The underlying issue for me in coming off the pill is that for the 13 years I was on it, as well as the previous 2 I wasn’t on it, I hadn’t been ovulating regularly.
Irregular ovulation and periods is common for teen girls – their bodies are just getting used to being ‘adult’ and for anyone, when you’re learning a new task it can take time to get it right. Unfortunately for my body, it never got that opportunity – between the excessive bleeding from my undiagnosed Von Willebrands Disease then going on the pill, it has had no chance to work out how to run an adult female reproductive system. So what, I hear you say? You don’t want to get pregnant, there’s no use for your reproductive system. Well, that’s not the whole story. When the system that creates your sex hormones creates lots of other hormones in the body, and upsetting one part of it can effect many other parts of your body – like your appetite, digestion & ability to store fat, not to mention your sex drive, mood, energy levels & skin. Using a external method of controlling these hormones means all of these things can be effected (and were in me). Coming off this external method then, didn’t just allow my body to go back to what it should do natively – as I mentioned above, this has been a skill my body didn’t get the chance to master.
Been using a lot of these! Luckily after discovering the Juju menstrual cup I’ve had to make fewer emergency trips to the supermarket. More on that in a coming post…
Over the last 12 months, my hormone function and menstrual cycle have not been regular, so all of those things I mentioned above have also been out of whack – period timing, sex drive, digestion, mood, the lot. I’ve had 6 periods in 12 months, with cycles varying in length between 5 weeks and 11 weeks. Sure, there have been two identifiable stress interruptions – the kidney stone I had last year, and a bleed in my foot this year, but still, my body is still not capable of putting out the right hormones at the right time to give me a regular cycle of a regular length (all of which should be possible despite my bleeding disorder).
I’ve been moody, tired, so low on energy I haven’t wanted to exercise, as well as frustrated, both not wanting to have sex and being overly keen (irrespective of what else is going on). I’ve felt frustrated with my progress, annoyed at my body, and have questioned if I can even be a productive member of society. None of which are things I do normally.
Aside from the physical difficulties in helping my body regulate my cycle, learning about what my body is meant to do has been a huge challenge.
What is taught about cycles & the pill is different to how the female body really works.
The amount of things I’ve had to unlearn and relearn over the past 12-18 months is extraordinary, and applying the knowledge to my own health care has been one of the biggest challenges of my life.
Getting through this has been tough, but clearly not impossible. Here are a few things I’ve done over the last year to work through the mental and physical challenges of such a big medication change:
- Allowed myself to really feel my feelings. If you’re reading that and thinking “well duh!”, I should explain that as a hard core rationalist, I have never been great at this one. I would see the approach of a feeling then shove it away in the dark recesses of my mind. Instead, as I get used to my new physical and emotional set up, I’ve been allowing the feelings to come, sit with me, then pass. Most importantly, I’ve been allowing myself to feel the “bad” feelings – frustration, anger and resentment. I don’t believe these are actually bad reactions to a situation, and they have the power to teach us something just like “good” feelings. In the end, really letting it come and sit in me actually is less of a big deal than shoving it aside.
- Relied heavily on my support. My Acupuncturist & natural hormone specialist have gotten a lot of calls and emails from me this last year, I’ve allowed friends and R to help me when I’ve needed it, and I’ve taken rest days, naps, even hospital visits and rescheduling my work. This has been another monumental shift in my thinking – asking for or accepting help has always felt like I can’t do something and feeling accomplished and self-sufficient is important to me, sometimes even when the sane option is taking a break and getting some help. But my doctors, and the people around me who care want to help, just as they do for you too.
- Learn to go with the flow. One of the things I have learned about the female body is that it is meant to work with cycles, not flat lines. There are some stages in the menstrual cycle, where you’re happy, energetic, your libido is high, and you can get everything plus more done off your to-do list. Then there are other stages where you just want to sit on the couch with a cuppa, a brownie and re-watch all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls, then take a nap. Perhaps a brownie tray. Both are things that happen, and both are ok. The trouble comes when you try and make your body and mind run the same, all the time. Us ladies aren’t meant to be able to do that. I had learned a lot prior to coming off the pill, so I was aware of the cycle my body was going to try to run with, and I decided to let my body guide me. And its been so much easier, both physically and mentally than all the years I tried to push my biology to fit where it clearly didn’t.
- Took the attitude of a beginner. While this huge change I don’t think I’ll ever really be able to explain was going on, I let my biggest mental power take control – my rationality & learner’s mind. I love learning new things, and understanding how things fit together, so in coming off the pill and letting my body work out how to be a adult female for the first time, I became endlessly curious. While seeing this happen from the inside for the first time, I observed, took notes and learned everything I could from my body like it was my new favourite subject in school (totally is, by the way!).
A cup of tea and a very good book – Well & Good from Nat Kringoudis.
Change, even the types that you want and ask for, is hard. It even hurts, making you doubt yourself and your intentions. It ok, essential even, that you allow yourself to go through the struggle part of change (it’s part of the journey for a reason!). It’s only through the struggle, the dark and difficult parts that we learn and grow.
Need some more help and guidance working through your challenges and changes? Lets chat – email me to set up a time.