In late June 2013 I began writing about my state of amenorrhea in a blog titled “My Journey to the Moon”. I was committed to reigniting my body’s natural rhythms and regaining my feminine connection regardless of what I had to face emotionally and physically. Between the damaging effects of birth control pills and a severe battle with bulimia which included extreme exercise for over 20 years, I fluctuated between very erratic periods (dysmenorrhea) to eventually no periods (amenorrhea). All in all I had not had a true period in over 8 years.
I documented my plan weekly. I was using a whole handful of healing tools … if you would have said walking backwards and whistling helped I would have done it. Week after week I would write about my emotional and physical realizations and what was/wasn’t working. And week after week- no period. I was emotionally spazzed out- for lack of a better term. My body was all over the place with weight gain and fluid fluctuations. I bounced between fear, anxiety and depression with some occasional days where I could feel my soul connection again. Those few days where I could hear my “inner voice” and my “gut instinct” coming back to life are what kept me on track.
However, I stopped writing. What if I never heal my body? I thought I was doing all the period friendly protocols so what was wrong with me? I know most of you are thinking “go get your hormones tested”. That was the most frustrating. I had been to an Obgyn in NYC in the prior year who practiced allopathic and holistic medicine. She ran the tests and all she could say was that my hormones were “shut down” and suggested some hormone therapy. Really?!- Thanks but no thanks. However, despite her unclear interpretation of the tests and her poor bedside manner, she did stir a truth that no test could show- I was shut down. I had all the working parts and pieces but they were just lying dormant.
Fast forward to my current panicked state. (Oh, and just let me mention that with all of this new weight and emotional fluctuation my digestion decided to play games with me.) I was beginning to go down the road of doom. My inner voice still whispered “hold on you can do this” but I started to diagnose myself with all sorts of disorders that could be creating the misery I was experiencing. I was supposed to be healing not morphing into some new state of unrecognizable every few days. I was losing the hormonal guessing games so I decided to, once again, go to a doctor. I chose Bastyr University’s clinic as I trust the remarkable abilities of their NDs and specialists (little plug). I had blood, urine and stool tests- I was going to find out what was wrong. I sat in the office and cried and the wonderful practitioners listened and worked with me for over 2 hours- quite dramatic.
My test results were all in. The team sat me down and patiently went over every detail. What they found is that NOTHING was wrong with me. I was very healthy on paper. My hormones were all there in seemingly normal levels just waiting to fire. No digestive disease, no cancer- just a little bit of crazy. The doctor then pulls up a chair next to me and says “we need to have a little heart to heart”. “You have Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) and the only way to help yourself is to love your body.” She then made some of the most remarkable and challenging suggestions that truly changed my life.
2 weeks after that visit I started my first period in 8 years. I dropped into my body in a way that I have not felt maybe ever. I was grounded and connected. My intuition and inner guide was awakened. I was comfortable in my skin even at 12lbs over what I typically used to weigh because I knew I was healthy. I was filled with gratitude and sense of grace. My journey to the moon was complete- or so I thought. Recovering my hormones was just the beginning of really immersing myself in understanding the intricacy of hormonal and metabolic function and what it truly means to have HA.
What Is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea?
HA is the absence of menses (your period) for more than 6 months due to a suppression of the hypothalamic- pituitary-adrenal (HPA) and hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis. The HPA axis is responsible for managing your stress hormones and the HPO axis is your reproductive hormone pathway. According to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, HA can be categorized in 3 ways: Exercise associated amenorrhea (EAA), weight-loss related amenorrhea and stress-induced amenorrhea. Typically these are all inter related as stress is the underlying culprit behind the hormone suppression in your HPA/HPO axis.
The endocrine symphony is fascinating and delicate and designed to protect the body under “normal” stressful conditions. What happens when stress is continual is that your body no longer can handle the normal fight or flight response and these hormone communication channels wear out. The major stressors to the HPA/HPO axis are long term consumption of birth control pills and other synthetic hormones, over exercise, calorie restriction, lack of quality sleep, poor nutrition and lifestyle induced anxiety and depression. The female body was created to produce life. Life requires deep nourishment and a tranquil environment in order to manifest new life, new energy, balance and all cell regeneration.
In addition to HA a whole world of serious health issues can arise from your hormones hiding out until the stress triggers have gone away. New research is now discovering that women with HA greatly increase their risk of cardiovascular disease in post-menopausal years. Balanced estrogen levels play many roles in your heart health leading up to menopause. If you are under producing estrogen in the premenopausal years you set your body up for disaster later on. There is also an increased risk in bone fracture, chronic joint pain, sexual dysfunctions, permanent adrenal exhaustion, memory loss and…- what was I saying?…
Why There Is No “One Plan” to Heal
HA is very personal in the respects that there is no one way out. There are some key guidelines that must be followed. You must flood your body with food and nourishment and manage your energy expenditure with lots of rest and lots less vigorous exercise. But the healing lies in breaking down and dealing with what put your body into distress in the first place. The trauma that put your body into shut down mode must be reversed. The wounds must be healed. You must be very honest with yourself and you must be able to say you LOVE yourself. You MUST TRUST yourself and your body will begin to trust you back.
Those couple of weeks leading up to my first flow I attended a meditation gathering. I had some amazing Maya Abdominal Massage and acupuncture. I used a lot of visualizations around connecting my cyclic HPA/HPO rhythms. I met with a hypnotist. I began eating hormone friendly foods and fats again. I exercised only when it felt good. Which one worked? It doesn’t matter. The shift happened when I began to do these things backed by love and the desire to simply learn about myself and let the outcome go. I realized that the negative message of always trying to “fix myself” was based in fear and shame. These messages cause stress which creates a state of distrust inside your body thereby adding to the disruption of your HPA communication.
In the coming weeks I will be discussing HA in relationship to your birth control choices, your fertility, your digestion, what your 60 year old self will suffer and a more in depth look at HPA/HPO health.
What to Expect on the Road to Recovery
This of course will be different for each woman. But I will not sugar coat how difficult, yet beautiful, waking your body back up will be. For me, I was abusing my body for over 20 years so I do/did not expect to just bounce back in a year, or even two.Working with women who struggle with HA, and witnessing friends battle HA, I do see some very common issues, emotions and requirements in the healing process…
One- You will gain weight. Mostly because you have to in order to heal, but also because your body will begin to retain a ton of water. Hormonal fluctuations and the “waking up” of estrogen will cause bloating until the partner hormones are balanced as well. Keep up with proper nourishment and this will subside.
Two- As you begin to heal you may discover that your digestion decides to go more haywire than before. Stress shuts down digestion causing the smooth muscle in your intestines that are responsible for peristalsis to contract. So as you begin to nourish yourself more, the body will struggle a bit to break down and digest the extra (necessary) food intake. There are wonderful ways to support this transition so don’t stress over the stress.
Three-You will not have the energy to do what you were able to last year or even last week. Your 6 mile runs are out for a bit- your body won’t even allow it. Rest is the new workout with HA.
Four- You WILL feel crazy and begin to run to doctors and healers and exorcists. But then you will remember that you all you can do is stay the course of trust and that you are going through a healing crisis.
Five- You WILL need help. No woman is an island and getting some healing support is necessary. I find Maya Abdominal Massage, Acupuncture, nutritional support, meditation and some fluid movement to be the most healing- find what works for you.
Six- It is very possible to heal this crisis with natural interventions. Your hormones will find their harmony and you will find new life and love for your body- but it will take time and you must stay the course.
If you are reading this and suffer from HA, or think you suffer from HA, and have questions about symptoms, or a suggestion for me to explore, I would love to hear from you. Jamie@wellbellyhealing.com
Stop the Chaos,
This was the essence of the advice I received from the ND at Bastyr. Part of my issue was that self-diagnosis, and always taking some herb or supplement for something, was very wrapped up in the distrust in my body and my old eating disorder patterns. I was to stop EVERYTHING- not even a probiotic. I don’t truly think I had gone a day in over 15 years without taking some- thing to “fix me”. The advice went straight to the core of the next layers I was to peel away in order to truly heal- I had to let go….
I discuss this topic of “fixing what isn’t broken” a lot. We make ourselves crazy trying to find answers to our ailments and begin to pile on anything that sounds like it could help. We just want to feel better- I understand. But stressing out about an already stressed out system buries you deeper. And, on a physiological note, when it comes to medications, herbs and supplements- less is more. The liver can only break down so much at a time. If your liver is busy weeding through chaos it can’t break down the hormones in your body. This, as you can see, could cause some issues. Yes, probiotics and herbs and some helpful supplements are very healing but when administered with knowledge, love and trust in the body.
Why Did I Wait so Long?- Trauma and Timing…
Many people ask why I waited until now to begin healing the chaos in my body. Well, true healing cannot happen until the soul has enough love and fortitude to face the traumas and fears that caused the issue. There are steps. I first had to stop the cycle of daily bulimic episodes that were destroying my body. I had to do this while living in NYC away from family (thank you to my NYC crew that really showed up for me). It has been almost 3 years and I have only had 5 “relapses”. And, even though I desired to bring back my period in the last couple years I knew deep down I was not ready to tackle the next layers I had to peel back. I knew that confronting my vice of exercise was a huge piece. Even though I was no longer having severe binge and purge episodes, my beliefs around my body, my food and how to eat without panic was going to take time. Also, when you are an addict of any substance, once that emotional band aid is ripped off everything that it was protecting comes pouring out- everywhere.
When I moved home to Seattle in June I had a heart to heart with myself. I was going to finally confront the next layers. I was building a new career in the healing arts and was determined to walk the talk- “healer, heal thyself”. It was time- not last year or even 5 months before- timing is an important piece in recovery and healing.
I continue to have a period. It is not regular yet. My body is still adjusting and fluctuating and giving me days of crazy but we are now a team- my body and me. I listen and despite the battles I still fight, I choose the simplest, yet sometimes the most difficult medicine to administer… pure trust in the process and self- love. Stay the course….
Jamie Lashbrook is a Holistic Health Coach and Licensed Massage Therapist specializing in Maya Abdominal Therapy with a focus on Digestive, Reproductive and Emotional Health. “Learn to Listen to Your Gut”
Get a little guidance…. www.wellbellyhealing.com
~The information expressed is through personal and professional experience and is in no way intended as medical advice or diagnosis. Please seek a medical professional if you think you may have a serioius medical condition.
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