I’m going to risk alienating the males around here for a day or two, by keeping the amenorrhea discussion going. (Though I’d argue it’s important info for you to know, too, because chances are you have a few gals you care about — friends, family, or partners, yes?) Because I’ve learned that you speak out and open up about the issues that have been defining for you, you realize they have been (or maybe currently are) defining for others, too. Humans need to know that.
So where were we? Amenorrheic for six years: hand raised. If you haven’t already put the two together, this had a lot to do with what I talked about in the NEDA post series. When I wrote those, I vaguely nodded to this “condition” that reversed, because obviously this is a little bit awkward to talk about. Yet here we are! Chatting about it!
The annual physicals alluded to in this article always ended in a prescription for birth control (BC) pills, which I would go on/off of. I kept getting on my high horse and would stop taking it because I didn’t feel like it helped, then I’d refill the prescription because I feared my bones might crumble if they didn’t have the hormones helping out. Spoiler: I have yet to break a bone.
But the Nurse Practitioners and Physicians said it would help. So, sure, if by “help” you mean the ol’ mask-and-ignore, then yeah, it’s helping.
What’s NOT helpful is failing to address the root causes of this condition and the ways you can reverse it. So, let’s do that.
First, because this is the internet I know I have to include the following disclaimer: this is NOT meant to substitute for medical advice or treatment. This is only what I know did and did not work for me.
We’ll start with what definitely did NOT work:
- Telling me to take a pill and hope my body would just figure itself out.
- Recommending I gain weight.
- Suggesting I needed to “plump up.”
- Ignoring stress as a factor.
- Failing to address any lifestyle factors.
- Failing to recognize the mentality of someone in this state, that may not be ready to hear advice like “eat more fat,” or “gain weight,” or “exercise less!” because those things invoke anxiety, a loss of control, an identity crisis of sorts.
I actually worked in a Penn State lab for two years, under a Principal Investigator (PI) doing research to test ways to reverse amenorrhea. I just wanted some lab experience and a summer gig that would also translate to credits: I happened to end up on this study, learning how to centrifuge blood and titrate urine samples — glorious! (My most vivid memory is doing both the morning after my 21st birthday. Scarred for life.) The subjects were given high-calorie snack bars, a la Regina George in “Mean Girls” without the Swahili food words lesson, wore activity trackers before Fitbits were a thing, weighed in regularly and had their basal metabolic rates tested. We only had a handful of women at any given time – all within the 18-22 age range — and their participation usually started out Type-A-strong, but faded quickly.
What the pros didn’t seem to get
In the lab: These girls didn’t want to gain weight or exercise less. Obviously. They wanted to know why their reproductive system wasn’t firing on all cylinders, but like me, weren’t ready to actually accept what had to change. The dropout rate was high, if not close to 100%. In the two years I was part of this working team (but never a subject), I only remember a few cases where the condition reversed, but it usually seemed like a fluke or as if it would have happened anyway, but coincidentally while they had already agreed to be monitored.
In any case: it’s not a simple solution
It’s not enough to suggest that a woman gains weight, reduces exercise stress, and/or just takes a pill. Nope, sorry y’all. It’s not that simple.
I had to choose
During those six years I lost and then regained about fifteen pounds that needed to be on my frame, cycled on off BC for multiple reasons (i.e. not just in hopes of staying “regular”), and was baffled month after month by the absence of any sign that I was turning things around. For the last year, I let it go and just assumed this was how it was going to be. I’d have to worry about fertility later, but needed to choose to just live for now.
Next up: what changed in year six (2010), and how things have been since then.