Period, where art thou?

By February 15, 2017About Me, Food & Body, Health

I went on the pill at the age of 15. It was the year after I’d started my period and I was really struggling every month with stomach pains and 8 day bleeds. I was taking days off school because of it and when Mum took me to the doctor they suggested I took microgynon. Thinking back I probably didn’t question why this would be an effective medication for heavy periods because I was too caught up in the fact that it was pretty cool I was going on the pill. At first everything seemed great, the period pains had lessened and I was only bleeding for 3 days instead of 7 or 8 as I had been before. But then I realised that you could take your packets of pills back to back and stop yourself having a period all together? What a miracle! I started doing this regularly and consequently I put on a lot of weight, had bad headaches and struggled with frequent mood swings. When I went back to the doctor I found out that constantly doing this was not a good thing for my body but instead of suggesting I stop taking the pill for a while for my body to go back to normal, I was prescribed a different pill to try called cilest. I continued to take cilest for the next 8 years. The side effects from the back to back pill drama all settled and things seemed pretty great. The one time I did try to skip my period whilst on cilest because I was trekking in China didn’t work and I continued to bleed.. for three weeks. Safe to say I never attempted it again.

In 2015 when I was struggling a lot with anxiety I made the decision to stop taking the pill. I began feeling really worried about putting hormones into my body, I was in a long term relationship and I thought after ten years it was probably time for a break. Side note: The whole time I had been taking the pill I had been binging and dieting, not consistently but it was a part of my life throughout that ten year time span. I had heard about amenorrhoea (an abnormal presence of menstruation) and that it usually occurs after taking the pill whilst your body settles. I was pretty sure this wouldn’t happen to me because of my history of heavy periods but I was very wrong. Around Christmas time I went to see the Doctor because since June when I stopped taking the pill, I hadn’t bled at all. The only information I could find online was from Mumsnet and this had told me that it can take quite a while for things to get back to normal (and that was the extent of the reassurance I could find). The doctor echoed this and said that it was completely normal that I hadn’t had a period for six months and that I should comeback if there was no progress by the following June. There was no progress and after returning to the doctor, she agreed to run a bunch of tests to try and find out what was going on.

All of my blood tests came back normal, my oestrogen levels were fine, I wasn’t underweight or lacking in a certain time of blood cell. I was asked if I’d lost an extreme amount of weight or over exercised but when I told her that I’d lost two stone over a year and ran regularly she didn’t seem worried. When I told her about my disordered eating pattern her response was “Oh but you haven’t got an eating disorder because your BMI isn’t underweight”. She also suggested when I said that I wanted my periods back “Why don’t you go back on the pill then because you won’t be trying for a baby soon, you’re only young”. Clearly she had ignored everything I had said about my reasons behind stopping the pill and then made assumptions about the reality of my disorder based on my BMI and decided to give her opinion on when I should have a baby. What an idiot. She had completely belittled what I was experiencing and referred me to a specialist because she was out of ideas. It took a while for an appointment with the specialist to happen so in the meantime I stopped exercising so much, I made sure I was eating plenty every day, I took supplements and I tried to stay as chill as possible. Those suggestions were all things I had sourced from google. I wanted to do everything I could to try and urge my menstrual cycle to come back but nothing worked. The specialist was a whole lot more supportive than my first doctor (thank goodness) and sent me for scans at the hospital where they looked at my ovaries with a camera to see if there was anything abnormal. They couldn’t find any signs of cysts and when I had another set of blood tests done, they still came back normal. I opened up to the specialist about my disordered eating habits and it was decided that the combination of this and the length of time I’d been on the pill had caused this long stretch of amenorrhoea. Disordered eating puts huge amount of stress on your body, just because I wasn’t medically underweight, I was experiencing the same hormonal changes as someone who was because an eating disorder is about mental health as much as (or more than) it is about physical health. I was prescribed a week’s dose of hormones to see if they would wake up my ovaries but still, nothing changed. There were talks of early menopause and infertility which didn’t help my attempts to stay as caaaaalm as possible. All I could do was wait for my next consultation and then..

My period came back. I wasn’t taking any medication but I was relaxed, I was eating well and hadn’t restricted for a while and I was doing everything I could to not think about the worst case scenarios. My body finally showed signs of trusting me again after I stopped taking the pill a year and a half before. When speaking to friends about my experiences it seems that a lot of girls were prescribed the pill for a whole host of issues other than using it as a contraceptive such as weight gain or acne. I wish I had fully understood what I was doing when I was fifteen and that young girls are educated on these tablets which are sold to us as a “cure all” for teens. I will never take my period for granted again, it hurts like hell but it’s a monthly sign that my body is okay and that it fully trusts me not to restrict.. I’m so thankful to my body for sticking by me through times when I really abused it. I haven’t taken the pill since and I feel like a completely different person to when I was taking synthetic hormones. I understand that some contraception works for some people perfectly well but I will never take any again. For me, it’s not worth the risk.

If you are struggling with amenorrhoea then please speak to your doctor and be persistent if they aren’t doing enough for you. I really hope that doctors will be educated further about eating disorders because the deciding factor is not a certain BMI, it’s a way of thinking. I was lucky that I continued to try and get support when my issues weren’t taken seriously and I dread to think how many others have experience the same. Change needs to happen and we need to be vocal about these experiences. I hope this post helps someone, I don’t have the golden rule of how to get your period back but I can’t emphasise enough the importance of honouring your body, fuelling your body and resting your body. 

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