Nobody talks about menstruation, despite the fact that 50% of the world will experience it every month and the other 50% will have to deal with that fact in some capacity. In my opinion, it’s nothing to hide or be ashamed of. In fact, I believe it needs to be put out in the open and talked about more, especially because so few of us actually understand what’s normal and what isn’t when it comes to our bodies. Women need to feel empowered and in control of their bodies, not victims of them. I’ve been in the victim mentality since my first period at 15.
In public school health classes (or at least in mine), girls are fed generic misinformation, leading them to believe they have no control over what goes on inside their bodies, and that symptoms like PMS and cramping are inevitable. This ignorant mentality is what led me to my present situation, which until now I have completely failed to address or even recognize as abnormal.
My last 2 menstrual cycles have been so painful that my roommates considered pulling me off the bathroom floor and dropping me off at the emergency room. My screams were involuntary. I couldn’t hold down food or ibuprofen. I couldn’t stand, sit, crawl, move. It felt like being ripped apart from the inside. On top of that, my stools turned to liquid, my entire body broke out in sweats, and my head pounded with a headache. Apparently, this is not normal.
My periods have always been painful, irregular, and cause for missed days at work and school. But not like this. It is getting worse. Much worse. It has been so painful that I now fear my next cycle, which will likely come any day because I’m starting to experience other classic symptoms as well. Fatigue. Brain fog. Breakouts. Lower back pain. It’s been almost 40 days. Any cycle that lasts longer than 35 days (which all of mine do) is considered abnormal and a strong indication of hormonal imbalance.
I don’t have health insurance. I lost it when I quit my finance job earlier this year. The day it expired, I got a blood test for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that affects up to 10% of American women and runs in my family. The results came back negative, but not conclusively. Unfortunately, there isn’t really a definitive test for it. It’s one of those spectrum disorders, with all the above symptoms, plus things like unwanted hair growth, infertility, pain during sex, sleep problems and stubborn weight gain. It’s a really shitty condition.
I am not a doctor and I do not have a firm diagnosis, but I do have a laundry list of textbook symptoms that nonetheless prompt me to take action. Since I am now uninsured, going back to figure this out would be expensive. Plus, the first thing the doctor suggested was that I go on hormonal birth control. Absolutely not. I could write an entire essay on the numerous reasons to avoid The Pill. Pharmaceuticals are rarely the solution. They’re band-aids.
But there is another way. Although the allopathic medical community doesn’t agree, I believe you can treat and cure PCOS (and almost everything else) with strategic lifestyle changes. Health Coach and Johns Hopkins graduate Alisa Vitti wrote a book called WomanCode, which discusses just that. I plan to follow her outline and get control over my hormones once and for all. Even if I don’t have PCOS, I definitely have some major issues I’d like to finally address. Until reading Vitti’s book, I had no idea any of this was possibly within my power. I thought painful irregular periods and horrible PMS were just the cards I was dealt. I hope this works!
There is a lot to the WomanCode program, and I would like to write about it at greater length later, but one of the protocols is to completely eliminate alcohol. Alcohol affects how a woman metabolizes estrogen, causing a spike of estrogen in the blood system. Too much estrogen can wreak havoc on the body, causing a host of symptoms from painful cramping during menstruation to increased risk of breast cancer. Going sober is something I’ve been wanting to do for my physical and mental health. But it’s hard. Learning about the correlation between alcohol consumption and increased estrogen is the final push I needed.
Staying sober is hard. It means no beer when visiting my parents in Alaska. No wine at family functions in California. No holding that familiar and comforting glass at parties, sipping the liquid that slowly makes people easier to relate to. I say yes whenever it’s offered, and I drink whenever I have to interact in a group, especially family. This is uncomfortable and embarrassing to admit, especially since I am studying to become a Health Coach and practically preach health and wellness, but it’s my truth. I’m not an alcoholic, but Alcohol is hard for me to quit.
Today marks day 1 for me. I’ve had a lot of Day 1’s. But like anything else, we are always just 1 decision away from getting back on track with our goals. I think this is so important to remember for anyone who is trying to start a new habit or break an old one. You’re always one meal, one workout, one drink away from getting right back on track.
Being vulnerable like this and sharing such intimate details is tough, but I think necessary for my own accountability in going sober and giving the WomanCode protocol an honest go. Also, I look at this as an opportunity to share and connect with others who may be experiencing similar symptoms. I’d love to open the conversation and explore the experience with others. It’s a lot more common than we’d think.
Do you have PCOS, or think you might? How have you been managing it? How has alcohol (or anything else) affected your hormonal health and wellness? I can’t wait to hear from you!