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‘I was overjoyed when my period arrived. Let me explain’

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By IMAGE
04th May 2023
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‘I was overjoyed when my period arrived. Let me explain’

Our monthly cycles are our body's way of communicating with us. Follow this writer’s story as she learns to love and celebrate her period and her body.

This story is the experience of an individual person, if you have any concerns about your periods, it is recommended that you speak to a medical professional.

I’m irritable, I’m knackered. I’m so ravenous that I’m considering buying a marble run to load chocolates into just so I can lie on my back with a hot water bottle and have chocolate directly deposited into my mouth. No prizes for guessing that I’m on my period. But, contrary to what you might think, I am absolutely thrilled about it.

When I was at university, the oncoming of my period was always met with a groan and an eye roll; a deep-held resentment for a week of forking out for period supplies, acne breakouts and trying to pass off ‘is there anything on the back of my trousers?’ as being a totally normal question that normal people ask four times a day.

I wasn’t a big fan of my period, it was just something I tolerated. But today, I find myself counting down the days until it arrives, excitedly logging my PMS symptoms into a tracking app. Acne? Yes! Hungry? Extremely! Demotivated? You betcha!

The about-turn in feeling this way about my menstrual cycle is new, and very much a case of not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone. From the ages of 22 to 24, I didn’t have any periods at all. Nothing. Not a drop. Despite menstruating regularly from age 12, once I graduated from university, it seemed that I had finished with my cycle as well as my studies.

Come back in a year

At first, it was a bit of a boon, not having to worry about it coming on as a surprise or having to buy pads, but after a year of fruitlessly wishing and willing my period to come back, I finally submitted and visited a doctor — or rather, doctors.

In my first spate of trying to sort out the issue, I visited three different GPs. “You came off the pill a few months ago — it’s fine,” I was told by one doctor. “It’s nothing to worry about,” said another. “Well, you don’t want kids yet. Come back in a year,” said the third.

If a course of treatment was offered, rather than just crossing my fingers and waiting it out, it was suggested that I go on the contraceptive pill to kick-start my period. I was reluctant to do so because I really wanted to get to the root cause of the issue, and so I waited and waited, and, thinking that there must be a reason why my period had disappeared, I did a bit of my own research.

Hypothalamic amenorrhea

During that time, I discovered the book No Period. Now What?, which documents the extensive research of Dr Nicola Rinaldi on a condition known as hypothalamic amenorrhea. Hypothalamic amenorrhea is one of many reasons why women can lose their period and occurs when the hypothalamus (a section of the brain that controls hormone release, amongst other functions) stops emitting the hormones necessary to trigger ovulation, making the menstrual cycle redundant.

The book is a look into the data Dr Rinaldi collected from over 300 women worldwide who had experienced hypothalamic amenorrhea, along with her conclusions and advice on how periods can be recovered.

Studying women between the ages of 19 to 44, her research showed that hypothalamic amenorrhea could be put down to a number of factors, including eating habits, exercise, weight loss, stress, and genetics. Most telling for me was that Dr Rinaldi’s research demonstrated that 82% of the women surveyed ‘had lost 10 or more pounds prior to acquiring HA’.

I couldn’t deny my inkling as to why I had lost my period any longer. In the months leading up to my period loss, I had embarked on a post-uni, post-eating-cornflakes-for-most-meals diet. Initially, it was meant to just be to lose a few pounds, a symbol of graduating from my degree and into full-blown adult womanhood. But counting calories and logging workouts quickly developed into a disorder.

I was already relatively slim, but shed about 15% of my body weight and a lot of body fat, as well as losing some hair, my sex drive and my marbles. As a result, my body was under an intense amount of psychological and physical stress. In an effort to keep everything ticking along, slowly but surely, my body started to cut off the energy-intensive functions that weren’t crucial to survival — my menstrual cycle being one of them.

Although many women are able to menstruate and become pregnant at a lower body weight than I was at the time, the rigid control and restrictive measures I was subjecting my body to meant that my personal biology was barely coping with keeping my body going, let alone being able to create and sustain another life.

Happiness every time I get my period

I finally started to pull myself out of disordered eating and as a result, revisited the GP, this time armed with the information from No Period. Now What?. Even though having a period isn’t crucial to survival, surely, I thought, it’s a sign that something is not right.

Luckily, doctor number four agreed that the stress of constant exercise and weight loss was probably contributing to my amenorrhea, and asked that I start eating some more, and come back to the surgery after I had gained some weight.

It took another year of ups and downs and ultimately showing my body that I wasn’t going to thrust it into a carb-free famine again for my period to kick back into action. And God, was I elated when, on that cold December morning, I woke up to blood.

I can’t describe the happiness I felt in knowing that I was menstruating. It was like I could hear a motor back up and running inside me. I felt proud of what my body was doing. I had to potential to create life! What is more impressive than that? I wanted to shout it from the rooftops – “I have my period!”.

More than a year on from that day, I genuinely feel that same happiness every time I get my period. Honestly. I know it sounds trite, but I am so appreciative of my period and my body. To me, my monthly cycle has come to symbolise so much more than just everything functioning properly, reproduction-wise.

Every month, it’s a reminder to me of the decisions I made for the sake of my mental, physical and reproductive health. It’s a reminder of how important it is to rest and to listen to your body. It’s a reminder of how incredible female bodies are, and of what they quietly do, every single month. My period will never cease to amaze me, and I will never take it for granted again. 

In our partnership with Always, ‘Go With Your Flow’, we’re on a mission to empower women and people with periods to use the appropriate period products; understand how our moods might be affected; how our relationships might be impacted and ultimately allow us to give our bodies and minds a chance to thrive. Learn more at always.co.uk.