I didn't have a period for 811 days and then I did
It kind of feels like the final piece of the puzzle has slotted into place.
Life feels pretty normal these days. Today I got up and went swimming because it feels nice and not because it burns calories. I got changed in front of strangers and didn't care what my body looked like. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted it. I forsook the combat class I had planned because I was too tired and would've rather spent the evening with my boyfriend watching the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special and writing cards. So I did. We have a big tub of Roses in the kitchen and it doesn't freak me out any more: I've pretty much been having a few with a cup of tea in the evening every day and not worrying about it. I don't stave off having one, only to end up covered in a blanket of foil wrappers on the sofa later. And even if I did, I wouldn't feel the same kind of guilt and shame that I used to. Tomorrow I'm going out for dinner, the second three course meal of the week, and my brain doesn't automatically dump it into the 'cheat meal' category, instinctively blocking out time to exercise to compensate for excess calories or pre-emptively figuring out how to restrict later on.
A life free from chronic dieting and disorder feels fucking great.
And up until last Friday, there was only one thing missing: my period.
If you've read my blog before, you might know that, until last week, I hadn't had a period for over two years. Although for the first year of experiencing amenorrhea I was told this was likely a side-effect of coming off the pill, after a while it became clear that it probably wasn't the whole story. I'd lost quite a lot of weight. My body fat percentage was very low (I’d signed up for a university study just so it would tell me so). I wasn’t eating as much as usual, certainly not enough to sustain the intense amount of physical exercise I was doing. But that was healthy. That was normal. That restrictive, limiting, obsessive behaviour was lauded by the media and magazines and every clean-eating guru on Insta and so it took over a year for me to even consider that it might be part of the period problem.
After 18 months of no menstruation, I saw a male doctor who asked me a question I hadn’t been asked by a GP before:
You don’t do a lot of exercise do you?
I do actually- five or six times a week.
It clicked a bit then. It clicked even more when I saw a doctor who asked me to put on 10 pounds. It clicked fully when I found No Period, Now What?
No Period, Now What? is a book, which has led to a huge network of women openly talking about amenorrhea. Women talking about going ‘all in’- about putting the weight on, eating what their body needs, resting, giving up exercise, allowing their bodies to recover. If you think you might be suffering from amenorrhea, I would really suggest joining the Facebook group, as it offered me a huge, big-sisterly, shoulder to lean on whenever I questioned whether it was all worth it. Because it was WERK. I like exercise, it makes me feel happy, and now I had to take it a lot easier than normal. Now I had to get used to eating more and not being scared. Now I had to chuck out clothes that didn’t fit me. I had to get comfy with getting bigger and softer and rounder if I ever wanted to stand a chance of getting my cycle back.
If you suffer from really horrible periods, you might question why I missed them so much. And to be honest, for a while, I didn’t: I didn’t miss the pain or the inconvenience or shelling out £300 pounds a month for Tampax Pearl, but it did, I think, allude to the fact that something was wrong. I’m no doctor, but I’m not sure that one’s body just cuts off a function its been performing pretty well for the last decade just 'cos. Especially not when I was such a picture of ‘health’.
But I wasn’t. My body was stressed and tired and starving and much too small for my personal biology and reproduction is not essential to individual survival so my body did the only thing it could to easily conserve energy and cut my periods off. It was a wise move, really. I couldn’t have supported a baby: I didn’t have the body fat, or the sufficient caloric intake, or any knowledge of how to change a nappy.
I used to dream about the kids I would have one day- I’d think about their outfits and what I’d pack them for lunch and the Christmas traditions we’d have and what we’d do on a Sunday. And all of a sudden, being thin became more important than that. Restricting my carbohydrate intake, became more important than becoming a mother. Fitting into a smaller dress size was a greater goal than one I’d had since I was a kid myself. Doesn’t that show how pervasive and smothering and all encompassing diet culture is? That it will steal your biggest dreams from you and take more than its fair share of your Dairy Milk whilst it’s at it?
And then on Friday night, after a big bowl of gnocchi and an evening of relaxing
And I am so happy.
Of course, I don’t know if the problem runs deeper. I’m having an ultrasound next week to see if it does, but isn’t it a little too convenient that my period came back after I loosened up, put on the best part of two stone, did yoga instead of HIIT and ate 12 times more bread than I had been?
I think so.