There have been so many things that I have been struggling with over the last six months, and I am finally feeling up to sharing some of that journey
Starting in January, I began to notice pretty intense mood swings. When I say mood swings, I mean having a day or two of complete and utter exhaustion, inability to sleep, subsequent irritability from being so tired, acne breakouts, bloating, inconsistent spotting....almost like what I would assimilate to PMS symptoms, but magnified. I thought maybe it was related to the mini-pill I was taking for birth control, and called to talk to the nurse at my midwife's office about it, especially considering I hadn't really started a period yet. She assured me that since I was still fully breastfeeding, it was normal not to start a cycle just yet, and if I really thought it was related to the mini-pill, then to use another form of BC and stop the mini-pill. Things just kept getting worse every month, and I didn't know what else to do, so I went off the mini-pill for about two weeks....and I *still* had those mood swings (they would come every week to ten days). I was totally bemused, so I called and talked to that nurse again and explained that I felt like something was wrong with my hormones...I just felt....crazy, for lack of a better word.
What she said next really kind of frustrated me; she said, "Well, you might just need a low dose of an anti-depressant...". That's it? That's the answer? While I understand she works with many moms who may actually have PPD, I wasn't even offered testing or lab work...nothing. I almost felt like I was being offered a band-aid to cover up a deeper issue! As a nurse, I'm so aware of big picture diagnoses, which involves examining every minutia of detail to figure out what is actually going on. If that was actually the problem, if that was actually what was going on with me, then I'll be happy to take the happy-pill, but I felt like I wasn't even listened to.
So I started researching everything. I looked up thyroid issues, I looked up pituitary issues, I looked up adrenal exhaustion, I looked up the hormones that control your monthly cycle, I looked up depression...I looked it all up! And in between all of this research, I would talk to well meaning friends, and as soon as they heard the word "exhaustion", they would say "Oh, honey, you just had a baby, you must be depressed!". OK, feeling tired and exhausted is a symptom of, oh, about a *million* different diagnoses! And even if I were depressed, I truly in my heart of hearts feel like depression is oftentimes a symptom of something else, but we're socially trained to treat depression as a singular diagnosis in *every* case. But when you look at the chemistry behind depression, there are SOOOOOO many other factors involved in the hormonal and chemical signaling that happens in the body. So many things can affect your serotonin/dopamine levels, etc. And having been a menstruating female for close to twenty years now, I know my body and how I feel during my cycle, I know what to expect 5 days before I start, 4 days, 3 days, etc. I know exactly what my symptoms are, and I could tell my body was mimicking those symptoms.
So, I continued to struggle, I stayed on the min-pill, I couldn't lose weight, I had great days where I felt fine, and then I had days where I could barely keep my eyes open for being so overwhelmingly tired. And then a friend at work said, "You need to talk to Amy, our NP, she used to do bio-identical hormone replacement.". That's the great thing about working in medicine, you really do have great resources right at your fingertips. So I sat down with this NP and I explained everything I had been experiencing, all the symptoms, why I just wasn't convinced yet that I was depressed, everything. And she listened to it all and said, "It sounds like you have low progesterone, your symptoms are classic for that, and you may have some adrenal exhaustion as well." She continued to explain the difference between progesterone and progestin, and why I wouldn't be feeling any better on the mini-pill (progestin). Progesterone makes you fertile, it helps to build a nice thick lining inside your uterus, and it evens out your mood, helps you sleep better, helps your skin look better, etc. This explained so much! This explained why we had such a hard time getting pregnant with Rosalie, to begin with. This explains why my husband thinks I'm so much more even tempered when I'm pregnant (high progesterone), this explained so so much.
She said that bio-identical hormone replacement is not widely done, but it's picking up speed, and noted that there aren't a lot of practitioners in that field yet. After talking with her, I went home and researched everything I could on low progesterone and was overwhelmed with information. I was looking at one of the most complex systems in the body (next to neurology), the endocrine system. Phew, what a challenge! But through all of the reading I did, and the education from nursing school, everything started to make sense and the pieces seemed to fit together, I still don't understand the complex inner workings of it all, but I feel so much more empowered knowing what I do now. I looked up some ways to naturally boost progesterone, and found some additional vitamins/minerals that I need to be taking: Vitamin C, zinc and magnesium. I was already taking some magnesium, but I upped my dose, and started with the Vit. C and zinc and it's already made a HUGE difference, wow, I do feel so much better. I can still tell I have fluctuations, but they are not nearly as 'life consuming' as they were before. They are manageable. I also came to realize I was likely toxic on heavy metals such as copper...which is found in high concentrations in avocado and pumpkin seeds, two foods I have been devouring starting in January to help with weight loss. I've since stopped eating those, and with the magnesium and zinc helping to replace the copper, I feel better.
My next step is to find a compounding pharmacy or independent lab where I can do testing for the progesterone. Since the levels fluctuate daily, a single lab draw would be inconclusive, I would need to do daily saliva swabs to really see what's going on. My NP friend also lent me a book she was about to read called "The Hormone Reset Diet", by Dr. Sara Gottfried. This book has been fascinating as it talks about the seven main hormones that are typically imbalanced in pretty much everyone...starting with estrogen/progesterone and how most people are living in an estrogen dominant (progesterone deficient) state. I'm not done with the book yet, but I'm loving it, it's been breaking everything down and focusing on the root of the problem and how to fix it.
The past six months have really been so rough, but through it all, there has been a wealth of information that I've been grateful to receive, to help myself be healthier and feel functional. I'm hoping to keep moving forward and actually fix the root of the problem, and hopefully, with the very small realm of people this blog reaches, maybe I can help you, also.