I want to discuss my journey through hormonal imbalance and Medical Menopause. I know, fun stuff, but this is truly something that every woman out there needs to know, and because I found it out the hard way, I am sharing it to save someone else the trouble.
Before having my Oophorectomy (removal of ovaries) I didn’t know all that much about what I would be experiencing and how to effectively combat the drastic free fall of hormones that would be happening immediately following my surgery. To make matters worse, there was no literature given to me by my physician and when I went online to research what it was that I would be experiencing, I found little to nothing that was descriptive enough. Which is why I have chosen to write about it.
The most that Gynecological doctors seem to tell you in brief summary is, they are going to remove the parts of you that you have always believed made you a woman, and that you’ll be down a few weeks and need to begin some form of HRT (hormone replacement therapy) as soon as you get home from having surgery. Many of us women wake up from surgery feeling completely out of control within our own bodies and not knowing what to do because we just weren’t told what to expect.
The hormones that we produce can seem like a basic function that doesn’t have all that much effect except when it comes to fertility and aging, but that is only one part of their job. When they are not regulated, there are hosts of symptoms that we can suffer from. We suffer for years and figure that this is our new normal. I felt off inside. I knew that I was off, inside. I felt imbalanced, but I didn’t know why. I felt irritated and snappish most times without reason, and I couldn’t understand it. After years of this, I have finally found relief and all that I want to do is scream for every woman out there who feels this way to look at their hormones!
An imbalance can come from having a child, having miscarriages, PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), the foods that we eat, birth control, etc. It doesn’t take something big to cause them to go off kilter, and even still it is the last thing we think about and the last thing doctors check for, and we are left feeling crazy inside.
With naturally occurring menopause, your hormones slowly taper off and imbalance over time. Sometimes it can take up to ten years of this tapering off before you actually hit menopause. The symptoms can still be horrendous, but it’s a 50/50 chance on which way they’ll go. Some women only experience a few hot flashes while others get the joy of experiencing a slew of symptoms while their hormones totally crash out and bomb. Hot flashes that make you feel as if your body is on fire. Dense brain fog that doesn’t seem to lift no matter how much sleep you get. Mood swings that take you on an emotional roller coaster that you don’t even realize you’re on. Irritability, insomnia, fatigue, lack of libido, anxiety, persistent migraines, lethargy and depression are just a handful of symptoms that you do not expect to be caused from a simple hormonal imbalance, but they often are.
Some women spend years in and out of doctor’s offices getting prescriptions for each one of these symptoms never once being told that it could all be attributed to falling hormone levels. Instead they are given diagnoses of Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Anxiety, Migraines, etc., and handed a pretty little pill for each individual symptom. Figuring out what the root problem is when you have a whole slew of symptoms that seem unrelated, is like searching for a needle in a hay stack. Many women walk away with pills that only temporarily relieve the symptoms, but never treat the problem because even the doctor hasn’t done enough due diligence to figure out what the problem is.
Two and half years ago I started to become really sick. For some unknown reason my intuition kept telling me that something was wrong with my ovaries, even though nothing clearly pointed to them. I went to a specialist and the first thing I asked was that my ovaries be checked and the two things that didn’t get adequate enough attention, were my ovaries. The doctor ran a host of tests, scans, lab work to find the cause that she believed it was, without listening to my own feeling. With that search came colonoscopies, EGD, CT Scans, HIDA scans, ultrasounds and more. They were sure with all of the digestive issues I was having, that my suffering was related to IBS, Crohn’s Disease, Celiac, etc. When pathology came back on the various biopsies of my stomach and colon saying there was no sign of any of these, it was back to the drawing board for the doctor. With one scan we realized that my gallbladder had stopped functioning altogether and had to come out. The doctors words were, “We found a definite problem, but I do not believe it is the main problem that’s causing all of your symptoms,” and out my gallbladder went. By chance one of the scans that I had, just happened to capture my ovaries and there was a mass of some sort inside of one. The doctor downplayed it as a cyst that would eventually resolve itself. At the same time I demanded to see a Gynecologist — Who also would not focus on my ovaries, but would wind up performing a hysterectomy and LEAVING my ovaries intact. Her reason for leaving them in was, because she didn’t want me to be put into medical Menopause. Which I understood, but wasn’t happy about.
For me, I didn’t care what I had to experience after surgery so long as I wasn’t this sick anymore. A month after my double surgery to remove my cervix, uterus and gallbladder and I was still just as sick as I had been before and started having immense pain in my ovary. Shortly thereafter, the menopausal symptoms began and continued for a year and half.
As a writer, being able to quickly recall things, words, facts, dates, etc., are important to what I do – And yet most days I could barely remember how to spell my own name. I would stare at the spelling of my name and think, that can’t be right. I would go to call my children or husband and completely blank out on what their names were. Birthdays, anniversaries, appointments, etc., were as if they did not even exist in my brain any longer. I would be in mid-conversation and unable to recall the next word let alone the rest of my sentence. I would walk the short distance from the living room to the kitchen and completely forget why I was walking in there to begin with. Having always had the memory of an elephant for most of my life, to all of the sudden being stuck in a blank space of what was once flowing thought, was discouraging for me. I found it harder and harder to write and even harder to remember just about anything. It was as though someone was holding my brain hostage.
This created a panic of sorts inside of me, because it has always been my job to remember everything important. My husband and kids rely on my good memory. I keep up with the bills and yet suddenly I couldn’t remember the last time I had paid anything. I went to writing things down and then even that wasn’t good enough because I couldn’t remember where I had written them down! My child would do typical toddler things that for some reason got so far under my skin that it was almost a traumatic experience for me and then moments later, I would be fine. I was a ball of anxiety, day and night and unable to sleep soundly. I would have headaches that would start as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning and last for days on end. Feeling exhausted each day as if I had just run a marathon the day before. Being so fatigued that I could barely walk around the house most days, pain in my breasts, ovaries and joints, swollen lymph nodes, bloating, night sweats and hot flashes, brain fog, anxiety attacks, bladder issues, extreme irritability, and the list goes on. All the while I still had that gut feeling constantly pushing me to get my ovaries out. I didn’t think that my hormones could be the culprit. I didn’t know all that much about hormones and the doctors checked for everything under the sun EXCEPT FOR my hormone levels.
In my own experience, Menopause has seemed like a second trip into puberty. Except this time, I had no clue that I was entering into it! We go through puberty in adolescence and never realize that we are an emotional wreck due to the surge of hormones coursing through us. We think that this is just normal and who we are – Until our parents tell us that our hormones are the cause and to give it time. I was all over the map and I didn’t know why. I had resolved myself to the fact that this was just a part of my character now. That was until I had my Oophorectomy, ten days ago.
A week before the Oophorectomy and that cyst ruptured and my hormones went even more haywire. I was a time bomb at that point, just waiting for any little move to set me off. I even went so far as to remove myself from social media and stop answering calls and texts just to keep from exploding on anyone around me, for no reason. I had expected with the Oophorectomy that my major symptoms would diminish, but what came next I could have never have imagined.
The doctor never talked to me about my options in taking estrogen. She didn’t tell me about all of the many choices there were for both synthetic hormones and natural. Instead she simply said she would be giving me a prescription for synthetic estrogen that I would need to begin taking as soon as I woke up from surgery. Having done quite a bit of research on the effects of synthetic hormones in the past, I respectfully declined her prescription for estrogen and told her that I would be starting on phytoestrogen (plant based estrogen) instead. I left her office with no pamphlet or material to tell me what I should expect with the surgery and recovery, medical menopause, nor taking estrogen. Still left in the dark.
I had the Oophorectomy on a Friday morning and that night when I woke up at home, I began taking the phytoestrogen that I had researched and purchased from a health food store, just one day prior. I didn’t know what to expect. A part of me thought that I would wake up from surgery with hair falling out and skin thinning and aging, all within the course of a day. That night after the surgery, I woke up to find myself in the middle of the hottest hot flash I had ever experienced. I felt the rush of boiling blood surge through my body and end at my face, which felt like it had been set on fire. Sweat started coming out of my pores and all that I wanted to do was be totally naked and standing outside in 30 degree temperatures. I felt the madness that accompanied this hot flash, signaling to me that at any moment — I might be doing just that. It was now obvious to me what medical menopause meant. Effectively, I had skipped straight past perimenopause, menopause, and dropped off into the world of post-menopausal, with no smooth transition for my body to become accustomed in-between. Skipped may not be the right word here, because it wasn’t as if I had slipped right past all of the fun symptoms that come with immediate hormone decline – Instead I had surpassed the slow build up to it and was slammed right in the face with the worst parts of it all, literally overnight. I woke up countless times in the middle of the first night with those same hot flashes as I rotated between throwing the sweat soaked covers completely off of me and then bundling back up in them, every few minutes. I felt totally and completely miserable.
I knew that the phytoestrogen would take some time to work, but after the first day of taking it I woke up the next morning feeling like a completely different woman. The symptoms that had such a chokehold on me all of these years, were gone. Even better than this, all of my symptoms that I had not even realized were in fact symptoms had ceased overnight! Brain Fog, gone. Anxiety, gone. Restlessness, gone. Fatigue, gone. Irritability, gone. Headaches, gone. I was left with no ovaries and a total sense of calm that I had honestly never experienced before this. It was as though I had been seeing the world through a Kaleidoscope for most of my life and all of the sudden I could see everything clearly. I couldn’t have been rattled by anything at that point. For the first time in a long time I felt more clear-headed and balanced than I had ever been. I told my husband that it felt as if that anxiety-ridden girl had been rolled into the operating room and been forever put to sleep. What rolled out of that same room was somebody else entirely. A woman I had never known. In that moment it dawned on me that I had not only been suffering from faulty ovaries, but that I had been suffering a hormonal imbalance due to them for as far back as after having my first child, seventeen years ago.
I used to get so upset with myself on why I was so tightly wound because for the first part of my life as a child and teenager, I never was. I was never easily irritated or overly anxious about anything. Until I gave birth to my first child. That was when it all started. The miscarriages, the cysts, the postpartum depression, and debilitating periods. My hormonal imbalance started way back then and I never knew that it was even happening.
Just as we do not realize as an adolescent going through puberty, how much of our constant emotional drama is really non-existent and due to our hormonal fluctuations — We never know what it means to be hormonally imbalanced until we are finally regulated. It just never clicks that THIS imbalance is what all of our crazy-making symptoms are stemming from and what’s worse, no one tells us! There is no health class to go to, in order to become educated in this. At least when you’re a teenager, some adult will tell you that everything you are experiencing is due to your influx of hormones – But when you’re older, nobody pulls you aside and says, “You’re hormonally imbalanced.” It almost seems offensive to do so and yet, it is incredibly helpful to the person feeling so off to hear that there could be a valid reason for all that they are feeling! That this isn’t just who they are, but instead a physiological response to a treatable problem!
When I woke up feeling so good, I figured that the residue of anesthesia was likely the contributing factor to the wonderfully balanced feeling inside that I was having. For the next seven days I took the phytoestrogen religiously and as the pain from surgery began to lessen and the anesthesia wore off, I realized that this feeling of calmness was not going away. In truth, nothing could upset me. My toddler could have been swinging from the chandelier and I would have shaken my head and shrugged as I pulled her down. I felt that calm inside. It was as though my nerves that were once a wound up and bundled rubber band on the constant verge of snapping, had been carefully untangled, and smoothed out. The jumbled flow of thoughts that had been circling around at whirlwind speed in my brain both day and night, for years, had finally stopped. I could think clearly, have conversations without having the broken train of thought and be able to accurately recall important information. Each night when I was ready to go to bed, as soon as my head hit the pillow I was sound asleep for the rest of the night. And when I woke up each morning, I felt alert and wide awake, with ridiculous amounts of energy to face the day. I have never experienced any of this before as an adult and yet within one day of having surgery and taking this phytoestrogen, this was now a permanent part of my existence. I was finally balanced and I felt it.
After several days of feeling so calm and clear headed, I almost felt the need to go on an apology tour for everyone who had ever had the wonderful experience of dealing with me over the past seventeen years. I would think about different situations that I’ve been in and cringe at the shot gun reactions that I’ve had. I hugged my husband tight and told him how sorry I was for being so crazy for so long and never realizing it. Neither of us knew that my very existence was an aberration. I was a puppet with its strings being pulled by the drastic rise and fall of my own hormones.
I cannot stress it enough that for most of my life I thought that this craziment, was just who I was. And yet, I hated it. I did everything in my power not to perpetuate it, but it had more control over me than I had over myself. I didn’t want to be around people, because I never knew which way my moods would swing and what would set them off. And I didn’t know why I was suddenly this way or how to fix it. I wasn’t angry, but I was easily angered. I wasn’t depressed, but I was easily saddened. I wasn’t manic, but I was easily set off by and fixated on things that I truly didn’t want to be bothered by. As it turns out, there was a very real physical problem and an equally attainable solution.
Our ovaries are in charge of producing our hormones. When they get out of whack in any way, so do their hormone production. Sometimes it slows down to a crawl, barely producing the hormones we need and other times, they over produce sending us into a realm of chaos. Because my ovaries kept creating cysts, my hormones were going way up and crashing way down and all that I knew was that something wasn’t right.
A few nights into my surgical recovery I walked into the restroom and stood in the mirror staring into my own eyes, and I didn’t recognize the person behind those eyes. In my peaceful state, I looked at myself and said, “This is the woman that you are now,” turned off the light and walked out of the room. And for the first time in my life, I felt wholly at peace with this truth. This is the woman who has always lived inside of me, but my imbalance made her hard to find. Now that I have found her, I want every woman out there who feels as though they are going crazy inside to know that they are not in fact crazy, but more likely just hormonally imbalanced, and that this is fixable.
If you feel that something is off, trust that you know yourself better than anyone else does. Keep digging until you find an answer that resonates with you. If you are going mad trying to find the right natural estrogen to take let me save you a trip into psychosis and wasted money, there are key ingredients that you should be looking for in a plant-based estrogen and menopause relief aides. Some of these key ingredients are: organic Fermented Soy, Red Clover, Black Cohosh, DIM-Plus, Chasteberry and Dong Quai. Do as much research as you possibly can on synthetic estrogen versus phytoestrogen. The medical community is very tight lipped about natural remedies because it makes them no money. It makes the pharmaceutical companies that give these doctors kickbacks to push their medicines, no money. If I hadn’t researched, I wouldn’t have known what to take and I wouldn’t be feeling this transformational difference. Search, ask questions and even better, ask people who use these products of what they’re experience is! As with all things, bio-individuality will dictate what your own experience will be, but if you can try something natural that has no negative side effects and will not hurt you to try it, why not try it first? It’s worth a shot in order to find that balance in hormones that you need. Many women experience drastic side effects to synthetic hormones that make them feel even crazier than they already felt inside. The good thing about phytoestrogen is that it either works for you or it simply doesn’t. So there’s no harm in trying them out!
If you stumbled upon this article looking for answers to why you are feeling and experiencing what you are and how to combat it, I hope that this has helped – Even if only a little!
***Author’s Note: If you are looking for a supplement that is trusted to do the job in aiding your menopausal symptoms I am including the link to a wonderful phytoestrogen that I have been taking that is highly effective and fast acting. EstroSoy by the brand Nature’s Way is an organic, non-GMO phytoestrogen with Fermented Soy, Black Cohosh, and Red Clover. Also, DIM-Plus by the same brand is a phytonutrient that improves the absorption and metabolism of estrogen in the body and can be taken alongside your phytoestrogen. Another supplement that can be taken with your estrogen and in replace of DIM-Plus is a supplement called Promeva, also by the brand Nature’s Way. It contains DIM-Plus, Vitamin D3, Vitamin E, Calcium, and HMRlignan — Supporting both breast and bone health as well as aiding in the absorption of your phytoestrogen. I cannot sing enough praises about these supplements and the company that makes them!!! ***