Beautiful in His Time is a participant in multiple affiliate marketing programs. The author of this blog may receive commission for purchases or clicks made through links on this website.
I’ve been wanting to write a post about health, hormones, and fatigue for several years now. If you are a long-time follower of this blog, you may remember a time when I talked a LOT about fatigue, mothering tired, CFS, fibromyalgia, etc. You may not have noticed when I stopped talking about it, but I did.
So let’s start at the beginning:
I always struggled with fatigue, even as a teenager. I never exercised, was underweight, and never really felt all that healthy – although the doctors either said I was perfectly healthy (the traditional medical doctors like M.D.s and D.O.s) or that I had a lot wrong with me, food allergies, and that needed to take a lot of health supplements (the naturopaths, chiropractors, and the like) to fix my body.
My parents took me to a mix of both of these kinds of physicians. I was fully vaccinated and took plenty of antibiotics, but I also regularly saw the chiropractor and my mom was fairly “crunchy” long before the term was even around.
When I got married, I had to learn how to take responsibility for my own health – and that’s been a journey for me. I’ve never been fully on one path or the other, but for a long time I leaned toward the “holistic medicine” side of things. I regularly saw chiropractors, eschewed antibiotics, and have spent a lot of money on things like probiotics, natural-food supplements, and organic food over the years.
I also grew aware of my fertility. First, with a sudden, unplanned pregnancy three months after I got married…and its just as sudden miscarriage. The miscarriage was hard for me, because I was both devastated and relieved when it happened: Devastated to lose the unborn I came to quickly treasure. Relieved because I knew I wasn’t ready – a 21-year-old newlywed preparing to be separated from not just her husband but also her entire family for the upcoming year, due to my husband’s impending deployment to Afghanistan.
During my husband’s deployment, I didn’t have to worry about getting pregnant. (The Deployment Method of birth control is the only method that works 100% of the time.) Because of the unplanned pregnancy, and because of my commitment to avoid hormonal birth control, I began to research the Fertility Awareness Method and religiously track my cycles. The book Taking Charge of Your Fertility was an AMAZING resource. (I liken it to the “Bible” of fertility.) First, I mostly just paid attention to my basal temperature, which is one of the very basic things to watch to learn about your cycle and when ovulation takes place.
Upon my husband’s return from Afghanistan in 2009, I continued temping and keeping track of other basic fertility symptoms. We weren’t using birth control because we (read: I) really did want to start a family. We weren’t actively TRYING to get pregnant, but we also weren’t purposely avoiding pregnancy. Thus, we got pregnant about six months later.
Pregnancy was very hard on me and my body. Contrary to what I always envisioned would happen (when I was a 98-lb, size-0 teenager), I blew up like a blimp and gained 80 pounds. With my “newlywed 20” that I gained before that, I doubled my weight in about a year-and-a-half time frame. That will make anyone fatigued.
After Ezra was born, the weight came off slowly. I got very little sleep (as he didn’t sleep through the night until he was 19 months old, and my husband was deployed for 12 of those months). The stress of deployment, a high-needs baby, and no real tangible help to get through those dark days, I struggled desperately with fatigue. I look back on those days and really wonder how I functioned at all. I have no idea.
I realized during that deployment (in slow lessons learned the hard way) that I had to take better care of myself. I began to make exercise a semi-regular part of my life, even though I hated it. I joined a gym. I lost more weight.
Also at the end of that year, after dealing with life-long severe digestive distress, I got allergy-tested and came back positive with skin testing for EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN. I spent the next five years playing with elimination diets, spending almost four full years gluten-free and wheat-free, and doing almost a full year of no grains at all.
While my weight was good and my digestion was under-control (for the time being) I was still super-fatigued, irritable, depressed, and stressed.
My husband, newly returned from his second year in Afghanistan, was facing some severe mental challenges. Ezra had grown from being a high-needs baby into being a high-needs toddler. We had a lot of life transitions impending, an Army discharge looming, and a lot of uncertainty ahead.
We had a hard conversation where I explained to Russ “the deal” about our family planning: if we wanted Tricare to cover the cost of having another baby, we had to get pregnant right away. Otherwise, we needed to prevent pregnancy until we were out of the Army and had different healthcare in place. While I desperately wanted to choose the former option, he declared that he barely knew his first child. There was no way he was ready to add another child to the mix.
That decision was a turning point for me, I think. I grappled for several months with the weight of it, with surrendering my heart and my desires to the one who leads our family – and ultimately to God who was overseeing it all. I prayed for God to change my husband’s heart, but He didn’t. I knew that, if God wanted me to get pregnant, He would make it happen – regardless of our intentions. But he didn’t.
So I eventually reached a place of acceptance…then peace. Then excitement at the thought of pouring myself into other pursuits – including focusing on my health, self-reflection, and personal discovery. 2012 ended up becoming kind of a crucible in my life, when I grew and changed from the person I had been into the person that I now am. God knew exactly what I needed. And He knew that a baby wasn’t it.
Not getting pregnant during that time was no easy burden, especially when committed to non-hormonal birth control. I had to pay close attention, and then even closer attention, to my body’s signals in regard to when I was fertile and when I was not. I began tracking as many health symptoms as I could on the Fertility Friend app (like headaches, 24-hour colds, vivid dreams, nightmares, and skin sensitivity). This is when I began to realize how much my hormones impacted more than just my fertility.
I additionally tracked my cycles with the LunaPeriod app, which shows you where your menstrual cycles compare with the lunar cycles. I noticed a strong correlation between the two, with full moon + menstruation months being extra vicious in regard to PMS.
I was especially aided in this process by yet another book, Jump Off the Hormone Swing. I highly recommend it for EVERY woman.
Using fertility awareness and understanding my body, I was able to successfully avoid pregnancy for four years and three months, using only awareness and non-hormonal means of contraception – even with cycles that fluctuated in length slightly from month to month.
But, I never stopped struggling with severe fatigue.
Fast forward four years:
While our hands were full with a now-special-needs child, our family was slightly more stable. We were in a rental home, my husband had a post-Army job, and I finally had health insurance after an entire year without it. My heart was ready to grow our family, and Russ was open to it. Again, we took the not-trying-not-preventing approach, and got pregnant shortly thereafter.
It was during this my second (full-term) pregnancy when my understanding of how my body reacts to my own hormone levels grew even deeper. While pregnancy throws a few extra hormones into the cocktail, the main hormones (estrogen and progesterone) are present throughout the pregnancy, just in higher levels.
I was throwing myself wholeheartedly into preparing myself for VBAC. This included a lot of internal awareness (physical, emotional, and spiritual) using things like yoga and affirmations. It also included a lot more education on female reproductive health and how hormones work in pregnancy.
After I delivered LB and returned back to tracking my cycles for pregnancy prevention, I began to see additional health symptoms that mimicked how I felt during certain points in my pregnancy:
I noticed that my mid-cycle symptoms were like the second trimester: high energy, high emotion, high creativity, and a wee-bit obsessive. I also began to distinguish between the hormone-induced sleepiness and fog that comes from progesterone (which felt like first-trimester fatigue) and true body fatigue (due to sleep deprivation or exercise).
We decided after LB was born that our family was complete and I no longer have need to religiously track my cycles, but I remained fully aware of all times as to where I am based simply on how I feel.
Four events over the last three years made me completely reevaluate how I approached my health and moved me further away from the holistic/crunchy approach and closer to a pass-the-meds approach:
The other three events were our success with stimulant medication to treat Ezra’s ADHD (2015), quitting breastfeeding to go on Zoloft to help manage my anxiety (2016), and ending up in the ICU with sepsis due to an untreated urinary tract infection (2017).
While going theses change, I underwent further testing for my digestive issues, which had returned with a vengeance in spite of the strict diets. I went back on a non-elimination diet and started treating my IBS with medication. Unfortunately, this had led to weight gain. I have tried many combinations of diet and exercise to shed the weight I gained during LB’s pregnancy (and the extra I’ve gained since). I have found that a low-carb-high-fat diet is the most effective, but also hard to maintain given my stressful life. Additionally, my digestive issues require higher soluble fiber (read: carbs) and less non-soluble fiber (read: veggies) to keep me out of the bathroom.
Thus, I’ve been in a lose-some-gain-some pattern for the better part of the last two years, hovering a good 50 pounds above where I need to be. At the beginning of this year, I recommitted to a no-grain, low-carb diet in hopes of losing the weight for good this time. I have also found that a combination of IBS medication AND a natural fiber supplement is the best combination to keep my digestion in check.
Throughout ALL of this, I found myself asking the question:
Do I really have chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia?
Or was it just sleep deprivation + stress + special needs parenting + deployment? Or not understanding my body?
I’m not really sure of the answer here, but I can tell you a few things I DO know for sure about my health and fatigue:
—-My fatigue levels are constantly in flux HIGHLY dependent on my hormonal cycle.
—-Low-impact exercise is a true necessity to manage my fatigue, even when I hate it.
—-Zoloft helps keep me sane and stable. (It is also regularly prescribed for individuals with PMDD, and both my primary care doctor and gynecologist recommended I stay on it.)
—-Bloated, water-weight, carb-craving, depressed PMS me is not the sum of who I am. It’s important to give myself a LOT of grace during these times and remember that this too shall pass.
—-Obsessive, impulsive, over-energetic, over-creative, estrogen-frenzied mid-cycle me is not fully me either. This me needs reminded to say no and take a chill pill.
—-Real me is somewhere in the middle. I’m still trying to remind myself who she is during the other times of the month.
—-Structuring my life and health AROUND my hormonal cycle is the only way I succeed at anything.
—-I’m capable of more than I ever thought.
I think I will always struggle with fatigue, anxiety, depression, weight management, and digestive issues. This doesn’t mean there’s necessarily something “wrong” with me. It’s a combination of genetics and my overly-stressful life. Sometimes, playing the cards you’ve been dealt is better than trying to find new ones. Being the best me I can be within my health limitations has done more for me than trying to pathologize and fix my limitations ever did.
I’ve learned to manage my health a whole lot better than I did four years ago. My next post will explain in further details of what this really looks like.