The not so monthly visitor
People keep on asking me “What races have you got coming up?” “Are you not doing an Ironman this year?”
My reply “I’ve got a few things pencilled in, but nothing too crazy. My body and mind need a bit of a break from it all.” Nothing too crazy means a Coast to Coast ride in a day (150 miles) and a 6km swim. But the truth is I wanted to get my body back to a healthier place.
Let me take you back a few years… Falling in love with triathlon coincided with falling in love with something and somebody far more important and amazing; my husband Rich. I went on the pill and I didn’t have a period for 5 years. At the time, I didn’t think too much about it. It’s not an uncommon side effect from the pill I was on and in all honestly, I absolutely LOVED not having to deal with it all whilst spending so much time in lycra.
When I came off the pill in October 2017, I knew it might take some time for my period to come back and for it to become regular and steady. But when it returned around 6 weeks later, I felt a real sense of relief, “Phew, my body is ok,” I thought.
It paid a regular visit for a couple of months, but then things started to get irregular. January was late. I didn’t have one in February, then March it came back again. April came and went with no period. May too. By early June I was freaking out a bit. I’d been to the doctors, I’d done pregnancy tests (negative), I’d been to the hospital for scans. Everything came back normal. So what was going on?
Nobody really seems to have an answer. I have a few theories, perhaps it’s a combination of a number of factors.
Firstly coming off the pill could be to blame. After a bit of googling and skimming through forums, other women talk about their periods returning for a few months, only to completely disappear again as their bodies continue to get back into the swing of things.
Stress can play havoc with menstruation. I’ve found work and life utterly manic over the past couple of months. As ever I’m taking on too much, my sleep really hasn’t been good enough and I’ve been pretty emotional at times. But is that to blame for my periods stopping?
Then there’s exercise. For me, I didn’t really do much over the winter but my training certainly increased from late February onwards, once I could run again and a crazy work stint was done and dusted. But I still wasn’t following a training plan and I really didn’t think I was doing anything too out of the ordinary. I thought back to pre-pill and triathlon times when I did a lot of running (albeit, more of a plodding nature) and my period was always regular.
But then my mind flits to the past few years. A stress fracture in 2017, a partial tear of my Achilles in 2016, constant comments like “Helen, you need to get some cheese and chocolate in you.” “Helen, you’ll disappear if you lose any more weight.” “Helen, look after yourself.” I overthink things at the best of times, but I keep on thinking have I totally wrecked my body? Did I lose too much weight? Did I not see the signs? Many questions, not so many answers.
My sister-in-law recommended Tina Muir’s Running for Real podcast. I downloaded a few episodes and realised I wasn’t alone when it came to irregular periods. Tina also spoke very highly about the book No Period, now what? I quickly bought a copy and started reading. It is superb and it’s so reassuring to know there are loads of other women in the same boat and you can work hard to get your period back.
With a week to go until the Coast to Coast ride, I really wasn’t feeling too excited about it all. It’s a long old way, I felt lethargic, mentally drained after an exam and I wasn’t sure if I had the energy to ride from Seascale to Whitby. I certainly hadn’t done the training required.
I felt a bit more buoyed up when I was surrounded by 40 odd excitable knutters.
But guess what gate crashed the party that afternoon? Cue panic packing of tampons in my jersey back pocket and saddle bag. On the day of the ride I felt like a bloated snail. There were many cramps and frequent trips to portaloos. It wasn’t pretty but I’m a stubborn chick and thanks to Rich, I got through it.
Who knows if the party will be on again next month but I now know what I can do if I don’t get an invite. Calm the hell down and eat more.
I wasn’t too sure about writing this blog. It’s all rather personal, but I’ve realised how important it is to share my experiences. It’s not fun waking up in the middle of the night thinking you’re a total freak. But talking to others makes you realise you’re not alone. It’s also given me a kick up the butt to crack on with an Oxygen Addict podcast special on the subject of periods. Watch this space!