Tiny Little Hormones, Big Freaking Deals

Let me just start this by saying that I feel awesome.

 

I’ve been away for a while, and I talked about that a bit in this post, so I won’t get back into it again, but I’m super glad to be back and feeling good. I’ll preface this post by stating that I am at my highest weight in about 8 years, which is strange for a bodybuilder to say, I suppose, but physically, mentally, emotionally, professionally, I have not felt this good in many, many years. I finally have my metaphorical ducks in a row, it would seem. I would like to share my duck taming methods with you, starting today!

Also, I tried five times to turn this post into an Instagram TV thing, because I specifically asked if y’all would like that and overwhelmingly the response was yes, but honestly, I fucking hate listening to myself talk, so, you gotta read it instead. I like writing. That’s kind of what you signed on for when you subscribed to my BLOG, friend.


So here’s a big part of why I’m feeling pretty dang good these days: Nine weeks ago, I had my IUD removed.

I’ve been on hormonal birth control of some sort for the past 16 years of my life. When I was 14, I was put on the pill (Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo) to help with debilitating cramps, and I was hyper vigilant about not having any pregnancy scares from the time I started having sex a few years later. I switched from the pill to the NuvaRing when I was in undergrad, and then to a Mirena IUD right around the time I got married.

While I had my first IUD, I couldn’t say enough amazing things about it. I didn’t have to think about birth control ever, I stopped having periods (between the Mirena and my very low body fat, my body wasn’t even considering babies), and my strength training was going better than ever. I had no complaints for most of the time. In that span of time, I earned my bodybuilding pro card and my first elite total- honestly it felt like having superpowers. I didn’t deal with monthly hormone fluctuations and everything that comes with them, I was hyper-focused on lifting and my career, and nothing could stop me. Honestly I couldn’t have been happier, and for all that I accomplished, I have no regrets about that decision.

About year 4, however, I realized that a few things I was annoyed about- low sex drive, snappy attitude, general feelings of wanting to be isolated- were not, in fact, attributable to having sustained a sub-15% body fat for several years, as I suspected. I had given myself a real offseason, gained some weight, and waited for these things to dissipate. Only they didn’t. Honestly, I kind of figured I was just a bitch at that point. “I guess this is who I am, then.”

After some internet sleuthing, I began to suspect that it might be birth control related at some point, but I was in denial. No way I was trading in my superpowers just to be a nicer person. It was working out just fine for me.

I made the decision to replace my Mirena just before it’s expiration date, following the 2016 election. I looked into lower dosage IUD options (Kyleena, Liletta, and Skyla) to see if reducing the hormone levels would help, while still retaining most of the benefits. Mirena currently has the highest hormone dosage of any IUD on the market, but also lasts the longest of any of the hormonal options. If you’ve ever been through insertion, you know that it’s not a process you want to go through often, so, that’s a major selling point. Unfortunately, it took me several weeks of phone calls, a pointless counseling session with a doctor who doesn’t even place IUDs, and two panic attacks to get an appointment at a military clinic that could get my uterus robot placed. Using Tricare (military insurance) proved to be the most difficult part of the whole ordeal, which is saying something if your cervix has ever been wrestled into an insertion. They seemed to want to fight me every which way– being childfree is not an especially “patriotic” action, it turns out.

Aside: If you or your spouse is in the Navy, you are probably better off trying to go through Project PINC, rather than through your PCM if you can. 

When I finally got an appointment, I was disappointed to learn that the only IUD that Tricare places is Mirena. With my feet already in the stirrups, having jumped through weeks and weeks of hoops, I wasn’t really in a position to argue, and I had my second Mirena inserted.

 

And so began the worst year of my life.

Yes, my job was stressful, being that i was teaching Government in a political climate I had no context for. Yes, my first season as a figure pro was stressful. But this was NEXT. LEVEL.

 

Before we go any further, I want to make one thing very clear: I am NOT anti-hormonal birth control. The purpose of this post is not to shame any woman for choosing whatever form of birth control works best for her at any given point in her life- including not using it, if that is the appropriate course of action for her body. For sixteen years, I protected myself from an unwanted pregnancy, reduced the effects of horrifying PMS and debilitating cramping that came with my early periods, and managed my physical and emotional health successfully, and I am so thankful for everything that hormonal birth control afforded me in those years. But bodies change- and how we react to things like hormones changes with that, and it’s perfectly rational to make choices based on those reactions that may be different from the choices another woman would make facing the same.

 

Carrying on…

My anxiety was unlike anything I had ever experienced before- worse than in undergrad when I was diagnosed with a panic disorder. My mood was constantly shitty- I was mean to my students and colleagues, and worse, to my husband. I literally hated everyone and I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Ever. If I could have stayed at home, locked in my room, and never seen another human again I would have absolutely been “happy” with that. I lost contact with friends, tried my damnedest to drive my husband away, and just sat in my little hateful blanket burrito as alone as I could possibly manage to be. I didn’t want to be touched, spoken to, or looked at. I certainly didn’t want to have sex, or write, or even teach. I was miserable.

 

I stuck it out for a year before I decided that I deserved better. I decided in early spring of 2018 to have my IUD removed, but I had also researched alternatives. Being a bodybuilder and a strength athlete, I rightfully had some concerns about how messing with my hormones would or could impact my strength and ability to gain muscle. Let’s face it, at 30 years old, I’m not exactly in my prime building years as it is, so I wasn’t trying to further hinder my ability to gain in either realm. I was also prepping for a powerlifting meet, and I decided to stick it out until after the meet, in an attempt to reduce the number of changing variables in the lead up to it. I wanted that second elite total, I was right on track for it, and I didn’t want some silly hormones throwing that away. Besides, Zack was deployed at the time, so I could sit in my anger burrito alone, not having sex mostly without harming anyone anyhow.

 

I purchased the highly anticipated Women’s Book, by Lyle McDonald (despite my personal feelings about him as a person, the man put yers of work into this and, being the owner of a female body, it seemed like something I should have), and quickly jumped to the section on birth control. It was very science-heavy, and not particularly easy to understand if you aren’t practiced at reading research, but Stephanie Buttermore summarized it really fantastically here:

I knew immediately that going back on the pill, then, would not be an option for me, nor the shot, as the synthetic estrogens make it more difficult to gain muscle, and having had regular blood work in preps past, I know that I already have a low testosterone level, even for a woman. It seemed that the IUD was the best option for me, but knew that there were absolutely no circumstances under which I would be having another one placed.

 

Immediately following the meet, in which I did get that elite total but sort of had a disaster of a day anyhow, I began the process of having my IUD removed- starting with finding a doctor. Since I started teaching in the district where I currently work, four years ago, I have had health insurance through them but had never utilized it, having just stuck with Tricare. No more. Not after that fiasco of trying to get an IUD last time, feeling like less than a human, less than capable of making decisions regarding my own body. I combed through pages and pages of general practitioners and OB/GYNs and finally found one of each that I thought I would like. I made appointments with each, talked about my anxiety, low sex drive, general inability to human, as a verb, and out it came within a week.

 

When I posted about the removal on my IG story, I had SO MANY messages asking about removal. Let me put you at ease: removal is so easy, in comparison to insertion. Unless… unless you’re me, and your strings had disappeared and coiled up in your cervix and then there’s an internal ultrasound and the words “possible surgery” are used throwing you into a panic… check your strings, friends. Seriously. Everything ended up being fine, my IUD had stayed in place inside my uterus, which has been the main concern, and my strings were easily reachable without going into surprise surgery. The actual removal takes about five seconds. My doc had me do a little cough when he did the string pull and I barely felt anything at all, and the resulting cramp lasted less than a breath. What an incredible relief, honestly. I went immediately from my removal to see my coach for heavy squats and lower body accessory work without issue. No nausea, no cramps, no general ugh feeling like after insertion.

 

I will insert here that, yes, I could have had a non-hormonal copper IUD placed while I was there, but I chose not to do so, despite the finger wagging of my doctor. I will never have children, I have been resolute in that decision since my early 20s, and my mind will not ever change on that topic- so why wouldn’t I opt for a 10 year form of birth control? Seems silly from the outside, but I have my reasons. First of all, I hadn’t been off of hormonal BC in SIXTEEN YEARS, remember? I had absolutely no idea what my body’s reaction was going to be. I had asked on Instagram for women to share their stories of coming off, and the results were so incredibly mixed- from increased anxiety and depression to getting rid of it entirely, from sudden adult onset acne to glowing happy skin, from horrendous never-ending periods, to irregular periods, and every other possible thing that can happen to a uterus… I simply could not have known how I would react. For that reason, I opted NOT to go through another traumatic insertion on a gamble. What if my body revolted and I wanted to get some hormones back in my life? I just didn’t want to do it. My husband and I worked it out- I’d start tracking my cycles using an app (I use Clue), and we would resort to good old condoms while I allowed my body to figure itself out.

 

So let’s fast forward two months, to today.

Here’s how my life has changed:

  1. My skin is FREAKING GORGEOUS. Of course I take good care of it and have a good skincare regimen, but it has never been as clear and radiant as it is right now. I no longer feel the need to wear foundation every day!
  2. My anxiety has decreased immensely. I no longer wake up with a tight chest, and my sleep quality has improved significantly according to my Garmin. Some of this may be attributable to also using CBD oil regularly to help manage it, but it was almost immediate upon my IUD removal that I started to feel relief. If I’m feeling anxious these days, there is a good chance it’s because my world is exploding (temporarily) around me- like grades are due and ten students handed in late work projects that take them from an F to passing and I have to get them graded so I’m working til 7 that night or something.
  3. I have so much more patience and kindness to go around. My students have noticed coming back for this school year (“Miss, you don’t really have bad days this year, huh?”) as have my colleagues. I find myself much more tolerant of mind-numbing chatter in the teacher’s lounge that used to make me physically feel rage, and for answering questions that I have given instructions on at least fourteen times (making hyperlinks might be one of the most difficult concepts for teachers to grasp in 2018).
  4. I have a generally happy disposition- and I like people! I am not isolating myself (though Friday nights are still for recharging, quietly. Introverts just need a little time, you know?) or purposely avoiding people nearly as often. I have taken on several roles within my union and on campus that force me, in fact, to interact with people all the time, and I don’t feel resentful about it at all. I am more outgoing and I SMILE a lot. It feels fucking amazing.
  5. Sex feels better. Honest to god, I didn’t realize my aversion to sex was so much because I couldn’t physically FEEL properly. I hadn’t realized how physically numb I felt- and how emotionally. for me, and many people, these two things are linked, to varying extents. When I started to realize I could feel real emotions, I could also feel my body.

 

I am thankful that I have the option to give my body the time to sort itself out without hormonal birth control, and that I no longer face the painful period symptoms I did as an adolescent. It is a privilege- all of this is. Having had consistent access to birth control throughout my adolescence and adulthood (MASSIVE shoutout to Planned Parenthood, who were the sole provider of my medical care and reproductive education from ages 14 to 25), having the insight into my body through years of tracking and paying attention to detail, having the ability to recognize something going wrong, having the ability to switch insurance providers and choose new doctors to help me solve the problems when I didn’t feel heard, and having a kind and understanding husband who wants me to be happy and healthy.  Many women and non-men are not as lucky, and are forced to endure unwanted pregnancies due to lack of access to healthcare for lack of insurance, funds, or convenient clinics. Many struggle through the sometimes life-altering side effects of one particular form of birth control due to one of the aforementioned reasons, or because they have a doctor who won’t listen or is dismissive of their concerns,  or a partner who is unwilling to sacrifice his or her own convenience or pleasure in order for their partner to explore options that would improve their lives.

 

I am also very thankful to everyone who messaged me on Instagram to share their birth control stories with me, and to those who wanted to hear about my experiences as well. I think it’s pretty neat that we live in a time where we no longer have to have these conversations secluded with our doctors, and we can share our lived experiences- this helped me to realize that I was not alone in many of these experiences, and that I was not broken.

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7 thoughts on “Tiny Little Hormones, Big Freaking Deals

  1. I am so that you have options with insurance and were able to find healthcare providers who will listen to and work with you! My insurance recently changed to where there is 0% coverage and 100% out-of-pocket payment if you choose to go for out-of-network care if it is a service that we have. (exact example, we have endocrinology providers, but I am not being listened to and my concerns are ignored. If I choose to see an endocrinologist outside the network I would have to pay out of pocket. However, if I was diagnosed with a specific type of cancer that we do not have a specialist for and I was referred to someone outside of network, that would be covered. It’s ridiculous, imo. Oh and I work for a healthcare provider.)

    thank you for sharing this with us and I am also very glad that you are feeling better! I have missed your writing very much.

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    1. Navigating health insurance is SUCH a minefield in America. Combine that with the additional challenge of doctors not hearing you out… honestly one of the most stressful situations I can think of. I am so sorry you are trying to wade through that mess.

      Like

  2. Thank you for sharing this! I’m so happy that you’re finally in a better place!
    How are your cycles been since being IUD free? Painful? Heavy? Surprisingly okay?

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    1. Thank you so much! You know what? I’ve been SO pleasantly surprised. I have had almost nonexistent premenstrual symptoms- no moodiness or painful cramping, maybe one day of very, very minor low back soreness. My periods themselves have been uneventful, painless, and lighter and shorter than I expected them to be, right on time every 33 days, lasting 4 days. The only symptom that is bothersome at all is that I am RAVENOUS the week before. Insatiable hunger might be a struggle later on next year when I’m prepping for bodybuilding, but right now I’m just eating and being strong so I just give in.

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  3. Thank you for being so up-front about aspects of life often blanketed in silence. I’ve been lucky my whole life beyond just having the right dangly bits and skin; my very first anti-depressant worked (and is working). Admitting that I need medication broke many internal walls for me, and your story and openness inspires me to be more open myself.

    I’ve mentioned “Squat Rack Shenanigans” to students who seem to be having appropriate issues. I don’t know if that has had any serious impact, but I can hope.

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    1. It IS hard to admit to yourself that something is wrong- no matter what the reason. And then to face the fact that the supposed cure might be doing other things than helping as well, can be really disheartening.

      I can’t express how grateful I am for your having recommended my site to your students. I know as a teacher, you have to be careful about choosing the right things to say to students, so that means a lot to me.

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      1. Admittedly, college students are a little easier, but still… Such recommendations could make things worse coming from me, so I tread carefully.

        My therapist is very safe and conservative and doesn’t quite get my openness. Hopefully between those of us making mental life apparent we can have some impact.

        (And after that melt-down, Tomorrow World has not come back. You might enjoy parts of DragonCon, though. Like the 300.)

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