Silly me. I thought the hormonal challenges of my life would be the teenage years, pregnancies, and menopause. I was wrong.
The biggest hormonal challenge of my life? I don’t have a name for it. Is it gradual aging? Perimenopause? I’m not sure.
But here’s what it looks like.
In my41st year, I noticed that my general feeling of a decline in wellness and energy accelerated. Keep in mind, I was not the picture of “at risk” for health problems. I ate well, ran, bicycled, did not smoke or drink, kept my weight around 130, enjoyed a happy relationship, and slept as best I could.
Yet one day while out riding bicycles with my husband, laid out in the “drops” (lower position on the handlebars), I pulled over and gave up. I walked my bicycle home, sobbing. Now, I know I am prone to issues and ugly mood swings, but that’s wasn’t it. The problem? My head, back, and neck hurt in a non-specific but excruciating way. That day marked the beginning of what felt like the end.
Over the next six months, I experienced the following major changes (I won’t bore you with the little stuff):
* the pain spread until nearly all of me hurt most of the time — I described it as fybromyalgic-like symptoms to each caregiver I later saw
* my lifelong battle with migraines escalated to the point I spent weeks instead of days each month tortured by them
* I gained 25 pounds, without significant change to my diet (I did exercise much less)
* my fingernails took on a ridged pattern
* the pupils of my eyes dilated into a fixed open position and were non-reactive to light changes
* my “normal” PMS ratcheted up from merely insane to ragingly, violently psychotic, and increased from five days to ten
* I couldn’t sleep, and I had wicked night sweats
I researched and concluded it likely that my issues were hormonal, and at first I tried an array of vitamin and herbal remedies. Nothing I tried made a dent.
I visited my GP. She sent me to my OB-GYN. She said, “Hormone fluctuation,” and prescribed birth control pills, although my husband had a vasectomy and I needed no birth control. She suggested I consult a psychiatrist for depression.
But I wasn’t depressed. I was afraid I was descending into some kind of irreversible midlife onset of mental illness (seriously), but I knew from past bouts of depression that I was not depressed.
“Fine,” she said. “But if the birth control pills don’t work, I still think you should take antidepressants.”
I took the birth control pills for one month. Does anyone want to guess what happened?
Yeah. What was horrible before became so bad I thought I had turned into a werewolf.
I dumped the BCP into the trash and cried some more.
Now, the following is not an advertisement, so don’t worry that you’ve stumbled onto one of the branded blogs where writers are paid by the post for clicks through to endorsed websites. This ain’t one of them. I’m just going to tell you what happened to me.
My mother said, “Have you tried Dr. Hotze? I have friends who say he saved women’s lives when they had nowhere else to turn.”
“Never heard of him,” I said.
“He does some kind of hormone thing. He has a radio show. And he’s in Houston.”
I would have tried anything at this point, which I guess makes me one of those women who had nowhere else to turn. And he was in Houston, where I live. But he didn’t take insurance. And he was expensive.
“You’re worth it. We’re worth it. At least try,” my husband said. Bless him.
So I did.
“The only way you gained 25 pounds in 6 months without a hormonal issue or some other medical issue is if you laid in bed stuffing Tootsie Rolls in your mouth the whole time,” the doctor who examined me said. Bless him. He was an associate of Dr. Hotze, who I never actually have met, fyi.
The doctor listened to me. He talked to me. He told me I was not insane. I cried. I couldn’t help it. I begged for help. He promised me they could help me. He said he had seen hundreds of women, just like me, albeit, not all as severe. He said, in their opinion at the Hotze Health and Wellness Center, fibromyalgia was a symptom of some other problem, so telling him I had fibromyalgia made sense because the symptoms I experienced were fibromyalgic, and indicators of a severe hormonal imbalance.
He prescribed bioidentical hormones — nonsynthetic hormones — and a yeast elimination diet. He explained that my primary issue, in his opinion, was an over abundance of estrogen in relation to my other hormones; he called me “estrogen dominant”. Wow. Most people would agree with that without any medical explanation!
He cringed when I told him about the birth control pills. “The hormone in BCP is estrogen. She just pumped you full of more of what was already poisoning you.”
Interesting word: poison. Because that’s another way I described how I felt. Like I had been poisoned.
Anyway, he gave me progesterone, which would address the long, psychotic stretches of PMS, and the migraines. He added cortisol for my constant state of stress (dilated pupils, anxiety, sleeplessness). He put me on testosterone to boost my energy. And he gave me thyroid to further put me back in balance. He also provided nystantin to kill off yeast in my digestive track in conjunction with my three month long diet change.
In four days, I felt 50% better. In eight days, I had lost 11 pounds. In two weeks, I wondered if I’d really felt as bad as I remembered. In one month, I was me again. For real. No exaggeration. I kept a diary, and I’m just ticking off the notes I made as I write this.
Two weeks after I started the hormones and diet, I got up off the couch and started training/running/bicycling/swimming. Twenty-two weeks later, I completed my first half ironman triathlon. Six months later, I ran my first marathon. I weighed less than I did before my decline in health started. I felt 30 again. For the next three years until the present, I have worked full time, was a much better wife, took care of our three kids (along with my husband, who does his share and more), and wrote three novels in my “spare time” after triathlon and marathon training. I slept. I enjoyed life. I couldn’t believe it and still have trouble accepting my good fortune at finding a solution through Hotze.
Does this mean my life is now a fairy tale? No. I have yearly visits and occasional phone-in’s to adjust levels and symptoms. I am still a PMSy bitch with monthly migraines and anger management issues. 🙂 I have put on some weight recently due to a year off running from plantar’s fasciitis, but make no mistake, this weight I gained the old fashioned way — bad eating while sitting on my butt.
But compare the me now to the me in 2007. That woman thought her life had ended, that she was in decline and could expect only worse for the rest of her days.
That woman — the werewolf — is dead. And we don’t miss her.
p.s. Makes me think of all the women my age committed to asylums “back in the day.” And women that did inexplicable, horrible things in midlife. How much of what was chalked up to insanity, hysteria, etc. was simply changing hormones? And thank God I am me now and not me then.
p.p.s. Here’s the text of my diary entry from day 8 back in 2007, a diary I kept in an online “friends and family only” blog, so it’s complete with links and books references.
DAY EIGHT: I feel so much better! I am smack in the middle of “PMS” and my symptoms are greatly reduced. I had only about a 12 hour period of “werewolfness” that then magically disappeared. I have unfortunately had migraines, but I am not dismayed because my doctor said that my dosage starts low and will adjust upward if insufficient, until we eliminate as close as we can to 100% of the PMS symptoms. A side effect of the treatment for hypothyroidism and yeast overload, by the way, has been a weight loss of 11 pounds in 7 days (I haven’t weighed on day 8 yet), obviously mostly water retention/swelling. Weight loss was not the goal of treatment, but it is a tremendous boost to my spirits. I’m telling you, www.hotzehwc.com, these guys are the bomb. I feel as if the essence of me is emerging from a thick fog of pain and fear, and it feels miraculous. And they treat guys too, very effectively, for male versions of hormonal imbalance (often related to, ahem, aging) or allergies. You can get the book, which explains it all so clearly and compellingly, at amazon.com — Hormones, Health and Happiness by Stephen Hotze. I don’t even get a commission. I just want anyone else having trouble and feeling they are without hope and at the end of their rope, whether because of perimenopause and estrogen dominance and associated issues like me or for some other health reason, to find relief, and I believe this is well worth a try.