A hormonal rollercoaster

There was a point last year when I was convinced I was heading into the menopause.

My periods have always been on the heavy side, at least six days long, and often exceedingly painful.

After a blissful year where I’d had practically no PMT (thank you therapy and feeling happier in general), the hormonal upheaval in the week or so before was building up to being on a par with the darkest days of my chronic depression.

I had at least known when to expect it, and to brace myself slightly. For about the past 15 years, I’ve had a cycle that hovers around 31 days in length. Some months my period would arrive a few days early, others it’d be a few days later. But my body and I knew that somewhere between four and five weeks since the start of the previous period the next would arrive.

Then I started to have PMT mid month.

I remember The Chap wondering what was causing it, especially after I’d said it was two weeks too late to be pre-menstrual. It was out of character for the me he knew, who had the odd wobble but was generally calm and knew how to ride out the storms.
(Ah, the innocence of early acquaintance…)

I thought it was the depression stirring again. I was feeling a bit stressed at the time, so it made sense. I upped my medication, let my doctor know, and made a note to keep a better, kinder, eye on myself.

It happened again the following month. And the month after that, only it was less than a month between periods, and getting a little shorter each time.

When I mentioned to my mum that my periods were getting closer but no shorter, she said blithely, “oh, that’s how my menopause started.” I told her off for suggesting I was old and dismissed it with a laugh – but when the next few periods arrived sooner each time, and the mid-month trauma started to run into the genuine back-with-a-vengeance PMT, her words started to niggle.

I’m 37.
Let me rephrase that.
I’m only 37. I was only 36 when it started.
I’m not in the flush of youth, but I’m certainly not old enough for that – or, at least, not according to the little family history Mum and I cobbled together.

But the thought that it was a possibility… it floored me.

It’s about choice.

I know I shouldn’t really have children; I’ve made peace with the bits of the reasoning behind that decision – including thinking I was never going to meet someone I could and would get over my demons for (then I met him, but tried to sabotage it other ways instead).

I was the one who made that decision though, and tough as it’s been to live with when I hear about the friends who’ve been trying for years finally getting pregnant and having babies, I’ve known it’s the better choice for me.

Besides, there’s always been the option to go back and reconsider as medication and circumstances change.

If this was me going into peri-menopause… In my head there was the sound of a door suddenly and finally slamming shut. It was a world away from the long, slow, process of deciding that the only children in my life will be honorary nephews and nieces, and stepchildren if I’m really lucky.

The screaming PMT wasn’t getting any better, and the sense of devastation wasn’t helping, so I booked myself in for a chat with my GP.

He too intended to be reassuring when he said family history could predict these things, but it also couldn’t – but he did order a full blood hormone test for me. (I love my GP. He’s cautious but he listens, and he’s happy to let me look over his shoulder at my charts and records, and ask lots of questions.)

When that came back, and all my reproductive hormones were registering as just fine… I was almost disappointed.

My gut was still processing all the implications of a possible peri-menopause, but the upper layers of my consciousness had done their usual sterling job of assessing the various possibilities, realising this one could make things simpler in the long run, and adapting quickly to the new world order.

Except there wasn’t one to adapt to.

The tests did show something was slightly awry with some of my other hormones though, and I was asked back for a follow-up six weeks later to see if it had just been a blip.

And so, at the start of this year I was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid. It’s early days; according to the blood tests I had just started to register as under the normal range. It may never get any worse, it may pack up entirely.

I’m now getting regular blood tests to see how the stimulating hormone and the artificial version of thyroxin I take are balancing up. It’s a slow creep at the moment; at my last blood test I wasn’t getting any worse but I wasn’t improving either, and when I talked about the bone-aching tiredness and occasional moments of total brain halt, my GP agreed that we should increase my dosage to give things a slight kick up the bum.

My mother has again been wonderfully supportive-but-accidentally-doom-laden. A couple of her friends have thyroid disorders – both under- and over-active. When I was diagnosed she started asking them about their experiences, so she’d have a better idea of what I was dealing with (if only we’d known a couple of openly chronic depressives when I was 20).

She meant to be reassuring when she told me it had taken most of them at least two years to get back to feeling normal after diagnosis, what with their doctors gradually increasing the amount of artificial hormone they were taking to get them back to baseline. As I’m, what, six months in, it would seem I have a long way to go.

We’ve both wondered how much of my more recent depression – including April’s short but impressive collapse – has been caused by my thyroid’s increasing inability to do its job.

Not long after starting treatment for my thyroid, my menstrual cycle – the thing that alerted me to the problem – settled down for a couple of months at just over three weeks long, before becoming erratic again. SarahLouiseis33’s posts in this thread on Mumsnet, of all places, have reassured me that’s normal – but not something I need to put up with if I don’t want to.

One of the things I’d been pondering when I thought I was heading into a decade of irregular periods, night sweats and increased mood problems (thanks, short family history) was how to alleviate the symptoms. Being sexually active and hoping to stay that way, dealing with the shrinking risk of pregnancy, and really not wanting my cycle to continue on this frankly exhausting trajectory, I’d figured hormonal intervention might be called for.

Really not wanting to add any more pills to my morning and evening routines, I had an IUD fitted. It’s the one with the lowest hormone levels, Jaydess. Its effect is supposed to be limited to the local vicinity – the rest of the body carries on as normal during the cycle. It may well be the thyroid balancing act again, but I’ve also had two almost normal length cycles since it was fitted – and next to no period when it does show up.

This has been revolutionary for me.

The only way I know I’m due a period now is the PMT combined with a sharp pinch in the vicinity of my left ovary (why there I don’t know). The PMT bit is still quite mean; it’s been giving me a particular kicking this month.

But for the first time in about a year all my hormones are approaching some kind of balance again. I’ve still got a long way to go, but at least I know where I’m heading again.

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8 thoughts on “A hormonal rollercoaster

    • To be honest, now they’re sort of level they’re the least of my worries.
      I know what’s going on, which helps tremendously, and I have a great doctor.
      Now, if I could do something about the self sabotaging and really deep fear of saying no… 😉

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  1. Incredible. Such a lot you’ve been through! It’s amazing/terrible what hormones can do to our bodies and it’s always wonderful to have a GP who listens to you and answer all your questions. Thankfully I have one too!

    My mom has been diagnosed with an under-active thyroid last year and I sometimes wonder whether I might have one too, especially since I am always tired. But on the other hand I just think it’s the menopause that’s being quite a bitch to me.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Rebel xox

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    • What I do know for definite is that the thyroid caused me serious stiffness and muscle pain – I’d being doing Pilates for a while and should have been much stronger and more flexible but I suddenly couldn’t do stretches I’d been able to do for months, and my shoulders were constantly aching. I gripe about aches now but they go away after a good stretch, which is very different – and very welcome.

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  2. I hope your levels continue to settle down. It is now 16 years since I was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid and I am still grateful to the Dr who tested for it. Just a thought – an underactive thyroid has a negative effect on vitamin D levels. Low vitamin D makes joint and muscle aches worse and also makes tiredness worse. I was tested last year and my levels were chronically low as they had depleted year on year. Now that I take supplements, things are so much better.

    I hope you continue to feel better.

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    • That’s really useful to know, thank you. I’ve always had blood iron levels on the very low end of normal so have taken supplements for years. A friend with an underactive thyroid was the one who told me how badly that could affect the efficacy of the little thyroxin I was producing, and now take – and she only found out through her pharmacist. Someone somewhere must know all of this stuff, rather than getting it in dribs and drabs.

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  3. Hormones, they really have a lot to answer for don’t they! I have an IUD which hides my cycle. I have no idea where I am in my cycle as it isn’t regular so the only clue I get it when I feel real raging anger. I dread what the future may bring.

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    • That can’t be pleasant. I’ll catch myself being wound up by everyone and everything of a morning and realise it’s been four weeks since I last turned Hulk, but generally I get sentimental or downright sad.

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