28 February 2019

Hormones, Spots & Future Tots
Acknowledging Signs of Health in Recovery

* This post does discuss health consequences of an eating disorder, but is strictly number-free and pro-recovery.

LET'S TALK SPOTS. For the avoidance of doubt, I'm referring to humans here, not dalmations... just in case you thought I'd gone all Cruella De Vil on you. That being said, existing readers of this blog will know that I'm about as likely to wear a fur coat as a piece of Cauliflower; in my experience, you're only living my best bear life with a Paddington Duffle, while Mr Cuali is made for the cumin-coated life.

Vegetable ramble over, let's discuss SPOTS. I'm talking about the kind that can leave you feeling like Vesuvius has exploded on your face. Those pesky pixies that come in their dozens and seem immune to Hermione's "Immobulus" spell. To quote Neville: "why is it always me?" I've been encountering this question a lot in recent weeks, along with the Cruella line that opened this post. Simply put, I've seen spots and more spots and - again - I'm not talking the cute, cuddly, canine type!

However, it wasn't always this way. Contrary to Neville's statement, until very recently it wasn't me. For around seven years, I was relatively spot-free (give-or-take the odd breakout, which I put down to stress and the cardinal sin of the beauty world: not removing my makeup. So what was my magical secret to spot-defying skin, you ask?  Well, it might have been a secret, but trust me it wasn't magical and I hope that writing this post can show why.

When I was seventeen, my periods stopped as a consequence of my eating disorder. At this point, it's important to add that I wasn't underweight and therefore hadn't been diagnosed with anorexia, despite meeting all other parts of the 'diagnostic criteria'. Not only does this support the urgent need for reviewing the guidelines, it proves that weight is not the definitive sign of an eating disorder, including anorexia. I've spoken more about this topic in previous posts, but for this I want to focus on my experience of ammonorrhea and subsequent return to a menstrual cycle.

I'll happily admit that that my "magical secret to spot-defying skin" line was 100% clickbait; a little two fingers to the 'pro-ana' people who romanticise what is a devastating, life-threatening illness this is. On the one hand, the hormonal changes in my body may have kept monthly breakouts at bay. On the other hand, each month that my body lacked those hormones, it was causing potentially irreversible damage to my bones and fertility. Not to mention the dry skin, cracked nails and legs that bruised like a rugby-playing peach... not ideal when you're giving 8 injections a day!

“Weight is not the definitive sign of an eating disorder."

My lack of periods became a recurring topic in diabetes appointments. For half a decade the 'p' word would pop up at some point in the conversation, the risks would be read out like a record that got stuck and I would repeatedly nod in 'acknowledgement' of the problem. Nonetheless, all this talking didn't bring change. Occasional spotting occurred, but nothing more. I had Dexa Scans to measure my bone mineral density, a practice usually reserved for people thirty years older than myself.

Friends were travelling the world that summer and here I was - 21-years-old - staring at a fish mobile from a hospital bed while a bone scanner moved over my body. the fish were tropical, but it wasn't quite the same as snorkelling in the Indian Ocean. As the wooden shapes moved in circles above my head, all those appointment conversations came flooding back and it suddenly hit me: moving in circles had become my life and it wasn't just my body frozen in time. My entire future was too.
That is, until the end of 2018. I think it was around November that the first signs appeared, all lined to hormones and not the happiest to experience!  was grouchier than usual, my blood sugars were up (which in itself causes grouchiness) and my skin suddenly broke out like never before. My mum innocently commented, "this could be a positive sign!" to which I recall responding less than positively! Looking back, all the signs definitely were aligning and lo-and-behold, mid-december, it finally came. Just to clarify, the "it" was my Period and I'm just going to ignore the grammar police with that capital P - to quote Rachel Green, it is a big deal!  

At first, I'll be honest, my emotions were mixed. On the one hand. I've already said that it wasn't the happiest experience. The higher blood sugars were especially difficult to process and I've written a post all about this issue. It all felt very out-of-control and the 'Mind Muggles' worked their socks off trying to fixate on every possible negative. On the other hand, my mum was overjoyed and I'm so grateful to her for celebrating the positives: when your head screams "breakout" there's nothing like bones and babies to put things in perspective. Yet it was still a surreal experience.

The 'Mind Muggles' worked their socks off 
trying to fixate on every possible negative." 

Once realising it was more than 'a bit of spotting', I found myself walking down an aisle I hadn't been in since my teens. I remember thinking "where did these brands come from?!" and panicking that people would look - I may as well have been the Rainbow-cake girl with Damien screaming "she doesn't even go here!" In my defence, thanks to the hormone-helter-skelter I did have "a lot of feelings"! In short, I didn't feel comfortable at all. I could have been that bewildered 12-year-old again, only at 24 I'm a bit more liberal with my language...

This is shitMy stomach feels like a boulder, my face looks likes vesuvius, my blood sugars are higher than everest. This is really shit! Additionally, I now have the thoughts of "well you're healthy now, job done" in terms of my physical health, which I know is far from the case. I consciously choose not to discuss weight on this blog/social media, as that often causes more harm than good, but I know I have work to do. It's just trying to convince my mind of that, which is easier said than done!
Four weeks later, however, I am able to look past the s**t-storm and see those all-important silver linings. The turning point came in early February, a week-or-so after my second proper cycle, as I listened to The Deliciously Ella Podcast. If you thought that this podcast was only for herbivores, think again! Ella and her husband Matt have covered topics from Lessons in Happiness to Dealing with Stress, with guests including Matt Haig and Fearne Cotton. Quite simply, it's become a must-listen in my week and recent episode "The Skincare Edition" reminded me why.

At the start of her conversation with Ella commented on society's "obsession with beauty" and how it "turns spots into such a negative thing. Then she said the following words and something clicked:

Its completely normal to get spots before 
your period. It's actually a positive sign that
 everything in your body is working as it should." 
- Ella Mills, The Deliciously Ella Podcast

If you follow Ella on social media, you will know that she and Matt recently announced that they are expecting a baby. When she spoke about spots being "a positive sign", it was in the context of her pregnancy and how her earliest sign was a skin breakout, due to hormonal changes. I've made no secret of my hope to become a primary teacher, so it should come as no surprise that I'm desperate to have my own children some day. I received so many warnings about osteoporosis over the years, yet if I'm being completely honest a lot of it didn't register. 

However, what scares me even more is the thought that anorexia could cause infertility; l what's more, that at moments in my past I was numb to this reality. I was in complete denial. If this doesn't signify the devastating hold of anorexia, I can't think of much else that will. To use one of my Wizarding World analogies (can you ever have enough?), it's like standing in front of the mirror of Erised and seeing a giant cloak fall over. Beneath the shroud of mental illness, even your heart's greatest desire can disappear from view. 

But this doesn't mean it's lost. It may sound silly, but Ella's words genuinely turned on a light. I was so excited when I heard her news on social media. I recall seeing the post on her instagram account - (correction: her dog Austin's account!) and smiling like Dobby in a Sock Emporium! From mental health advocacy to environmentalism, she and Matt put so much good into the world and their podcast only reaffirms this. I realise this post has essentially become a fangirl piece #notsponsered, yet I make no apologies - not if it encourages more people to listen! 

I may not feel settled with these signs of health, but I will try to celebrate them as much as I can - even small things like skincare or some dark chocolate... because that's what girls do on their period, right? Or is that just a myth? Either way, I will try to accept these changes and remember they must never be taken for granted. After all, years of amenorrhea has the potential to cause far greater damage. I've seen the devastating realities of osteoporosis as a patient and friend. I know people who are unable to have children, for reasons both linked and entirely separate to anorexia. 

I know that nothing is ever certain and, for that reason, will try to hold onto those silver linings - storms included. Even if things don't feel comfortable right now, I'm comforted by the possibility of what could be. In other words, if a few spots are needed for the tots and cots of the future, clear my diary for a date with Mr Tea Tree! As for Mr Darcy Newt Scamander, what are the odds he'll call me?


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