What happens when amenorrhea strikes twice

L9P Community Post: Annie Allbee

I’m in my mid-twenties. I’m married. I’m a marathon runner and a dietitian. I’ve struggled with amenorrhea twice in my life.

The first time I had amenorrhea was at the age of 18.

I thought I was being super healthy before going to college, but I now realize I had what can best be described as a form of anorexia. Now, I feel that I eat “normally” (whatever that means) and generally have a handle on my health. And yet now, at age 25, amenorrhea is back. It feels just as isolating now as it did then. It is an emotional world to muddle through. So here I am, sharing my story.

When I was 18, I remember joking with my track team friends about how I ate Oreos for lunch one day. Someone commented that “it doesn’t matter what you eat, as long as you eat fewer calories than you burn.” I don’t know why, but that stuck with me. Then, my track coach always told us that losing a pound of weight was equivalent to being so many seconds faster on the track. When you’re trying to qualify for the state meet and making the cutoff is a matter of seconds, losing a pound of weight and gaining those “many seconds” is appealing.

So I started counting calories — to consume less than I was burning through running — and trying to get faster.

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Counting calories was a dangerous slope for me.

This led to weighing myself every day and letting the scale dictate how I felt about myself. I allotted myself a low number of calories per day, both when I was training and racing, and in the summer when I would sometimes run, bike, and swim all in one day. I could feel myself losing weight, and I liked it. I became obsessed. I lost weight. At the time it was intoxicating.

I wouldn’t eat certain foods because I labeled them “bad.” My dad once commented that I was looking very thin. He was concerned; I took it as a compliment. My period went away for eight months. I thought this was amazing–the best thing that had happened to me in a long time. No periods meant no mood swings, no tampons, no bloating, nothing! I didn’t realize how abnormal, or detrimental to my overall health, this was.

I didn’t realize how abnormal, or detrimental to my overall health, this was.

Luckily, in my case, college broke the restriction cycle.

Actually, I started to binge. On EVERYTHING. I took advantage of the unlimited access to sweets in the dining halls. I went through sorority recruitment before school started and enjoyed decadent meals and desserts at various events. I went to our little convenience store on campus and bought bags of junk foods and ate everything in one night. I went through bags of trail mix and finished my roommate’s Nutella. I felt out of control.

I gained weight in my first semester at college. Some of this weight restored me to my body’s healthy set point, the additional weight could be attributed to the infamous “Freshman 15.” Yet, to my surprise, my friends still liked me. I was happier, and definitely healthier.

My weight eventually evened out throughout college, back to my “normal” weight, and I became a more comfortable and intuitive eater. I got my cycle back.

Fast forward a few years

I won’t sit here and tell you that disordered eating thoughts don’t creep back into my mind sometimes—they do. But I know that it feels quite terrible to restrict my food, experience low blood sugar levels, lose my period, or not fuel well enough to get through a long training run. I can’t reach my fitness, health, or life goals by restricting the way I used to. My relationships with food and my body have improved. After college, my cycle, and health, seemed to be back to normal.

Then my husband got accepted into an MBA program 18 hours away from our perfect little life.

Enter: STRESS.

That dreaded little word. We moved cross-country so my husband could pursue his dreams. I found a new job as well, one I wasn’t initially sure about, but thought I would give it a try.

This new job included longer hours, revenue goals, pressure, and sales incentives — it was (and still is) a foreign world to me. Oh, I was also training for a marathon, running high mileage weeks (for me) through this transition.

Amenorrhea happens for a multitude of reasons, and it can happen to anyone.

Normally, the marathon running regimen doesn’t affect my menstrual cycle, but combined with the new job and the move, it was too much. I was crying at the drop of a hat. (I’m not a crier.) One month into this new job (and life), I skipped my period. I knew immediately that something was wrong.

I’ve never received any guidance from any health professional.

Until now, there hasn’t really been anyone that I’ve felt comfortable sharing this story with. I was on birth control when I got married, but I took myself off it because I felt like it altered my moods too much, and I didn’t like the way it was making me feel. Yes, it gave me a “regular” cycle, but often during a week of pills instead of the placebo week, and it was masking the bigger issues.

I’m not restricting calories; I’ve trained for a marathon before without losing my cycle. But this time, it was gone. As it turns out, my body is too stressed to think that reproduction is important right now. I know this isn’t normal or healthy. I had to have a reality check with myself as to what was going on and what needed to be done. That was a TOUGH conversation.

Do I leave a job after two months?
Is that an okay thing to do?
How else can I reduce stress levels?

I’m still muddling through this process. The weekend before my marathon (Chicago), I felt terrified and anxious and, frankly, a little bit like I was drowning. Still no period.

Running the Chicago Marathon, 2016

(Side note: I had a great race in Chicago, though. I PR’ed by almost 3 minutes, I qualified for Boston, felt strong, and finished fast!)

I’m here, dealing with amenorrhea again.

I’m feeling more confused by my body and my emotions than ever. I guess that’s life. We figure it out as we go. I’m learning about stress management, balancing running and eating with other life needs, and putting my story out there. I want everyone to know they’re not alone. Amenorrhea happens for a multitude of reasons, and it can happen to anyone. We all have a story, and a struggle. You can reach out at annie.allbee@gmail.com if you want to talk. I’m happy to listen, to empathize, and to support.

Chicago Marathon feels!

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