A Health Update Circa May 2022

People have been so kind with their inquiries about my health and I thought it was time for a little update.

Things are (mostly) good.

It does feel a bit daunting to put this in writing because I occasionally succumb to thoughts like: “What happens if/when everything starts to fall apart?”

But that’s no way to live – so I’m acknowledging the presence of those thoughts before slipping them into my back pocket. I carry them around with me, admittedly, but I’m mostly able to keep my hands free to get on with enjoying life.

For new readers to this space, TMI alert: I have extremely heavy periods. I’ve had this issue since I was 12, but the fallout has been most acute in the last decade or so. Near-constant fatigue and anemia which culminated in iron infusions last year. I joke (though it’s not funny) that I average about one “good” week a month. I have at least a week of PMS symptoms, then a week of hellish period-life, and then a week to recover physically. In addition to impacts on my energy, it takes a mental toll as well.

Over the last few months, my mental health has improved significantly, my energy levels have nudged higher, and my sleep is…better (definitely still working on this issue, though).

I still tire easily, have to watch physical activity levels, and just generally pay close attention to my body. But I’m (mostly – this week has been especially tough, ironically) feeling a lot better.

things that are helping right now

  1. John’s sabbatical. I recognize the immense privilege of being able to make this decision. But I also can’t deny the positive impact it has had on both my physical and mental health. I’m getting better sleep, I’m eating more healthfully, the division of labour has shifted considerably, and everyone is more relaxed. In short – it has been wonderful. It’s impossible to know if some of the other changes listed below would have had as much of an impact without this unprecedented level of flexibility/rest for our family. Despite my diagnosed physical challenges, I think the exhaustion of being immersed in start-up culture for so long played a big part in my burnout.
  2. Making a decision about surgery. I don’t think I realized how much this was weighing on me. Some back story: my former OB/GYN was in favour of a hysterectomy (she moved), my family doctor has always been hesitant, and my new OB/GYN also discouraged this approach. Because of major scar tissue from my C-sections, the risks associated with a hysterectomy are higher for me. It also rules out the more obvious option of an ablation (which, regardless of scarring, doesn’t work well because I’m so young, and the procedure would need to be repeated before I reach menopause). Surgery has been on the table for years now, and it’s confusing when medical professionals you respect don’t necessarily find consensus. Having finally made the decision to go ahead with surgery (now I wait – it could take two years) feels like a major burden lifted.
  3. Trying/going off an SSRI. The end of 2021 was brutal. In December, I asked to try an anti-anxiety medication. I have always managed low mood/anxiety with various forms of behavioural/talk therapy. But starting in November, I was averaging 3-4 hours sleep each night and it was not sustainable. Unfortunately, the SSRI didn’t work well for me. I had panic attacks, lost 10 pounds in the span of several weeks, and felt sick around the clock. I am, however, so glad I tried this approach. Everything I try that doesn’t work takes one possible treatment off my radar which, for someone who can be paralyzed by choice, is very helpful. It was/is so hard to tease apart what is physical and what is mental. I consider these medications to be wonderful assets (and recognize, at another time, I might opt to try a different medication), but it wasn’t the right fit for me, which ended up being helpful in its own way.
  4. Going off hormone treatments – for good. I have been off and on hormone treatments (in a BROAD range of doses and applications) since I was 14. Yes, you read that correctly. 14. Not a single treatment has worked properly. If it fixed one problem, it created three more. Again, I love my team of doctors, but I eventually had to go with what my body was telling me and it was telling me…stop. So I stopped. Mid-treatment! What works for others isn’t necessarily going to work for me. And to get to the point where I say yes to the surgery and no to any other intervention feels liberating.
  5. CBD oil. I’m not sure how much impact the CBD oil is having, as I started using it at the same time all the other things were falling into place (#’s 1-4). I haven’t had a single side effect (CBD oil has essentially no THC) and I think it has helped – in subtle ways – with anxiety, sleep issues, energy levels, and overall physical discomfort.
  6. Removing a large work project from my portfolio. I tend to overlook this final development, but for the last five years I have been in charge of a project that required intermittent – but completely unpredictable – work. There was an underlying tension that I felt at all times, 24/7/365 about this project. It was an unreasonable response given the sheer amount of time I invested was quite low, but it’s the response I had nonetheless. Finally moving this off my plate has also undoubtedly played a role in my improvement.

So there you have it.

This week has been tough as I wade through the physical fallout from an especially awful period. But with so many big decisions made, it still feels like I’m moving in the right direction.

A huge thanks to everyone for the love, support, and inquiries about my health both in this space and from friends locally. It really does mean so much to me!

Header photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

32 thoughts on “A Health Update Circa May 2022”

  1. I’m one who has also struggled with sleep since my kids were born, (I commented on your most recent sleep post a few weeks ago!) and I don’t like being on medication but I’ve also tried it in the depths of my insomnia despair lol. I can 100% relate to the relief of taking something off the table even though it may not have worked. I asked to try both Ambien and Lunesta last year.. I just wanted to know if they may help me get through my really rough patch and would hate if I never tried something when it could’ve helped! I ended up not liking either one but it did feel like such a relief to know an answer on it. With that being said, I have tried various SSRIs over the past couple years, never taking one longer than six months or so, and I have had a couple that made me feel horribly nauseous and sick. The one that I’m on now has helped my sleep and I have had no side effects. I’m sure you know this but maybe worth trying another at some point for you!

    1. Yes! Trying something that doesn’t work is – in my mind – a big step forward. There are so many options and choices and finding the “right” solution often requires a lot of trial and error.

  2. Oh wow, you have been through a lot! My sister had a lot of similar symptoms and the worst heavy bleeds all the time, like non-stop periods before she finally got the surgery. She had also had C-sections (three) and a surgery to remove an ovarian cyst before the hysterectomy, and she got through it all fine and is so much healthier and happier now. I always think about the hemorrhaging woman in the Bible who is so desperate to touch Jesus’ cloak for healing after all her years of suffering. Glad there is hope in your future!

    1. Thanks for sharing about your sister; every woman I know that has had a hysterectomy says something to the effect: “It was the best decision I ever made!”
      I’ve always loved that story, too. Both because I can relate (to a certain extent; though I can’t imagine surviving bleeding disorders before the modern conveniences of sanitation) but also because the Bible mentions this topic in a time and culture when it would have been unmentionable.
      Also the description of how the woman suffered for years and spent all her money on doctors – until the cure was found at Jesus’ feet. While I know He could immediately and miraculously heal my own physical issue (and hopefully will at the hands of capable doctors), it’s a tangible reminder of a greater spiritual truth. That He is the Great Physician and there is something much more important than my gynecological woes/broken body at stake – the ultimate truth that He offers a solution for the brokenness of our souls and can fill that “God-shaped” hole and restlessness that Augustine so accurately describes.

  3. I am sorry that you are still going through so much. I can’t imagine how much of a struggle life is if you feel like you only have one good week a month! The constant feeling of sickness, fatigue, and uncertainty sounds like a very rough road. Fingers crossed that the steps you have in place now give you some relief and that you can get that surgery soon!

    1. It has been tough (certain periods – both literal and figurative – harder than others), but I’m also trying to spend more time reflecting on what I have. For starters, living in a culture where women’s health can be discussed so openly is…huge. (And something I take for granted.) Access to sanitation and doctors and medical teams – again, SO many women in my position would be ostracized or abused or abandoned by their family. It seems almost unfathomable how many women have to suffer alone through this sort of thing. How heartbreaking. I know that a number of humanitarian efforts center on bringing women access to hygienic solutions for menstrual issues and I need to look into ways I can tangibly support those initiatives.

  4. Oof. This all sounds awful. You’ve had a lot to deal with, but I’m glad you’re feeling better right now. It is exciting that you’ve settled on a course of action- too bad you have to wait so long for it. I’m intrigued about the CBD oil. I’ve never tried it but a lot of people have had good results. I have sleep issues (not as bad as you, but enough to bother me) and I’m wondering if CBD could help. What brand do you use?
    Thanks for sharing this.

    1. I’m happy to share with the caveat that I have done very little research into brands of CBD oil (it is fully legalized in Canada and is dispensed at local liquor stores, which is where I bought it).
      I’m using Medipharm Labs CBD50 Plus Formula. I have no idea if this brand can be purchased online or is sold under the same name outside Canada(?). It is a 50 mg/g dosage of CBD and under 2 mg/g of THC. I take about 25 mg/ (or 0.5 g) per day. This was one of the more concentrated doses they sell in terms of CBD mg/g at my local liquor store (more economical this way as you can easily dispense less in the dropper).
      As I mentioned in the post, I’m not entirely sure how much of an impact it is making but, for example, when we went to PEI for one night I didn’t bother taking it along and DID feel very tired the second day. That said, I am quite convinced even if the impacts are subtle, they are there.
      In terms of dosages, I know that 50 mg of CBD per day is still considered a small dose (and I’m well under that).

  5. I would be interested in knowing what brand of CBD oil you are using too. I would like to give it a try for anxiety and insomnia.

    1. Sure thing. See more information above in my response to Jenny: I’m using Medipharm Labs CBD50 Plus Formula.

  6. It’s kind of sobering, but my own personal experience and second-hand experience through my husband’s health issues has been that “doctors are only people” and you know your body best and have to be your best advocate. It’s kinda scary to realize that doctors often don’t find consensus, in fact, sometimes have widely opposing opinions, and that things that work for other people don’t work for you. It’s also frustrating to learn that doctors often just want to treat symptoms and are not interested or trained to get to the bottom of health issues.
    I am glad you’re listening to your own body, your own experiences and assessments over time and that you feel like you’re on a good path!

    1. Thanks, San.
      I feel very fortunate to have a great team that works with me, but I have definitely had to say “No. This isn’t working.” when they’ve wanted to pivot. For example, I had an IUD that was a HORRIBLE experience for 1.5 years before my body actually expelled the horrid thing. I have been told at least a dozen times I should try again and it literally makes me want to curl up into a ball and cry. BUT, they listen to me and allow me to advocate for myself. Sadly, many women either wouldn’t feel they had the right to do this and/or work with doctors that won’t listen to their patients.
      All that to say – it is hard to balance it all, but I feel very fortunate to have the team I do and I know from the bottom of my heart that they care for me and want what’s best. Just, sometimes, I have to listen to my gut and not necessarily the most obvious “medical” solution.

  7. I am glad that you are noticing improvements! And it must feel good to have a decision made about the hysterectomy. My sister had 3 c-sections and had a hysterectomy 2 Decembers ago. I know she was so glad that she finally did it. She wasn’t able to have a laparoscopic surgery, I think because of scar tissue from her c-sections, but the recovery overall was not bad and she was so glad she did it. My aunt also had a hysterectomy after having horrific periods for years. It’s too bad that many women suffer and that that suffering can kind of go unnoticed or unappreciated. I have harder periods than average, but nothing like what you experience but it’s still 12 tougher weeks out of 52 which is a significant portion of the year. I was so bummed when my cycle came back once Will weaned!

    1. 12 weeks out of a year is…a lot! I loved that aspect of pregnancy – no periods! Unfortunately, I actually had a bit of a lull between Abby and Levi where things were quite a bit better (I’ve heard pregnancy/delivery can do this); but after Levi things got even worse than before.
      Barring any complications from the surgery, I suspect I will be thrilled with the aftermath of it all. It has been a dominant feature of my life for over 20 years and I’m ready to be past it.
      I was talking with a friend yesterday about this and did mention that I think having battled it this long, it feels like I can be at peace with the decision in a way I couldn’t even a few years ago. So while I now wish I could snap my fingers and get this done tomorrow, it also feels relieving and I don’t feel any wavering about whether or not this is the right decision.

  8. I am so pleased to hear that things are trending upward (although I understand that there are ups and downs, two-steps-forward, one-step-back situations as well). And I love your attitude about removing things from the list of options, even if they aren’t the solution. That is so healthy and positive.

    The decision to do the surgery sounds like a huge step, too. I totally understand the burden of needing to decide, especially when you have good reasons for going either way. Making the decision is SUCH a relief, and I am happy for you that you have the next steps outlined.

    1. Deciding is a relief and trying/abandoning solutions is a relief, too.
      And you’re so right (though I hadn’t quite thought of it in these terms), but I am a planner at heart, and so having a concrete plan – even if the timeline is still nebulous – feels very, very comforting.

  9. thanks for the update. glad to know you are making small and gradual process. dealing with physical pain and mental load of it must be really tough when you have to carry so many responsibilities at the same time. it’s great that you’ve realized what helped (less work, CBD) and what don’t (medical side despite what doctors said). taking in charge of our conditions is key, not easy, but at least we feel in charge, isn’t it.

    1. Thanks, Coco.
      Yes, feeling like there is some element of control in the situation really helps. Ultimately, at this point, I am at the mercy of my body/how I respond to various treatments, but taking concrete action feels like such a relief.

  10. Elisabeth this sounds so incredibly hard, just solo parenting is hard so anything else on top of that is going to add to that. I am really glad to hear that you feel like things are ok for you right now health wise. As someone who has a chronic health condition in remission I very much hope you are able to reach that stage one day too. I have to say that I was only able to do that by turning my back on the medical profession and sorting things out for myself without any medication. I am not very trusting of doctors now, I have not seen one for over 15 years but that is my story and I get that is not for everyone so I am not for one minute suggesting that is the best option for everyone.

    1. I am the first to say I have a wonderful medical team. Truly wonderful. And I believe they want only the best for me. That alone is such a blessing that, sadly, so many others don’t have access to. That said, every body responds differently and I can’t simply rely on the case studies of what works for others. While I don’t fault doctors for pointing me in that direction – and, rightly so, to try less invasive measures to deal with this issues, especially when I was in the middle of having children! – it definitely came to a point where I just “knew” that the only logical path forward was the surgery, despite any elevated risk.

  11. So glad to hear things are moving in the right direction!! These sound like rather complex/ vague issues- as in, things that don’t exactly have one right answer. I’m sure you’ve done more than your share of the trial and error game over the years, so it’s great to finally see some things clicking. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with inconsistent medical advice. Unfortunately, as San said, doctors are only people. Smart people, but still. Medicine is far from a perfect science, too. Sounds like you’re doing all the right things and taking a full body/mind approach to wellness. Very happy to hear this good news post!

    1. Thanks, Kae. Absolutely – no “right” answers and my responses to many treatments that work so well for others, just didn’t work for me.
      Onward and upward.

  12. Ugh. I am so sorry. I suffer from really awful PMS and sort of mini PMS around ovulation, so the one good week comment really resonated with me. It’s great to hear that you have found some things that work for you!

    1. I’m so sorry, Sarah. I hope you get some relief. A friend of mine suffered with PMDD for years, and my PMS experience pales in comparison. I am so grateful that, while I hate PMS, it is manageable and my heart goes out to those who suffer more directly/for longer.

  13. Wow, this is a lot to deal with, thank you for being so open and honest about everything going on. I love your attitude that one treatment that doesn’t work is at least shortening the list of options, what a great way to look at it.

    I’m so glad your health is in a good place right now, and long may it continue!

    1. It does feel like a bit much to share with the interwebs sometime, but my 20-year+ experience has felt very isolating at times. While I know others reading likely have different struggles, I hope in sharing specifics about mine, if gives others courage to talk, explore solutions or just know that almost all of us – especially women – live with hidden physical/mental challenges!

  14. I have been working on a blog post about my own history with periods – and I am feeling really grateful that I am not struggling the way you (and others!) have struggled. It must be so exhausting to only have one “good” week a month. I have very light periods and very long cycles (I probably have PCOS; getting pregnant would be difficult for me). I saw a TikTok once about a man learning about all that women go through during their cycles. For many women, it’s not just one downer week a month but three weeks out of four of feeling crummy, and it’s astounding what women go through. I hope the steps you take help you find the relief you very much deserve.

    1. For men (or women with very “easy” periods) I think it IS astonishing to learn how much of an impact hormonal/menstrual cycles can have on a woman. And it’s so “hidden” from view, so much of the suffering/struggle is silent.

      I did read an interesting BBC article the other day about more and more companies offering women menstrual leave (there are a lot of stigma’s attached with this of course, and I wouldn’t want to have to disclose to a boss why I was taking sick leave…but it may be a move in the right direction?).

      Thanks for the well-wishes <3

  15. A late comment, as always… I’m so happy that you are noticing some improvements. These sentences spoke to me: “…I occasionally succumb to thoughts like: “What happens if/when everything starts to fall apart?” But that’s no way to live – so I’m acknowledging the presence of those thoughts before slipping them into my back pocket. I carry them around with me, admittedly, but I’m mostly able to keep my hands free to get on with enjoying life.”

    I know all too well the challenges of living with something like this – where you never know, day to day, whether it’s going to be a ‘good’ or a ‘not so good’ day. I try, too, to seize the day (there I go again, carpe diem-ing everything! :>) when I feel good/have an appetite/get some sleep, because I never know what the next day might bring.

    It seems like you’ve made progress on so many fronts – and it certainly sounds like John’s sabbatical has been a game-changer for your family. I’m intrigued by the CBD oil, too – it’s not approved at the federal level in the US, but there are states (believe it or not, I live in one of them) where it is legal. It’s frustrating that we are so far behind other countries in approving therapies like this. Sigh.

    And, so glad that you have made the decision to move forward with surgery, and that you are on the (interminable) wait list. I hope that it comes sooner than you think it will, and I hope hope hope hope that you get long-lasting relief from going through it. You deserve to live a life without pain, with energy, and the ability to live your life as you want.

    I just looked back to make sure I didn’t miss something else I wanted to comment on, and something jumped out at me – nearly all of these bullet points highlight how YOU have taken ownership of YOUR health. You went on – and off – the SSRI. You and John decided that the time was right for him to take a sabbatical. You chose to try the CBD oil, and it seems to be helping. You went off of the hormones. And, despite conflicting medical opinions, you made the decision to move forward with surgery. It’s impressive – and inspiring. (I have an MD appointment tomorrow and I’m dealing with a lot of symptoms that I haven’t outlined as clearly as I have wanted to… so I’m hoping that I can do that tomorrow, so they understand just how much I’m dealing with on a daily basis. After all, if I don’t tell them about my symptoms, how will they know?)

    Sorry for the long comment. I just… I’m happy for you, and I hope this continues as long as possible. (Preferably right up to the moment of surgery…) <3

    1. No apologies, Anne. And such great insights, as usual.
      All the best tomorrow with your appointment – I hope you get some more clarity and feel you’re able to articulate your symptoms.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *