Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mommy's Broken

Wow. So, it's been awhile! Time sure does slip away. I suppose I haven't been overly inspired to blog lately, and I just honestly decided not to feel guilty about it! So, if I've hung around in your feed, yay! 

This post has been brewing in me for a long time, but I wasn't really sure how to put to words my experience with hormone imbalance. I'm a little hesitant to post on this topic, but it's been quite an important season for me in the last few years. It keeps surfacing in the lives of those around me, so I've decided it's just time to tackle it, because I felt so alone when I went through it. Even if I stumble for words or explanation, hopefully it will help someone else feel less alone.

I don't suffer with PCOS, and I've always had a very regular cycle, so this isn't about that, or infertility issues. I'm also not a medical professional, by any means, but this is more of my own personal journey to understand myself and what I could do about it, preferably without prescription. This isn't medical advice, but perhaps it will be of benefit to you. I will reference where I can, so that you can see some places I gleaned from for yourself, if you desire. This has been at least a two year process for me, and I therefore don't remember, nor did I note, every place I read something helpful. If you don't know me well, my basic approach to any new subject is to just research the heck out of it. I don't find one good book or website. I check out 27 books from the library system and look at dozens of sites. There are a lot of opinions and perspectives, so I figure the more places I learn about something, the more likely it is that I will get a balanced view.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I would like to explain why I really want to talk about this, even though, it's a little hard to talk about. It was a very painful, lonely time for me, before I started to come out of the hole and get my life back. I felt like a failure in every aspect of my life, and was piling on a lot of guilt about something I really had no control over. While I have grown up Christian, when asked what I believe, I tend to label myself non-mainstream Christian. But, that's another post entirely. The main thing is, I believe God can and does heal, but we live in a fallen world, and there are people with plenty of physical problems that aren't because they're being punished and doing something wrong. I don't judge a diabetic for using insulin, yet I was judging myself harshly for not being able to "just get over" what I was going through. There still remains a HUGE stigma (Christian or otherwise) on mental illness. And believe me, if you have ever suffered with any facet of a hormone imbalance on a grand scale, that is precisely what it feels like. My sincere hope is that anyone going through this too, will feel hope that they can make it back.

I really struggled that first year after my twins were born. They were born at 33 weeks in November, the winter Swine Flu made its appearance. To say I was constantly worried and stressed would be an understatement. I felt woefully unprepared to be a mom, my twins were colicky, and well, as you moms know, lack of sleep goes a long way to making you feel crazy. I nursed for 6 months, and through loving encouragement from my husband, weaned for my emotional well-being. After the boys hit the one year mark, I started to feel a little more normal, but that was short-lived. By the time their second birthday rolled around, I had hit rock bottom. I cried out to God because I felt I couldn't possibly go on living the way I felt. He didn't choose to heal me, but I did feel a prompting to research PMDD. I hadn't known anyone who had it, and I still feel strongly that it was God helping me to know myself. He could have healed me instantly, but I have learned so much on this journey, and am thankful for who I've become along the way.

Female hormone imbalance can present itself in many ways, and in varying degrees. The most commonly known is of course, PMS. While most women have experienced the physical symptoms of normal ovulatory function, it's the emotional facet that sets PMS apart. PMDD is a more severe form with substantial disruption to personal relationships, often accompanied by anxiety, anger, and depression. Postpartum Depressionperimenopause, and menopause can also have similar symptoms. Looking at your particular symptoms can help you determine more closely what your particular issue may be.

I kept writing off PPD initially, even when we considered it that first year, because I didn't have all the symptoms. Plus, taking care of two colicky newborns was hard, no matter what you called it! I never felt suicidal, or that I might hurt my twins. (No judgment if you struggle with PPD, this is why slight variances in symptoms can make such a difference in your personal struggle.) When I read these symptoms for PMDD:
  1. Very depressed mood, feeling hopeless
  2. Marked anxiety, tension, edginess
  3. Sudden mood shifts (crying easily, extreme sensitivity)
  4. Persistent, marked irritability, anger, increased conflicts
  5. Loss of interest in usual activities (work, school, socializing, etc.)
  6. Difficulty concentrating and staying focused
  7. Fatigue, tiredness, loss of energy
  8. Marked appetite change, overeating, food cravings
  9. Insomnia (difficulty sleeping) or sleeping too much
  10. Feeling out of control or overwhelmed
  11. Physical symptoms such as weight gain, bloating, breast tenderness or swelling, headache, and muscle or joint aches and pains 
I just wept, because I felt hope. Simply realizing perhaps I wasn't crazy and destined for an institution was a freeing step in and of itself. I read somewhere else that it often was more severe after birth! It made me reflect through my teen years and early twenties, and I recognized seasons of my life when I had dealt with it, only not to the full severity that I was currently experiencing. 

I began further research on natural alternatives, because I really, really didn't want to take a prescription unless I had to. I started my research because I wanted a natural remedy for PMDD so that's the basis for a lot of these herbs.  I discovered they were used for many other things, including PMS, postnatal healing and menopause. Except for Ginkgo, all are considered generally safe while breastfeeding. Low-percentage side effects include colic in young infants.

  • Gingko Biloba - to help with mental clarity, breast tenderness and fluid retention
  • Evening Primrose Oil - hormonal balance/PMS symptoms and excellent for skin issues including eczema
  • Milk Thistle - primarily for cleansing the liver of toxins, but makes a notable difference in symptoms
  • St. John's Wort - Mood
  • B Complex - energy
  • Magnesium, vitamin D & Calcium - a lot of women are deficient in these and that can worsen symptoms
  • Chasteberry - overall PMS issues
  • Omega 3/6/9 complex and vitamin e oil because the fatty acids help a lot of things, not just PMS symptoms
We decided that I probably wouldn't get any worse off by adding some supplements to my diet, so I started taking them almost immediately after narrowing down what I thought were my best choices. I began to feel differently within a week, and even better after two weeks. After a month, I felt like I had my life back. It was like I could see again. Things made sense, I wasn't irrational, I could think clearly and make better decisions. I wasn't just trying to keep my head above water, only to feel like I was still drowning. I couldn't believe what a significant difference a few herbs could make.

I remember times when I would just sit on the floor and weep out of hopelessness, only to have one of my toddlers walk up wondering what was wrong with mommy, and I would just say, "Mommy's broken", because, that's how it felt. There was so much I wanted to do, but I felt completely out of control of my emotions. I knew I was missing such a wonderful part of my children's lives because I couldn't be fully present, only pray I wasn't traumatizing them irreparably. I couldn't look at situations and relationships objectively, and ultimately closed myself off because I was afraid I would show how crazy I really was.

It amazes me to look back and reflect on how I felt and to revel in thankfulness for how far I've come. Now, I am pregnant again, and have felt some of the emotional swings, only to not have my herbs to turn to because many aren't safe during pregnancy. Fortunately, it has been sporadic, and seems to have balanced out. I know I have some more learning ahead of me as I find my normal again after birth. It just isn't quite as frightening because at least I know ahead of time what may be ahead. It won't go on as long, because I recognize the early signs now, and can do something about it.

I sincerely hope this has been an encouragement to someone out there who may be going through the same thing. As I said before, I'm not a doctor, and this isn't intended to be medical advice, but just a reflection of my journey. I pray that I can help someone else feel a little less lonely, and a little more hopeful that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.