Period lost, period found

Annie Altman
Feb 21 · 7 min read

I started taking birth control pills at the age of 15 (I’m currently 25) and decided to stop taking them right before my 23rd birthday. Also around this same time I finished tapering off of Zoloft, which I started taking at age 13 to help with symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anxiety, and Depression. Also also around this time I drastically altered my diet, shifting from a “vegetarian” (more accurately a beige carbitarian) to a caricature of a newly minted vegan constantly discussing veganism. I promptly lost my period and learned that changes relating to diet, hormonal birth control, and psychiatric medications are three of the main factors that can disrupt hormonal balance (stress being the baseline factor).

I’m experiencing a second puberty, or maybe an aftershock of sorts from first puberty and/or a year without my period. It feels like a hormonal “do-over” filled with moments of deja-vu: three new crushes in one week, intense crying and laughter in the same hour, and generally going about my day acting like I’m far less confused by all this internal “shifting” than I’m actually feeling. Plus days that feel exceptionally “average” leaving me extra confused about how dramatic life felt the day before. I’m fortunate to have received a liberal education and even so there were inevitable gaps in the information I was given, and open to receiving, about puberty.

I majored in Biopsychology in college, with a minor in dance, and took all the prerequisite courses for medical school. Then I noped out of the pre-med route to focus on movement, writing, comedy, music, and food. I got certified as a yoga teacher, worked for an online CSA (community-supported agriculture) company, began writing more frequently, started slowly going to open mic nights and putting videos on YouTube, and began a podcast and this blog. I’m learning to give myself space to explore what genuinely excites me without justification and I’ve felt levels of self-consciousness around my career swerve that I had not experienced since first puberty. HOW will I get my intellectual ego stroked without constant science classes? How can art really have no “right” answer? Am I really the only one who can validate how my feelings feel??

“Hormonal” has long been used to mean “emotional” and I’ve definitely been finding myself extra curious about the connections between my hormones, my emotions, and my identity as a female. “Female hysteria” used to be a common medical diagnosis and “hysterical” is still a term almost exclusively applied to women, much like “bossy” and “bitch.” “Hysteria” comes from the Greek word for uterus. Connecting being emotional to being a human with a uterus is literally built into our language. (Another fun factoid: doctors used to directly help stressed women orgasm in order to benefit her emotional health.) While our hormones are definitely connected to our emotions, all humans have hormones… even the most cliche manly man has estrogen in his system, which the “real” “manly” man knows and embraces.

I’m endlessly fascinated with the mind-body connection, that place where thoughts and feelings mingle with biochemistry and epigenetics and they’re like, “OMG we’re all the related!!!” I believe that scientific and spiritual practices deliver similar messages in different ways, and sometimes forget that they are both doing their best to understand, educate, and support humanity. Modern medicine is set up very differently for males and for females, which makes sense as males and females have biological differences. A system that is fair for both sexes and the entire gender spectrum is a simple concept and complicated practice, at least currently.

My college science classes, laboratory work, and personal health experiences have demonstrated the many ways in which science and spiritual practices have been set up with a focus on male physiology. (See: funding and distribution disparities between Viagra and literally all contraceptive tools.) Most practices are intended to benefits males, while neglecting the fact that a more equitable system would actually benefit males even more as all humans would be benefiting. I’m doing my best here to avoid Patriarchy-Shaming, as that does little to nothing towards actually helping anyone’s situation. Cultural expectations around male emotional and sexual expression harms males just as much as it harms females. This seems like a place to note how gender is more complicated than simply male and female (science reflects this with chromosomal possibilities such as XXY and XO) and remind us all that sex and gender are related and different.

I believe it to be a disservice to humanity to ignore sexual dichotomy. There may be evolutionary reasons for the female propensity towards multitasking and group harmony and the male propensity towards muscle mass and assertiveness. How sexual dichotomy has been dealt with historically demonstrates the human psychology to be scared of things that feel “different,” and so turn to categorize and rank rather than to celebrate differences and get curious.

Most of us are curious about pregnancy at some point in our lives because we were all born, at least the last time I checked. Pregnancy is a hugely important topic for female autonomy and overpopulation. Being able to create another human inside my body is an enormous responsibility I did not consciously sign up for, and while it’s the miracle of life I also find it fucking weird. It does feels empowering to know that anything I can do, I can also do while bleeding. So back to getting my period back — to discuss my vagina and uterus like a budding whatever-I-am— I went 13 months without it and then got it back the day after taking my second ever pregnancy test. I cried. Sometimes life sounds like a soap opera.

It’s been almost a year now since I got my period back and I feel I’ve been going through a sort of spiritual and scientific second puberty, to continue the soap operatics. A year extra filled with learning about my body’s cycle(s) and signals. Witnessing my hormones re-regulate has felt parallel to to self-soothing, not that I consciously remember learning that, and my first time with “my moon.” I started eating eggs again, including runny yolks for the first time, and ate fish for the first time in my life because my body very literally demanded them. A year without my period, after a decade of having it, felt like equal parts reset and emptiness.

The long-term effects of hormonal birth control have not yet been studied as the medications are still so new relative to how long females have been passing blood without an open wound. I am open to different medications working differently for different people, and I support women having access to all possible methods to regulate their capacity to give birth. I personally feel a stronger connection to my cycle and my emotions since stopping hormonal birth control (stopping SSRIs is another blog post, and so are dietary changes). Much like a pro-choice policy gives space for women to also choose to carry a pregnancy to term, educating females about the variety of methods of family planning and STI prevention still allows space for females to choose to take hormonal birth control.

Women have been shamed for their sexuality and femaleness since before prostitution officially became the oldest profession — though who actually knows because who actually was there? Sex and sexuality shaming tends to be aimed towards women though double standards exist in both directions. I recently learned that “bromance” shames close male friendships because no similar word exists for two females who enjoy each other’s company in a platonic and deeply loving way. While I believe political correctness can go to extremes and discourage honest discussions, I also believe it’s extremely important to examine how our language impacts our culture. How we talk about sex and sexuality — how we introduce children to puberty before they are experientially introduced to it — influences sex, identity, and our entire culture.

I believe a large portion of shame takes root during puberty and then manifests as sexual repression, (sexual) aggression, body dysmorphia, addiction, and/or mood disorders. I can say for certain that has been my experience. Shame encourages ignorance by stifling conversations. Additionally, shame creates a feedback loop where ignorance is shamed and so questions and curiosity are discouraged. Why there is any surprise that this, along with technology, has led to an abundance of sad, lonely, horny people is beyond me. Though it also seems entirely possible that The Internet has ironically increased awareness of how important physical touch and in-person connection are to our well-being, and how many lonely people there have always been.

(Another future blog post that for now is a parenthetical paragraph is that The Internet and dating apps have allowed women and queer men especially to order sex on demand like a pizza delivery. Though pizza delivery has much less risk of STIs, pregnancy, or death.)

Puberty, second puberty, conception, menopause, even adrenaline — hormones and emotions are with us our whole lives, apparently. Movement and creative practices help our emotional health because they help our hormones, so I’ve been finding. That or they’re a great outlet for sexual frustration and general existential dread. “Emotions are energy in motion” is some true shit.

Everyone feels life however they feel it, and while we can empathize with others we can only tangibly feel our own feelings. Neither sex will ever understand the other sex (“the second sex”) completely because no human will ever understand another human completely and THAT IS OKAY. In fact, it’s the source of a lot of comedy and potentially all creations so perhaps it is much more than okay and even crucial.

I have little to no “real” conclusion to these mostly connected rambles, perhaps they’re an ode of sorts to a bodily function I have a renewed appreciation for (“don’t it always seem to go…”) because of my period (yes, purposeful) going without. I do have an affirmed belief that we all benefit by talking about hormones and feelings more often. I mostly felt the need to write and share to help process all these pubescent emotions.

p.s. I am massively privileged to be able to reflect on all of this and to have grown up without exposure to genital mutilation, child marriage, or restricted access to healthcare. Sexuality is directly tied to mental health and mental health is a privilege. The United States is much farther along in its understanding and expressions of sexuality than I often realize from inside the bubble, though there is still space to expand.

Annie Altman

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One human’s thoughts and (mostly) feelings on humaning. For the podcast and other expressions head to theanniealtmanshow.com @theanniealtmanshow