Hormonal health and the future of Hey sis
I'm super happy to have you here. The aim of my post today is to set the scene for the future of this blog, and everything else that I plan to birth as an expansion of it.
I announced on my Instagram a few days ago that Hey sis is going through some changes. As far as content is concerned, I will be focussing specifically on creating content that will help you in your journey to supporting your hormones. Hormones are responsible for every metabolic function in our bodies, so it's important for your overall health to focus on balancing your hormones.
Now, what's interesting is that hormonal imbalance is an issue that disproportionately affects women. This isn't because we have periods and men don't, or that we're intrinsically 'hormonal' and unstable because we menstruate. It's because of a multitude of systemic problems, from the food system to the medical system to the patriarchy. Most of us are in the dark about this, which means we have little control over our health outcomes and subsequently our quality of life. I think that's not okay, and some other women think so too. So I've decided that I want to join them and bring this info to you because I've also noticed that not all women are having these discussions. It seems like there is a clog in the pipeline which is supposed to be spreading it to all of woman-kind. Moving forward with my blog, I hope to get more women aware that they have much more control of their health and life than they thought.
Specifically in today's post, I'm getting a bit personal and sharing my experience with having adverse side-effects to a medication (that I didn't know I would experience, and thus did not consent to). I draw on my personal example and talk about how conventional medicine is not geared to protect our hormonal health, even while it may have good intentions. This then brings me to talking about how we as women need to be extra vigilant and protective over our bodies by arming ourselves with the weapon of information.
Okay, so let's get right into it!
Today I want to give a real-life example of why information is important. Now more than ever, we have access to medical information that can help us make informed choices about our health. But despite that, 43% of American women aged 30-60 report having experienced hormonal imbalance. I mean, isn't that crazy? Obviously we aren't American, and we are most likely under the age of 30. But the insight is relevant, nonetheless. More than anything, this reflects that there's a problem in the system. Women are not receiving the information that they need in order to optimise their health. We're making decisions in the dark, such as whether or not to take hormonal contraception or take a potent drug to cure our acne. This has potentially disastrous side effects such as an inability to get pregnant down the line. Whether or not you want to have babies, your fertility is something you should be concerned about because it's directly related to your hormonal health. Why is hormonal health important? Keep coming back to the blog, and you'll find out.
Acne treatment, lingering side-effects, and unanswered questions
Okay, so to begin I'd like to talk about something I've recently experienced. Last year, in great desperation, I went to my GP to get a solution for my acne. I had seen a dermatologist in my first or second year of university, and the first thing she recommended was Roaccutane. At the time I had heard some pretty wretched stories about side effects from people who had been on the drug, including depression and suicidal thoughts. That made me extremely reluctant because I had had my fair share of mental health challenges and recognised that I didn't need anything to make matters worse for me. So she gave me another treatment, called Tetralysal, which I was on for a few months. In the end it didn't end up curing my acne. So two years down the line, in January, I was having a particularly awful breakout. By then I was just so exhausted by the emotional toll that acne was having on me that I became a bit more relaxed about the oral isotretinoins (the type of drug that Oratane, Accutane and all the 'tanes are). I also really trusted my GP; she always made sure to go an extra mile and provide her patients with additional information about their health issues. So when she ran me through the side-effects of Oratane and assured me that at any point in my treatment I could stop the drug if the side effects got really bad, and that all side-effects are completely reversible, I felt safe and confident going into my six month treatment plan.
In all honesty my side-effects were quite minimal. I didn't have any adverse mental health outcomes in relation to my treatment. Of course my lips were dry, but that was an easy solve. But there was one symptom I experienced that I was not expecting, and which has not gone away after treatment.
Brace yourself, it's about to get personal...
At some point in my treatment, I noticed that I was starting to experience vaginal dryness. Well into my six month plan, my vagina was completely lacking in moisture, and if I might add, it was also really dry and painful between my bum cheeks. That is so embarrassing to admit, but it's the truth. So anyway, more than six months after finishing treatment (which btw didn't work, I still have acne?!) I'm left with absolutely minimal vaginal moisture. In case you haven't picked it up yet, I'm pretty upset about this. Nowhere on the list of side-effects is vaginal dryness mentioned. Essentially, I'm experiencing a side effect that I didn't consent to. That's totally not okay. I didn't say anything about this to my doctor because of her assurance that after treatment everything that had changed would go back to normal. And when I was still experiencing dryness shortly after treatment I was sure that the moisture down there would be back as soon as my mouth started recovering from its dryness. That hasn't been the case.
I'm particularly concerned about this after reading a post on the internet where people who are also experiencing adverse sexual health side-effects have spoken up about their experiences. Some of the men, some of whom were as young as 16 years old at the time the post was published, are dealing with erectile dysfunction that they haven't yet been able to treat. I was pretty hopeful that when I eventually get the money to work with a naturopathic doctor, that they would be able to help me treat the vaginal dryness, in addition to healing all the other hormonal imbalance symptoms I've bene silently dealing with for years. Obviously I only read that one post, so I'm not completely sold that this symptom can't be healed. But the thought of that possibility is disturbing to me.
The shortfalls of conventional medicine and why we need to inform ourselves
My example of a non-consentual side effect from my acne treatment rang the bell quite loudly for me. In the past few months I've been made aware of how conventional medicine is designed to treat the symptom rather than the root cause. For women, this means that most of our hormonal imbalance issues will be improperly treated at best, or entirely dismissed at worst if we seek help from mainstream medicine.
For example, many women are prescribed the pill to help with symptoms of reproductive disorders such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. In as wonderful as it is to have a pill that can take away the sometimes crippling pain that comes with these disorders, the pill in itself doesn't cure the disorder, it simply masks it by silencing the symptoms. The cost of this type of treatment is too high for the reward it pays. Yet women are not being informed about the adverse consequences that this will have on their reproductive health, not only in the long term but also in the short term. Left unchecked, these disorders may affect your fertility. But not only that, even a woman who is being prescribed the pill purely for contraceptive reasons is not consenting to the side-effects that the medication will have on her body, because she is not being given the information by her doctor. To make matters worse, it's still not widely accepted by conventional medicine that the pill is not as good a solution to female reproductive health issues as it has been made out to be. This significantly lowers the likelihood that your doctor will give you a full picture of the side-effects and the changes to your bio-chemistry that you will face because of the pill. It also makes it more likely that that your doctor might not take you seriously if you do experience a side effect like depression.
The fact that we are being handed drugs that have long lists of negative side-effects, without being told about them all is quite disturbing to me. In my current state, it's actually quite infuriating. I was on the pill for a little while, and I was on the contraceptive implant for just about a year and a half before I became exposed to this somewhat secret world of alternative healthcare for women. Imagine if I never found out. Imagine how many other women are still in the dark about all of this. It's not fair because it has real effects on the quality of our lives, and on our ability to create new life. These are important things that we shouldn't be quiet about. My example of vaginal dryness may seem trivial in comparison when weighed up against the possible side-effects of infertility and increased likelihood of cervical and breast cancer when taking the pill, but I felt pretty disheartened when I heard of other people who hadn't been able to fix their side-effects. I wondered if I also won't be able to get my vagina back to normal with diet and lifestyle changes, like I thought I would be able to. It made me feel like something had been taken away from me without my permission, and that was a really devastating feeling. Not to mention that even though I'm celibate now, I don't plan to be forever. Sexual health and pleasure for women is important, and I don't want to imagine a future in which sex is hard or painful because of a drug I took years ago.
By now, I'm sure the importance of self-education is apparent to you. If it's highly likely that your doctor isn't going to give you all the vital info you need to make adequately informed decisions about what to and not to put in your body, then you're going to need to do some of the work for yourself. There are a few women in the world who are doing incredible work to pave the way for the rest of us to be informed and in control of our health. I shared some of their work in an earlier blog post, which you can read here. Other than that, we as women need to approach our health with the greatest curiosity and care. Before accepting a treatment, we must be prepared to read thoroughly about its pros and cons. We can't just rely on what we hear from our doctors or elsewhere in the mainstream. Not because our doctors are intentionally trying to hurt us, but because conventional medicine is systematically rigged against us. Most clinical trials are conducted with samples largely composed of men. The pill is still roughly new, relative to medical standards, and the long-term consequences have not yet been sufficiently researched. Our doctors tell us what they know about medicines, which is what they have been told by the big pharmaceutical companies. And that isn't always a full depiction of the truth. The reality begs that we as women be ultra-protective of our bodies, because the system is not skewed in our favour. And a way that almost all of us can do this is by learning more about how our bodies operate and natural ways that we can take care of them.
If we think about the dark side of this conversation, we can easily feel hopeless and betrayed. But if we stop there, we will have just given ourselves the shorter end of the stick. It's quite disappointing that this is yet another issue where women are spurred into action because of anger or dismay that, yet again, their needs have not been met. But this is reality, and reality beckons that we continue to fight for ourselves and our right for control over our bodies. Information is pivotal to this.
Thank you for showing up today sis. I hope that you're just as excited as I am for a future where we know more about how our bodies work, and how best to care and love for them in order to be as healthy as we want to be and have the quality of life that we desire. If you loved this post, how about you share it with a sister in your community? We're all in this together, and after all sharing really is caring. Leave a comment below if you feel impressed to!
All my love
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