Taking Control Of Your Physical And Mental Health

By Hannah Heffernan

5 mins

My story isn’t about recurrent UTIs. In fact, by some miracle I’ve never had one. What my story IS about, is the drastic change you can make in your life when you accept responsibility for your own physical and mental health and truly commit to making a difference.

I know, because I’ve been there. And perhaps you will see yourself in my story too.

I have had my share of female health concerns so I was excited about the opportunity to be part of a project that would empower other females to take responsibility for their own physical and mental health.

I met Susy and Mel while living in Berlin. Mel was still in the planning stages of what this project could be, but her enthusiasm and drive for a better solution was infectious. I jumped at the chance to work with her.

In my experience with my own health, I found myself lacking a solid understanding of my problems. It meant that when I visited my health specialists, I didn’t have enough information to ask the right questions.

“It’s not like I wanted to consult Dr Google, or make my own hypothesis, but I did want to be informed so I could be involved in the solution.”

Sourcing quality, holistic health information can be a frustrating mission, especially in a culture that prefers to soothe symptoms, rather than find out more about our sensitive and individual systems.

My own ‘health mission’ started in my late twenties after a decade of no regular monthly period.

Since my mid teens I had been on and off the pill, taken the morning after pill a couple of times, and for a short while, got the Depo Provera jab, so it’s no surprise really that my cycle was completely irregular.

At 22 I came off the pill for good and was expecting to see a more dependable period return. Months later and still no period, apart from the odd bit of spotting. I’m now embarrassed to say I didn’t think much of it, if anything I saw it as a convenient bonus!

It had come up in doctors’ appointments, but my doctors never seemed concerned either. Looking back on this now – I am appalled that this was treated as normal by my health professionals.

It wasn’t until a girlfriend, who was a little older and was trying to get pregnant, asked me if it concerned me that my periods were so infrequent. From then, based on her curiosity I guess, I thought I would look into it.

“Still, years went by and while I brought up my health concerns with doctors, nothing really came of my questions.”

It probably didn’t help that I moved around a fair bit after university, so I didn’t have an ongoing rapport with one doctor that I liked and that knew my history.

If they weren’t concerned, I shouldn’t be, right?

 

Keep Searching Until You Find The Right Doctor

It wasn’t until I moved to Sydney and finally found a great doctor, that some investigation began. I was in a serious relationship and ‘yeah, later on / sometime / at some point’ I did want kids. She seemed to think that that was enough reason to take this issue seriously and ordered some blood tests and then, an ultrasound.

The results of the blood tests weren’t conclusive but she did mention terms like ‘hormone imbalance’, ‘amenorrhea’, ‘blood sugar’ and ‘polycystic ovary syndrome’.

The ultrasound was not nice. I’d never had one and didn’t realise it wasn’t like the movies where they put the blue jelly on your belly and banter about your weekend plans.

Besides this surprise, it was mostly awful because of what I could see on the screen, what I could see did not look like the healthy, textbook diagram that I expected. Up on the screen were dozens of grey/black spots of varying sizes that I didn’t need a doctor to tell me shouldn’t be in a healthy reproductive system.

After the ultrasound it all made so much sense, I had a history of see-sawing (mostly sawing) weight, clinical depression and an anxiety disorder, unwanted hair that laser wouldn’t laser away.

PCOS explained just about everything I’d ever complained about, about being female, plus that life-ruling anxiety I had medicated for the last 8 years.

“I felt a) like a big, irresponsible dummy for waiting so long, b) elated that my symptoms had a name and c) motivated to do something.”

The momentum continued with a consultation with an Endocrinologist and then, to a Dietician who specializes in female health and diabetes (closely associated with PCOS).

I had a plan laid out to get fit, eat better to improve my blood sugar and take a low dose of a diabetes medication often used to induce ovulation.

While my periods didn’t come ‘flowing’ back right away or anything, I lost some weight, felt fit and strong and my mental health was stabilized considerably.

I must note that although there is some documented connection between mental health disorders and PCOS, I’m not certain PCOS is connected to my mental health – this could have been a happy byproduct of getting fit, drinking less and seeing more sunshine!

“For the first time, I felt responsible for myself, really in charge of my body – it was empowering.”

 

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Questions

From then on, I felt entitled enough to ask questions and seek information that I could use to improve things for myself, I didn’t have to wait to find a medical professional that was concerned and hope they were motivated to action something. That was my responsibility!

I started tracking my physical and mental health in an app. This sounds so simple but it illustrates the massive attitude shift I was going through. Years earlier, it would have never crossed my mind what the morning after pill does to my system, or to consider my iron levels when I was feeling run down and now, here I was documenting the height of my cervix!

“I was getting to know my body. It was making sense to me and I was beginning to really respect it, and as a result, treat it better.”

Since then, while my health is not perfect, I have so much more awareness. PCOS remains something I will have to monitor but I was in a much better position to try for a baby when the time came a couple of years after.

I was lucky enough conceive pretty quickly, I can only imagine how hard it may have been, had I not gone through this physical and mental health overhaul when I did.

Also, I now treat myself kinder when my depression or anxiety rear their ugly heads. I’m not currently medicated for these disorders and I know the shift in the way I take care of myself has something to do with this.

Another area of confusion and frustration for me was how we talk (or don’t talk) about female bodies. We’re not really encouraged to get to know our bodies as children and teenagers (hands up anyone here who had quality sex-ed classes!?), leaving us as adults shockingly unfamiliar with some pretty fundamental functions of our own selves.

So many females can’t say ‘vagina’ without feeling just a little uncomfortable, so how do they confidently ask their doctor for ideas about why they might be peeing blood, are bleeding excessively or don’t bleed enough?

Sorry if you’re squeamish. Finished with blood.

 

Let’s Talk About Physical And Mental Health

Many of us feel unable to talk freely and without embarrassment about issues that massively impact our lives. Both PCOS and UTIs are examples of this. There are so many females I now know, through the creation of this website, that echo this inability to share their stories, even with their closest friends.

As a society, we’re not short on vocabulary that describes how to look better, eat less, whiten, tighten, shrink, tone up, smoothe, tan, buff, but it’s all from an angle that assumes that our bodies aren’t good enough.

Celebrating, exploring and getting to know our bodies is not encouraged; that might be seen as vain and arrogant or, God forbid, sexually motivated.

I have a daughter now, so I hope I can encourage a more respectful, curious attitude and open dialogue when she has questions about her body.

The subject of UTIs is an under-explored and important issue. But if I’m honest, initially, I was mostly excited about working with these cool ladies and to be a part of a female-centric project.

I have met some amazing people through this development process and learnt so much. It feels like a worthy cause to build a company around and I believe we really can help those searching for resources, who want to be treated as individual, intelligent and responsible owners of their own bodies.

 

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