Fertility and mental health: Female Hormones Can Make a Bloody Mess of Your Mental Health
“*Women with infertility felt as anxious or depressed as those diagnosed with cancer, hypertension, or recovering from a heart attack”. (Harvard Review).
I’ve realized that I’ve been writing a bit about mental health. I think it’s a topic that is close to my heart, professionally and personally. No one is immune. There are two times in this process where I had a mental breakdown, first time at The Clinic in November of 2016, and the second time just recently. The first time, I walked out of the waiting room and cried like a wild animal in the middle of the hallway heaving in pain. The second time was for a full week right before we found the results after the two week wait which the last two posts have been about. The first time was only a day, the second time I couldn’t pull myself together for over a full week. The unravelling started here. I still feel like Humpty Dumpty (and so does husband) who fell off the wall and now all the kings horses and all kings men, are trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again.
Mental Health Check-up
At the The Clinic, no one checks in on your mental health even though its well-known how much this process will take a toll on you mentally. Just the hormones should come with a <<beware of side effects>> label. Even if we think about a woman who is going through regular PMS, how those hormones affect her, imagine being pumped with MORE hormones than usual would affect a woman. Being a mental health professional, even I didn’t recognize the early signs of things unravelling. Yet, it was so evident that my mental health was bleeding out onto every aspect of my life. Bleeding out is a term that is used when a person’s ability to perform daily functions are affected and there is no separation between the physical and mental. Just think of your brain spilling out and having a hard time distinguishing and separating what is actually real and what is perceived to be real. When you are in so deep, fertility takes over every part of your life. Think of blood bleeding out and splattering. It gets into the cracks and leaves a stain.
No none of this is healthy, far from it, but what I’m trying to say, this happens so slowly, I didn’t notice it and I’m freaking trained. I’m my worst doctor.
Intuitively I knew something was wrong.
I knew I needed help.
On the second week of the “Two week wait”, I fell apart and crashed mentally and hit a wall. I liken it to a car accident. I’m driving along to my destination and all of a sudden I’m driving through a winter storm. I’m so focused on making it safely to my destination that I don’t notice the truck swerving to the right of me and that threw me through my windshield. That is how it felt. My mental health was out of control. I was anxious, crying at any moment, didn’t want to get out of bed and my energy was so low, I had to take naps during the day. In Chinese medicine they would say, my Qi was off-balance. I was scared to eat anything because I thought I was doing something wrong. I felt so drained, I was getting up, eating and sleeping because of anxiety and stress of waiting if THIS TIME the treatment would work. That week, I went to see a mental health professional and I realized: every aspect of my everyday was now consumed by fertility. Needless to say not exactly the right mindset to have, right?!
I knew there was a problem, when I picked up a pastry in my favourite coffee shop, and my thought process was this:
“Should eat it this because it had gluten in it. Gluten could be a cause of infertility. Maybe I have gluten intolerance and I don’t know it. That is why I am infertile. Why else would a healthy person like me have issues? Maybe I was harming myself by having this pastry. Since I also have PCSO the sugar could be harming me . Ugh, why am I eating this pastry when I should just go Gluten free! Dairy free! Sugar free!
I had fought this so hard to not have it happen, but it seeped in through the cracks so quietly and so slowly, like water seeping through the cracks.”The Judge”, the voice in my head, screaming at me, “you of all people should know better”. Before I knew what had happened, my everyday was fertility. Before I knew what had happened, my mental health was affected and I had trouble finding joy in anything. How did this happen?
While the causes of infertility are overwhelmingly physiological, the resulting heartache — often exacerbated by the physical and emotional rigors of infertility treatment — may exact a huge psychological toll. One study of 200 couples seen consecutively at a fertility clinic, for example, found that half of the women and 15% of the men said that infertility was the most upsetting experience of their lives. Another study of 488 American women who filled out a standard psychological questionnaire before undergoing a stress reduction program concluded that *women with infertility felt as anxious or depressed as those diagnosed with cancer, hypertension, or recovering from a heart attack.
I had read about this on different blogs and read about it in different the books. I heard about this happening, but I swore I was going to be different. I swore I won’t have this problem, until it was there…and from what I have seen anyone who has done treatments at one point hits a wall and falls hard.
Asking for help
I went to see someone. She showed me how my thoughts were chaotic and one thought bleed over and over rode all the other thoughts. I walked away after an hour with three practical things.
I have compartmentalized and really watched my thoughts.
After I walked away from Dr. Julia, I was shocked to realize how much my whole body was and is in flight/fight mode. I did a ten minutes of meditation and my body just slumped into hibernation. So many thoughts circled back to fertility. I’m really not great at this yet, but at least there is an awareness. Right after the appointment, husband and went for lunch and listening about my appointment he discovered that he has unconsciously sought out coping mechanisms too. His was playing the online game of World of Warcraft, something he had not done years!
I was to assign one hour a day, just like I did with an appointment to obsess over fertility. I was to watch my thoughts and if any thought or something that had to do with fertility I was to tell my mind, not now, that will be doing that at the assigned appointment time.
Its funny, in many ways while this blog was helpful, it also required me to designate a time in the day for it. I would poke and write something at all hours of the day. I realized how our conversations with friends and my husband were all about this freak’n subject. How freak’n annoying not just to me but to those around me.
The attachment to an outcome. I had thought I had let go of this attachment, I had not, because it was attached to the fear of letting go of control over the situation.
I had fear that my plan would not work. I had a timeline. I had 6 months for the medical leave and it had to work in the 6 months otherwise I would need to go back.
The plan has not worked out. I was so attached to an outcome. I still am, but working through it. There is no surrender in that. I think it’s also the idea that this family thing is supposed to look a particular way and what if it doesn’t turn out looking that way and I actually don’t get a chance was nature has said to me is so natural? What if I’m still punishing myself for all those years of looking down at moms and pregnant women and my views on family 10 years ago.
When I change my mind about my experiences, then my experiences change. It doesn’t mean that the outcome I was expecting will happen, it means how I experience the outcome will change. It’s the attachment piece and an expectation of the outcome.
This is really hard to process, as how hard it is to not be attached and hoping for an outcome during the two week wait?
What is my intuition telling me? Its been saying since last year that I should switch clinics, and maybe I should finally listen to that but then there is fear around this switch.
Fear is such a bitch. It messes with your mind so much.
TWO: Watching cat videos
After my one hour appointment with myself and once I was done obsessing over fertility during the day, I was to watch cat videos or anything funny. This engages a totally different part of your brain that has nothing to do with logical thinking brain. Its like dancing or singing or anything creative.
Have you ever watched that movie, “Up”, where the dog is talking and all of sudden his attention is distracted for a second because there is a squirrel. That is what I’m doing now. Anytime my mind trails off to this topic (you can see it in my eyes) people around me know to simply tell me, “squirrel”. Its funny and it works.
Three: Permission to feel
I think because I had so much judgement going on in my head and because I was punishing myself for NOT “knowing better”, I didn’t allow myself to feel the true extent of my feelings. Having done lots of personal development there is also a personal development judge that comes up and was punishing me because I wasn’t using the tools that I had learned to use in such situations. In many ways, my training took a knife and decided to hurt me.
In Chinese medicine, “we have an infinate amount of energy and the more we are consumed with negative thoughts and judments then there is less energy to go towards the spark of life.
I don’t think my brain would have accepted permission to relax if it were not a mental health professonal telling to relax and that its totally normal to feel this way. My prescription was to really allow myself to feel the full extent of my feelings where ever they may be in my body.
Final thoughts: so what about all this?
I’ve been writing this post for almost two weeks now, weaving my way in and out of this hitting the wall. I’ve learned how elusive this topic is. Its one thing to talk about infertility which is not as much of a taboo subject anymore, but the mental health piece is. I can truely say, I had a mental breakdown. There really is no way of describing it.
What I’ve learned yet again is that I need to learn to ask for help, allow myself to really feel my feelings and use my voice. This seems to be a theme for me.
As I pick myself up from hitting the wall. I know that this time around it took me almost two weeks to get past this, it just doesn’t go away. I know the next time it could hit me even harder. I just need the tools and compassion for myself to not critise myself so much as I did this time.
The anticipation and anxiety around if our transfer will work, already has my body in tight knots. Before I walk into that process, I need to prepare my mind and body.
In preparation, I decided to do a Mindfulness course on myself again and be more gentle with myself. To really actually do the mediation that I know work but I have not done. To recognize my judge and see him as a protector and someone who wants me to not get hurt. This is the path forward of again holding my heart and saying in the mirror: I love you.
In the book, “Pathways to Pregnancy“, Mary says, “its not that pregancy won’t work, your body is just telling you not now, and most certainly not now when your head and heart are not aligned. You need to sow the soil before you plant the seed. Take care of youself first, before you take care of another being”.
Wisdom of Irene:
“You try, then no expect, then you no sad.”
Common Mental health crises with men & women experiencing infertility.
- Anxiety disorders. Anxiety is an emotion characterized by the anticipation of future danger or misfortune, along with excessive worrying. It can include behavior aimed at avoiding situations that cause anxiety. This class includes generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and phobias.
- trauma and stressor-related disorders. These are adjustment disorders in which a person has trouble coping during or after a stressful life event. Examples include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and acute stress disorder.
- Grief – feelings of loss and low self-esteem.
- Depression: is very common amongst those who have been trying for a very long time. I mean, while we’ve been at this for almost three years, the intense capacity has been since Aug. of 2016. I can’t imagine doing this wheel for 3 years. I could see depression seeping in the cracks the same way my thoughts of fertility bleed all over my life now. The drugs also don’t help with this, as they play on your natural hormones in you brain.
This topic of fertility and mental health really deserves even more attention. What do you think?
*Note there is about a two-week delay between when an events happened and when I post. This helps me process. Therefore this post is written about what I experienced recently within the last three weeks. It doesn’t mean this won’t come back, but I’ feeling better now.