After having amenorrhea for over 9 years, elite runner, Heidi Greenwood is here sharing her journey. We support her in opening up the conversation on such an important topic, and are looking forward to hearing more. Because period talk...is good talk!
Where to begin? There is so much I want to share.
I believe in being transparent. I want to share my personal journey as a way to help others. This
may be is uncomfortable. I want to be brave and let you know that you are not alone. This sounds deep…and it sort of is.
The truth is I had amenorrhea for 9.5 years. Seriously. I went from December 2006 to April 2016 without having my period. I ran myself to a 2008 NCCA Div. II National Championship at 1500 meters to qualify for the 2016 U.S. Marathon Trials without one stress fracture and felt healthy.
Throughout this time I had been to several different doctors and would share that history with them. I would also tell them that I knew I wanted to have my own children someday. They never seemed too concerned. Their reasoning for why I was not menstruating was because of the stress of running and that part of my brain was not releasing the right chemicals. They never once told me that I was at an unhealthy weight, that I needed to be eating more, or that I needed to makes changes in my lifestyle. Maybe they all thought these things, but never told me. I did have an ultrasound done on my reproductive organs in 2008 to makes sure everything looked normal and it did. With this confirmation I felt “better” that I wasn’t hurting my chances of one day having children. The doctors always told me the same thing, once my husband and I were ready to start a family to come back and we would discuss a plan.
Initially I did tell my college coach, who is a male, and he also had told me that it was typical for runners to stop having their periods. So, I continued on my life. People I trusted (my coach and doctors) were not concerned, so I wasn’t concerned either.
In the defense of medicine and physicians I did not see the same doctors regularly throughout the 9.5 years. With my husband’s work we moved a lot. I never created relationships with my doctors. I was literally a number on a chart.
I also felt pretty embarrassed and alone. On the outside I looked normal. I did not raise red flags. What would people or sponsors think if they knew? Would I be judged? I feel there are several individuals that are trying to educate others on this topic within the running community. Which is great. They have good intentions. But at times, I feel a vibe of shaming going on. So, we stay quiet. We stay in the closet. We look just like everyone else on the outside. We aren’t suffering from stress fractures and are at healthy BMI’s.
In 2014 I even requested to my doctor that I wanted a bone mineral density scan done because I was concerned for my own health. Surely I should be having the bones of a post-menopausal women in her mid-60’s. However, the bone density scan showed I was actually slightly above the recommended ranges for my age. The good bone density was probably due to all of the weight bearing exercise I was doing.
I am completely aware of what the research says on amenorrhea. My personal perception was that I was eating enough food to support my activity. I thought I felt pretty good. To me I felt normal. I had two resting metabolic rate (RMR) assessments done on myself (2012 & 2015) to see what my body burns in a resting state. If I have really been in a constant negative energy expenditure I would expect to see a low RMR…especially considering how long this has been going on for. Again, here the results showed that my RMR was slightly above what would be expected for my body weight of a healthy female. Through this assessment it appeared that my energy in-put and out-put were in adequate balance.
I want to change how people discuss this topic. I want to help people if I can. I know I am only a case study of one. But, I want to get this topic out in the open and let women talk in a productive and supportive way. I know I’m sensitive to this topic because I am the person. Or I “was” the person who didn’t get my period. For damn near a decade.
It is no secret that my husband and I now want to start a family. My body has responded and my cycles have restarted. I have been sharing small bits about my experience on Instagram. I have not mentioned specifics yet because I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to share. Interestingly enough since I have posted a few things about this on Instagram I have had a few elite distance runners reach out to me…asking me about my situation. Why? Because they are just like me. Hiding their secret. But, no one can tell. They too aren’t getting stress fractures and appear healthy. They felt safe talking on the phone with me, but didn’t want anyone further to know at this time. They too fear the social stigma that is tied to amenorrhea.
This topic is so important and complex that I am going to break it up into a few different posts. If you are interested in seeing what has worked for me to restore my period please follow along as I share my story. If you have specific questions please do not hesitate to reach out.
FOLLOW HEIDI'S JOURNEY:
- how I restored my period (it took me 8 weeks)
- changes in my mental approach
- changes in my body
- what I’d tell my younger self
- what I’d tell individuals who are coaching women of any age
- helpful resources