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Lived Experiences: Mental Health Challenges and Hormonal Stress

October 20, 2022

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Amy Mauro

Millions of women around the world, regardless of race, gender, age, culture, and socioeconomic status, experience significant shifts in their reproductive health. These shifts can impact a woman’s ability to live satisfying and authentic lives, both physically and mentally. 

In support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are prioritizing mental health and therapy for people living with breast cancer, women, and people with internal reproductive organs.

How Can Physical Health Impact Women's Metal and Emotional Health?

Everyday, women and people with internal reproductive organs experience their body going through many changes, including those associated with puberty, fertility, pregnancy, aging, and menopause. These changes impact a woman’s mental wellbeing, as significantly as they impact a woman’s body. They can show up in a woman’s ability to meet life’s challenges, forge new insights, manage their emotions, and satisfy their relationships.

At different times in their life, women will struggle with their mental and physical health. Sometimes, the root of that suffering will be clear: a loss, a life transition, a physical change. 

Other times, women will experience anxiety or depression, and be unable to figure out why.

How Therapy Can Help

What can women do when they face serious mental and physical symptoms that keep them stuck in repeating patterns of negative thoughts and behaviors?

The following two stories of women experiencing unique mental and physical health issues explores this question. Both stories illustrate how working with a trained mental health professional can improve a person’s symptoms, and restore their relationship with themselves. These stories are not case examples but stories from real women resulting from candid conversations but their names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Kate's Journey with Therapy and Managing the Stress of Fibroids

Kate was 30 years old when she noticed that her periods were becoming irregular. She knew that she could manage the physical symptoms of getting her period. Kate was no stranger to having heavy periods and severe cramps, but her fear of undiagnosed and lasting discomfort wreaked havoc with her mood. 

When Kate first went to the doctor for her irregular periods, they found a cyst growing on her ovaries. After several tests, the cyst was found to be a benign fibroid. Kate was relieved by the diagnosis and hopeful that she may finally be able to find some relief. In the early stages of her marriage, Kate was eager to enjoy life with her new husband in their quiet suburban neighborhood . 

The doctors warned Kate that removing the fibroid would risk her chances of getting pregnant and having children. But Kate knew that if removing the fibroid improved her overall quality of life, she’d proceed with the surgery.

Kate struggled to find the help she wanted

Instead of discussing this option of fibroid removal with Kate, the doctors decided that the surgery would be too risky. They anticipated that the fibroid would shrink with time and they thought Kate might change her mind about wanting to have children, but Kate didn’t change her mind, and the fibroid grew larger. 

Years of living with irregular periods passed, Kate’s fibroid grew, and she felt voiceless and shut down.

For the first time in Kate’s life, she began to experience pain in her chest, her heart raced, and she felt dizzyingly small. Afraid to make another doctor’s appointment, Kate felt frozen in her body, and mind. 

When she finally got an appointment with the OBGYN specialist, Kate brought her husband as an advocate to proceed with the surgery.

The specialist said to Kate’s husband, “You don’t need to be here, I listen to women in my practice.” 

The specialist was shocked by how large the fibroid had grown. She was baffled by the doctors decision not to remove it, and proceeded quickly with the surgery.

For the first time in Kate’s health journey, she felt heard.

After the surgery, Kate met her therapist, Nancy. Nancy listened to Kate tell her story, including the physical and mental health symptoms she’d been living with.

She helped Kate understand the core of her anxiety. Kate had felt ignored by the doctors while living with serious physical discomfort. Nancy brought treatment management solutions into their sessions for reducing Kate’s anxiety and discomfort.

Some examples included:

  • Deep breathing
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Nutrition modifications
  • Talk therapy
  • Goal-setting

Nancy also helped Kate determine that the gastrointestinal issues she’d been experiencing, while living with the fibroid, weren’t psychological. Nancy encouraged Kate to tell her doctors to dig deeper into the gastrointestinal issues.

Kate trusted that through working with her trained therapist, she was being guided to a place of understanding, inspiration, and growth.

Emily's Journey Navigating Motherhood and How Therapy Has Helped

From the first time Emily got her menstrual cycle, at 10 years old, she was regarded as an emotional and sensitive woman. She carried this idea of herself through college, and when she returned home to live with her parents, post-graduation, Emily shrugged off her moodiness and fatigue as the post-graduation blues. 

She knew herself to be highly sensitive, but felt that professional mental health counseling was unnecessary.

Emily’s struggle to cope with postpartum and PMS

In the early stages of her marriage to Jason, Emily found herself lashing out at her husband and crying uncontrollably; she figured that it was just her PMS.

But when Emily discovered that her counselor was not a trained therapist, she felt distrustful and vulnerable about continuing her mental health journey. 

Emily was navigating the newness of motherhood, when the depression and anxiety of postpartum depression cropped up on her. She stuffed her perinatal symptoms down and waited for them to pass, leaving her feeling alone in not wanting to hold her newborn son.

Symptoms of postpartum depression can include:

  • Feeling sad, worthless, hopeless, or guilty
  • Worrying excessively 
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in appetite or not eating 
  • Lack in interest in your baby or feeling anxious around your baby

How Therapy Helped Emily with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Two years after having her son, Emily was pregnant for the second time. Her doctors and husband both suggested that she start working with a trained therapist. Frustrated at herself for still needing help, after her body balanced out from having the two pregnancies, Emily reluctantly agreed to see a therapist. Now, six years later, Emily continues to work with Susan, and has felt her emotional stress, mood, and mental health symptoms improve drastically.

After several sessions, Susan diagnosed Emily with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), which is a much more severe form of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS. Susan helped Emily understand the emotional symptoms that she’d been experiencing for years such as:

  • Anger
  • Nervousness
  • Moodiness
  • loss of interest in relationships
  • crying spells

Emily learned how these symptoms were taking a toll on her daily life. 

Susan gave Emily the necessary tools to cope with her emotions, and manage her stress. She felt prepared for the hormonal changes she’d experience throughout her cycle through following her cycle, tracking her symptoms, and prioritizing her mental wellbeing.

Treatment options included:

  • Tracking her menstrual cycle
  • Rearranging stressful events and tasks 
  • Communicating her needs and boundaries with friends and family
  • Planning relaxing activities that improved her mood 
  • Creating a self-care tool box

Challenges along the way

Five years into their work together, after a big career shift, Emily found herself spiraling. Her work environment improved, and her family life was full, so she couldn’t understand why she was crying everyday. 

She scored an A on the depression scorecard that Susan gave to her, nervous to navigate another chapter of her mental health journey. 

Susan helped Emily understand how living with depression was impacting her daily life, and how her depression appeared with having PMDD. Talk therapy, the main course of treatment, in combination with an antidepressant administered by her doctor, transformed Emily’s life. 

Her relationships with her family and friends improved. She untangled patterns of behaviors and choices that no longer served her, and learned how to trust herself. While at times their work together felt difficult, she started to become more of the woman she’s always wanted to be.

How Can You Find Help?

Our trained therapists at HBH Therapy can help people like Kate and Emily determine treatment goals, and lifestyle changes for serious health issues. Our therapist’s proceed with care and concern, and will openly discuss the options that clients can choose for further treatment.

The goal of each of our therapists is to help every client live happier, healthier, and more meaningful lives.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.