This blog has been a little neglected this month. There haven’t been many posts. One of the contributing reasons is that my emotions have been out of kilter somewhat, perhaps for the last two weeks? What I mean is that I have been frustrated, irritable, weepy or unmotivated when I don’t want to be. Not that I have been out of control of my emotions constantly for the full two weeks (who could cope with that?). Generally, it has been when I get a little introspective, when I’m not preoccupied with a task, and when I have a chance to tune into ‘my inner self’ or whatever you’d like to call that complex mix of neurotransmitters and thought patterns, both conscious and subconscious.
It’s easy to blame ‘hormones’ for that kind of thing, and I certainly have in the past (pre-menstrual syndrome, anyone?). Arguably I now have even more reason to blame hormones for my emotional trouble. I now know that my body produces the ‘wrong amount’ of certain key hormones such as oestrogens and progestogens, hormones that are thought to directly affect mood. But the scientist side of me knows that I can’t always employ the hormonal scapegoat. For one thing, I don’t have the data. I’d love it if there was a personal medical device where I could frequently take a pin-prick of blood, quickly get an analysis of some key hormones and then alter my behaviour accordingly (just like diabetics currently do). Instead the closest thing I have is keeping an eye out for cervical mucus. For instance, your cervical mucus is the most helpful hint in terms of monitoring ovulation, as a surge of oestrogen around mid-cycle should lead to a surge of ‘egg-white (consistency)’ cervical mucus (EWCM).
My ever-shortening menstrual cycles led to some hope that my ovarian insufficiency might be going into remission. This can happen, and no-one knows why. That alone is enough to make me a little crazy; there is the grief associated with being barren, but then wanting to surmount that by focusing on other things that make my life great, but then thinking ‘maybe this month…’. That hope faded somewhat when I ‘didn’t feel like’ I ovulated this month (not very scientific, although probabilistically sound), and further with a lack of EWCM at the predicted time. Although I did see some EWCM a little later than the predicted time.
How did I even have a ‘predicted time of ovulation’? I wrote recently about coming to the end of my little paper calendar that I used to track my menstrual cycles. This year I have moved onto something a little more modern and am now using an app!
There are many menstruation tracking apps available, and quite a few of these are focused on trying to conceive, and many of them are annoyingly ‘girly’ (as noted here in one of my favourite blogs). But I chose ‘Clue’, because it was free and I liked the design, and then I was thrilled to see that they actually provide scientific references for the advice that they dole out. The app is extremely easy to use, and it does look good, but I have already noticed a few downsides to the app after using it for about 6 weeks*. The main reason that it has been less comforting than my pen and paper solution is actually the main purported benefit: it’s not just a tracking tool, but a prediction tool. For ‘normal’ women, it will point out your ‘fertile window’ and the best time to try and conceive (or not!), and then when your next period is due to arrive, based on your last three cycles.
But those predictions can be upsetting. They’re little reminders of the mind games mentioned above (will this month result in one of those rare spontaneous pregnancies?). There is mention of PCOS on the ‘helloclue’ website, but as far as I can tell, no recognition of ovarian insufficiency (or ovarian failure, or early menopause). What they do mention though is a new capability to turn off the predictions, although I can’t just yet as I’m on android. Therefore, I couldn’t help expecting some vague signs of ovulation a few weeks after my last period. I didn’t detect anything worth relying on, and then had the bad luck of attending a party that just happened to be seemingly all about pregnancy/babies**, right after the predicted ‘fertile window’ that didn’t eventuate.
So, being disappointed about not ovulating (probably not?) contributed to my less than sunny disposition. Then a few weeks later, the app tells me that my cycle is (over)due. Yes, there is a chance (1 in 1000 or so according to the doctors) that I am pregnant right now, but no, it probably just means that my cycles are irregular (still). So, I have broken my streak of ‘approaching normal menstrual cycle length’. Which brings me back full circle, as I wonder “perhaps I was overly moody this month because my ovaries are functioning even lower again?!”. The truth lies somewhere between ‘my issues’ and the way I handle them making me moody, or my hormonal state exacerbating my emotional responses, and it most certainly is some combination of the two.
And this is exactly why I’m happy to hand over my health data in return for this free app, even if it doesn’t perfectly fit my needs. Because behind the Clue app is the capability to aggregate data from millions and millions of women, and hopefully get at some of the truth behind our hormones and our health, emotional or otherwise.