I was that girl in class with the pimples. As a young teen, this wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. But as the next few years went by, I also had extra facial and body hair to contend with. When I started college at around 16, fatigue decided to jump into the mix, closely followed by lengthy, irregular periods…
I know they say that self-diagnosing through Google is a big no-no. For the most part I agree, as I’ve given myself more concern than consolation with getting diagnoses that way. However, on this occasion, a trip to the doctor and the subsequent investigations confirmed what I’d already accurately diagnosed myself with: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, PCOS.
PCOS in a nutshell: A very common female hormonal condition where sex hormones are out of whack leading to symptoms such as irregular or absent menstrual cycles, fertility issues, excess facial and body hair, fatigue, mood swings and low mood, male pattern baldness, oily skin and acne, significant weight gain and an increased risk of developing health problems in later life, such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, heart problems etc…I know right!
Receiving the diagnosis wasn’t a shock as I was already quite sure that I had PCOS. My main, and perhaps only concern at that point was that my diagnosis had conscribed me to a life without children which was the complete opposite of how I’d always envisioned my future. (However through a better understanding of the condition and further physical examination, I now know that although it may take some extra time, attention and attempts (which I’m sure my partner won’t mind), I can expect to have children at some point.)
It was great to have a confirmed diagnosis. I could focus my research and learn how to target my symptoms and work towards my healing. But the thing about PCOS is that the manifestation of this condition in each woman is almost like a snowflake: each one is unique. Not only can each manifestation be unique, from experience, manifestation in the individual can change over time. So managing the condition has been one continuous, unpredictable, ever changing journey of successes, misses and unknowns.
My treatment started with the Pill, which is the standard course of treatment that your doctor WILL suggest to you. It didn’t agree with my body, nor with my understanding of what wellness and wellbeing is. So I stopped. Over the years, I’ve used with some success, the offerings of nature: Maca Root powder, Saw Palmetto, Chasteberry, Spearmint capsules etc. They have all worked towards helping me to manage my cycle, energy levels, skin and extra hair, although my issues with extra hair are going to need a lot more help than what nature has provided so far. I also eat a meat free diet (which I actually feel no longer serves me well) and I (really, really try to) avoid dairy products(which have proven themselves to be harmful in my journey to wellness).
Currently, my facial hair and the significant scarring that comes from the thick growth, ingrown hairs and hair removal method of choice (i.e. plucking) is now my most significant concern by far. It impacts how I feel about myself and unfortunately, I have let the issue affect how I interact with the world. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m still out here living life, just not as confidently or freely as I imagine I could be without these symptoms. My experience of unconditional self-love in the context of PCOS has been a rocky one, which I am still learning to navigate with many setbacks, but many more successes.
My advice to women who have PCOS or PCOS-like symptoms or those who suspect they have PCOS, is this:
- PCOS and all of its crappy, crappy, oh so crappy symptoms can really get the best of you at times. However, you can and will live a full life with it with time, effort and patience with yourself. I know I said that I feel I have allowed PCOS to restrict my life in some ways, but I do enjoy my social life; I’m doing well in my career as a Paediatric Speech and Language Therapist; I have reason to laugh and opportunity to grow each day; I travel when I can; and I am in a supportive relationship with a man who understands PCOS and how it affects me…I’m doing more than o.k.
- Push, push, push for a referral to a specialist. It is only recently, nearly 8 years after receiving my diagnosis, that I have pressed for a referral to a specialist to help manage my symptoms and learn more about how PCOS is working in my body. I think specialist support is a key part of your journey to wellness. Also, work towards becoming an expert in your own right, for your own version of PCOS as you have the potential to be the greatest help you have.
- Connect with other women who have PCOS!! The support, shared experience and testimonies of other cysters (☺) is crucial in your journey. We all want to celebrate each other’s successes and offer help when needed.
- Remember that your perceived imperfections and the trials you will experience with PCOS do not detract from your worth and holistic beauty. You are no less awesome and in time you will come to truly accept this, if you are not already there.