How I learned to love every part of myself after my PCOS diagnosis
The first details of this story are quite hazy due to my then young age of seven. I can remember driving to a small clinic. I can remember my high heart rate, my quick pulse, and my sweating palms, all triggered by a single word: needle.
As my mother and I walked through the clinic doors, my worried-nerves heightened. The screaming girl in the waiting room did not help pacify my juvenile concerns — nor did the concerns of my mother that led her to make this appointment.
I was called to see the doctor, and I sat on the crispy, waxy medical table paper — my tiny feet dangling just a mere half inch from the step for adults. I knew that if I elongated my legs, stretching them out and pointing my toes like in dance class, I could touch that step. And I did.
It wasn't shocking; I had always been one of the tallest girls in class. I was also more...developed than the other girls.
I was also one of the biggest girls in class, as in, I aspired to be the slaying queen to the Burger King and the princess to the Dairy Queen. In short, I was a big girl in all aspects, and my speedy development had my mother worried.
Can I recall the questions my mother asked? No.
Can I remember the premature verdict that was given? No.
But I can remember two things. The nurse practitioner, let’s call her Miranda, was an older woman with unnaturally red hair for her age, with a face full of puckering wrinkles from years of smoking and years of living. While she had the appearance of a sweet, old, grandmotherly woman, Miranda was terrifying, like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada — hence her revised name, Miranda.
Aside from the entrance of the new villain of my childhood soap opera, the second thing I can remember — more vividly than anything — is Miranda threatening to draw blood in order to diagnose me. My eyes enlarged, my eyebrows raised, my breath stopped, my shoulders tensed, and my neck strained. Like a complete lunatic, I jumped from the table and squirmed into my mother’s arms, begging and pleading her to not let this strange, wrinkly-faced woman “stab me.” And that was when I heard it.
“Don’t you want to find out what is wrong with you?
My mother didn’t utter these words; they came from Miranda. In that moment, those words meant nothing to me. But when I got home and my mother recalled the appointment to my father, I heard those words again: “We still don’t know what’s wrong.”
What’s wrong? Wrong.
For years, those words stuck with me. They floated around my head any time an ounce of body image insecurity sprang to the front of my mind. But with my continued weight gain — even with increased exercise and healthy eating habits — and the new addition of painful, heavy menstrual cramps and terribly irregular cycles, I couldn’t help but wonder myself: what is wrong with me?
The summer before my freshman year of college, I decided to take matters into my own hands, to change and alter my fate, to be the pilot of my own destiny (and all of that other motivational speaker jargon.) After losing a total of 65 pounds, an obvious difference in my jeans showed, and I possessed renewed confidence. But this did not fix all of my problems.
The weight was gone, but I still had terrible cramps, irregular, heavy cycles, and other menstruation-related issues. After divulging all of this information to my mother, she suggested we make an appointment with a specialist -- that fearful word, gynecologist.
My first gynecological appointment was extremely awkward. The atmosphere, the questioning, the poking and prodding: it was not my scene. In hopes of easing the pain and easing the awkwardness that would inevitably come with a male physician, I elected to see a female nurse practitioner. Hopefully, this time around, it would not be as traumatizing or dramatic.
Her name was Angie, and she was nothing like Miranda.
Angie was like your friend’s cool mom that you wanted to ask for advice on boys. Her guidance was sound, and her delivery was sincere.
Angie never made me feel like there was something wrong with me even as I told her all the things that were… not right with me.
The appointment was a whirlwind blur filled with questions, hormone testing, and more questions. But soon, as if it were a no-brainer, Angie stated calmly and matter-of-factly:
“You have polycystic ovarian syndrome.
My first thought: Finally! Finally, there was a word for the issues I had been dealing with since elementary school.
My second thought: What the hell is that?
Through the pamphlets handed to me, I quickly learned that polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal dysfunction that inhibits ovulation in women of childbearing age due to insulin resistance, increased levels of hormones, and irregular menstrual cycles. According to the Office on Women’s Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, between 1 in 10 and 1 in 20 women of childbearing age are affected by PCOS. However, 50% of the women affected are undiagnosed while having symptoms ranging from weight gain, difficulty losing weight, excessive hair growth on the face and body, multiple cysts on the ovaries, increased stress levels, decreased libido, and pelvic pain — among others.
Basically, my ovaries enlarge due to an influx of estrogen in my system, which makes my ovaries swell with immature eggs. Testosterone and some other hormonal thingies occur, which leads to some of the other problems, like ovarian cysts -- but in short, my lady bits were all out of funk and had been since adolescence.
These factors had caused all of my symptoms, along with some others, — and, later in life, they could cause infertility. While, at 18 years old, it was unfortunate to hear that I may not be able to give birth to my own children, I was also overcome with relief. I knew what was “wrong” with me.
I felt empowered with knowledge -- knowledge of what I needed to do to increase my quality of life.
It would be no short term cure like an antibiotic. Instead, it would be a complete lifestyle change geared towards –not combating — but living with PCOS.
Would it take even more of the effort, strenuous work, and clean eating I had already implemented in my life? Yes.
Would I get concerned and accusatory looks as I ingested my daily pill cocktail consisting of birth control, metformin (a medicine for regulating blood sugar commonly used by those who are diabetic), vitamin B, fish oil, and an additional daily multivitamin at breakfast with my peers? Of course.
And would my peers understand when I opt to eat the celery sticks rather than the chicken wings when we order an appetizer sampler? No. Hell, sometimes I don’t even understand!
But let’s back up for a moment.
My confidence may be higher than it was before — but no matter how small my waistline gets or how regular my menstrual cycles become — a part of me will always feel “wrong.” My PCOS symptoms were a mystery that defined my life for so long. It’s something I will always use as a descriptor for myself — PCOS defined what was “wrong” with me — but those things are me.
In my 22 years of life, I've only recently started realizing that the only person who has the right to determine if there is something wrong with me and what is wrong with me -- is me. And frankly, I think I’m a pretty amazing person.
I place others before myself and show my love and affection through overly abundant, absurd, and sometimes materialistic gifts. It’s how I show I care.
I curse way too much, this I know, — but how else can I release the pure, raw passion that fills my veins, composing a beautiful string of profane words perfectly representing my inner monologue?
I like to see the best in the world because I hope the world sees the best in me.
I don’t see anything wrong with that.
September is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Awareness Month. Take control of your healthcare, get checked, and wear teal to show support for others who are affected.