THE LONELY SYNDROME: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

I had never heard of this before the day I went to visit my doctor for a rash. He noticed a few hairs on my neck then asked about my period. To me it made no sense. What did my period have to do with my hair or the rash I had? He then referred me to an endocrinologist who, after numerous blood tests, confirmed that I had PCOS. He told me to take the pill, lose weight and come back when I am ready to have children.

I had so many questions. What was it? How did I get it? Can I cure it? What exactly are the symptoms? What does it do to my body? I felt extremely alone. I then decided to do my own research. I found a large community of doctors and other people with PCOS on Instagram. I felt less alone, but weirdly still lonely. Doctors say that 1 in 10 women have it, and of that, only 50% know that they have it. It is so easy to misdiagnose and ignore. Not because it’s not serious, but because the symptoms aren’t “deadly” and many people experience them.

The most common symptoms are acne, irregular periods, weight gain or obesity, hirsutism, insulin resistance (dark patches of skin on the
neck, underarms etc), gluten intolerance, diabetes, ovarian cysts and infertility. Those are just the visible, physical symptoms. The more I read, the more things made sense. I was always tired, I had depression and anxiety, tiny hairs on my neck and chin, body image issues, irregular periods, food cravings and the most recent was stubborn belly fat. I was overcome with contradicting emotions. On the one hand I was happy I finally knew what was going on. On the other, I was sad and upset that I had to deal with all of this alone. No one really understood what I was going through.

I got my first period when I was about 12. It had always been irregular and many people told me that was normal during the first first few years so I paid no mind to it. However, when I moved out at 18 things got a bit worse. I gained 10 kilograms and blamed it on “first year spread”. Everyone said it would magically slip off when I got used to not being home and had my own routine. It didn’t, and instead the kilo’s kept packing on. It suddenly became more difficult to shed the weight. It had always been easy to lose weight for me, I wasn’t the most athletic but I played sport once or twice a week and that was enough. A couple of years later I noticed a few hairs on my neck but I still didn’t panic. I watched my mom tweeze hers for years, so I just thought it was genetic. I had an excuse for every symptom.

After numerous PCOS quizzes and questionnaires on Instagram I realised that I was insulin resistant. Insulin is your body’s way of regulating and controlling blood sugar levels. It helps take glucose from the blood into cells where it can be used as energy. It helps fat and muscle cells absorb sugar when blood sugar levels rise. It’s also in charge of producing testosterone in your ovaries. Being resistant to insulin means the body is resistant to the function of insulin. This results in more insulin being produced to keep your blood sugar levels normal. The more insulin is produced, the more testosterone produced and the more weight is gained. The testosterone also increases thinning of the hair, increased facial hair, the irregular periods and the lack of ovulation.

I was hopeless but after months of tears, research, giving up and getting back up I found hope. Treating PCOS is not easy but it can be done.
It is important to remember that there is no cure for it, this is a life long journey. Lifestyle and diet changes need to be made. Stress plays a huge role in aggravating PCOS symptoms. It is recommended to practice daily stress reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation, walking etc. This lowers cortisol, heals inflammation and improves your hormonal state. Resistance training helps build muscles, increases metabolism and helps balance your hormones. Getting your body to ovulate is also very important, not only for people who want to get pregnant but because it reduces inflammation and insulin, improves your mood, supports your metabolism, induces weight loss and improves your immune system. Supplements like magnesium, zinc, omega 3 & 6 vitamin C and D are really good for PCOS. Together they reduce inflammation, promote better sleep, reduce blood pressure, improve insulin resistance and ovulation, clear the skin and improve blood sugar levels. Adding these and flaxseeds, fenugreek and sunflower seeds to your diet will improve hormonal balance too.

This has not been an easy road, it has been difficult. I used to feel like my body was betraying me. I have had to change my mindset completely. I have to constantly remind myself that I am doing this for myself, my mind, body and spirit. My body is not betraying me, it is crying for help. It has carried me for years, even when I didn’t treat it well or wasn’t kind to it. This change is my way of thanking it. Giving it
what it needs to survive. I’m giving thanks for the times it pulled me through the toughest times. Treating my PCOS is a way for me to show my body the love and care it deserves. This is how I show gratitude for the years of life and health.

Right now, I train 3 times a week with weight training and HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). I try to stay away from gluten and dairy as much as I can but they’re everywhere. I don’t have “cheat” meals because I have changed the language I use when talking about food and this journey. I have had to remove the shame and guilt around food. Whenever I have a craving (due to insulin resistance) I have a piece of fruit. If the craving is still around I share the meal or snack with someone which has helped decrease my cravings. Exercise has also helped with the cravings.

PCOS can be extremely intimidating, scary, annoying and difficult because it truly is lonely. People blame and shame you for your weight gain and other symptoms but you can and will live a healthy, fun life (with children too).