Recently, I was diagnosed with Poly-cystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS. PCOS is a syndrome affecting as many as one out of five women in the United States and contributes to a myriad of issues including but not limited to infertility, obesity, insulin resistance, mental health issues (such as anxiety mood swings and depression), unbalanced hormones, heart issues, kidney issues, liver issues, diabetes, and (of course) poly-cystic ovaries. It can be genetic, lifestyle induced, or hormone therapy/birth-control induced. Although, for most, PCOS is not “curable” a good majority of the symptoms can be managed through lifestyle changes and in some cases medication.
Getting a diagnosis of PCOS can be difficult as Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome is a bit of a misnomer. The main symptoms of PCOS are insulin resistance and hormonal imbalance but, to make matters even trickier, some people suffering from PCOS don’t even have poly-cystic ovaries! In my case, it took 20 years for a diagnosis; but to be fair, the symptoms are so erratic seeming and the symptoms and root causes are so contested, it’s little wonder to took so long to get an answer. For instance, PCOS was once thought to be the cause of an excess of androgens – which is partially true, but doctors now believe the real root cause stems from food and environmental sensitivities and is the body’s response to the inflammation caused by these sensitivities.
As soon as I read the information my new OB-GYN handed me about PCOS, it was like a lightbulb came on and my whole life was illuminated. Suddenly everything just made sense and “clicked”. Panic attacks and depression that I had been suffering with since middle school, inconsistent menstruations through high-school and beyond, issues with weight management and infertility in my 20s, pregnancy complications, hypertension and liver issues in my 30s – it was like my life was a textbook case of PCOS. If the cycle continued it very well could spell diabetes and heart/liver/kidney a decade from now. I was relieved to hear that there was a reason for all these issues and more importantly that there was a way to fix it – but still a question lingered in my mind: HOW?
How had it taken so long to get a diagnosis? How could I not see that there was something seriously wrong? How could the medical professionals I had seen in the past not see it- and if they had, how could they not bring it up? How could this be such a common issue, but I not hear about the myriad of complications? How was I going to deal with this? How was I going to afford this? How would this affect me later in life? How was I going to get healthy to be a good mom to our daughter and stick around for her? The list of “hows” goes on but, needless to say, I was and still am a little overwhelmed.
So, I did what I usually do when something confuses or bothers me: I read about it and I prayed about it. During the past month I’ve done almost nothing but read about PCOS and the related treatments. I’ve read books and blogs by doctors, dieticians, health coaches, and those who are learning to work with PCOS like myself. I’ve looked at diets, medications and exercise plans. I’ve prayed for direction and healing. Still, I’ve only scratched the surface on the information there is to know, and I’ve only taken the first steps baby steps of what promises to be a lifelong adventure. I’m by NO means an expert, but, with the help and advice from others who have lived with the condition and my doctor, at least now I have a plan that I’m happy with and can live with.
Since my diagnosis in late March/early April, I have lost a total of 20 lbs. (30 lbs. since November!), dropped three pants sizes, a shirt size and have found an exuberance for life I didn’t know was possible. I’m eating food that gives me energy and tastes great instead of being ruled by my cravings. I’m exercising at least three times a week and working towards a goal of five times a week. My mental well being is a lot better and I’m a lot less scared and angry and a lot more joyful and excited about life. But the best thing of all is that I have hope: hope for a long life of joy with my daughter and a hope that my daughter and her children wont have to wait until their 30s for answers. If you are interested to know my plan, it’s this:
Step 1: Work on changing my perspective relationship and attitude on weight loss, food, exercise and health in general. Include mindfulness, gratitude, prayer, and mantras into my daily routine along with diet and exercise. This is my step one that trumps all my food and exercise regimen. Like all things, health can become a “god” we serve if we let it; but one day health will fail, no matter how healthy we are. When our plans fail and we put our money on the wrong horse, we can lose hope and everything – good and bad – we were doing will apart in our dismay and hopelessness. (Trust me. I was there two and a half years ago.) Through this step I’ve come to realize three things: Mental and physical health is a blessing and a gift not to be taken lightly or abused; my actions towards and personal outlook of this gift can either create a heaven or hell here on earth; and I can choose to be the master of my attitude and actions affecting my health or I can choose to let it be the master of me.
Step 2: Embrace the “food is medicine” philosophy to learn what foods cause inflammation in me personally (one of the causes of insulin resistance) and modify my diet accordingly using a food journal that logs what I ate, at what time, my mood, energy level, and physical symptoms (stomach cramps, headaches, weight gain, etc.). For instance, I’ve found out my body doesn’t like wheat/gluten, soy or milk very much and it causes me to bloat and generally feel uncomfortable.
Step 3: Experiment with movement and what types of movement make me feel good and joyful and which ones feel like punishment. For example, I have found that I enjoy hikes, walks, dancing, yardwork and swimming and feel great after I get my heart rate up doing these activities. However, I hate being on a treadmill and playing most sports and while I might feel okay afterwards, I dread doing them again.
Step 4: Hormonal imbalances play a big role on stress, but it’s a catch 22. My hormones are imbalanced so I’m prone to stress and my stress, in turn, causes more hormone imbalance. So, finding and engaging in creative, physical and mental outlets that destress me isn’t frivolous, and it isn’t just something I should probably do, its essential to me being well. Not only this, but my environment plays a large part in my well-being – so doing what I can to create a healthy environment for myself including cleaning and tiding my home is imperative (Hello, Marie Kondo).
Step 5: Prepare in what I can and let go of the rest. A big part of my afternoons has become doing things for myself the next day that make it easier for me to choose the lifestyle that promotes health. This means making sure my exercise clothes are clean and available for the next day, that my kitchen is stocked with healthy snacks and not with junk and that my meals are planned. However, it’s also realizing that “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”- so, if a plan falls through, it’s not the end of the world and there is always another minute, hour, day, etc. to make a better choice.
Step 6: Engage with a community that will support me. This means communicating with my husband and friends who support my goals and will hold me accountable. Not only that, but I realize that I will have bad days and on those bad days I will need my community to lift me back up. No man or woman is an island, so I don’t have to live like I’m on one.
Step 7: Raise awareness of PCOS throughout my journey using any platform I have. If I can share my symptoms and journey and prevent one woman from suffering 20 years of confusion and pain, then I can count myself successful. If I can save another lady a stumble or two on her own journey with PCOS then it would bless me forever. This last step won’t be easy, but it’s something of which I feel strongly.
My vision for Chicky Mama was and will always be about healthy, sustainable womanhood and motherhood in an era where so much seems to be working against us. Although I do plan to use Chicky Mama as a platform to raise awareness for PCOS, many of topics of healthfully living with this syndrome are simply topics for living healthfully in general which fits in beautifully to my vision, don’t you think?
With that being said, if you feel like you may have PCOS, make sure and set up an appointment with your OB-GYN. Also, be willing to listen but be informed before your visit – after all, it is your body and your health. Having a plan and just knowing how to become healthy again is a huge advantage in your road to well-being. If you feel like your doctor is being dismissive, seek a second opinion. I feel like my diagnosis is well worth the money, time and testing for my peace of mind and direction. and while I wish it happened sooner, I’m still glad and so grateful it happened at all!
So what do you think? Do you feel like you may have undiagnosed PCOS? Do you feel like your health is well in hand or do you feel lost and confused? (By the way, you aren’t alone if you do!) Was this post helpful to you? Make sure and like and comment if it was! As always, I en