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9 Ways I Found Hope After Learning I Had PCOS

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Puberty is awkward for everyone. Even if you can get the best face washes, deodorant, and shaving equipment in the world, it’s not a fun time. I dealt with some symptoms more intensely than my friends, which only made me feel embarrassed into silence about what my body was going through.

As I entered my 20s, I became determined to get answers for the period symptoms that still wracked my body. Discovering that I had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) started a new chapter in my life that ultimately became my best yet. Here are some of the things I did when I learned it was something I’d live with forever.

1. I Let the Emotions Wash Over Me

A lot of shame can build over the years if your body does things against your will. I couldn’t understand why my menstrual cramps wouldn’t get under control even with my pain medications, heating pads, hot baths, and dietary changes.

Knowing that my body controlled how much I could do and what I could enjoy in my life made me feel trapped. The only thing that could have helped was having someone who could relate, but my friends all had “normal” levels of cramping and pain every month.

I’ll never forget sitting in that doctor’s office as she told me I likely had PCOS. The condition’s symptoms matched everything I’d experienced. I finally had an explanation that didn’t make me a failure.

It’s so important to feel your feelings when you get that kind of diagnosis. I cried, relieved that I hadn’t been making a mistake or missing an obvious solution. Eventually, the tears turned to grief because PCOS isn’t curable.

Repressing your emotions only makes them more volatile later. It’s OK to cry, laugh, or scream if that feels right. Once I could take a deep breath, it was time to consider my new future.

2. I Released My Guilt

The first thing I asked my doctor is something many women ask after getting the same news — did I cause my PCOS? The answer is complicated.

PCOS doesn’t currently have a singular cause, but we aren’t to blame for how our genetics formed while we were in the womb. People with PCOS produce more androgens than others with ovaries but no PCOS diagnosis.

Androgens are hormones that regulate menstrual cycles. They affect everything from follicle growth to ovulation, and that’s just the first genetic influence on how PCOS affects us.

3. I Began to Love My Weight

Knowing I don’t have to fight my body anymore just to get to a socially acceptable weight is a relief.

Anyone living with PCOS knows that weight gain is one of the challenges it brings. My weight has been higher than I would have liked since I started puberty, which was another way I thought I was failing myself.

It turns out PCOS causes cellular inflammation that makes our bodies more resistant to insulin, even if we aren’t genetically more likely to develop diabetes. Less effective insulin production makes it easier to gain weight. It’s something I initially thought was a personal fault that I could fix eventually.

Knowing I don’t have to fight my body anymore just to get to a socially acceptable weight is a relief. Instead, I’m focusing on loving my body exactly how it is. It fights battles every day, so I’m grateful for its strength and resulting beauty.

4. I Sought Help for Depression

Depression symptoms were one of the many reasons why I’ve visited my primary care physicians over the years. During college, I was sometimes so exhausted that I couldn’t lift myself out of bed, even when I wanted to go to class or hang out with friends. It was another fight against my body that only made my depressive thoughts spiral deeper.

I also lost the joy in what I used to love. I couldn’t get enough free time to braid friendship bracelets in high school. They became elaborate creations with beds and jewels that my friends adored, but they felt pointless when depression became a significant mental health issue in college.

My various doctors gave me depression medication prescriptions, which helped in various ways. I thought maybe I was among the 7.1% of adults with major depression, but now I know it was my PCOS.

Experts theorize that PCOS’s unique insulin resistance and imbalanced hormones could make people like me more likely to experience intense depressive episodes. Until science advances enough for PCOS research to get more specific, there’s only a general consensus that they’re likely linked.

Still, it felt right that my depression was connected to my PCOS. Instead of hoping the next medication would cure my mental health, I treated my depression like another lifelong condition alongside my PCOS.

I’m in therapy for depression and other parts of my life. I’ve learned coping mechanisms to help myself and vocalization techniques to get help from others when I need it. I might not have tried therapy if I had continued thinking everything could have a cure.

5. I Reconsidered My Future Family

My life has flown by. One day, I was sitting in high school calculus class and wishing I were in college. Now I’m a college graduate with eight years of my career under my belt. I hadn’t spent much time thinking about my future family until after my PCOS diagnosis. Fertility wasn’t on my mind before it became possible that I couldn’t conceive at all.

The varying hormone levels that are foundational to PCOS can delay or stop ovulation. Without an egg, you can’t get pregnant. Suddenly it felt like having kids was a choice that was getting taken away from me even before I’d started infertility treatments.

My therapist recommended that I consider what I wanted my future family to look like. Did it include kids and if so, how many? I had to think about how important carrying those children would be for me.

There are definitely options you can discuss with your doctor if you want to get pregnant as a person with PCOS. I gave numerous infertility treatments a shot for a few years after I met the love of my life.

I started a common treatment called clomiphene tablets, which are slightly more effective than letrozole treatments for people with PCOS. The short treatment cycles gave me intense headaches and ultimately, clomiphene wasn’t the right fit for my body.

My doctor recommended other treatments, most of which I tried over the next few years. Femara shots and metformin tablets weren’t successful. In vitro fertilization (IVF) was too expensive for me and my partner to manage.

We’ve been talking about adoption as a way to grow our family for the last few months. There’s no right or wrong way to build your family, especially after a PCOS diagnosis. You just have to find the strength to write your own definition, which I felt more empowered to do after developing a compassionate relationship with my body.

6. I Found a Support Group

My life changed when people validated my emotional and physical experiences.

When people talk about support groups, I didn’t think those existed for people like me — but I was relieved to find out they did.

I don’t live in a big enough city to attend an in-person PCOS support group, so I attend online. The distance hasn’t stopped me from making friendships I’ll treasure forever and learning from the experiences of others.

Support groups are also where you can ask the questions you might feel otherwise too embarrassed to voice out loud. Did I cause my PCOS? Is it OK to feel scared sometimes?

You don’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing because the other people in that meeting are on the same path. They’ve likely wondered the same things. My life changed when people validated my emotional and physical experiences.

I used to think my time on this planet would be a long fight for a miracle cure. Otherwise, what’s the point? Support groups are another resource that taught me it’s OK to shift my focus onto making life enjoyable right where I am with my health.

7. I Tried Different Birth Control Methods

PCOS is fundamentally a hormonal condition. The imbalance hormones cause various symptoms, like rare ovulation, cysts, and excessive menstrual bleeding.

Doctors often recommend birth control as a way to balance those hormones. In the years before I started trying to conceive, I was a big vocal supporter of how birth control positively affected the quality of my life.

The pill was the first method I tried. It was the first to come to mind, and I spent months on various brands to see how their dosages affected my body. The stronger doses made my periods more manageable, but I wanted to try other methods just to know for sure what would help me most.

Depending on your health conditions and family history, your doctor may recommend trying the birth control patch, ring, implant, or an intrauterine device (IUD). I tried an implant in my arm and an IUD within the same year before returning to the pill. Neither produced results like how the pill minimized my flow and cramping.

I’m grateful to live in a time when we have resources like birth control to manage PCOS symptoms. It made a significant difference in how comfortable I am each month and I hope more people with PCOS find the same relief.

8. I Started a Healthy, Flexible Diet

If you’ve lived with PCOS symptoms, you know your period isn’t the only thing affected by your hormone levels. Inflammation can also trigger uncomfortable symptoms like bloating.

Although my bloating still comes and goes, I feel like I have a better grip on it since starting to work with a nutritionist. He recommended eating more anti-inflammatory foods, especially when my bloating becomes an issue.

We worked on creating a basic weekly menu that branched into tons of new delicious recipes. Soothing olive oil, fruits, fatty fish, and nuts are the essential ingredients I repeat in tons of my meals and snacks. Some even replenish my gut bacteria so my digestive system can do its job without the frequent gas and cramping made worse by inflammation.

Changes in my diet also improved my fatigue. It’s one of the other common PCOS symptoms that likely comes from uncontrolled glucose levels caused by insulin resistance.

My nutritionist and primary care physician agreed that adding foods like leafy greens and complex carbohydrates would provide long-term energy. The elaborate makeup of dense whole foods makes your body work longer to break them down, ultimately giving you more energy as the digestion process continues.

I also eat more protein to increase my iron intake and pause for food every four to five hours. Eating less processed foods also means I have fewer blood sugar spikes, which controls the sugar cravings that used to dominate my days.

9. I Prioritized Mental Health Days

Ultimately, we all do the best we can with our lives. Even when I eat healthily, take my medication, and access professional support, my PCOS can cause rough days.

Those moments when I felt fatigued and defeated used to trigger self-blame that only made things worse. Now, I recognize those moments as a sign that I need a mental health day. We all need to take it easy on our bodies sometimes. They work around the clock so we can spend time doing what we love with the people we adore.

Let yourself rest when your body needs it. Sometimes getting more sleep, eating comfort food, and processing our emotions is exactly what we need to keep going. I used to think of mental health days as setbacks, but now they’re one of the most powerful tools I have in my life with PCOS.

Find Hope After a PCOS Diagnosis

PCOS isn’t curable, but that doesn’t mean life after your diagnosis will be bleak. I took so many incredible steps to help myself once I found out what was really happening in my body.

Every resource and licensed professional gave me the tools I was missing in my quest for confidence and peace. I hope you keep these things in mind during your own journey. They could make your days a bit brighter just like they did with mine.

Getty image by Phamai Techaphan

Originally published: September 21, 2023
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