I still remember the day I was diagnosed with PCOS like it was yesterday. I remember sitting in my endocrinologist’s office wondering how the heck I got there. Just a couple of days before I had gone to the dermatologist for skin care and now here I was being sent to hormone doctor for further testing because I might have a syndrome that has caused me to struggle with my weight all my life, lowered my self-esteem, caused awful acne breakouts, lead me to an eating disorder, and could possibly take me down the path of infertility. At 19 it was scary, it was a bomb that I was not prepared for. PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) is one of the most common hormonal endocrine disorders in women. “It affects 5-10% of women of childbearing age, with less than 50% of women diagnosed. PCOS is responsible for 70% of infertility issues in women who have difficulty ovulating.” (PCOS Foundation)
A diagnosis of PCOS is usually made through a number of factors and symptoms which vary widely from woman to woman some include: (Womens Health):
Abnormal hair growth Difficulty losing weight (obesity tends to run high in women with PCOS) Acne Menstrual dysfunction (lack of periods, irregularity, lack of ovulation) Irregular hormones (testosterone (male hormones) tend to be a lot higher) Ultra sounds showing ovaries are “polycystic” Infertility Pelvic Pain Anxiety or depression
Today I am sharing my journey with PCOS, how it started, my symptoms and where I am at now in my healing process. I think it is a really important syndrome to understand; a lot of times women have symptoms linked to PCOS but think they are normal for their body or they are just over weight or they just have bad skin and don’t realize there are underling issues that are causing such things to happen in their body, thus not healing properly.
Hang in there with me it is a long post but it is soaked in love and hopefully it can help inspire someone out there who might be suffering or wondering what is going on in her own body.
My acne problems are actually what lead me to discovering I had PCOS. In my teens I had really bad skin, it made me incredibly self-conscious, tears would be shed almost every day and loads of makeup were put on to mask the daily break outs.
I tried everything you could imagine, all the newest acne systems guaranteed to work wonders stocked my bathrooms shelves, zapping zits with pads soaked in vodka, sleeping with toothpaste on my breakouts, infomercial products bought in the desperate late hours, everything and anything I tried it. Some would work for a couple of months, some a couple of days but my acne would always come back tenfold and I would be back at square one.
So my initial journey into the dermatologist’s office was literally just to find a help for my skin. At the time I was desperate, I was in those formidable years of already low self-esteem mixed with partying and searching for the “one” and my skin issues broke me and brought my confidence level way down.
I was willing to try anything and that I did. I went on Accutane, a harsh drug that can cause a whole host of horrible side effects. I went through one round (6 months) and my acne problems went away. I didn’t get the harsh side effects besides a dry nose (which I still have to this day) but now looking back if I understood what exactly I was putting into my body and if I knew now what I know of the drug I would not choose that path.
I am not quite sure what to contribute to my skin these days, which is kinda scary. I don't know if I don't have breakouts because of the Accutane that many years ago, if it is because I am still on the pill, or if I am just doing the right things, naturally and holistically and I have good skin now.
Over the years, through research and my own trials I have learned a few things on skin care.
One, all of those “gimmick” skin care treatments out there are just that gimmicks. They don’t allow you to figure out the root cause of your acne, a breakout means your body is trying to tell you something, whether that is an imbalance in your hormones, a fatigued thryoid, that your liver or gut needs cleansing because of built up toxins or that your stress levels are too high. Something is off balance and when we mask that imbalance with drugs and products we are not determining the actual cause, thus not healing our body properly. Until your body is healed properly you are going to keep having the same problems.
Although I went on Accutane and birth control my dermatologist also told me to get rid of all my skin care products and get back to basics when it comes to skin care, so I now use a bar of sensitive soap and moisturize with coconut oil. That’s it; my bathroom shelves are pretty bare!
That being said I am still on the pill, my next step is to transition myself off of it and what that will entail for my skin I am not sure. So stay tuned...
I got my first period when I was 12 years old, but only twice, it came and then it went. When I was 16 I got my period again but very irregularly. I would get it once and then it wouldn’t come back for 3 months, sometimes 5 or 6.
At the same time I went in for my skin issues my dermatologist and endocrinologist both decided it was best for me to go on birth control, as it would regulate my hormones (my testosterone is extremely high and my estrogen is very low) and thus my period and help my skin issues. It has done its job, yes but from what I have been reading and researching recently not without consequences.
As I have traveled down my wellness path for the past 3 years I have started taking a holistic approach to every aspect of my life, except this one area; birth control. The only thing I have been doing for the past ten years is regulate my period by the use of a drug, which has just further destroyed my body’s natural ability to regulate her whether it could or not.
Although I know it needs to be my next step it scares me to come off of the pill because I don’t know what my cycle is going to look like, what my hormones are going to do, how my body is going to react, if I will ever be able to regulate my period, ovulate naturally or what will happen to my skin. The beautiful Claire Baker has inspired be big time with her stories of coming off the pill and regulating her hormones naturally, you can read her posts here and here.
Here are a few proven facts on birth control: Not only has it been proven that birth control actually destroys the beneficial bacteria in our intestines (which can lead to infections and yeast overgrowth) it also depletes our bodies of essential nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants. It can be the cause of headaches and migraines, weight gain, low sex drive, increased risk of cervical and breast cancer, even infertility. Hummm and here I thought I was on the pill to regulate my period in hopes of being fertile one day? Needless to say it is confusing.
But I know birth control pills are only masking my symptoms; they are not dealing with the underlying issues in my body. I have also been getting some major inspiration from Nat Kringoudis a doctor in Chinese medicine, acupuncturist, all-round natural fertility expert who has an amazing series of posts on her site debunking the pill and showing her true side, you can dig into the first post here. As well as Cassie Mendoza-Jones, a kinesiologist, naturopath, nutritionist and herbalist who also has some great posts on balancing your hormones naturally and this one on natural herbs for PCOS.
I have started seeing my own acupuncturist, taking Chinese herbs, changing my diet, deeply healing my gut health (spleen, digestion, kidney’s, colon,) and embarking on coffee enemas. As well I am talking to my acupuncturist about coming off the pill and what this will look like and how we can make it the easiest on my body. Again stay tuned...
I have always struggled with my weight. At the age of 10 I started putting on the cute pudgy “oh she will grow out of that” weight, except it wasn't cute and I didn’t grow out of it, easily anyway.
At the age of 12 my weight issues lead me down the path of an eating disorder that would carry me through life on and off for the next 15 years. This is one of the major symptoms with PCOS weight is gained very easily and lost that much harder.
I remember trying every tool you could think of to lose weight, every diet, every workout fad, pills were never a thing for me but an eating disorder seemed to do the trick when I felt my worst. She took away the pain and a lot of the times a few pounds...along with vital nutrients in my body, electrolytes, self-esteem, healthy looking hair, strong nails, healthy teeth (hello cavities) not so fun, I would recommend it, trust me.
When my Dad passed away I knew I had to get my weight and my eating disorder under control. I didn’t want it to have a hold of me any longer, I started reading blogs and stories of other women with PCOS who had lost weight and kept it off. I started reading holistic health sites; true wellness journeys and embarked down my own path of health and healing. I started tuning into myself, listening to my body and connecting with her on a very deep soul level.
Now three years later and 20 pounds lighter I finally have a good understanding of my body and her needs, her ticks, her inner workings. I became deeply in touch with my intuition and intuitive eating and started listening to what my body really needed not necessarily wanted and a biggie, I let go of all guilt towards food. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t overnight, it was slow and steady mindful steps that I took every single day to get to where I am now.
It took me about 2 years of consistently working at it to take the 20 pounds off. But it is an important factor for women with PCOS, to even lose 10% of your body weight can help when you want to become pregnant. I am hoping over the next year to lose 10 more pounds to really have my body as ready as she can be for when Paul and I do decide to embark down the baby making path.
Since diagnosed with PCOS and having gone through tests and ultrasounds I knew that I had cysts on my ovaries, a much larger amount than normal but they have never caused me any pain or thought until recently.
“In women with PCOS, the ovary doesn't make all of the hormones it needs for an egg to fully mature. The follicles may start to grow and build up fluid but ovulation does not occur. Instead, some follicles may remain as cysts. For these reasons, ovulation does not occur and the hormone progesterone is not made.” - Women's Health
About a month ago I started getting some pains in my lower abdomen that got so bad I ended up in the hospital. I found out that I have a complex cyst on my right ovary that had burst and at the time was bleeding. This is the first of my cysts that has ever shown a problem and honestly I have naively gone through my PCOS kind of forgetting that cysts are a part of it.
I have been told it is a functional cyst and should go away on it's on, at this point it is being monitored and I won't know much until further ultrasounds to see what it is doing and what the next steps would be.
As painful as this was (some days still is) the emotional toll it has taken on me is far heavier. Not only am I mad at myself for not paying more attention to the unfelt/unseen symptoms (my entire diagnosis I have been a whole heck of a lot more worried about the superficial symptoms), it has put everything to do with my health especially my gut health into perspective.
This has been my biggest wakeup call and has set me out to deepen my healing even further, to understand my body even more and to get my gut health in check. Ever since being diagnosed with PCOS my biggest fear has been infertility. Doctors have always told me that I should be able to conceive, it may be harder but it is still a possibility for me but this cyst has made me realize and become aware of the possibility of not and that I need to do what I can now to prepare my body and give it the best chance that I have.
Since finding out about my cyst I have learned a lot more about my health over the years and symptoms that I have always thought were just a part of me (remember earlier when I said what you think is normal probably has an underlying reason) were actually most likely due to my PCOS. Things like nausea (I get much too often), which I have learned, can be linked to cysts being inflamed or mini ones bursting, digestion issues, bowl movement issues, and spleen issues.
Essentially I have learned my biggest healing needs to be done in my gut, which makes sense seeing as our guts are the epicentres of our bodies and if they are out of whack pretty much everything else is going to suffer and be out of whack.
Honestly I am incredibly grateful for this cyst, as it has sent me on a journey within myself that will only take me further, connect me deeper, heal me and I know only help me in the future.
Next week I am going to share with you more on what I am doing to heal and strengthen my body, it includes a deeper look into my acupuncture, herbs, whole foods, body movement, meditation, digestion, gut health and why I am quitting sugar, yup goodbye insulin spikes!
If you know someone with PCOS please share my journey with them or let me know down below your own story, what has helped you, what hasn’t? It is nice to know we are not alone in the world with all our struggles.