In 2010, I was diagnosed with PCOS, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, and my journey began even if I didn’t really know what it meant to have PCOS and hormonal imbalance and how the symptoms are going to impact my life especially my mental health and no one seems to talk about them.
That time, my only symptom was a heavy period that lasted for a month.
I didn’t really notice nor paid attention to the fact that my period wasn’t normal. I was overwhelmed by finally graduating from college, moving out of our little village, living on my own and working in the city with people I just met.
It was all exhilarating for the nerd village girl in me that tracking my period was the last thing on my mind. I was physically strong, I had a job, money and friends… There was nothing else that bothered me but the new dresses and shoes I’d wear and the new workouts and diets I must try.
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But one weekend when I went home to the village to visit my family, I hesitantly told my mother about my period that didn’t seem to stop. I wasn’t happy with the fact that we must go see an Ob-Gynecologist. I was so ashamed that someone would have to see my private parts and that we had to still talk about it after.
I was even ashamed of the fact that I wasn’t using regular sanitary pads anymore and that I had to use baby diapers just so I wouldn’t make so much mess and change very often.
That trip where I thought would only require some little conversation with the Ob-Gynecologist escalated quickly. I was horrified by the fact that she needed to perform Transvaginal ultrasound to have a look at my uterus, Fallopian tubes, ovaries and the entire pelvic area. I was 23 and I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was 25.
In my dazed thoughts and mixed emotions, I was surprised that I somehow understood what the Ob-gyne tried to tell me. My mom was even called in the room after the test to explain what was going to happen.
I remember the Ob-gyne telling us that I had polyps in my uterus that needed to be cauterized, thick endometrial lining that needed to be scraped and they needed to be checked if there’s anything malignant or further threat to my health plus some blood tests.
I remember the Ob-Gynecologist telling us that she’d give me medication to stop the bleeding and once the bleeding has stopped, I would undergo the operation, that I’d be on epidural anesthesia and be put to sleep. That was too much information but my mom seemed to have understood everything easily.
I remember calling my manager then to inform about my situation and my mother going all the way to the city to get all the paper works done.
I wasn’t allowed to go to work anymore and I stayed in the village very bored. I couldn’t even do sports anymore. I was just there to wait for my period to stop and be admitted to the hospital for the operation. I was a sports freak that time that sitting still and not doing anything felt like near death experience.
The operation went well. Blood tests have also shown that I have PCOS and hormonal imbalance but they all meant nothing to me then. The Ob-Gynecologist also didn’t tell me how it would affect or change my life. She only told me that in the next six months, I had to take one pill each month to make sure that I’d get my period and that it should be regular.
I didn’t bother to also learn more about PCOS and hormonal imbalance. I was feeling good and I was in great shape. My period did normalize and I went on with my life until I started feeling something was wrong with me years after and didn’t really bother to know more about it until the last stages of my healing journey where I have made a complete detox and noticed how gluten and lactose were making me feel.
And I didn’t consider my PCOS and hormonal imbalance as factors as to why I was behaving differently in comparison with “normal people” until 13 years after I was diagnosed with it and I returned to school to start fresh in life and pursue a new career and the stress that came with it made me uncontrollably gain weight so fast even if I wasn’t eating that much and my period went missing for few months and I couldn’t be pregnant because I have been single for thee years.
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But what is PCOS?
PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. It is a hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age. It is characterized by the presence of enlarged ovaries with multiple small cysts on the outer edges and where the ovaries produce higher than normal levels of androgens, which are male hormones.
This hormonal imbalance can lead to various symptoms and complications. Women with PCOS often experience irregular menstrual cycles, excess androgen (male hormone) levels, and other hormonal imbalances. The exact cause of PCOS is not known, but it appears to involve both genetic and environmental factors.
Some of the common symptoms of PCOS include:
• Irregular menstrual periods: Women with PCOS often experience irregular or infrequent menstrual cycles, or they may stop menstruating altogether.
• Excess androgen levels: Elevated levels of androgens can cause symptoms such as acne, excessive hair growth (hirsutism), and male-pattern baldness.
• Polycystic ovaries: The ovaries may become enlarged and contain small fluid-filled sacs called follicles, which can be seen on ultrasound. Despite the name, not all women with PCOS have polycystic ovaries.
• Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance is a common feature of PCOS, where the body’s cells have reduced sensitivity to insulin. This can lead to higher levels of insulin in the blood. Insulin resistance is associated with difficulties in regulating blood sugar levels and can contribute to weight gain and difficulty losing weight.
In some cases, individuals with PCOS may have an increased risk of developing other conditions, such as type 2 diabetes. Some women with PCOS may find that managing their carbohydrate intake, including foods containing lactose or gluten, can help in managing insulin resistance.
• Gut health issues: Research suggests that women with PCOS may have an altered gut microbiome, which refers to the collection of microorganisms residing in the digestive tract. An imbalance in the gut microbiome can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, gas, and discomfort. In some cases, this may lead to sensitivity or intolerance to certain foods, including lactose or gluten.
• Individual variations: Each person’s body is unique, and some women with PCOS may have specific sensitivities or intolerances to certain foods. It’s important to note that these sensitivities are not directly caused by PCOS itself, but they may coexist or be more prevalent in individuals with PCOS due to various factors such as genetics, gut health, or immune system variations.
What is the effect of PCOS on mental health and what people don’t see?
PCOS can have a significant impact on mental health. Many women with PCOS experience emotional and psychological challenges due to the hormonal imbalances, physical symptoms, and potential difficulties in managing the condition. Some of the ways PCOS can affect mental health include:
• Depression and anxiety: Women with PCOS have a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders compared to those without the condition. Hormonal imbalances, body image concerns, and the challenges of managing PCOS symptoms can contribute to these mental health conditions.
• Body image issues: PCOS can cause weight gain or difficulty losing weight, which can lead to body image dissatisfaction. Excessive hair growth (hirsutism) and acne, which are common symptoms of PCOS, can also affect self-esteem and body image.
• Low self-esteem: PCOS symptoms and the societal stigma surrounding weight gain and appearance can contribute to low self-esteem. Women with PCOS may feel self-conscious about their bodies and struggle with a negative self-image.
• Eating disorders: Some women with PCOS may develop disordered eating patterns or eating disorders as a result of the emotional distress caused by the condition or the desire to manage weight gain. This can further impact mental health and overall well-being.
• Stress and emotional distress: Living with a chronic condition like PCOS can be stressful and emotionally challenging. Coping with symptoms, managing medications and treatments, and dealing with the uncertainty of fertility issues can contribute to high levels of stress and emotional distress.
Excessive sweating: The hormonal changes affect the body’s temperature regulation, potentially leading to increased sweating or Hyperhidrosis.
Infertility: The hormonal imbalances and irregular ovulation can make it more difficult for women to conceive. Anovulation, where the ovaries do not release eggs regularly is a common issue in PCOS and can lead to challenges in achieving pregnancy but not all women with PCOS will experience infertility.
Fatigue and feeling tired are common complaints among women with PCOS. Several factors associated with PCOS can contribute to fatigue:
• Hormonal imbalances: PCOS is characterized by imbalances in hormone levels, including elevated androgen levels and insulin resistance. These hormonal disruptions can affect energy levels and contribute to fatigue.
• Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance, a common feature of PCOS, can affect the body’s ability to efficiently use glucose for energy. This can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar levels, leaving individuals feeling tired and lacking energy.
• Sleep disturbances: Women with PCOS may experience sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea or disrupted sleep patterns. These disturbances can prevent restful sleep and lead to feelings of fatigue during the day.
• Nutritional deficiencies: Poor nutrition or imbalances in nutrient intake can contribute to fatigue. Some women with PCOS may have dietary imbalances or deficiencies in nutrients such as iron, vitamin D, or B vitamins, which can affect energy levels.
• Chronic inflammation: PCOS is associated with chronic low-grade inflammation in the body. This inflammation can contribute to fatigue and a general feeling of being unwell.
• Psychological factors: The emotional and psychological impact of living with PCOS, including the stress, anxiety, and depression it can cause, can also contribute to feelings of fatigue and low energy levels.
What does living with PCOS teach me about self-love and self-care especially now that I am in the healthcare too?
I can’t give what I don’t have so before I take care of others, I need to make sure that I am also well taken cared of. I already know that I have a chronic condition that doesn’t have a cure but can only be managed by giving myself everything I know I need.
I already know that due to my hormonal imbalance, my mood swings endlessly so I have to make sure that I am eating nutritious food regularly to reverse my PCOS symptoms. I don’t have diabetes but I have insulin resistance so I must be careful that my blood sugar don’t drop because that makes me snap easily. I can’t allow myself to be hangry.
I am living alone and preparing food is my biggest challenge. There are days where I just want to grab something fast and doesn’t require so much thinking like bread and cheese but I also know well that they make my insulin level spike and that I’d be craving for more after an hour or so, my mood would be bad, I’d have less energy and I’d be beating myself because I’d feel guilty about not showing up or myself.
Going to nursing school here in Germany is different because it requires the same amount of time in the school for theory and practical experiences in different fields. Four or five weeks I’ll be in school and then for or five weeks I’ll be in the hospital, home for the aged or rehabilitation clinics.
This is putting so much strain on me especially that I am still learning German and to be in the medical field and using medical terms exhausts me big time. I don’t just deal with the patients, I am also dealing with nurses, doctors and teachers, different theories and have to deal with classmates from all over the world when I am in school.
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I feel so sorry for my empath self but I know that this is going to happen when I chose to enter this field and this new chapter of my life. It was also clear to me that I didn’t want to live in complete solitude anymore. I, like the others, am a social being that needs social contact and connection with other beings even if most of the time, I feel like I am a sore thumb sticking out.
But the good thing is, I have learned to live not wanting to participate anymore. I know my goals and what I need to focus on in my life so even if it’s so hard, I am not allowing myself to take anything personally. I am in this field now for a different purpose and that I need not say anything nor prove anything to anyone because I know that I am here to just do acts of service and enjoy everything this life has to offer.
I no longer have that feeling that I need to achieve something or that I need to rush to do or learn something. After work, I shower and nap even if that nap takes two or three hours until I feel like I am whole and fully rested again.
I no longer have that feeling that I am missing out on something just because I couldn’t do other things after my shift. Resting is a part of my priority and at this stage of my life, I am so grateful that I don’t have a husband and a child. I can enjoy this stage of my life fully present. I have the chance to redo parts of my childhood that I never felt that I had. I was given the chance to go back to school full time and truly enjoy and learn and not escape and party.
Hobbies and outlets
Returning to the “real world” after healing my life isn’t easy and being exposed to people who seem to not inspect their lives isn’t easy and I am always finding myself not wanting to have anything to do with them but I am always being left with conversations inside my head. Conversations that didn’t happen in real life.
I need to find ways on how I can release them so journaling is still my number one method. I didn’t stop journaling after healing. I didn’t stop counting my blessings after healing. I didn’t stop writing my goals down even if I felt like I have already achieved most of my goals. I still listen to my inner voice and let go of my negative emotions though writing them down. I still explore all my interests and write them down.
Even if I am publishing less and less blog posts and paused the podcast, I still am a content creator and I know I need to live so that I have more inspiration to create.
I didn’t stop reading personal development and spirituality books after healing and even if I am now obliged to read medical books. I still fill my head with good reads.
Sports and enough movement
I am so thankful to be living near the river and I can do nature walks almost everyday. I also play volleyball with friends and enrolled to the nearby fitness studio.
My love for traveling has come back and as a form of self-love, I am often gifting myself with flights to countries I love to see even if I have to travel alone.
Good support system and smaller circle
I am still choosy with whom I spend my time with to avoid absorbing unnecessary energy and pick up negative vibes.
Alone time and Meditation
Meditation and so much time alone has taught me to scan my entire body and listen to everything it is trying to tell me. I am finding more ways to master relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, meditation and prioritizing self-care activities like going to the sauna, taking baths and spending more time in nature.
Supplements and medication
They are important to help address specific nutritional and hormonal imbalances but it’s important to note that individual needs may vary. I have started taking supplements and medication only after seeing my doctor. It’s recommended to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian or physician, who can assess your specific situation and provide personalized recommendations.
I have still a long way to go when it comes to learning about my PCOS, its symptoms, and treatment options. I am doing my best to stay informed about the latest research and developments in PCOS management. Understanding my condition empowers me to make informed decisions and actively participate in my own care.
Regular medical check-ups
Now that I have reached this age of maturity, I have started gifting myself with regular doctor appointments and check-ups to help me monitor my PCOS and overall health. I no longer cringe in discussing any concerns, review medication or treatment options, and receive necessary screenings or tests that will help me better manage my symptoms.
I know that my intentions aren’t bad. I believe in killing people kindness and I am a very patient person but my seven year long depression which PCOS and hormonal imbalance played a huge part, I have learned that self-love includes boundaries and having boundaries means that I am also using my words to clearly express what works and what doesn’t work well for me even if my voice is shaking, even if I am crying and even if that makes the person I am speaking with uncomfortable.
I have learned that not opening my mouth has consequences and I am tired of paying for those consequences so I’d rather speak up.
“Lose weight and it will go away”
Was the biggest lie I have ever heard. I was diagnosed with PCOS when I was so addicted to healthy living and keeping my figure well. My Filipino Ob-Gynecologist didn’t say anything about my weight because obviously, weight wasn’t the problem then. I was in better shape. I was younger.
But now that I have gained weight and have hard time losing it, my German Ob-Gynecologist was telling me that it is because of my weight and not because of the fact that my cortisol levels are high and that living with stress has an effect to my condition.
Sure, the weight that I am struggling to lose now plays an important role with managing my symptoms but it is not the only reason because if it is, then I would probably have not had it when I was able to manage my weight well. In fact, I am more fulfilled, calmer and more satisfied with my life now that I weigh more.
I know that this PCOS doesn’t have a cure but this stage of my life is teaching me to accept the condition and it is a way for me to constantly choose to show up for myself like I would for our patients or for other people. PCOS requires so much mindfulness, self-love and compassion from me and even if most days it is tiring, I know that I can’t give up on me and not PCOS nor hormonal imbalance can stop me from living a fulfilled life.
*this is not a professional advise. These are all based on my own personal research and my personal experiences.. If you have symptoms or questions, please speak with your doctor.