Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder caused by imbalances of reproductive hormones. PCOS is rather common; statistics say 1 in 10 women of reproductive age have the syndrome. Symptoms vary from case to case but generally include irregular periods/menstrual amenorrhea, polycystic ovaries, infertility, acne, excessive hair growth (hirsutism), weight gain/difficulty to lose weight and increased risk of health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure later in life.
Now, I’m no doctor. Neither are Google, Instagram or any other online resources you might come across so please have in mind that it is essential you speak with a physician if you have any concerns. The intention of this blog post is simply to get the conversation of PCOS and body positivity going. Following a few posts on my Instagram stories about PCOS, several stories of women's experiences were shared in my DM's. These are the stories of some of these beautiful and resilient women. PCOS is much more common than we think. I have been moved, shocked and most of all inspired by these stories; I hope they invoke emotions within you as they did me.
Now that the fine print disclaimers are out of the way so nobody sues me or quotes my ‘medical advise’, let’s chat!
I was loosely diagnosed with PCOS when I was 18. I say loosely because the doctor mentioned it in passing during a final check-up appointment after I had recovered from my second ovarian cyst. The cyst had rupture with this one - yes, it’s as painful as it sounds - and I hadn’t needed surgery. I didn’t have all that PCOS entails broken down to me and back then, I didn’t think to look too deeply into it. It was summer and teenage me I was just excited for the Wireless Festival. I was put on the pill and felt fine so we move(d)! Currently, I am seeing a gynecologist, researching and listening to personal experiences shared by ladies around me and on YouTube which are teaching me so much.
The doctor had recommended that I maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight. I recall her saying to me 'I would advice that you stay in the weight range you are' with a concerned look on her face that I couldn't understand then. Now, I assume it was due to the fact that insulin resistance, which is sometimes a symptom of PCOS, makes it 100x easier to gain weight. At that time, I was at my optimum form of fitfam-or so I wrongly believed as I was also still struggling with bulimia. As teenagers do biologically, I thought with my amygdala (the emotional part of the brain) instead of the prefrontal cortex (the rational part of the brain) like a fully developed brain does; I thought I was invincible.
‘Of course I’m not going to gain any sort of drastic weight.’
I thought, as I walked out of the clinic.
’I'm a gym bunny-has she seen my almost washboard abs?!
Oh, innocent youthful naiveté!
PCOS is an expansive disorder under which so many issues fall. It’s almost as though your body no longer belongs to you as you’re watching it spazz out. Many women struggle with the fear of not being able to conceive in the future, facial hair that's beyond universal peach fuzz, digestive issues, intense mood swings and depression. Like many ladies, my weight fluctuations have been one of my main struggles with PCOS. I’m watching my body gain weight in areas it usually doesn’t and hold on to that weight regardless of the fact that I have a 70-30 balance of a healthy lifestyle.
The more I ask about the disorder, the more ladies I meet who are going through the same struggles and have the same fearful concerns I do. There is this vicious cycle of medication, mood swings, periods ghosting on us, periods being heavy and excruciating when they do show up, periods being too frequent or too long (several times a month or lasting for 2-3 weeks), exploring how stress affects PCOS, avoiding said stress in Lagos, food cravings, digestive issues, weight gain and self-esteem being messed up because it feels like you are stuck in someone else’s body. However, the more I learn the more hope I gain as there are also numerous success stories out there. PCOS doesn’t have to be a crippling, life-halting disorder.
Ladies I’ve spoken with are very open about their experiences. I feel it’s linked to the fact that our bodies' hormonal fluctuations are not our fault, PCOS does not make us any less of women and there are options which help control the imbalances. The most long-term of said options is a change of diet and exercise lifestyle.
I recently came across an article which shared Elman (ScarredNotScared)’s experience with PCOS in which she rightly stated that she shouldn't have to talk about her PCOS to justify her weight. The body positivity movement first caught my attention when I moved back to Lagos from New York and I had gained weight. I made the gradual but mindful decision to accept and appreciate my body at every stage. This is not just with weight fluctuations as it’s not a symptom all women with PCOS experience. Acceptance is also with the pain, the mental health ups and downs, the discomfort and confusion hormonal issues come with. Self-love is hard work because it means not lying to yourself. It is calling yourself out on your bullshit. It is being honest with yourself when you can do more to live a healthy lifestyle, forgiving yourself when you fall off and getting back on it while focusing on progress over perfection.
I’ve always been one to explore the most natural and sustainable remedy pathway when it comes to health. Explore doesn't always mean do and be consistent sha, so if you see me enjoying some gnocchi pasta at 'The Grill by Delis', mindyobidness lmao
At the end of 2017, I went plant-based for a month. I keep talking about my short vegan experience because to date, it was one of the most wholesome months I’ve had on this life journey so far. My period came and went with the least amount of pain I’ve experience in 15 years of menstruating. My energy levels were scary; in the best way. I was so alert that it felt like I had taken a Limitless pill. I finally understood the saying ‘sleep like a baby’. My skin glowed like it never had before. It was serious effort with incredible rewards.
I recently went off the combined contraceptive pill, a treatment for PCOS, as I want to understand my body without giving it hormones which mask symptoms and don’t heal the root cause. God has given us foods that heal from within. I’ve watched a few documentaries on Netflix about the power of food of which my favourite is ‘In Defense of Food’. Journalist Michael Pollan (writer of the book with the same title) 'examines the industrially driven Western diet to show how it has ruined our health.’ It opened up my perspective on veganism and made me realise that us humans are too quick to judge and write off lifestyles that aren't ours. We need to open our eyes and not play ourselves; there is something to be learned from all ways of living.
I have decided to take the month of May as an observation month - to keep a close eye on foods I’m taking in and work on consistency with exercises I enjoy. We are so blessed that there is copious material online about health and fitness lifestyles for PCOS. From super-foods to incorporate to foods we should avoid (e.g. excessive diary really isn't great for humans in general and more so for those with PCOS but Hans and Rene has my heart. Fix it, Jesus!)
Our bodies want us to listen to and learn them. We need to take care of them-they’re the only ones we get. I can’t promise I will share along the way as it is a very personal journey however, I will definitely share resources on my Instagram through the process.
If you feel like you may have PCOS or something just feels off, please speak with a gynecologist. I would also advise you to be patient - with yourself, your body and with the process. There is no one test for PCOS. It does not show up in one way with all women.
Most importantly, my prayer for you is the realisation and hope that Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals you, is walking this journey with you. I pray He shows up for you in the beautifully personal presence of peace, faith, perseverance, wisdom, resources, strength and comfort. I pray He helps you find exercises that suit you, nourishing foods you enjoy, treatments that your body accepts and understanding from loved ones.
Whether you are reading about PCOS for the first time, have heard of it before, know someone who struggles with PCOS or have PCOS yourself, here are some of my favourite videos and articles on the topic. I hope they enlighten you as they have done me:
Feel free to ask questions, share your thoughts, your experience with PCOS or more helpful resources you've come across which I will gladly share with us all.
Keep your eyes peeled for Part 2 of this series: PCOS & Mental Health
Graphics: Tolu Karunwi for Erayo Events
Image credits: Pinterest