Writing about mental health is tough.
It’s tough because it’s impossible to sprinkle rose petals over true vulnerability and make it presentable. (cue countless Brene Brown quotes)
It’s tough because it’s almost impossible to express what dark episodes are.
It’s tough when you’re not under a cloud of depression, you don’t want to walk under one for the sake of a blog post.
It’s tough because it’s real.
Dear readers, I’ve struggled to write this post. I don’t know how to write about mental health.
Not because I don’t live the ups and downs like many of us do, but because it’s a topic that can’t be packaged. So I’ve asked the Holy Spirit to take over and to speak to you in ways only He knows how.
Don’t you just love it when alignment happens perfectly? At the end of April, I published Part 1 of this series on PCOS-thank you for reading and responding so positively! I noted down that part 2 would go on to focus on the effects of PCOS on our mental health. Around the time, I started seeing ‘it’s gonna be May’ memes flying around on social media, I also started hearing the buzz of Mental Health Awareness month - which is also in May. I had totally forgotten but God hadn’t. He aligned this ‘coincidence’ perfectly and I’m so grateful.
As I discussed in part one, PCOS is an endocrine disorder. Various articles state that PCOS is linked to depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. As with many disorders that we don’t know enough about yet, these articles also mention that this is arguable. Now whether or not it is, it’s refreshing to see that we are having these conversations. Our endocrine system produces hormones which regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood. You can image how much of a strong tie this has on our minds.
Recently, I’ve been so blessed to have conversations about mental health - with my parents, with friends and loved ones. The stigma is lifting; one thorny leaf at a time. I’ve been able to talk to loved ones about extended periods of time where I’ve felt so low and empty that I worry about myself. I don’t trust myself to be alone but that’s all I want-to isolate myself. I’ve listened to my friends speak about their anxiety. I’ve watched their faces fall with looks of ‘I don’t want to talk about this right now. I don’t know how to’. I’ve read the WhatsApp messages, listened to the voice notes, whispered prayers in my heart for them. I’ve observed as God has grown compassion in all our hearts because the plain truth is that we are all going through it.
A lot of the time with PCOS, we don’t know if the mental health struggles we face are hormonal, an illness or situational. Some days are much harder than others. Some days feel like you are doing everything you think you should be doing and your body just isn’t responding. It’s a journey which weaves through trust and distrust of your body.
The stressful irregularity of periods.
The food intolerances.
The frequent and exhausting doctor visits.
The weight fluctuations.
People’s unsolicited opinions.
The exhaustion of having to put on ‘thick skin’ instead of us tackling the problem of tactlessness and mindless words.
The fear of difficulty to conceive children later in life.
We battle with the little voice that tells us it’s all in our heads. It isn’t. This uncertainty makes it x10 more difficult to deal with. People are quick to invalidate the troubles of the mind which can only be countered with empathy and compassion.
I was recently a panellist at Airen Foundation’s first Free To Rise event, titled “Period.”
The Oscar winning short film “Period. End of Sentence.” was screened after which we heard from doctors and us panellists. A topic which was discussed was the difficulty in being heard by medical professionals. As the responses of the 17 ladies who are a part of this story have shown, many of us have to get second, third or even fourth medical opinions before doctors listen to us and take us seriously. Nigerian doctors can be tactless and blasé, forgetting that each patient isn’t just a patient. Each person is an individual with a story and concerns. I began to feel the pain of my first cyst months before I was admitted into the hospital. Nurses and doctors told me it was ‘just ovulation or constipation - it will pass’ without doing any scans. Until one Sunday, I was in so much pain I couldn’t move and had to be rushed to the emergency room after which an ultrasound discovered an 8cm ovarian cyst.
Although there are bits I keep to myself and my family, but I’ve been relatively open about my PCOS journey. Discussing mental health and an invisible endocrine disorder isn’t easy. It’s met with pity. It’s sometimes met with statements that seem as though people want you to prove that you are “sick enough” or how bad your struggles are or even, show you that they have it worse. Struggles are not a competition.
At the end of the event, I was encouraged by an amazing lady on my vulnerability to share during my journey and not after the fact. Mental health is a topic I’ve never shied away from because the silence surrounding it is suffocating, but I won’t pretend to understand it all. I’m still working on it and through it. I do hope, that with sharing, you are encouraged to keep fighting for your physical health and mental health. I’ll be honest, it’s very difficult. Some days we fail, some days we win… but it’s worth it.