As hard as it is to get bad news, it’s always nice to get some answers. I began to think through some of the subtle symptoms throughout my life that now blatantly screamed PCOS. I had always wondered why I was different from the rest of my family. It seems so obvious now…….well, now that I’ve been handed the magnifying glass.
I don’t mean to brag, but the females in my family are genetically blessed, no doubt about that. Not only are they beautiful and petit but they’ve always had radiantly clear skin. I never understood then why I suffered from such abominable acne. Were we not from the same gene pool? What was different about me?
We were 12 years old when my cousin scrunched her nose in scrutiny “Your forehead is full of mountains,” she observed “with no valleys.”
What an accurate description of my predicament.
Luckily we lived in the jungle at that time and there was only one tiny little mirror in our wooden home – an object that was easy to avoid. But then, at the tender age of 13, I was shipped back to America in order to “re-integrate” into my own culture. When I stepped off the plane I found myself assaulted by a myriad of mirrors. Everywhere I looked I found myself staring back. It was confronting, I had forgotten what I looked like.
Oh how I missed the simplicity of the jungle….
I know I can’t really complain. My genetic predisposition to a more petit profile is obvious, but I never understood why I struggled so much with weight around my belly.
When I was 18 I put on a lot of weight, even though I was skipping lunches and running several times a week. I didn’t have my period for a year and a half; an obvious result of severely unbalanced hormones. The weight distribution was singularly central, or “visceral weight”- meaning only around my middle. My hips and arms remained thin and bony. I did not gain weight bodaciously like my best friend. If she ate one too many bagels her boobs and booty would enlarge in response, only emphasising her curvy womanliness. I, on the other hand, gained weight like a man. I never knew why until now. Testosterone mediated weight gain – a product of PCOS.
“It looks like you have a tire around your belly.” my best friend said in pure honesty.
What an accurate description of my predicament.
The migraines started when I was 20 years old. I was wandering down a hospital hallway and suddenly felt an eery sensation, as that of impending doom. I felt panicky. My heart started racing. My eyes suddenly became extremely sensitive to the bright florescent lights. I wandered, as though inebriated, into a nearby bathroom and stared at my large, dilated pupils. I was confused and afraid…until I realised I was experiencing what is called an “aura”; that strange, indescribable sensation that precedes a “classic” migraine. I quickly ran to my locker and took some tylenol (panadol) and naproxen. I shut the lights off and laid on the couch. I took deep breaths, trying to slow my racing heart. I could feel the pressure changing in my head and for a minute I feared an aneurysm. Luckily, it was just a migraine. One of many that would plague me for the rest of my existence.
My period never came on time, like it did for the other girls. And when it did I would find myself lying in the fetal position, clutching at my abdomen in agony. If periods were this painful, I could only imagine labour pain. My bleeding was always heavy and very painful, but naturally I assumed that everyone else was experiencing the same thing so I pushed through and powered on, popping pain pills like candy. It would be another 10 years before I would finally learn that heavy, painful periods are in fact NOT normal.
Pain is not necessarily associated with PCOS, but it is something I have suffered from since the age of 15. It started out as joint pain. My fingers would become inflamed and swollen so I assumed I had arthritis. Every joint in my body began to ache, especially in winter and especially at night. I assumed I had inherited some mild autoimmune disorder. Then the back pain began. I blamed my nursing career; the long hours on my feet, the shift work, the heavy lifting and the lack of regular sleep. Each year the pain got a little worse. Exercise became increasingly difficult. I took a lot of pain killers to survive and I ALWAYS felt guilty about it. Others did not appear to be in the same predicament. Why did I suffer so?
When I was 24 I got on birth control. I chose to skip most of my periods and over time my skin cleared up, my moods improved, and my weight stayed stable. At the time I didn’t know I had PCOS or that the Nuvaring was controlling the hormonal chaos that had been wreaking havoc on my body for all those years. I still suffered from pain but this had improved to at least a tolerable level.
I enjoyed 6 blissful years free from severe period pain, hormonal migraines, acne and complete hormonal chaos. The Nuvaring gave me a false sense of stability. I thought I was young and healthy and ready to start a family….until I came off the birth control…and then all hell broke loose.