I Was Diagnosed With PCOS as a College Freshman. I Took Back Ownership of My Body.

“You can't just diagnose yourself.” He said it with a smile that read incompetence and in a tone so sharp it reverberated off the buzzing fluorescent lights of the Gynecologist office.  Just for a second, I crawled back into my shell and thought to myself that “maybe he’s right.” He is the doctor, afterall. Who am I, an eighteen year-old girl, to do his job for him? Then I thought about the periods that mysteriously vanished four months ago, how my teenage, hourglass figure suddenly started  to resemble an inflamed, bubbly shape I did not recognize. I remembered the bouts of acne that seemed like they never went away, the excuritating and uncalled-for cramping that would wake me in the middle of the night, and the abnormal amount of facial hair that startled me so much I’d tweeze my face so violently, my skin would tear and bleed.

 

 “Diagnose me, then.” Scared and frustrated, I blurted out the words before my brain could even comprehend them and just like that, a transvaginal ultrasound was performed. I peaked at the monitor on my right and there they were, a village of silent, fluid-filled cysts sitting on my ovaries, wreaking havoc on my body.  

 

“Looks like you were right, you have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.” So sure, it was true. I’m not a doctor— I’m not an all-knowing male doctor, for that matter— but turns out  I was right about the little devils living in my body. Naturally, I had questions. I asked my gynecologist,

 

“Will this ever go away?” “No,” he replied. 

“Will I be able to have my own children?” “Probably,” he replied. 

“Is there always going to be pain?” “Well...,” he replied. 

“Is there anything I can do to help make it better?” “Just this,” he replied, handing me a pack of birth control pills. He flashed me another smile and sent me on my merry way.

 

I left his office that day feeling  trapped in my body. I hated the way I looked. I hated the way I felt. Anything I tried to eat triggered excruciating pain. Irrational nightmares  about never having children kept me up at night. The emotional dips that were being brought on by this condition suddenly became far too apparent and overwhelming; it’s something I hate to admit, but I spent J-Term of my freshman year of college crying over this new, incurable female diagnosis that, frankly, my male gynecologist seemed to know nothing about or simply not care enough about. I didn’t want to leave my bed and I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it. I was eighteen on the verge of nineteen and I should’ve been enjoying everything that being a college student involved,  like going out with my friends and meeting new people, but instead I laid alone for weeks. Exhaustion and misfortune were my friends. 

 

Helplessness, however, was not. 

 

Alright, so I’m not a doctor. I’m not even a med student. If you asked me to stick an IV in someone, I’d ask you “am I doing this right?” and the answer would be no. But, if there’s anything my rigorous majors had taught me, it was how to do research. So as I laid in bed—feeling  bitter, depressed, and in the dark— I finally mustered up the courage to do some digging. “There has to be something I can do to help myself,” I thought. And what do you know! I was right...again. 

 

I read articles, blogs, books—god help me, even WebMD. The more I read and the more I dug, the scarier and more real it all started to become. I kept seeing catchphrases, little advertisements of my condition scattered in every book and blogspot and website screaming: “hormonal imbalance,” “hirsutism,” or, “excessive weight gain,” “depression” and “infertility.” On the other side of all that fear, though, were solutions and a better sense of understanding. 

 

What I learned about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome was that it’s a condition that attacks both a woman’s reproductive and endocrine systems. In the simplest terms, I learned that my body can healthily produce insulin. However, my insulin receptors  have a hard time recognizing and using that insulin, (this is otherwise known as Insulin Resistance) causing overwhelmingly high blood sugar levels in my body.  High blood sugar levels lead to weight gain, weight gain leads to extra insulin production. Extra insulin production leads to more androgen (a male hormone) production in the body. And while all women produce healthy amounts of androgen, a woman with PCOS has too much of it when compared to her estrogen levels, which are hindered by the presence of cysts on the ovaries ...hence the name, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Doctors and specialists still don’t know why or how this happens, nor do they know exactly what causes it. Yet, according to womenshealth.gov, 1 in 10 women will be  affected by this condition in their lifetime. 

 

So, what could be done? If I lost the excess weight, my body wouldn’t have to produce so much insulin, which would help balance my androgen and estrogen levels and, in turn, greatly lessen the pain and all of my symptoms. If I couldn't cure my PCOS, I sure as hell could ebb it. 

 

But hey, I’m no doctor. 

 

After J-term, I returned to college to finish my out my freshman year with a greater sense of purpose. I wasn’t going to let my PCOS control me, I was going to learn to control it. I took a break from the dating game and spent less time going out and more time in the gym— five days a week, for that matter  (which, I discovered, I loved. I know, I was shocked too). After doing more reading and research, I realized I needed to stop eating things my body simply didn’t know how to break down. This included gluten, dairy, excessive amounts of sugar, excessive amounts of alcohol, and basically everything else in the world that makes life worth living. Let’s just say it’s a miracle I like vegetables. After parting ways with my favorite foods, however, I began to sleep better. I was less inflamed, had more energy, and was in less pain. My overall mood began to shift. Things began to look up. 

 

As the spring semester of my freshman year of college sped on, I found myself focusing more on me. Dare I say it was nice not having dating, relationships, and the overbearing opinions of others to clog my focus? On Friday nights I took solace in the gym. I began to cook for myself more and enjoyed the quiet of the kitchen during the early morning hours; I spent extra time focussing on my schoolwork, I spent time on my writing, I spent time on me. Every week I weighed myself and watched the number slowly dwindle down. And while it was the mental and physical battle of my life, I finally felt as if I had control of my body again. By the time my sophomore year rolled around, I had lost forty pounds and my period had healthily returned. The physical symptoms had ebbed, my glucose/ hormone levels had stabilized. I accomplished what I sought out to do, and I did it in under a year.  

 

I felt brand new. Which, of course, also posed a challenge. 

 

I spent my sophomore year of college “trying again.” Finally feeling like I was at the healthy weight I wanted, I cautiously started buying clothes that would fit my smaller size. I started to try bringing back foods into my diet that I spent months cutting out (some were okay, some my body still reject today). I started dating again, I worked on ending my social media hiatus, and  I tried to pretend the PCOS I worked so hard to silence never existed. 

 

Now clearly, that wasn’t the greatest idea. I thought after I lost the weight and got my health back on track, I’d feel better. And sure, my body did, but my soul didn’t. I was still ashamed of my condition— I felt like a burden to others, I didn’t feel feminine— as ridiculous as it sounds, I felt like no guy would want to date a young woman with PCOS. “No beer? Alright. Limit on the pizza dates? Okay, I guess. No ice cream? See ya!” So I did what seemed to be the easy thing, just not mention it. 

 

You can imagine how well that worked for my dating life. I dreaded making plans that revolved around eating simply because I didn’t want to explain why I avoided certain foods. If I had to explain, my go-to statement was “I have an insulin issue” and almost always I’d have to follow up with a “no, I’m not diabetic.” I’d say anything I had to, really, as long as the word “PCOS” didn’t slip through my lips. I didn’t want guys googling, I didn't want guys looking up all the symptoms I worked so hard to rid myself of, I didn’t want to look fragile or vulnerable, or like a burden, a picky-eater— I didn’t want my condition to be the reason someone didn’t want me. However, the distance I put between myself and the guys I dated for fear of rejection tarnished every experience I had. 

 

Jumping back into the dating game whilst being a young college woman; jumping back into the dating game trying to keep a huge part of my life  secret “until the right time” made me miss out on a lot of good times, or times that had the potential to be made better. It wasn’t until a few busted dates, prospects and experiences later that I realized my PCOS, no matter how well-kept or unrecognizable to the eye, is a condition that will always be apart of me: I’m going to have to consciously work everyday for the rest of my life to stay healthy and keep my PCOS under control; and if I don’t talk about it, it’ll be the one controlling me instead. 

 

So I’ve decided not to hide it. I’m more vocal about how I’m feeling emotionally with my close friends and family. When it feels necessary, I tell the guy I’m dating about my condition, and some of the things that may mean for me. And you know what? I’m happier. I go out more. I say “yes” to plans more often than I say “no.” Dating isn’t a headache, it’s fun. I have better conversations with people. I realized that when you’re honest about who you intrinsically are, and what your needs are, the people that surround you will be better people. And those who mind, I’m starting to realize, really don’t matter to me at all. Emptying all of that fear and stress out of my mind is helping me focus on my career, my school work, and the people/things I want to prioritize (or don’t want to prioritize, for that matter). 

 

Now, as a college junior,  all aspects of my life are beginning to bloom. They may be blooming later than I had hoped, but they’re blooming nonetheless. As a writer, I feel like it’s my moral obligation to speak up about the things that challenge me. As a woman, I’d never want another woman to feel defeated over a condition that someone else tells her she can do nothing about. Because, guess what? You can do something about it. You are doing something about it. It’s a mental and physical battle every day, yet you get up every morning and face it with positivity nonetheless. That, my dear, is what true bravery looks like. 

 

If there’s one thing I hope this tableau of my life will tell other women, and what I’m beginning to learn myself, is that you have to take ownership of your body; of all the things it can and cannot handle. Yes, you may have some weak spots, but you are strong. And once you do that, nothing— no feeling, person,  circumstance, or condition— can take ownership of you.