How My Lifestyle Changed After Being Diagnosed with PCOS

The story of how I found out I had PCOS is mundane. One minute I was in a general appointment with my doctor discussing a simple cold that I had, then she asked when my last period was. To my surprise, the last time I remembered getting my period was February 2018; it currently was August. I hadn’t had my period in over 6 months. My doctor looked at me with a shocked expression on her face. She immediately scheduled me for a same-day appointment with an Ashe Center gynecologist.

All it took was a short 30 minute appointment and a few blood tests for my gynecologist to find out I had PCOS. The peak moment of my fear happened when she started listing off potential disorders and complications that can arise if PCOS is left untreated. Some of the more serious complications are painful ovarian cysts, uterine cancer and loss of fertility. I felt so powerless because these were issues that I believed someone my age shouldn’t have to be worried about. I felt like I was losing before I even got the chance to fight it. But the more I opened up to my gynecologist about my feelings on the situation, the better I felt. She explained to me that PCOS is unfortunately becoming a commonly diagnosed hormonal disorder amongst women in America. There’s even the possibility that up to 70% of women that have PCOS are not even aware of it.  

To combat these issues, my gynecologist prescribed birth control to me. It was such a funny and jarring moment because I had never been sexually active with another person and birth control was the last thing that I thought I would ever be prescribed in my life. The oral contraception that was given to me was called Nikki, which is recognized as the generic version of Yaz. The reason why this was prescribed to me was because my testosterone levels were too high. I was informed that the combination of drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol would lower the testosterone levels in my body. 

Sleep and Fatigue

Having PCOS meant being fatigued 24/7. Regardless of the amount of sleep I got, I would still find myself falling asleep in classes, while doing homework and on one occasion I even missed my stop because I feel sleep on the bus! Fatigue also started affecting my social life with a large amount of Facebook event rejections to friends’ parties and countless weekends staying in on accident because I couldn’t amass the energy to leave the house. I did the bare minimum of going to class, club meetings and work, but at a certain point even these simple acts began to wear me out. 

In an attempt to raise my energy levels, my primary care doctor prescribed Vitamin D pills to me. Normally, anyone can walk into a store or pharmacy and purchase Vitamin D supplements ranging from 400 - 1,000 IU per pill. However, my Vitamin D levels were extremely low. The level indicating a deficiency of Vitamin D is 12 ng/ML. My level was at 9 ng/ML. Both my primary care doctor and gynecologist believed that extreme lack of Vitamin D played a part in my constant exhaustion. So I was given prescription strength Vitamin D supplements that contained 50,000 IU. I only took this extra strength medication once a week for 8 weeks. 

Aside from taking the medication that was prescribed to me, I was also given homework by my primary care doctor. She told me to get outside and stay out for at least 1 hour a day. Even though I live in California, I ironically grew to despise the sun. That combined with my fatigue made it really easy for me to choose to stay indoors if I had the choice. I was surprised to find myself actually enjoying my time outside. It had been so long since my skin had felt the warmth of the sun’s rays. I made sure to take a 30-minute walk every morning around Westwood. I’d take the bus to Santa Monica Pier and peruse the promenade until I got tired and went back to my apartment. Aside from getting cute tan lines, I learned to enjoy and appreciate the weather we are afforded in this sunny state. 

Weight and Nutrition

My gynecologist explained to me that while PCOS is understood to be a hormonal disorder, there is still a nutrition and weight aspect that has an impact on the disorder as well. So she referred me to the UCLA nutritionist and I definitely appreciated her for setting me straight. 

While talking to my nutritionist she told me that there were two major objectives that I should focus on: decreasing my body fat percentage and lowering my A1C levels. If you are not familiar with these terms, body fat percentage means the percent of your body mass that is made up of essential body fat and storage body fat. Essential body fat is what you need for your reproductive functions and living in general. It surrounds and protects your organs, bones and reproductive organs as well. Storage fat is the fat that we most commonly think of when referring to weight and diet culture. Also A1C is a blood test that is commonly used to test someone’s blood sugar levels in order to properly diagnose Type I and Type II Diabetes. 

Now you may be wondering ‘What do body fat and blood sugar levels have to do with PCOS?’ and the answer could be everything. I will not claim any absolute truths in this article; however, some researchers may have found connections that having diabetes could lead to a PCOS diagnoses whereas other research shows that having PCOS can lead to developing diabetes. There could be a cyclical relationship, however, more research needs to be done before conclusions can be drawn. 

I have already been on the course of changing my lifestyle even before my PCOS diagnoses. What impacted me more about the PCOS diagnoses was how my views changed on my body image.

A huge part of this PCOS discovery that I’m surprisingly grateful for is that it has changed the way I view my body. Ever since middle school I’ve always seen my body as something that I need to keep improving, as if it will never meet some ever-changing standard that I couldn’t even clearly envision. Body goals were some abstract post that I would actively reblog on Tumblr, hoping that my body would magically turn into that overshared image. Overtime, after receiving my diagnoses, I have been actively breaking down and re-building my relationship with my body. I try to appreciate that I am able to walk, breathe on my own and overall have full autonomy on my body. With a diagnoses that could lead to such awful diseases down the line, it really put into perspective how temporary my body is. Having PCOS has also taught my how important it is for me to love and care for my body, and protect it from the harsh realities of fickle societal standards. I have gone through ebbs and flows of diets and bingeing and I am so tired of it. After speaking with the nutritionist, I have learned that at the end of the day I need to give my body what it wants and deserves. If I need sleep then I owe it to myself to put aside my work and be honest with my bosses about my physical and mental state. If I need food then I must feed myself whatever I'm lacking or craving without having to guilt trip myself later.

Mental Health

Even before being diagnosed with PCOS I was already experiencing symptoms that alluded to a potential decline in my mental health. In the moments when I wasn’t extremely tired I would be overly anxious to the point of having a quick-heartbeat and small panic attacks. I wasn’t the same optimistic person that I used to recognize. My overall outlook on  academics, socializing and life in general had become noticeably indifferent on bad days. 

At the time, I wasn’t ready to take on searching for a new therapist. Though I was in a dark place, my mind didn’t go to therapy but rather I was hyper-focused on why I was having so many negative emotions and reactions on a daily basis. So I tried to practice the things that brought me temporary joy. I wrapped myself into a blanket cocoon, lit my favorite candle and watched coming of age films and romantic comedies like Wes Anderson’s Rushmore and Richard Curtis’ Love Actually

On days where I felt up to socializing I contacted friends that I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was refreshing to be around people that had known me before I was going through such changes. Being around my best friend gave me feelings of positive nostalgia and gave me a temporary boost in happiness. But, I must admit that moments where I was in my own company were some of the most re-invigorating. 

This diagnoses was such a frustrating experience to go through. I am so privileged and grateful to have had an arsenal of women doctors who guided and supported me throughout the entire process. All I can continue to do is keep up my lifestyle changes while listening to what my body needs.