1 in every ten people with uteruses receives a Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) diagnosis each year. My own PCOS diagnosis has caused me to make several adjustments to my lifestyle. As a result, it’s been a learning process full of mistakes and successes alike. Here are some things to remember this PCOS Awareness Month that I have learned as a woman with PCOS!
1) Feeling afraid? It’s completely valid and normal.
Whether you suspect that you may have PCOS or you have an official diagnosis already, it can be nerve-wracking. With all the stigma that surrounds it, it’s natural to feel fear. It may comfort you to know how common PCOS actually is. In fact, “it affects 4%-20% of women of reproductive age worldwide” (Deswal et al. 2020). So one thing I can definitely reassure you of is that you are not alone!
One thing about myself is that I tend to feel more anxious when I feel like I don’t know much about what’s going on. For this reason, I use journaling to keep track of my daily physical and mental symptoms. That way, whenever I visit my OBGYN, I can review my journal to see if there’s anything concerning to address at my appointment. Journaling makes it so much easier to research my symptoms as they relate to PCOS too! So far, I have learned that some of the physical pain I face daily is not normal. I have so learned that my mental health symptoms are also related to my PCOS!
Needless to say, there has been so much discovery. My best advice to you is to do as much research as you can and keep track of your symptoms, and anything else you feel is important. Knowledge is power! Here’s a link to a great article on PCOS if you’d like more information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7879843/.
2) Advocating for your body is important!
From mental slumps to overwhelmingly intense cramps, and heavy periods, PCOS symptoms don’t come to play! Of course, everybody’s body is different, and not everybody who has PCOS displays the same exact symptoms. Here are just some of the many PCOS symptoms out there: irregular, heavy periods, high levels of androgen, polycystic ovaries, depression, increased body-fat levels, male pattern baldness, etc. With so many symptoms to look out for, you’d think that an early diagnosis would be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Many people with PCOS report seeing symptoms that would be considered irregular early on. However, these symptoms often get confused as being part of some other condition. Moreover, because obesity is a common PCOS symptom, people with PCOS often get dismissed with condescending advice. Such advice might look like, “You just need to eat less!” or “Have you tried working out?” This “advice” is not only fatphobic but also dismissive and unprofessional.
At the end of the day, you know your body best! If you notice that something is definitely wrong or even have a slight hunch that something doesn’t feel right, seek professional medical advice. If you get met with pushback, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. Find a medical provider who will truly listen to you and will genuinely do everything they can to help. Your body will thank you. Always remember that you deserve to feel comfortable in your own body. You deserve the best medical care possible, so don’t be afraid to seek it!
3) Incorporate PCOS-friendly lifestyle changes.
I remember the emotions I felt upon hearing my official PCOS diagnosis. It was a strange mixture of relief and uncertainty about where I should go from this point. What I have come to realize since that moment is that any type of change is not a straight path. However, incorporating small changes into my life, slowly but surely, and being intentional with following those changes has become beneficial for me to create PCOS-healthy habits.
There are a variety of PCOS-friendly lifestyle changes I’ve been practicing in the last seven months. For example, I eat less red meat and eat more fatty fish that are high in Omega-3s. I try to regulate my sleep patterns more and try my best to eat regularly. When exercising, I stay away from HIIT workouts, focusing more on strength training and yoga instead. I also try to take fish oil tablets (since they contain DHA) and increase my daily protein and healthy fiber intake.
These are all tips that I learned from @the.pcos.nutritionist on Instagram. Her page was so helpful in trying to navigate these changes, and I highly recommend it to everybody looking to get some guidance on the PCOS-friendly lifestyle. You can reach her Instagram page with the following link: https://www.instagram.com/the.pcos.nutritionist/?hl=en.
Ever since I started following her guidelines, I noticed that my more painful PCOS symptoms were more manageable, and I was starting to feel more comfortable within my own body. Please keep in mind that progress is not a straight path. There are days when I don’t follow these habits strictly, and there are other days when I do. Everybody’s journey is different, and it’s totally normal. What matters the most is that you learn you are able to learn your body’s needs through the process. You got this!
4) Take care of your mental health.
A lot of people don’t understand that PCOS affects your mental health as much as your physical health. PCOS results in inflammation throughout the body. This prolonged inflammation causes an increased level of cortisol in the body, the hormone associated with stress. In turn, high stress can result in depression and anxiety. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Partaking in mindful practices, self-care, and discovering coping mechanisms for stress can be incredibly helpful on your PCOS journey!
For example, I like to practice dance and exercise when I’m feeling like I’ve got some energy I want to let out. Other times, just chilling out and watching some Netflix is my jam. I also like to read under fluffy blankets, cook, and write poetry. Discover what you love to do more of and make it a self-love hobby to do those things.
One thing that I recommend everyone to do is to keep track of their emotions daily. Record what you are feeling, what made you feel that way, and some potential ways to go about it (if it’s a negative feeling). In this way, you can recognize patterns within your own daily stressors and find ways to target and reduce them. It’s also a good way to feel like you’re in control of your own life when things seem to be spiraling out of control.
5) Your PCOS doesn’t make you worthless or incomplete.
There might be some days that you may feel less than due to your diagnosis. Additionally, there’s so much stigma surrounding PCOS that you might hear or see some prejudiced media on the subject. What’s most important to remember is that you are not defined by your PCOS. There is so much more to your identity and who you are. That is the most important thing I’ve learned so far in this journey.
6) Read about others’ PCOS journeys.
When you familiarize yourself with other PCOS stories, it can help you understand that you are not alone. Here are a couple of lovely articles on PCOS you can find on Women’s republic:
- “Life with PCOS: Stories by Maldivian Women“
- “Body Hair and Insecurities: Clinging On And Letting Go“