That statement above is not going to come as a surprise for many of you but for me, it's the first time online that I've actually 100% claimed my PCOS publicly. For those of you that don't know, PCOS stands for Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome. It means that I have little cysts lining my ovaries like a ‘string of pearls’ (that's how my doctor described it). In past blog posts I had eluded to certain "other health stuff" going on in my life but I never actually had the balls to come right out and say that I have this crap. It's sort of terrifying to put it all out there because so much comes along with PCOS. Of course there are the physical symptoms like thinning hair, acne, excess hair, and weight gain, but the symptoms that are harder to talk about deal more with irregular menstrual cycles, high risk of ovarian cancer, highly unpredictable emotional tendencies, and the biggest of all for me is miscarriage and infertility.
You see as a woman with PCOS, instead of ovulating and having a normal cycle, my ovaries instead produce cysts. I don’t think I’ve had this for my entire life. I’ve just about always had acne and I had SOME cycle irregularities in my teens but for the most part everything always seemed normal. I believe it came about after being on the pill for so long but in reality I’ll never really know. There is no known cause for PCOS but I’m convinced that it’s from years of having the pill messing with my endocrine system. PCOS is also heavily associated with insulin resistance and people who have a very hard time losing weight. Okay – so those are really just the facts of PCOS. Now I’m going to share with you my own journey with it and how my life has changed because of it.
This is going to get really personal so if you don’t want to know, I suggest you just stop reading now.
As most of you know, I started my healthy journey in 2013. My entire life I always ate terribly and could get away with it for the most part because I was so active with ballet, and because I have some good genes. Even at that point in 2013, I was 25lbs heavier than I ever had been in my life but I was actually just in the “normal” or “average” range as far as every measurement goes. But I felt disgusting. I sat on my butt at work all day, I was eating at least 2 FULL SIZED candy bars a day, I ate pasta with any kind of cheesy, creamy sauces like it was my job, and sugar was probably my main food group in addition to bread and literally any pasta I could get my sticky little hands on. I was a carb monster. But then I saw a picture of myself one and I realized… WOAH, I’m kind of big. Now please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I was actually fat, but for me, in my life, with my frame, I was the biggest I had ever been and it was uncomfortable. Not to mention I genuinely felt physically disgusting on the regular. I realized that if I wanted to be having kids in the next 2-3 years (this was in January 2013) that I needed to change things. I wanted to have healthy children. I did not want my future children to pay for my own selfish, gross, unhealthy habits. So I did the master cleanse in February 2013. I lost 13lbs and my skin did not break out even once during the entire duration of the cleanse. I was SO HAPPY! I had so much energy and I mean I just felt amazing again finally. I started eating whole grain, cutting out processed foods, and cut out all dairy from my diet except yogurt. Then I did the master cleanse again about 6 months later in late July into early August 2013. I documented my entire experience with my second round on You Tube also if you want to watch those FYI the video and sound quality is terrible on them, but you can find them HERE! I actually ended up losing a bit more weight than I wanted to that time around and I almost stopped early but decided not to. Because failure is not an option, duh. It was during this cleanse that I found out about the paleo diet. My initial reaction? “I COULD NEVER DO THAT!!!” I legitimately believed that I could never ever cut out GRAINS. That meant I had to say good bye to freaking PASTA!? And BREAD!? What would life mean without pasta and bread in it!? I might lose the will to live!!
But one interesting thing about the master cleanse is that while not eating I would get very inspired about what I wanted to eat once I could eat again. I started researching paleo recipes and came across some websites that showed me PALEO BREAD! Once I saw that I knew I could do it.
So I came off the master cleanse and started following a paleo diet. In November 2013 (same year still) I decided to get off the pill – remember my initial goal: to have healthy babies one day. I wanted to be ABLE to get preggers whenever I wanted to do so. So I got off the pill not thinking much of it. Little did I know just how much my life would change because of this one decision. You have no idea til this day how GRATEFUL I am that I made this decision because pretty much all hell broke loose after the fact. I started getting acne again, and I don’t mean some pimples, I mean ACNE. I started spotting and just figured it would take a while for my cycle to regulate. My weight was still low since I maintained a low weight after the master cleanses despite the fact that I was eating A LOT of really healthy nutritious foods.
Fast forward about 9 months to almost exactly one year ago, July 2014. My weight was still low, I was exercising like crazy with bikram, I was eating paleo, doing everything “right” but I was STILL spotting and my skin was at its peak of just really terribleness. I finally went to see my OB for my annual and told her what had been going on. She ordered some blood tests and based on my testosterone levels from that test she ordered an ultrasound. She also gave me some progesterone pills in the meantime to “trick” my body into thinking it was pregnant so that when I stopped taking them I would get a period. Then after two nail biting weeks of waiting for my ultrasound results (the results had been sent to the wrong place originally) I got a phone call at work and my OB informed me that I have PCOS. I remember that moment so distinctly. I had been keeping a positive outlook until then, hoping and assuming that nothing would really be wrong with me. But it turns out there was something wrong with me. I was speechless. My world was crashing down around me right before my eyes. The options I was given over the phone were A) I could get back on the pill in order to have a period. B) I could take progesterone pills every 3 months to induce a period, or C) when or if I wanted to have children we could start treatments.
Needless to say I hung up the phone feeling utterly lost and defeated. I went to my cubicle and tried to cry as silently as I possibly could. I was so scared to even tell my husband, the only word I kept thinking was: infertile. I felt like I was no longer a woman. I felt like there was no way that my husband would still be attracted me after finding this out. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I felt lost and depressed. Of course I told him anyway over skype chat while at work and I just genuinely felt like I had failed at the most basic thing I could do and that was just being a woman. My husband has been nothing but supportive and amazing through this entire ordeal even though I'm sure it's been hard on him as well. So much has changed since then but even now as I remember all of this, I’m sobbing. It took me a very long time to get over the feeling of inadequacy. I was convinced that my husband would leave me for a more ‘complete’ and fertile woman that I was not. Having crazy acne, crazy hormones, and thinning hair didn’t help with these feelings of course. I felt like the epitome of an unattractive woman. I had struggled with self-confidence issues my entire life largely because of having acne. Partially of course it was because I went to boarding ballet school with drop dead gorgeous friends that I felt I could never live up to or be cool enough to fit in with despite the fact that we were friends. I literally used to say “well love is blind, and it’s because they love me that they can look past the fact that I’m so unattractive”. I of course always felt fat in high school, that’s just the nature of the ballet world, but my insecurities ran so much deeper than that. I had lived for 5 years in another country where my differences were constantly pointed out and made fun of. I would never ever be able to fully fit in there because I was different from them. All of these past insecurities contributed to my feelings of inadequacy when I heard my diagnosis. Back to the story at hand - I of course turned to doctor google and found essentially NOTHING helpful. Every site just said: eat healthy, exercise, and lose weight. Well I was already way thin, exercising all the time, and I was already eating crazy healthy. I also found plenty of support sites with women complaining about this and that and I wallowed in self-pity for a few days. I wanted to be sad and mourn. But then it was like I flipped a switch. I was still lost but knew I had to just keep doing what I was doing because the options I was given WERE NOT acceptable to me. So I did just that. I changed around some supplements, pulled back from doing bikram a bit, and did the 21 day sugar detox a few times which all contributed to helping my body heal and my skin finally started getting better although it wasn’t clear by any means. I told VERY few people about my PCOS because I was ashamed and didn’t want anyone to think that there was something wrong with me. Even right now my parents, my in-laws, and most of my siblings know nothing about all of this. Anyway so for over a year I spotted nonstop. I took those progesterone pills and had one period from them in 2014 but it just lead back into spotting so I don’t even count it as a cycle since it wasn’t the real thing but was just drug induced. I started dancing again in late November 2014 which was great, and in January 2015 I decided to do an Autoimmune Protocol Whole 30. I figured, why the hell not, this way I could figure out if my problems were autoimmune or diet based. I also finally went to a Naturopath and Functional Medicine Doctor. I’ve posted about all of this on my blog, I just never admitted that it was for PCOS. At that point my skin was really quite clear, especially with the AIP Whole 30 but I still needed answers. I still needed to be a normal functioning woman. We did extensive blood tests; my testosterone levels were just CRAZY high and based on everything else we found in the blood tests I was given about a 3 month supply of supplements that cost me about $1000. The appointments alone were not covered by insurance and cost about $475. Needless to say, this was all costing me a pretty penny but I felt it was 100% worth it. I just wanted to have a cycle dammit!
I started the supplements and a week later the spotting stopped. I put on about 5lbs which is next to nothing but was still noticeable to me, and about 3 days later I got my period for the first time in ONE YEAR AND THREE MONTHS!!!! So. Much. Happiness. My cycle became about 45 days long (which is abnormally long but still something) I went back for a follow up 3 months later in April and had no complaints. I was dancing again, I signed a contract to join a ballet company in the fall and I knew that I needed to quit my terrible desk job to make that happen. These were all good things! Unfortunately the very next day I started spotting again. Honestly though, I was sort of in denial about it. I figured I would get my period again soon and maybe it was just a little light right now. I was supposed to be reducing my supplements a little so I continued with the plan. In the midst of all this I found out about Beachbody through my coach Meredith and was looking into ingredients in Shakeology and starting at home workouts and becoming a coach. I was super skeptical but I decided to just freaking go for it – it was pretty much exactly what I had been looking for handed to me on a silver platter. I just believe that everything happens for a reason and I knew this opportunity hadn’t presented itself to me by coincidence. So I decided that I was going to do something crazy. I decided to STOP TAKING ALL MY SUPPLEMENTS. For me this was the ultimate test. Would my skin stay clear? What would happen with my cycles? I was spotting again anyway so why not try. So I did. I started doing the workouts, I dedicated myself to PiYo (which is amazing ballet cross training btw) and drank my Chocolate Vegan Shakeology every day. To my genuine surprise, a few days after starting with all this my spotting stopped. Within my first week of drinking Shakeology and stopping all other supplements I had a period again! Since then my cycles are back to 45 days which again is abnormally long but IT’S A FREAKING CYCLE. I’m able to exercise and cross train at home in addition to help my ballet career. I eat healthy and further nourish myself and keep my PCOS in check with Shakeo. My skin is still clear despite some small breakouts here and there. Of course my skin is quite scarred, but that will take time to heal and I honestly don’t mind it very much. It’s a reminder of where I came from. I’m not perfect and my diet is far from perfect but I try by best and that’s all I can ask of myself. Most importantly I’m freaking happy and I want to share this with the world. There’s no cure for PCOS but you can heal yourself and manage your symptoms naturally. I swear your LIFESTYLE is the freaking key to all of it. I want to help you achieve what I’ve been able to. It’s been messy, and it’s been crazy but it’s me and it’s my life. This is my PCOS journey and my PCOS story. It is unique to me just as your story is unique to you.
I knew when I was diagnosed as well as now that we weren’t trying to have children but even so, knowing that you are infertile is a hard pill to swallow. I know I’m going to need help when the time does come. I did a lot of research and decided that when the time came I would try acupuncture (which I still plan to do whenever we actually do TRY to conceive) to help with natural conception. If I’m being completely honest though, even to this day, right here and right now, I still feel ashamed of being the one with the “problem” when it comes to fertility. I have no idea if we’ll be able to conceive or if I’ll miscarry (PCOS miscarriage rate is at about 40% - 80%). Even reading that back to myself terrifies me! Part of me still doesn’t want my family or everyone in my life to know about all of this. Fully admitting it is HARD. But the bigger part of me knows that I have to do this if I want to be able to help people going through the same thing. I have to be brave for them, not for me, but for them, for YOU. So here I am, this is me. I’ve just put almost everything on the table, what you do with it is your decision. With the help of Beachbody I finally have a platform to help people. I finally have tools that can help you like they helped me. Don’t give up, there is hope yet! I’ve emerged from this all the better for it. I’m happy, healthy, and confident in myself and my own abilities, life is beautiful and amazing and I plan to continue living it to the fullest!
Until next time,
xoxo - Harmony