When I was 16 years old, my gynecologist officially diagnosed me with PCOS (poly-cystic ovarian syndrome). Her stern face and sharp eyes gleaned at me and back at the results, and she concluded that I have a disease. Suddenly, the room felt colder than usual, and I just sat in the chair on the verge of tears. In my head, the only phrase that was repeating over and over was “there is something wrong with me.” I left the doctor’s office, crying in the car, while my mother consoled me and tried to make me feel normal.
Why did I have such a visceral reaction?
This is partially due to the fact that I never quite fit in with my friends on the basis of physical appearance. Throughout my life, I was the token fat friend. Hence, the fact that I have PCOS made me feel more alien and further away from my peers, who I have assumed were what societal standards of normal – a terrible assumption that can deem you as an “ass.”
After calming down from this reaction, my mother, who was my prime supporter, told me that I can either wallow in self-pity or do something about it. Naturally, the latter option was the one that I eventually chose (a choice that came with a plethora of ups and downs). So, I began to change for the better.
During the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, my mother contacted a personal trainer to teach me how to shed the pounds. At first, I hated the thought of a personal trainer and going to the gym because I felt judged, like I didn’t belong. I would do the trainings half-heartedly and complained to my mother that the regiment was not working. Let me tell you, that initially push towards a healthier lifestyle is the worse part of anyone’s health journey.
One of the downsides of PCOS is the fact that losing weight is hard, and gaining weight is far easier for those with PCOS. As such, I had to find a balance between my physical activity and what I consumed. At times, it can be heartbreaking when the scale does not want to go down (this is after the water weight shedding stage) and giving up seems like the better option. But, my family and Kak Min, my trainer, kept pushing me on.
When I entered junior year, I felt better about myself, but something still felt wrong. Once my period started to become somewhat regular, I kept getting painful pangs from my abdominal region. The kind of pangs that I made me wake up in the middle of the night, crying. The kind of pangs that debilitated me for a few hours since I was unable to walk from the sheer pain. What were the cause of these pains?
Well, you see, when I was diagnosed with PCOS, my gynecologist also said that I had a cyst (6.8 x 3.8 x 4.2cm) that simple cyst on the right side of my body, near the fallopian tubes. At the time that this cysts was detected, my gynecologist thought it was benign. Little did I know that after a year of it being benign, this little cysts decided to grow.
At first, I refused to believe that the pain was a result of this cyst, which is a result of PCOS. We ran diagnostics with the doctor and it was initially thought of as a UTI. However, after months of taking the UTI medicine, the pain continued to get more severe. So severe that I was admitted to the hospital at night.
This all happened in sometime in when I woke up with sheer pain one night. My mom decided to go to the ER, hoping that maybe medicine or a shot can cure my pain. After the doctors were unable to figure out what was wrong and I was, at this point, just in sheer pain, all of us collectively decided to go on with the surgery. This was a keyhole surgery that is meant to just remove this cyst, the culprit to my period pangs.
During the surgery, my gynecologist, who performed the keyhole surgery, stated that my fallopian tubes wrapped around this cysts multiple times (more than twice). This was the reason why I felt such immense pain whenever I had my period. Not only was there some form of blockage but my tubes were playing a game of Twister as well! Luckily, I was out during this whole surgery. After weeks of recovering and gaining the ability to walk properly again, I returned to school. I was partially mad that I had to miss school since this was the first year of my IB classes and I missed an entire math project, which I had to make up for later. But overall, that surgery reminded me, again, that this is one of the facts of life of living with PCOS.
Ever since that surgery, I (thankfully) had no more pains and no more benign cyst detected near my uterus area. However, other PCOS symptoms continue to prevail, such as thinning hair and the difficulty of losing weight. But those are issues that don’t necessarily cause me pain like the one I felt with my cyst, so I am okay with these issues (which are “easily” (not really, haha!) remedied).
Over time, I have come to recognize the full weight of PCOS, especially coupled with the fact that I have other hereditary health issues due to family history. I was motivated to not let these issues control me. But, just like every other thing set in reality, the journey is never easily.
Of Body Image Issues and Mood Swings
When I first started my health journey, my goal was to be thin, based on societal standards of healthy. I wanted a whole slew of things, and I held this lists like the golden standard. This can be detrimental since, like I said earlier, PCOS makes it harder to lose weight. In addition, one of the other side effects of PCOS is extreme mood swings. The only way to not make me feel like utter shit is when I work out since the endorphins help keep those negative vibes away from me. Mood swings coupled with my personal issues with my body and you get someone who has a weird relation to her fitness goal.
For years, I had such a weird relationship to fitness. On one hand, I wanted to be this fit person that focuses on health in all aspects (mental, physical, and even spiritual). On the other hand, I just wanted to be this physically fit person. This is an issue that I still battle with since my view of fitness has been warped by so many factors (i.e.: social media, my health history, etc.).
In 2017, I decided to make my fitness goal more sustainable. As such, I aim to be physically and mentally stronger, which means not relying on the scale and not trying to be fit based on society’s standards. I will still continue to work out because, as a woman, having any form of physical strength can potentially help you get away from danger. I will try to hold myself accountable to this goal!
With any syndrome or disease, it is up to the individual to navigate through it since not every story is the same. The best way is to educate yourself as much as you can and try to surround yourself with either a community or support system to keep you in check. For me, my support system is my family, my boyfriend, and my friends. These are the people who have kept my in check whenever I felt down about my PCOS or about myself in general. Till then, I will be constantly fighting with PCOS being a part of my physical make-up, but I won’t let it dictate my happiness.
Me circa 2009-2010; at this time, I had not been diagnosed with PCOS yet.
Me circa 2015; I still live with PCOS, but I am doing something about it now.