Dear friend who has been diagnosed with PCOS.
Let me just say that I so appreciate & respect you.
It is so hard to confront your diagnosis and navigate through all of the knowledge, lifestyle choices, and opinions that come with the label of PCOS. I am certainly no expert. I am learning, striving, crying, and fighting right alongside you. I’m simply hoping that this story that God has given me to pen will encourage you in one way or another.
My story begins in September 2013. Andrew and I had just gotten married in August and moved back to Northland International University to finish our degrees. We were super busy and high on that newlywed glow (a.k.a. eating dessert for breakfast and out of touch with reality kind of high). Within a month I noticed a slight muffin top forming but I wasn’t terribly concerned—weight had never been a problem (*cough* stupid, stupid, stupid *cough*). Still, I got back into running whenever I could and started monitoring my portions. I’m not sure how it all happened so incredibly fast—it felt like an overnight transformation (but not the kind you hope for).
I vividly remember the day that my arms wouldn’t even fit into my sweaters anymore and simultaneously realizing that I had gotten so large that I needed an all new wardrobe or hefty rubber bands to hold it altogether. Talk about a rough Monday. By Christmas break I had gained a total of FIFTY pounds.
I know it sounds like an excuse—but that felt a little unfair for indulging in some extra Buffalo Chicken dip. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. At the time I was on the pill and its common knowledge that you can develop some extra fluff from that—so, I stopped taking it and hoped to track things naturally.
Fast forward to August 2014—life was a blur. To be honest, that span of time is a black hole in my framework of memories. All I know is, when I start to think about it…I cringe and feel like crying. The gist of it: I had started classes with Liberty Online, Andrew graduated from Northland, and we made a last minute (as in days that you can count on one hand) decision to stay involved with our local church by moving to Marinette, Wisconsin rather than “home” to Pennsylvania. We were heavily involved with our church and I was taking as many credits as I could to finish my Bachelors with no break from spring to summer classes.
I was so consumed by all of that that I was able to put my symptoms out of my mind.
I had slowly gained 15 more pounds despite the fact that I had joined a gym and was completing at least hour long workouts 3-5 times a week.
Finally, my Mom started urging me to go the Dr. and I “looked up” from everything that was going on and realized the seriousness of my situation. Initially it was assumed that I had thyroid issues—runs in the family. So in my head I was thinking “quick trip to the doctor, medication to counteract the thyroid, done.” Not so.
After spilling my story to the doctor the questions began about my lifestyle, family history, when I went off the pill, and when was the last time that I had my period—pretty standard. It was then that I realized that it had been nine months since I had last had my period.
Immediately she stated that she was very concerned about that particular issue and thought that the weight and loss of period were linked; but she couldn’t confirm that apart from a specialist. So they drew vials of my blood, set me up with the OB-GYN, and sent me on my way. Over the next few months there were more blood draws and more doctor appointments. Finally, there was D-Day: the ultrasound.
I’ll never forget that day—and not because there was a camera up my private parts. In that dark, little, torture chamber of a room they found more than 10 cysts on each ovary and confirmed that it was exactly what they were leaning towards: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
I had only heard of this once before when throwing around ideas for my “irregular testosterone but otherwise healthy blood levels.” The medical jargon went in one ear and out the other while I was just trying to process the name Polysomething Uterin…no, Ovarian! Disease…or is it syndrome?
“It is extremely common” I guess that’s…..comforting.
“Are you trying to get pregnant or not trying to get pregnant?” Not at the moment.
“This means your biggest concern is uterine cancer.” Well that doesn’t sound pleasant.
“You’ll need to go back on the pill in order to get your period to prevent uterine cancer” (because it ain’t happenin’ naturally)—great, another pill.
“Also you should really take Metformin even though you’re not diabetic”—great, two more pills!
“When you’re ready to have kids, we’ll stop the birth control and put you on alternate medication and/or fertility treatments. Otherwise, it’s going to be really difficult to conceive. Not impossible but very difficult.” Great.
“The Mediterranean (and the total opposite of all the food you’ve ever grown up loving) diet is the ideal way to eat. Here is a dark copy of a Mediterranean food pyramid for you to follow. Your insurance plan allows for three visits to the nutritionist for help on a diabetic meal plan—shall I put you down?” Sure, why not? Maybe I’ll understand all this by the time I get there .
“And it will be extremely hard and nearly impossible to lose weight but you have to if you’re hoping to avoid Diabetes by the time you’re 30.” Yeah, pretty sure that I’m hoping to avoid that.
“But for now the bottom line is: take your pills and work out even more.”
And oh, both of your doctors will need to see you again every six months…..until the end of time. Ok, maybe not the end of time. And they were nice enough so let’s not drag their names through the mud.
I know I’m being typically sarcastic about that whole experience—forgive me. Even though sarcasm was (and is) my primary reaction to the stereotypical unveiling of my condition—there was a lengthy progression of coming to terms with and understanding this information. On one hand, I was extremely relieved to label my symptoms. On the other hand, I was extremely frustrated and confused.
Aside from the “sorry about that” look, I felt like my Doctors had given me a few to-dos and a “just try your best”—like I was condemned already.
There were hundreds of questions and random facts that were floating around in my mind with no reason or direction. I kept wrestling with…”ok, I have to lose weight, eat like a diabetic, and take this pill…but why? What good will it do? And what is PCOS (besides cysts on my ovaries) anyway?”
After all was said and done, I was taking Metformin and birth control—hoping for the best. Months passed in that way. My diagnosis was pushed to the side as I raced to finish my degree over the next three semesters while holding a full-time job and trying to maintain a semblance of a social presence at church and with my husband.
After my final summer classes sailed off into the distance and I was finally able to unpack more boxes into our newly purchased home, I decided to revisit my diagnosis on a more personal level. It had been left in the corner for too long and it wasn’t going away. It should really learn to pick up on social cues. Acknowledging my condition placed me on my very own emotional rollercoaster ride. I knew in my head that God had allowed this in my life and that He would give me the strength to deal with it. Still, it’s hard.
To say overwhelmed doesn’t seem to do it justice. I cycled through feelings of motivation, shame, embarrassment, depression, fear, acceptance, worry, peace, desperation, and anger. One day I would feel like the Rosie the Riveter of PCOS. Other days I would fight against the overwhelming urge to throw a tantrum and cry.
I would start to research with optimism only to stop and cry because I couldn’t piece together my findings. I would let it breathe for a few days before trying again…then rinse & repeat.
I purchased a Mediterranean cookbook and tried to overcome my hatred of tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives. I shot a glance at the sugar free life—because diabetics shouldn’t have sugar, right?
After a long period of frustration and “what’s the point anyway” blaring in my mind, I went back to the gym to find that it had become a burden and a point of constant failure in my life.
I eventually stopped going to the Doctor every six months because it was like listening to a broken record “here’s an A for effort, keep trying, and take your pills.”
They say that women with PCOS can struggle with mood swings, lashing out, and anger management—it is really any wonder?
The New Year rolled around. Ding! It’s 2016. Ding! Nothing has changed. Ding! You’re never going to get anywhere. At least that’s what I heard.
I don’t know what I googled differently that March that I hadn’t googled in any of the months before because it was right there at the top of the page: PCOS Diet Support. I only had time to peruse the front page and watch a welcome video but I was SO ECSTATIC. Somebody else had this same, exact issue and found a way to deal with it. Not only that, but she was going to tell me WHY my body was doing what it was doing. This was a game changer.
Because of Tarryn & PCOS Diet Support, I realized the main issue was insulin—too much of it. In turn, the excess insulin turns to fat, increases your ever so delicate testosterone levels, hormone balances are thrown off kilter, and outside everything goes to pot: weight, infertility, acne, bloat, too much or too little hair, mood swings, to name a few lovely attributes.
Now that I knew why my body was reacting this way, I finally felt like I had hope. All I had to do was figure out how to balance my body out.
Initially, I followed Tarryn’s PCOS Diet Support Meal Plan and tips to a T. I drank Inositol & spearmint tea every morning; stock piled Folic Acid & Vitamin D in addition to my usual supplements; started abiding by a Whole30 style (Gluten Free, Dairy Free, nearly sugar free) diet; and scheduled weekly personal training appointments for help with HIT workout ideas.
I gave it all that I had and then some.
Of course there were always areas to work on, but I did.
I pushed hard.
Almost a year later, nothing had changed except that I was super strong. I’m not knocking strong for lack of results. But it wasn’t the result that I wanted to, needed to, see. There was a superficial element of wanting to see awesome results for my hard work, be able to wear my cute clothes again, feel sexy for my husband again, but it was deeper than that.
Every time that I stepped on the scale and nothing changed, I felt like I was further and further from carrying my own baby.
We were at a point in our lives where I would’ve loved to start trying for a baby but I wanted to get my body in working order before taking on fertility medications. I wanted to know that the root problem was resolved and that I would be able to maintain it throughout pregnancy & post-partum.
So I kept pushing but it was half-hearted. I didn’t eat as well as I should because most of the time I was frustrated or near giving up. I worked out but not nearly as hard as I could have. I felt like I was floating in limbo.
Then a busy month came and went without one trip to the gym and alternating from barely eating to binging. I completely derailed.
I was miserable. I knew that I needed to keep going but I was having such a hard time finding the motivation. I tried to imagine holding my own baby or being able to slip into my old bikini to keep pushing myself towards my goals. But that was short-lived because I just felt resigned to my condition, weary.
Because if nothing had changed by now—all of the sweat, sore muscles, healthy eating—what would change in the future? I wasn’t even sure which medication/diet plan/supplement I was supposed to be using–it had all become so jumbled in the process.
Then one day I was having terrible stomach pain only to realize later that I had gotten my period—completely natural. I cried and cried and cried. I texted my friend and we cried together. I have never been so happy to need a tampon. It was all I could do to not frame the pad and hang it on my wall. I felt like God had allowed me a small ray of hope. Things were starting to work the right way…just maybe.
Around that same time, a friend popped up on Facebook saying that she has had amazing success with Beachbody & Shakeology and how her life has changed for the better, because of that she wanted to help others reach their goals by becoming a coach. Until that point, I had knocked Beachbody for being a typical, money making, hierarchy building scheme. I had sampled Shakeology in the past and loved it, but the price—not sure if I wanted to be that committed! Still I trusted this friends opinion, mentioned it to my bestie and husband—who encouraged me to try it out, so I sent this friend a quick message stating that I was interested.
I have been utilizing Beachbody for a few months now and I have to say that I love where I’m at with it. I haven’t lost crazy weight, I’ve struggled with frustrating days, and I still splurge on occasion. And to be extremely honest, the last month and a half has been somewhat haphazard due to my even busier schedule. But I feel like I’ve found a good balance that I can realistically maintain. I cleansed my body of all of those medications & supplements and started over from the ground up. I eat a very strict 21 Day Fix diet (like one small splurge every 10 days kind of strict) and I work out every night alternating between cardio, strength training, pilates, & yoga on the 21 Day Fix. Very slowly I am seeing positive results: losing small amounts of weight, having more energy, seeing tone & definition, every day I’m able to work out harder than the day before, loss of cravings, and what’s more, I FEEL better—physically, mentally, emotionally. I’m not nearly where I want to be but I’m keeping my head down and making better choices one day at a time. I don’t view this as a quick fix to lose weight or to be able to have a baby…this is a new & better lifestyle that I enjoy maintaining.
Now you’re all caught up and this story doesn’t end with miraculous weight loss or a positive pregnancy test. More likely than not, there will be many more downhill twists and turns intermingled with the uphill moments because it’s part of the journey. If I meet one goal, there will surely be another beyond it. You may think that’s a sad ending. But one of the reasons that I share all of this with you is that I want you to know I’ve learned contentment, confidence, and even joy in my situation.
Don’t confuse me with a saint. I still cry in the bathroom, I still yearn for my own baby, I still hope to sidestep diabetes, and I still haven’t thrown away that bikini because I’m still hoping to use it again. But ultimately, those things are out of my control. God may or may not allow those things and I have to decide how I am going to react. I can be content in the fact that I am doing my best, 110%, all in effort, to be the best, healthiest version of myself; knowing that beyond that, God is working my situation out for his glory in whatever outcome. I can be confident in who I am, who God has created me to be, without shame regarding my diagnosis & appearance. I can have joy because my life is not my own; I am able to share my story with & encourage others–incredible women like you–which gives this segment of my life a greater purpose.
I exist for Him and by Him, my life is not about me. My life may not be turning out, even remotely, the way that I envisioned but I’ve found that God’s plan is even better. I find the greatest fulfillment in being able to give God the glory through my life, using it to encourage others and help them to see Christ. That includes all of those depressing, icky, & hopeless moments.
Perhaps infertility will allow us the opportunity to adopt that may not be available if we had our own.
Perhaps my experiences will encourage someone else that I couldn’t relate to otherwise.
Perhaps this journey will cause me to rely on God more fully than without it.
Whatever the case, I am secure (most days) in the fact that God has blessed me with so much more than I deserve: a loving husband who is constantly telling me that I’m beautiful, supportive friends & family who encourage me to keep pushing, a cozy home where I can find rest, a reliable job that enables me to pursue my goals, and ultimately saving grace that gives me greater purpose than my condition.
Whether or not God meets my desires will not determine the extent of my faith.
In fact, I’m going to keep praising him & loving life either way. Choosing to thank Him for all of the truly wonderful things that I do have rather than focus on what I do not have. I know that my future lies in eternity with my Savior, everything else is just icing on the cake.
People have told me it’s surprising that I can remain strong in my faith after dealing with all of this for so long with “little success.” To that I would say, we need to redefine success. For so long I looked at success only in losing weight. But now it contains so much more, the small victories, like: feeling better, working out consistently, being persistent & determined. And as for my faith, why would I ever doubt when that is the one thing that I can constantly trust in? When everything else just plain sucks, God is still there, holding me up & giving me breath. That isn’t to say that I have never struggled with God’s allowance of this in my life but even then I can rely on God’s faithfulness to be true.
I hope that somehow, in some small way, that this rambling of my four year journey with PCOS is encouraging to you.
Know that you are loved. Fiercely.
Know that you are not ever alone. Not for one millisecond.
Know that you can find contentment and peace within your situation. It is possible.
And know that if you ever want to chat, I’m only a click away.
My heart & prayers go out to you, friend.