I have had a number of women contacting me recently with heartbreaking stories about their PCOS or other female health disorders. And as such I felt compelled to share my own story with you all.
There is a very good chance you are reading this and thinking, "What? How can she be grateful? It wrecked my relationships, self esteem, work and turned my life upside down?" and I hear you. I was there once too.
From the age of 11, I had heavy periods, so heavy that two tampons all for heavy and a pad would only last 30 minutes, and I was always having to hand wash blood out my underwear at the end of the day. Mattresses would be ruined, not just sheets regardless of the precautions taken and my parents would always complain. The pain was horrendous, I remember begin curled up in be with a hot water bottle, I had taken pain killers and not to great affect.
I was bullied at school for my acne, put on weight very easily and have struggled with it since in the following years. I was then put on the Oral Contraceptive Pill or OCP.
This regulated my bleeds to some degree which was a blessed relief, but I piled on the weight. Over my early 20s, the gynaecologist changed the pill, tried an IUD, a non hormonal coil and an implant, all of which made it worse. By this point my hair started thinning and I was getting a noticeable growth of facial hair.
My self esteem was so low, I accepted begin treated less favourably at work, I hated looking in the mirror, my family were always pointing out bits for me to maintain, wanting me to not be embarrassed, but the result was further mortification that I had a hair on my face that I had missed that they could see.
I was then put on another pill, which was then changed again twice. My symptoms got worse, I got pneumonia, was diagnosed with asthma (I had stopped singing and playing the trumpet which probably masked it in childhood), and had massive digestive issues and then got migraines. Not the kind of migraines that you just lie in bed for a couple of days. These were the kind where I would stay frozen in place for an hour or so from the onset of pain, and it frightened my work colleagues as I would just not move or respond for nearly an hour at a time. As far as I was aware, I was just taking a minute struggling to even out my breathing to get through the pain. This would be followed by blurriness in my right eye and floppyness in my right side.
So, I was finally given a referral for that to a neurologist who gave me tablets to prevent and relieve the attacks, and I had horrendous abdominal pains too, and couldn't keep food down anymore, so I was on three medications each time I ate. Eventually I required surgery which stopped the abdominal pain being so severe, but I was still on stupid amounts of painkillers and was constantly being admitted to hospital with pneumonia following seizures brought on by the fever.
I was at rock bottom. I was worried about my job and being able to support myself and didn't take any of the recommended recovery time. But my general health got worse and worse. I was on so many medications including very high dosage steroids.
I then started researching PCOS. I knew that it was linked to low immunity and the one thing I hadn't really understood properly. The first thing that I noticed everyone kept recommending was diet. I did some research on this, to find out the why and I encountered a lot of resistance.
It's Not Fair
I love chocolate and exotic fruits such as pineapple. It wasn't fair that all the books were recommending not eating my favourite food. What more is comforting than a baked potato. And cheese, I love my cheese. I stayed in this place for quite a while. It wasn't fair that I ate the same as everyone else and got fat and acne. It wasn't fair that I had done nothing wrong but had spent all my annual leave an more in a hospital. It wasn't fair that I was spending a fortune getting to and from appointments with specialists all the time. It wasn't fair that everyone else I knew was moving on with their lives and getting married, having children or travelling.
Everything just wasn't fair. Then I had a light switch go off. It really isn't fair that I can't do the same as a lot of people, without suffering the consequences, but what really isn't fair is that there are children with rare an incurable cancers. There are people in the world who have no food, water, or shelter let alone toothbrushes, electricity or heat. The more I thought about it, I realised, actually, I was so lucky. I had done the research (and even did a qualification in nutrition by this point) and there was a lot I could do about keeping the symptoms under control and even reducing them. I just had to want that more than I wanted baked potato with cheese followed by a chocolate desert.
This was my first breakthrough. I realised I had the key to my own health and was going to do it. No diets that I five up after a few days, or weeks. I was going to do it cold turkey. And I did. I also looked at the areas of stress in my life and my feeling of purpose. I changed my job, I discovered fertility massage.
Within 6 months, I had lost 5 stone, my skin was clear, my health had improved, I no longer needed tablets in order to eat a meal. My asthma cleared up, so I came off the steroids. My migraines reduced quite dramatically in frequency, duration and the amount of pain that they came with. I even retained my sight and motor control during them.
Everyone I knew commented on how different I looked. They all supported me when I was struggling with making good food choices. My confidence and self esteem slowly got better. I took actions to reduce stress in my life. I qualified in Womb and Abdominal Massage (I was in the first group of practitioners to train in this speciality area) and I met my partner, who is the perfect person for me. I kept working on self care and studied other great self care routines for women too.
Even my periods are great. My cycles are textbook 28 days. My bleed is exactly 5 days, long, 3 heavier than the rest, but no where near as heavy as before. The blood is always bright red, clot free and I don't suffer PMS or pain. I very rarely get a slight ache in my lower back before but that is my only clue that something is different. I finally have my life back, pain free, and with me in control I even ovulate ( very rare with PCOS, I was told aged 13 it would be impossible for me to conceive without fertility drugs).
This was great but I still went through a stage of blaming myself. But on observation, we live in a society where nutrition is taken for granted, and taught in a one size fits all model. Having my portion of grains and dairy just wasn't going to help me. I can't blame myself for a society that doesn't teach these things or where everything is treated with medication rather than diet first. But I can't dwell on the past and let it consume me and ruin my future. I have to move on and stick to looking forward. The same was true if I had a day where I fell off the wagon. Rather than get upset that I had ruined my hard work, I just had to remind myself that tomorrow was another day.
Rather than blaming myself for potentially damaging my fertility, I now know from learning to become a Natural Family Planning teacher, that I have returned to fertile cycles.
Reinforcing That I Am Empowered
I now feel in control of my symptoms and my body in ways I never felt were possible before and it isn't restricting it is liberating. Yes, I had to do the research and learn how to cook vegetables properly to make them interesting, but now I love that. I love that all my choices are around "what nourishes me".
During the Easter period, I was naughty and had some Easter eggs (ok a lot, ot a huge blow out but enough to cause some damage). Within a few hours, my acne re-appeared. Within a week I put on half a stone, all around my abdomen, I suddenly got terribly stomach pains and had to dig out my meds again and a migraine.
But for this I am grateful, as it really reminded me that I am in charge. I can always choose to eat less idea foods, and if I do, I just gracefully accept that I will become symptomatic. But here is the thing, it is completely my choice. And going back to my images of kids with cancer or people in horrendous poverty, I am SO lucky to be in control of my situation and will not take that for granted again.
My life has become more abundant, and I have discovered my true purpose, in helping women reclaim their bodies. I practice gratitude daily, remembering how lucky I am.
I appreciate this is a long post, however, having had so many women contact me recently blaming themselves or feeling that life is unfair. Or feeling at the mercy of their bodies. I know that there are things that we can do that make a difference and that there is light at the other end and I help women now with all sorts of pelvic issues: from PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids and cysts through to menstrual or fertility issues. And I encourage each one of you to take charge of your own health too.
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Find out more about How Stress Affects Your Periods
Find out What A Period Actually Is
You can find out more about what periods are, how to choose and use menstrual products, meditations, journalling, self care practices and essential oils for period pain in my Periodology Programme.