This is probably the hardest post I’ve ever had to write, and I’ve been procrastinating about writing it for months. Prepare to get quite personal!
About five weeks ago I was formally diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). It took months of tests to reach a full diagnosis, and it was something I had suspected I’d had for years, so the results were no real surprise.
For those of you who don’t know, PCOS is a condition whereby you usually have cysts on your ovaries, irregular periods and elevated male hormones, as well as other glorious symptoms such as acne, facial hair and being overweight. Although PCOS is quite common (about 10% of the western female population has it), there are a multitude of reasons why someone might develop it. The condition can never be completely treated, only managed.
Here’s where it gets a little personal. I have not had a regular period at any point in my life. I went on the pill when I was 17 to help improve my skin, but in the four years previous I only had a period once every three to four months. I even asked a doctor when I was 17 whether I might have PCOS, but I was dismissed because I was still young and my body was ‘just taking time to regulate its hormones’.
Last October, I went to a doctor and said I wanted to get off the pill to see how my body responded without artificial hormones. Again, I stupidly let the doctor talk me into switching to a lower dose, progesterone-only pill instead. Finally, in January this year, I decided enough was enough and I stopped taking the pill.
Since then, I have developed pretty serious acne – much, much worse than anything I ever experienced when I was a teenager. I have not had a period in over a year. My testosterone levels are very high, and my ovaries are covered in cysts.
I have always struggled to lose fat in my midsection, and it usually requires eliminating almost all carbohydrates. 90% of people with PCOS are insulin resistant, which may explain why I fainted earlier this year due to low blood sugar levels.
Luckily, because I already expected that I had PCOS, I was prepared for the doctor’s (terrible) advice. He told me I should go back on the pill (which only masks the problem) or take metformin (from most things I’ve read, this should only be used as a last resort). He said I should just carry on as I am, as I’m not trying to get pregnant yet – at which time he would give me more drugs to increase my chances of conceiving.
I am planning to see an endocrinologist or naturopath in the coming weeks to get a better opinion.
I cannot promote the site Paleo for Women enough, which I found via the lovely Juliet. The posts I have read on that site have helped me far more than any doctor has. I am mid-way through the author’s recently released ebook, PCOS Unlocked, which has been amazingly helpful in understanding why I have this condition and how to treat it naturally through lifestyle and diet changes. I am happy to do a full review of the ebook in a few weeks’ time if anyone is interested.
When I received the diagnosis, I took it quite hard. I felt like a failure as a woman, wife, trainer and blogger.
You see, one of the worst things someone with PCOS can do is reduce their body fat levels to an unnatural level as it screws your hormones up even more. In a nutshell: I cannot compete if I want to ever have children or be healthy. As soon as I was diagnosed I researched competing, and reports say it is 10 times harder for women with PCOS to compete – and we know how hard competing is generally.
Because of this diagnosis, the past couple of years of my life had been a waste in my eyes. I had not been blogging about it much, but I was in the process of excitedly choosing my first show for next summer. My dream has been shattered.
There were a number of times I broke down in tears in the middle of the gym. I was very, very harsh on myself during this time. I had been training with the goal to compete for as long as I can remember, and now what did I have to train for? I had never had the urge to binge eat before in my life, and now I feel like I’m constantly fighting the urge to eat crap food. What does it matter if I fill my body with junk if I’m never going to be lean anyway?
The way I see it, I have two options. I can compete as soon as possible and then spend the next few years trying to repair my health, or I can spend as much time as I can improving my health and compete after I have children. Both have clear negatives, and it seems like competing is not in the cards for me.
It’s hard to make this sacrifice now, when kids aren’t yet on the table for me. I know I want to have them ‘some day’, but I think it will be a long time before that motherly urge kicks in.
Right around the time of my diagnosis, I seriously considered – on multiple occasions – shutting down my blog. I started this blog to document my journey to the stage. I felt like a fraud, like everything I had written over the past 18 months had been a lie. It’s easy to say you are going to compete ‘some day’, but never have the balls to do it.
Here I am preaching about loving your body and gaining confidence from lifting, when in reality I am disgusted by the current state of my body. I struggle to even look in the mirror, knowing that it is never going to look the way I want it to.
I obviously didn’t stop blogging. I reminded myself that my blog has evolved to become so much more than about bodybuilding and competing. My posts here are designed to help a wide range of people, most of whom will never compete themselves.
I know now that it would be silly for me to stop lifting and eating right just because I can’t compete. I keep looking towards those inspirational, strong women that do not compete – Lindsay, Nia, Molly (who also has PCOS!) and Jen. The Lift Big, Eat Big community has been a godsend during this time for celebrating strength rather than aesthetics.
I’ve already connected with a number of amazing ladies who have this condition, so I figured that by posting I would open myself to connecting with a few more. Please feel free to email me if you do not want to comment publicly. As always, thanks for reading.