Bleeding, cramps and facial hair: What it’s like living with polycystic ovary syndrome
PCOS = probably cramping or spotty
PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, is relatively common among young women, often cropping up in your late teens, early twenties. But why is it so rarely talked about?
For years, I’ve had period problems. At first, they were so debilitating that I could barely make it out of bed. Of course, doctors shrugged this off as my body simply adjusting to regular menstruation. But what about those women on the sanitary adverts who go dancing all night and do spinning in the gym whilst they’re shedding their uterine lining? Surely there was something wrong with me, right? But the doctors said I was just being a drama queen. I was put on the combined pill and promised it would alleviate the heavy bleeding and insufferable pain.
As you’ve probably guessed, it didn’t. In fact, it forced me to bleed even when I was anorexic and should’ve had amenorrhea. My new regular doctor immediately saw the problem and put me on a progestogen and desogestrel pill which allowed my anorexic body to stop bleeding and start trying to put whatever little energy I had left into keeping me alive.
The POP pill was – and still is – amazing. Even after recovering from anorexia, I very rarely had periods. I had the odd spotting for a few days, but even that wasn’t regular. Those days were hell; the stomach-churning cramps and general pelvic pain would return but luckily, there wasn’t floods of blood like there was before. Besides, these spotting episodes only ever happened once every three years.
But something changed last year. My hair became extremely greasy and I suddenly developed acne. As someone who never experienced these things in their adolescence, I was upset – I didn’t want another awkward phase of my life. Having had an eating disorder, and disordered thoughts about my appearance generally, it was occupying my mind and I couldn’t concentrate because of how I looked and how monstrous I must have looked to the outside world. I started plastering on more make up to cover up the spots and quizzed my hairdresser about different types of shampoo I could use, both to no avail.
I’ve always been pretty hairy and I’ve always been extremely self-conscious of it having been bullied for it at school. It seemed under control…until the other aforementioned symptoms cropped up. Suddenly I was having to remove my upper lip hair more often, doing top up epilating sessions a few times here and there.
I didn’t bother going to the doctor for months. I figured I would just get told the same thing I did when I was younger. I was making a big deal out of nothing. I did visit another doctor for my acne and hair, but I was told to go back to my hairdresser for hair advice and as for spots, I’d ‘grow out of it’. So I let months pass by and I increasingly spent more and more time washing my hair, cleansing my skin and removing hair in unwanted places.
Then one night, laying in bed quite comfortably, I was awoken by a searing pain in my left ovary. I’d never experienced anything quite as painful in my life. At one point, I was worried I’d have to go to A&E because it was so distressing. The pain lasted all night but had dulled down a little bit by morning. It happened again a couple of weeks later. Something was definitely wrong. I booked an appointment with a doctor as quickly as I could. She listened to me, was very helpful and suggested that it could be hormonal. She instantly made a connection between all of my symptoms and rushed me off to have a blood test. A week later, my blood results were back and my doctor told me the news: I have PCOS.
It’s inconvenient, to say the least, but I’m one of the lucky ones and thankfully, a bunch of other PCOS sufferers such as Harnaam Kaur have spoken out about the condition and raised awareness about it. Our generation is lucky in the sense that the information about these things is at our fingertips, and so it should be, considering that approximately 20 per cent of women are affected by it. However, what is disheartening is how doctors are still dismissing period irregularities and reproductive problems women are having. My diagnosis could’ve come a lot sooner, had I been taken seriously. There’s still a stigma surrounding periods and taking women’s pain seriously. We’re still treated with suspicion and our pain is dismissed as ‘part of life’ and something we need to ‘get used to’.
I’m grateful for my diagnosis because I now know what treatments are available to me. Ironically, it probably couldn’t have happened to a better person, considering PCOS can affect your fertility and I never want to have kids. But for many, it can be debilitating in itself. It can cause horrific side-effects. I’m lucky. I’ve gotten off with mild symptoms. Knowing it could be worse makes me grateful, but it has also inspired me to join others and speak out about it because some might be too afraid to do the same. It’s time we started talking about conditions like PCOS because a lot of people will go through unnecessary pain if we don’t, people will be silenced by their doctors, too scared to seek help, their symptoms only worsening until they develop other health problems as a result.
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