NOTE: This post contains topics including reproductive health. If you are sensitive about these subjects, please know that this is my experience. This post is not meant to be advice and is completely my own opinion.
After approximately 30 years of relatively good health that allowed me to basically ignore that aspect of my life, all through 2013 I struggled with a snowballing list of symptoms that I couldn’t figure out.
I was working out 6 days a week because a friend and I had taken up running in 2009. I did yoga, crazy cardio classes, and ran. I was eating extremely healthfully, and kept a log of everything I ate.
Yet, with this seemingly healthy array of habits, I was exhausted. My ankles began to swell and hurt constantly. I started going to physical therapy and cut back on the running, though I didn’t stop. I also started gaining weight. Between 2010 and 2013, I put on 40 pounds and it kept climbing no matter what I did. I also started getting migraines at a much higher pace than normal for me—they started at about one a month, and by 2013, I was getting them 2-3 times a week. I started to see a neurologist but nothing helped. The entire time, I did have a very stressful job, and it was keeping me in the office for long, highly intense hours on a regular basis. I started noticing my hair was falling out. OH, and I got shingles. I started coming home from work every night, eating some food, and falling asleep. I had no energy for anything else. I felt like a 90 year old woman.
I went from a size 4, to a 6, skipped the 8s, then 10, and 12 within such a short period of time, I didn’t know from day to day if any of my clothes would fit. My husband found me in tears the day I couldn’t zip up my knee-high boots because my left leg was so swollen. I had to cut myself out of that boot.
Every conversation I had with a doctor went like this:
- I would list the above litany of symptoms and concerns.
- The doctor would look at my food log and exercise journal, look at me—obviously puffy and 40 pounds heavier than my previously natural weight—and suggest that I was not being truthful.
- The doctor would tell me I was stressed out and should look into antidepressants.
I knew that wasn’t the answer. I just knew something else was going terribly wrong.
Finally, I attended a Christmas party where the wife of one of my husband’s colleagues started sharing about her job as a fertility consultant. Some of the stories she told about her own journey with health made me ask her some deep questions—I hadn’t been trying to get pregnant, but she had dealt with many of the same symptoms I was dealing with and I thought…maybe this isn’t a coincidence.
Through our connection, and eventually my becoming her client, we were able to finally come to a diagnosis of PCOS in 2014. I had to find a specialist who could diagnose me, and I had to advocate for myself. My doctor did not refer me. They were still pushing the antidepressant route.
April 2014: I weighed 180 pounds, up from my natural set point of 130 (natural set point meaning that’s the weight I was at, effortlessly, before I started dealing with symptoms of my disease). I had stopped exercising due to the swelling feet and ankles and the pain. I was more than tired—I felt like I was walking around dead. And, I went off birth control as part of the diagnosis process, revealing that my cycles (which had never been regular) had completely stopped happening naturally.
It was actually a relief to get a diagnosis. At that point, I was sure I would never feel healthy again. I went to the bookstore, got 3 books on my condition, and began to study.
I started to put what I learned into practice, beginning with my diet. I had an assortment of supplements that were recommended to me by my specialist. He also suggested that I go gluten free, because often gluten causes severe inflammation and digestive issues in people with PCOS. I was skeptical—it’s become such a fad diet and people don’t understand that it’s not a weight loss tool. But, my husband (who turned out to be my biggest health champion!) said we should give it a shot because I had nothing to lose.
Within two weeks my life changed. I began to feel more energy. I didn’t wake up and immediately want to go back to sleep. I felt like going for a walk to get some exercise. I stopped feeling shaky and weak an hour after eating (because I was regulating my blood sugar better with the new diet and supplements). My ankles stopped hurting and the swelling started to go down.
That first year, I lost 10 pounds of the 50 I’d gained and I kept it off for awhile, which gave me hope. I was still under a lot of stress and there were many life changes to make before things really took off, but it was a HUGE start, a relief, and a new lease on life!
In the last 4 years, I’ve had the energy to go back to grad school while working full-time, I left that job and started a business. I started a second business! I travel, I go out with friends, I do all the things I’d missed out on when I was so sick! My migraines are back to a once-a-month level.
I won’t ever be able to have children, but my husband and I are at a good place with that. We love our lives, and are just happy that I’m well enough to enjoy all the things we get to do.
Last year, I took huge strides in regaining the levels of health I enjoyed before my journey with PCOS started. I found a hair care strategy that helped me to begin regaining the nearly 20% hair loss. I started working with a body concierge who has helped me to further refine my diet to my nutritional needs and specific health concerns, and I lost 13 pounds.
This year, we’re working on building back my muscle strength, and creating a low-impact workout routine that my health can support. I want to be as strong on the outside as I feel on the inside. I will probably lose more weight in the process, but the goal is health.
I am so thankful for all that I’ve been through. It made me strong and resilient. It made me realize how much I took my health for granted. It gave me a glimpse of the struggles people go through to maintain their health in our busy culture. I had to make hard choices in order to get to this point—I truly had to change my whole life. But it has been so worth it. I can’t wait to see what happens next!