In 2017 I wrote a popular post about periods & mental health. This time I’d like to go a step further.
Thanks to the contraceptive pill, up until June 2019, I had a secure handle on my menstrual cycle. I knew exactly when I’d bleed, how much discomfort it’d bring, the obligatory headaches, and which days I’d be most likely to
be a moody bitch experience mood swings.
Take away the contraceptive pill & BOOM, absolute chaos. Both my body & brain were completely out of sync….
This made sense initially, due to the absence of a chemical that it’d relied on for over a decade. However, after three months without improvement, I knew something was up. My GP insisted the symptoms should be attributed to ‘anxiety,’ (this can happen once you get the A word on your medical record). Still, I knew this was different & trusted my instincts.
Neither anxiety nor panic had ever produced symptoms like these:
- Fatigue – to the point that I woke up every morning feeling drugged & struggled to focus on even the simplest of tasks. I needed to nap in the afternoons just to make it through. (In contrast, anxiety always made me feel wired).
- Rapid weight gain, particularly around my stomach. Weight is one of the things I’ve never had any issues with, (I know, what a bitch… but come on I have all the other sh**)! So this was a huge shock.
- Bad skin. I basically became a teenager again.
- Internal cysts that have the potential to rupture….. as a result, I passed out at Anchorage tram station & woke up on the platform writhing in agony. (That was an interesting hour for everyone involved).
- Really intense mood swings & borderline hysterical outbursts . Of all the symptoms this was the most intense. I felt unhinged & completely out of control. This
definitelymay have contributed to my Sept 2019 breakdown that put me in hospital.
Eventually, I sought specialist private healthcare…. & it turns out I have polycystic ovaries. Polly’s what? I asked the doctor, confused. Polycystic ovaries or PCOS. She replied.
For those who are unaware (which included me for the last three decades), PCOS is: a hormonal disorder, whereby a woman produces higher than normal amounts of male hormones & this causes an imbalance in the body.
This imbalance can impact mental health, insulin resistance (the body can’t use insulin properly, which is why some women crave sugar)… inflammation & fertility issues, (which is great to hear when you’re thirty-two & already considered to be ‘pushing your luck’ by biological clock standards)!
Why was I only being diagnosed in my thirties? Well, because the hormones packed into the contraceptive pill had balanced everything out…. remove those hormones & HELLO POLLY!
I wasn’t exactly thrilled to learn that yet another part of me was broken, but what can you do….? (Besides rage incessantly, cry hysterically & drink the pain away irresponsibly until you’re over it).
The real kick in the vag came when the doctor stated; there’s no treatment. The lack of research means that doctors can only recommend ‘lifestyle management.’ Great.
Fortunately, as I started my research into PCOS, an actual miracle happened. I received a copy of what would become ‘the bible’ (to me). The book in question was Moody, by Amy Thompson founder of the app Moody month – oh my word! Talk about hitting the jackpot for hormone education! As my readers will be aware, for me, knowledge is power. It allows us to be proactive & take charge of our bodies/minds. It gives us options.
Amy emphasises the importance of tracking our menstrual cycles so that we can pre-empt hormonal shifts & manage the symptoms. For example, recording how you feel each day.
You can track your cycle using multiple tools, but I went for the Moody month app, which I use religiously. I’m lazy & I wanted something that was both instant & easy, so this was ideal. The ‘daily check in’ feature allows users to log both physical & mental symptoms, which can then be tailored depending on the severity. Based on your ‘check-in’ & cycle the app provides relevant solutions. E.g. Due to X, you may be feeling X. In order to combat this eat lots of X & try X exercise. It’s sort of like having a little helper who sympathises & tells you what to do each day. There’s also super quick articles/videos to read that cover everything from uncomfortable gas to the moon!
I’m still learning how to manage PCOS, it’s an ongoing process. Still, along with tracking my cycle, the following has really helped:
- Acceptance. I don’t have the body I did when I was in my twenties…. The ‘polly belly’ WILL be there at certain times, no matter how much I punish myself with criticism & high intensity exercise, it ain’t going anywhere because it’s a part of me. So I just bought bigger knickers for these times & gave myself a f**king break.
Acceptance takes practice, especially if you’ve been harsh with yourself for years. (I write about self-kindness in my new book). Don’t expect it to just click into place overnight, you need to committ.
- Managing my diet. Honestly so much of this sh** comes back to food, but it makes sense.
Experience has taught me that I can’t do extremes, but I can moderate. So I reduced my white carb intake massively & replaced it with protein or vegetables. (It doesn’t have to be depressing, it’s about changing a habit rather than feeling like you’re being punished). White carbs = REALLY BAD SUGAR THAT HAS NO VALUE LONG TERM.
- Finding the RIGHT exercise – I quit the gym & stopped doing HIIT a few months ago, & now exercise exclusively by walking/hiking for an hour each day. Yoga is good too (if I can be arsed), because I prefer to do strength training using my body, rather than weights. I want to feel strong…. but again, not like I’m punishing myself.
Some other helpful resources include:
(I really struggle with websites/blogs that have a million pop ups ‘selling their wares,’ so the below do not include this)
Healthy PCOS – their Instagram, in particular, is excellent.
Anything that Amy Thompson has touched (no I’m not on commission, or being paid) – I’m just incredibly passionate about her work. She’s the real deal.
Nutritionist Resourse is really great for the science.