Hope in the Hormone Wilderness

Recently, I’ve found myself stuck in the “in between." Through the years, I've spent substantial time on both poles of chronic illness: extremely sick (hopeless) and feeling strong (doing great!) Right now, I’m in the blurry, daily muck of it---both emotionally and physically. I’m not pregnant, I’m not having a period. I’m just wandering in the hormone wilderness.

I knew going off of the pill would wreak havoc on the normalcy I once had. I knew that going off Spironolactone (used for acne in this case) would also make my body readjust once again. I knew the probability of sporadic periods, returning acne, and the overall effects of hormone imbalance that come with PCOS. I knew what I was walking into yet even with all the preparation and preparedness in the world, it’s still really hard.

I pee on sticks to see if I’m ovulating, I pee on sticks to see if I’m pregnant. I check my underwear for any signs of blood, just SOMETHING to tell me where my body is at in the cycle. No signs, nothing to get my bearings on this path towards fertility. I feel like I’m floating in the wind, going every which way, not sure where I will land. One of the most frustrating symptoms? Acne as a 30-year old. It takes me right back to middle school with the embarrassment and hassle of it. Every day when I look in the mirror, I’m reminded that my hormones are gasping for breath, reaching out for normalcy once again.

In this journey, I’ve had to open myself up to the idea that I could be peeing on stick for a long time. I could be waiting for my ovaries to figure themselves out for longer than I dare to write. And unfortunately, that’s not uncommon for many of the women I know. There are countless stories of struggle AND hope with PCOS. Yet, knowing there’s hope in a situation doesn’t take away of the weariness I’ve felt living in the midst of it.

Living with PCOS is such an internal battle. On the outside, I’m moving forward in what I know to be true but on the inside, I’m weary and frustrated with the path that’s been chosen for me. It’s in times like these when I wish I was just "normal"---whatever that means. It’s funny how the low places make me believe that everybody else has it together, even though I know that’s not true. We all have junk to carry and battles to fight on this path we’re walking.

Whether it’s PCOS, an auto-immune disease, or other chronic health issues, dealing with the emotional and physical weight of our bodies being out of whack is HARD. Yes, there are practical things we can do to alleviate symptoms and promote healthy living. There's counseling, community, and faith to help us cope with the emotional roller coaster chronic illness can send us on. There is also a time to look each other in the eye and say “Hey, I hear you, “That sucks,” and “I'm with you.”

Can we walk alongside each another in the murky “in between” of life; when there isn’t a 3-step program or overnight solution for the brokenness we experience on this side of heaven? Can we grieve together and lean on one other when we feel weary?

So, friend. With eyes welled up with tears, I'm here to tell you: you’re not alone. Even though you feel like no one understands and are tired of fighting in this battle, don’t you dare give up. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that you’re fighting a worthy cause. We can do this. With scars and limps, we’ll walk along this earth knowing that there is a heavenly Hope where our bodies won’t hurt anymore, where we won’t have to face our insufficiencies any longer. One day, we will be made whole again and brokenness will be a faint, distant memory.

Oh come, Lord Jesus, come.

PCOS Awareness

September is PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) Month and since much of my perspective on health comes from struggling with PCOS, I though sharing a brief overview of the syndrome would be a great way to kick things off.

“PCOS [is an endocrine disorder that] affects over 7 million women. That’s more than the number of people diagnosed with breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and lupus combined.” Louis Chang, MD, PCOS Awareness Association

In a nutshell, PCOS causes hormone imbalances that influences the body in several different ways. Women with PCOS can suffer symptoms like unwanted hair growth, difficulty losing weight, acne, ovarian cysts, the inability to ovulate, anxiety, and depression. With its effects on the body, PCOS can cause serious health complications in women such as infertility and diabetes.

With PCOS, insulin in a woman’s body doesn’t process or absorb correctly, which increases the risks of becoming insulin resistant or developing diabetes. According to the PCOS Awareness Foundation, more than 50 percent of women with PCOS will develop diabetes or pre-diabetes before the age of 40. These risks are why it's important to take PCOS seriously by regulating sugar intake and weight gain.

The effects of PCOS don't cause just physical struggles but emotional ones as well. It challenges many of the things considered feminine, in particular the ability to ovulate. Not being able to ovulate naturally makes it difficult to get pregnant and is why PCOS is considered the leading cause of infertility among women (more on this here).  PCOS also increases a woman's risk of having a miscarriage in pregnancy. This makes coping with PCOS on a daily basis emotionally difficult for the women who have it.

Unfortunately, there is no cure yet, but there are big steps women can take to alleviate and lessen the symptoms of PCOS. I know it’s boring news, but diet and exercise are keyStudies have shown that losing just 5-10% of one's body weight can tremendously help health complications associated with PCOS.  Eating the right foods, giving your body what it needs, and finding activities that will help you stay active are vital—not just for your body but to help fight anxiety and depression which are quite common among women who have PCOS. There are also medications a doctor can prescribe that can lessen symptoms, such as birth control or metformin. Although these medications can be super helpful, they're only bandaids to the actual problems going on inside. Finding natural ways and lifestyle changes to regulate hormones is possible and more sustainable long term. 

Every woman with PCOS is impacted differently. Some women’s lives are completely rocked by it and some barely notice symptoms. Some women struggle getting pregnant and some don’t have any trouble at all. Some women feel the effects but don’t even know they have it! This is why it’s important to raise awareness: so that women can find help, health, and hope.

To those struggling with PCOS right now: you’re not alone and you’re not crazy. Hormones can make you feel that way. Know that there are millions of us who understand what you're going through, including me. PCOS isn’t a death sentence but an opportunity to listen and take care of our bodies. There are natural ways to balance hormone levels in our bodies so that we live healthier and fuller lives. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s hard work, but it’s worth it. That's the journey I'm on (and will be sharing more about).  If you think you have PCOS but aren’t sure, I’d encourage you to go visit a trusted doctor and get checked out. There isn’t a particular test for it, but together with a list of symptoms, a physical exam, and blood tests, a doctor can make a PCOS diagnosis. Having a diagnosis will help you know how best to adjust your lifestyle in order to make you feel better!

Keep reading Flourish for more inspiration on coping with chronic illness and ideas on holistic health. In the meantime, check out these helpful resources:

  • Much of this helpful information is provided by the PCOS Awareness Foundation. To learn more about PCOS and find ways to get involved, visit the PCOS Awareness Association here.

  • Dr. Aviva Romm is a wonderful resource for women and children’s health. Her holistic, functional medicine approach to hormonal issues is not just informative but really hopeful. Listen to her talk on PCOS here.  

  • Women with PCOS do well on a high protein, low carb diet. If you haven’t heard of the Paleo diet, it’s works wonders for women with hormone disorders, including me! Learn about it here