I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). This doesn’t make me special in any way. Why? Because PCOS is one of the most common hormonal issues faced by women. In fact, according to ANI, 1 out of 5 Indian women have PCOS. I was diagnosed with this condition in my early 20s. I had missed a period and rushed to my OB/GYN. To be honest, that was maybe the 2nd time in 20 years that I had visited a gynaecologist.
After testing my hormone levels, taking my medical history, and viewing my ultrasound, the doctor told me I had PCOS. “Don’t worry, it’s very common,” she said. She prescribed what she explains to be medication for birth control because it can also help treat my PCOS. Birth control? I was 20, but I was still shocked, scared, nervous, and overflowing with questions. The doctor didn’t seem to have either the patience or the time to dispel my fears. She told me to go home, take my medicines, and come back when I was ready to conceive. Possible side-effects? Mood swings, weight gain, and nausea, among others. As for the original reason that brought me to her doorstep—the irregular periods? “Plenty of ladies would prefer not to have their periods,” she said. “So don’t worry so much.”
She did give me the reference of an endocrinologist if I was interested in deep diving into my condition. And I was very interested in knowing more. Now, this doctor told me I was a bit “healthy” (read: overweight) and needed to lose weight. I had, through no change in diet, managed to gain a whopping 12kgs in the last 1.5 years. “Try and lose at least 15kgs over the next six months and then come back.”
I had so many questions, again!
How do I lose weight when without any change in eating habits or lifestyle, I’ve gained 12kgs? I don’t feel equipped or understand what to do differently. Also, if by losing 15kgs I will no longer have PCOS, then why did I have it when I was originally 12kgs lighter? And, if I need to take birth control to treat PCOS, and I’ve been warned it causes weight gain, then how am I ever going to lose weight?
I felt more lost walking out than I did walking in. I figured maybe a third doctor, a nutritionist, might be able to help me lose the weight. Just for your information, your health insurance may not cover visits to a dietician or nutritionist, unless you’re a diabetic—this, I found out later. My nutritionist, not much older than me, enthusiastically chalked up a diet plan for me to follow. I looked down at it, and most of her recommendations were so different from my ghar ka khaana. I took off on a grocery shopping spree, buying protein powder, methi daana, chia seeds, ragi atta, turmeric teas, and organic veggies that won’t tamper with my hormones. Having PCOS is expensive, I thought to myself. Separate meals were prepared to cater to my new diet because they didn’t fit in with what the rest of the khaandaan was eating. I stayed strong for 6 months, following her meal plan. And I did lose weight—4kgs! My number on the scale was quite far from the prescribed 12kg weight loss in 6 months given by the endocrinologist. I almost felt ashamed to go back for a follow-up.
Compounding the physical signs of PCOS like irregular periods, hirsutism (excessive hair growth around the chin, for me), hair thinning on the head, cystic acne, and weight gain were the emotional and mental symptoms I was experiencing. I had mood swings, felt emotional and embarrassed about my physical appearance, and also began experiencing generalised anxiety about routine things. You can swear off alcohol, eat salad for dinner every day, and exercise even though you feel tired all the time, but taking those measures has an emotional impact of its own. You’re never off the clock. You feel like you can never relax, constantly fighting to keep your body in check, even when you have no energy.
And while you are dealing with these symptoms, there is this low lying sword of infertility hanging over your neck! Some women with PCOS can conceive naturally. Others may never conceive or may require assisted conception through IVF, IUI, or ICSI.
Five years later, here I am. Even though I’m overwhelmed and sometimes feel like the odds are against me, I’ve been soldiering on. When I was first diagnosed, I felt ignored by my healthcare team. I was left on my own to figure out the tools to manage my condition in a way that was useful to me. Prescriptions can only take you so far, especially considering the emotional and mental bearings of PCOS, and the body insecurities brought on by the condition.
So I tried, doctor after doctor… after doctor.
Today, I am on a long-term PCOS management plan by Proactive For Her. I stumbled upon this digital healthcare platform through an Instagram ad. After going through the site and their programs, I decided to sign up for their 3-month PCOS gameplan. They begin by first identifying the predominant cause of your PCOS. Did you know there are different predominant causes of your PCOS and each needed a custom treatment approach? I didn’t!
I received a comprehensive 10-page report based on which I was given a holistic treatment roadmap. This included nutrition, fitness, sleep management, stress management, supplements, and prescribed lifestyle habits. It’s not just the deep diving that makes you feel safe and taken care of, there are many other things in their plan that work for me:
- Their nutritionist specialises in PCOS diets rooted in desi Indian food—a much easier and cheaper plan to follow than the one I had earlier.
- You can track your PCOS symptoms and review them with the gynaecologist and nutritionist during your follow up consultations.
- You get 3 free consultations each with the gynaecologist and nutritionist as part of your plan
- They have a community of women with PCOS where members discuss and share their experiences, challenges and learnings. Being a part of this ‘cyster’ gang has honestly helped me so much emotionally and mentally.
- Their cyster community is led by doctors so while you do get to talk your heart out, medically-verified advice is always part of the conversation as well.
May end, I will complete my 3rd month on the Proactive For Her PCOS game plan, and I definitely see myself staying on it for the foreseeable future. It took 5 years, and many different doctors for me to finally find a team of healthcare professionals that work for me. They’re non-judgmental, patient, don’t have a one size fits all approach, and offer the professional and group support you may need if you have PCOS.
My advice to all the ‘cysters’ out there, if you’re reading this, don’t stop. Don’t stop looking for the team or the plan that works for you. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, uninformed, judged, or too embarrassed to ask questions, you’re not getting the right guidance. In the right environment, it’s easier to keep calm and soldier on, one day at a time.
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