How do you know if you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)? Simply put, you might not. And that’s because there’s no such thing as a ‘normal’ menstrual cycle. PCOS symptoms show up so uniquely that I wanted to crosscheck my facts before I wrote this. But I kept tripping over the word ‘normal.’ Ovulation may not adhere to a ‘normal’ schedule. Hormone balance will not be ‘normal.’ If there’s one thing that womanhood isn’t, it’s ‘normal.’
And that’s what makes it so powerful.
What Causes PCOS?
For me the cause was an infatuation with ‘normal,’ something I never thought I was. While my friends grew into their bodies and began to bleed and develop breasts, I remained round and period free, in a state of suspended adolescence. I learned to resent my body because of the way it set me apart from other females.
And then my period finally came, not that I remember it. I must have buried the memory since all lady business was talked about in hushed tones at home. There was no celebration of menarche, no sense of passing from girlhood to womanhood, and no honouring the feminine power lying latent in me.
And that’s the way it stayed until well into my thirties. My bleeding was light, sporadic, and as mysterious to me as my body. It wasn’t until it ceased altogether that I was forced to pay attention.
I saw a male OB-GYN who probed me inappropriately and exacerbated my shame. Doctors asked if I was eating enough since I’d replaced my roundness with a newfound angularity, which I felt compensated for my small breasts. I may have been a freak of nature, but at least I was a proportionate one.
How Do You Diagnose PCOS?
Finally a scan revealed my follicles were full of unused eggs. My ovulation had been disrupted by too much testosterone. It was further affirmation that I was not ‘normal.’ I didn’t see the irony at the time: how patriarchy had infiltrated my body. I was raised to mistrust my womanhood and all that came with it. To manage its mess no matter the cost.
Women’s bodies still baffle our traditional medical model, but back then (circa 2001) PCOS was an anomaly. So I was sent to a clinic specializing in this particular puzzle. Here I met two men intent on solving my feminine mystery with their masculine minds. They talked science. They talked nutrition. They also promised my vulnerable twenty-something-self further weight loss—appealing as it was the only way I knew how to control this uncontrollable body of mine.
I was told to eat as if I had diabetes since mine was considered to be a metabolic condition. Insulin resistance messes with testosterone levels and aggravates PCOS symptoms. So, I accepted the challenge, but didn’t have a chance to register the benefits until much later because I was also put on the Pill.
Synthetic hormones deepened my mind-body disconnection. I packed on 14 pounds and spiralled into depression. Thank goodness the solution was simple. Swap it for another Pill, and another, and so it went until I hit 35 and hit a wall. I’d been hell-bent on making it in a masculine world, keeping up, denying my natural ebb and flow. My body retaliated. Arthritis hit, then dermatitis.
I called a timeout.
Who had I become? I questioned my choices and the ways the world around me had influenced them. Who could I become? I ventured into coaching. I ditched CrossFit, resolving the insulin-testosterone battle raging in my body, and took up with yoga. I slowed down and paid attention. I didn’t need to cultivate a mind-body connection; I needed to uncover it. And I knew the Pill had to go.
Within six months I bled. Then 35 days later I bled again, then 30, then 33. I began to track it and tune in. Day four brings endless energy. Day 15 sends my sex drive off the charts. Day 25 brings a rage that sets my writing alight.
When I bleed, I press reset.
Sometimes I’m in sync with the moon, moving between the new and the full. Either way, I trust. It took me almost 39 years to pass from girlhood to womanhood, my menarche coming within years of my menopause.
How Do You Cure PCOS?
It shows up differently for each of us, just like periods do. But any issue that impacts your most potent femininity is a call back into your body, into yourself. Your bleeds are pure magic however they show up, and, even if they don’t, they’re reminding you of this. There is no normal. There’s only you and yours. Tune in and you’ll find your flow.