My blog on Day 3 covered the symptoms I had which eventually led to my diagnosis aged 22 with PCOS.
Over the years my symptoms have changed in severity and I have also experienced some of the longer-term health conditions which, by having PCOS, I am at a higher risk of developing.
My original symptoms of PCOS were hirsutism (excess facial & body hair) and a total absence of periods – both caused by high levels of testosterone circulating in my blood. I have also lived with overweight and obesity since the age of 5.
As time went on, I was diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure) at the age of 25. This was picked up in Aug 1994 when I was admitted into hospital for a bilateral ovarian biopsy to check for ovarian cancer and adrenal tumours. Thankfully the tests came back negative, but from here on I would be on an increasing cocktail of medication to keep my blood pressure under control.
At the age of 26 I started self-harming as a way of coping with my emotional turmoil, as my comfort eating had become so bad that it was no longer fully easing the pain I felt inside. In 2003 I was diagnosed with depression (age 34), although I had been struggling with my mental health from before my PCOS symptoms even started – mainly due to my overweight and subsequent school bullying. Despite trying several antidepressant medications, I found that they didn’t really help my symptoms.
My diagnosis of insulin resistance and pre-diabetes came fairly soon after this, and I was put on Metformin to help control my blood sugar levels. Fortunately I didn’t experience the common side-effect of nausea and vomiting. My dose started at 2 x 500mg/day and steadily increased to 3 x 1000mg/day. It kept my blood sugars under control and I didn’t go on to develop type 2 diabetes, but my weight continued to steadily climb.
By this time I was on a lot of medication for all of the health conditions listed above. The final straw came in 2009 when I saw a hospital consultant who diagnosed androgenetic alopecia (male-pattern baldness) which was attributed to my PCOS. His parting words of encouragement to me were that if I didn’t turn my life around and start losing weight I would be dead within five years. Wow. Gulp.
It took me until Oct 2010 to actually do something about it though – I joined Overeaters Anonymous. I started going to their group meetings, and slowly over twelve months of working with my sponsor to face up to and process my emotions instead of turning to food (no ‘dieting’ as such), I managed to lose 5st, taking my weight from 23.5st down to 18.5st.
Then in Nov 2011 I received an email from Rachel, the Chair of Verity, asking if I would like to get involved with the filming of a TV programme about PCOS. I was living in South Yorkshire by this time and the filming was taking place in London, so I thought they would want someone who lived closer – I therefore replied ‘yes’ without thinking too much about it. However, the next weekend I was down in London being filmed!!
Over the next few weeks I worked with the two doctors / presenters, and the film crew also came up to Rotherham to film me working in my bookshop, and having laser hair removal treatment with Fiona (see Day 4 blog). After the filming was over, one of the doctors offered to work with me to continue my weight loss and further help to improve my health & fitness levels. Over that first year of working together I managed to lose a further 5st, getting my weight down to 13.5st. I hadn’t been that light since my mid-teens!!
The amazing results of becoming more active and healthy…
- I started to deal with life’s ups and downs better – working through my emotions rather than denying & pushing them down.
- I came off of all my medication with GP supervision: my blood pressure and sugar levels normalised: my moods stabilised.
- My relationships with friends and family improved drastically as I started to focus on people and not just thinking about my next binge.
- My periods started!!!! I used to joke that I’d be fertile ’til my 90s as my periods only started when I was 42 🙂
- I started to take part in Physical Challenges – doing things which I’d always wanted to do but was too unfit and unhealthy to enjoy.
Some highlights included doing ‘Go Ape’ – not because I have a fear of heights (I don’t) but because of my fear that the harness wouldn’t hold me or that I would get stuck. Although I’d lost a lot of weight, in my head I still thought of myself as the former very heavy person.
Learning to SCUBA dive to overcome my fear of going underwater was another amazing experience for me, and the team at Dream Divers Ltd were fab!
Now at the age of 51, some my symptoms have changed. Over the past year / eighteen months I’ve started to suffer with acne – something that wasn’t too much of a problem when younger. My periods have become more erratic – presumably due to the menopause. I still REALLY struggle with my weight – but obesity is a complex disease and it is NOT just a case of ‘eat less and move more’. I currently have bouts of intense depression and anxiety which are horrible – but I am so very grateful for the good days when I feel like myself.
PCOS is a serious long-term health condition with many health risks and it truly impacts physical, social, and emotional parts of everyday life. There is hope though! Tomorrow’s blog for Day 7 of #PCOSawarenessMonth is all about #motivation and will include ways that I keep myself pressing forward on a daily basis.
Until then… Sharon 🙂