Purple is the designated colour of Verity, the UK charity set up in 1997 to support women living with polycystic ovary syndrome. They have grown from strength to strength and now raise awareness about the condition and promote & disseminate research.
Today is #WhatIWoreWednesday so it’s a PURPLE day today!! Fortunately I like purple and I think it suits my skin tone too. As in this recent picture, I have also been known to dye my hair purple (albeit by accident the first time!!).
It got me wondering what I could actually write a blog about though… so I’ve come up with some mental wellbeing ponderings based on the word PURPLE.
U – unique
R – relationships
P – purpose
L – life
E – environment
When you take into account all the various symptoms that a woman living with PCOS might experience, and then consider that each symptom will vary in severity too… it is no wonder that we struggle with liking ourselves! We may well look at our acne, the excess facial and body hair, and our more-than-we-would-like curvy body, with a sense of despair. Then there is the frustration of our infrequent, unpredictable, heavy, painful periods which can make our body even harder to love. Add to this the ovulation and fertility issues as well…
But each one of us is SO much more than the symptoms we experience!
When struggling with low mood, depression, or anxiety, it is easy to focus only on the negative stuff. So when I am having a ‘good’ day and feeling more positive about myself, I like to write out a list of all my positive character traits – especially thinking about what my close friends say about me. I keep this list somewhere visible and reflect on it when having a tough time. Re-framing our thoughts is a great little exercise to practice which reaps many benefits. This short video (1:40) from Every Mind Matters is a good place to start.
Yes, once you have your PCOS diagnosis, you are an instant member of the #1in10 club – but you are also unique, a total one-off. As a practicing Christian I believe that each one of us was made by the Designer (God) to a very precise pattern to fit in with the plans and purposes that He had for us. The chapter in the Bible from Psalm 139 beautifully illustrates this, and here is a lego-based two minute video which visualises the reading.
Even identical twins (and I know two sets) will have different thoughts, opinions, and skill sets. They may look the same and have the same genetic make up, but each individual person is just that – individual. So find what makes you YOU and then find ways to celebrate that.
Living with PCOS can be tough, but having some good supportive friends and family members around you definitely helps. When I started with symptoms of PCOS at the age of 13, I was far too embarrassed to talk to anyone, including my mum. I kept all the feelings of confusion, shame, guilt, blame, and hatred buried deep inside me (often ‘pushed down’ with large amounts of food to help numb the emotional pain).
Over the last ten years as I’ve worked hard on re-framing my thought-patterns, turning my physical life around, and deepening my Christian faith, one of the bonus elements of this has been an amazing improvement in my relationships with people. As I started to reach out and began to trust a few people with how I was really feeling – both the good and bad bits – then friendships grew stronger and I was able to give out and receive back love and support. Relationships are always a two-way thing, and they do take quality time to develop, but the right ones are worth fighting for.
Certain symptoms experienced by women living with PCOS can have a drastic impact on their sense of purpose. In my recent PhD research, one woman explained how her excess facial and body hair had inhibited her social life – she felt that she couldn’t relax and be sociable to the same extent as her friends. Unwilling to join the party and risk getting too drunk, she started to withdraw and stay at home instead.
In other published research, women with PCOS have talked about how their planned purpose for becoming a mum had been thwarted. This had been through not being eligible for fertility treatment due to excess weight, or by the treatments not working, or by the unborn child being sadly lost.
Feminist research has covered the ideas of what it is to be a woman – how is the purpose of womanhood defined. Many women in qualitative research who have bravely shared their stories talk of feeling like a ‘freak’ and questioning their whole purpose of being a woman. Other literature discusses gender and sexuality too. From all this research it is clear that women living with PCOS can have their purpose in life challenged from several angles. You can however re-purpose and still be fulfilled as a person.
Life is something that I do NOT take for granted!! If you have followed my blog articles for a while, you will be all too away that I ‘died‘ for ten minutes back in 2017. I spent three days unconscious in ICU and a further six days on a cardiac ward. Prior to starting at regular meetings run by Overeaters Anonymous in Oct 2010, I wasn’t really ‘living’ either as my weight had risen to 23.5st and I struggled to do many ordinary, day-to-day tasks.
Since deciding to focus on improving my life physically, psychologically, and spiritually I have taken on a variety of Physical Challenges. Hiking up Pen-Y-Fan in Dec 2012 (the route the SAS use for training!!) was a great LIFE moment! Learning to SCUBA dive as a way of overcoming my fear of going underwater was another huge buzz. Abseiling down a 100′ water tower, flying through the air at ‘Go Ape‘, and attempting some indoor wall climbing remain challenges that I would still think twice about doing again!
Living with PCOS does not need to stunt your life experiences – maybe you just need to adapt things and be flexible in your approach.
Doing a PhD – even with great supervisors – is my toughest challenge yet!! There are tearful times when I sit and wonder what I’ve got myself into. There are frustrating times where I think I will never get through this and learn all that I need to… but I am not willing to give it up and quit either! There are also a few times when everything goes right and it is a joyful experience.
Embrace life. Enjoy life. You only get one (or maybe two?!) goes at it 😉
Finally, the environment in which you place yourself will have a big impact on the way you live with PCOS. Most of us will have experience of being in the company of people who drain us of energy. Hopefully you will also have known the invigorating feeling of being with someone who is positive and full of energy.
People are not the only thing we need to be aware of – actual situations and the stuff going on around us will have an impact too. Depression and anxiety are both linked to PCOS, although depression is more common. Although each condition can have chemical causes, our environment can also play a part.
Even when living with PCOS, it does not need to define who you are. You are a precious and unique person in your own right. Your relationships, purpose, and the way you live your life will all be facets of who you really are. The more that you feel able to put in place good coping strategies and positive thought-patterns, and foster supportive networks around you, the better equipped you will be to show the world the best version of you that you can be. So take that step and keep it PURPLE!
Until next time… Sharon 🙂