How self-care helped to alleviate my PCOS symptoms

"Finding out I'd relieved my PCOS was actually more emotional than being diagnosed"

Charlea, a blogger from London, details her rollercoaster experience with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and how “de-stressing” has helped to clear up her symptoms. In her own words:

Let’s zip back to 2014 – I’d just gone through a brutal break up, and I made the decision to come off my combined contraceptive pill. This wasn’t a decision I took lightly – having spent six years on Microgynon, Levest, Cilest, Yasmin and all her friends, I was really scared to lose that comfy bubble of planned periods (slash skipping for holiday #lifewin) and the security from unwanted pregnancy.

But I decided to come off, because I wanted to see if my body could work without hormonal support.

And I waited. And waited.

Luckily lots of things didn’t happen: I didn’t lose any more boobs, I didn’t develop acne, and I definitely didn’t grow any unwanted bodily hair.

But I also didn’t get my period. Months went by, and I listened to the NHS’s advice and kept on waiting. But time stretched on, and I grew increasingly worried. Nine months in (and no pregnancy to explain it), I felt more terrified than ever. My own mum had passed away only 18 months prior to this, and as a result the ache to become a mother myself one day was stronger than ever.

“my right ovary was twice the size it should be, and both were absolutely covered in cysts”

My concern crescendoed and my friends started to worry too, so I went to the GP when I hit the 10 month mark. They took some blood, checked my hormones and generally seemed really unfazed. My hormone levels were fine, I had no thyroid issues, and my BMI was spot on too. There was nothing to suggest why I wouldn’t have a period. So of course, I got sent away and told to ‘wait’.

Charlea speaks candidly about her PCOS diagnosis

Then I hit the year mark, at Christmas – a whole year of untouched Tampax and worry. I sat in the GPs office in tears before they finally agreed to an ultrasound. Throughout this process, they seemed largely unconcerned and if anything, made me feel a little like a hypochondriac.

That day when I was lying in a clinic with a doctor next to me and a stomach covered in jelly (oh the heartbreaking irony of it all), I knew immediately something was wrong. The doctor wouldn’t really tell or show me what was on the screen, and this was enough for me to assume the worst.

A few weeks later the fear was confirmed. The GP called me in (they’re not allowed to tell you on the phone), and pushed a box of tissues my direction as he told me that my right ovary was twice the size it should be, and both were absolutely covered in cysts. I wasn’t releasing eggs, so I couldn’t have a menstrual cycle. They couldn’t be removed, and they might prevent me from having a baby one day.

There was no prescription, and no action. I was sent away with a leaflet, some tissues and vague instructions to go on the pill to establish a bleed (and prevent further health problems). No one would tell me what the future could look like with this condition, or how it would affect my life.

I fell into a bit of a dark period, feeling like my body had failed me, and spent days just in bed unwilling to talk to anyone. What was the point of being a woman if my body couldn’t create life?

At this point, a good colleague at work who I’d confided in a few times, told me I should go for a second opinion and recommended The Portland Clinic. I knew this would cost some money, but it felt like it was worth it. The NHS are known to misdiagnose, and the experience in private gynaecology can be totally different. This gave me a tiny glimmer of hope that maybe it was just all a huge mistake all along.

Long story short: The Portland Clinic confirmed it all. But they also put me at ease right away, showed me the screen so I could see my own cysts, and most importantly: reassured me that my pregnancy hopes weren’t totally dashed. She reassured me that it wasn’t my fault, I hadn’t done anything wrong, and there was nothing to do now but ride it out. I’d been through so much stress that the gynaecologist recognised this could well be causing my PCOS, and that maybe when life settled again things might change.

I was relatively lucky not to experience too many bad symptoms with PCOS, but I did suffer from some pretty extreme hair loss and some bad blood sugar crashes that would randomly come and leave me dizzy and bed-bound. You’re not really given much help with these. I think being a PCOS sufferer is a lot of guess-work, because no one really knows what all the symptoms are – let alone how they can be treated. Whenever a PCOS attack hit and I felt weak and sick, I’d usually ride it out with some 80% dark chocolate, a cup of tea and a bit of self care.

So I’d basically accepted my fate, and decided to leave it until I wanted kids (advised to try before 30) and worry then. But then some other health complications came into play – this time stomach-related, and before I knew it… I was back at the hospital, waiting for another internal ultrasound. Obviously this time I was totally relaxed, being an absolute pro in the realm of probes, swabs and scary sights on the screen.

But something really remarkable happened when I was sent away with the report: NO CYSTS. Whatsoever.

“Finding out I’d relieved my PCOS was actually more emotional than being diagnosed”

I’m not entirely sure how I’ve managed to “cure” my PCOS – and it could well come back, being a known finicky condition that can rear its head whenever. The overarching assumption I can make is that I’ve relieved myself of stress. I’ve put effort into self care, and I’ve not tried to take on too much when I’ve been feeling crappy. I rode the PCOS wave out, and I was chilled about the process. I decided not to worry too much about children until I really needed to. My boyfriend and I made a plan for when the time came, what we’d do, when we’d ask about fertility drugs etc.

Finding out I’d relieved my PCOS was actually more emotional than being diagnosed – I cried A LOT into my boyfriend’s chest, because now I know we can have a baby together in the not too distant future, and it hopefully won’t be too hard.

One thing I’d say to anyone struggling with a condition like PCOS – is just to relax. The mind can be so powerful in healing your body, and it’s really true that the impact of stress can be responsible for so many illnesses. Practising acceptance of your condition and taking steps to care for yourself in the best ways you can are crucial to me. By all means, go on contraceptives and pester your GP with relentless questions, but nothing has made me more healed than surrounding myself with good quality people, (and good quality chocolate.)

Read Charlea’s lifestye blog here.