15 May PCOS: The History, The Diagnosis, The Reality and What I’m Doing About It
In 2015 I was officially diagnosed with PCOS.
This diagnoses came after over a year of trying to get pregnant, in and out of doctors visits, and numerous (not so comfortable) lab tests. After being told I had no other option, but to try IVF, I switched doctors one last time who finally did confirm that even though not all the tell tale signs of PCOS (overweight, hair growth, high testosterone levels) were present, I did in fact have multiple (poly) cysts decorating my ovaries.
In addition to this, I hadn’t had a period since 2013 and funny enough, my OBGYN told me that she was okay with this, because I was on birth control and wasn’t trying to get pregnant anyways, right?
Well yes, right. I wasn’t trying to get pregnant at that moment. But we were about to get married and I knew the thought of having a family wasn’t that far off.
She attributed the loss of my period to the stress of planning a wedding and we moved on. I had been on the pill since I was 16 (2003) and finally came off of it in spring of 2014 after I suffered a partial bowel obstruction (which I know now is also connected to all of this mess).
We decided to start “trying” to get pregnant, and since I had already been off the pill for a few weeks figured this was a good time to get my hormones regulated. I visited a new OBGYN who told me to give it 3 months.
Which I did….and there was no sign of my period. Then I gave it another 3 months. Nothing. My doctor referred me to a fertility specialist who seemed to believe, that despite the fact that there were ribbons of cysts decorating my ovaries, it was not PCOS. He believed that a clomid treatment would no work for me and sent me to get a bunch of tests (Histo, etc.) to check for any other issues.
Thankfully, all clear! All my parts were working well. Things checked out well on Brian’s end. And again, we were left with no answers.
His only recommendation were that I go home and gain some weight or we could try IVF.
Brian and I left the doctors feeling defeated, scared and worn out. I didn’t believe that I needed IVF just yet. Things were “working”. There were just other hormonal issues going on.
Right around this time I started to notice extreme blood sugar issues, bouts of vertigo, immense fatigue, irritability, low sex drive and of course, a whole host of digestive issues.
After speaking with a dear friend who was also diagnosed with PCOS, but had just found out she was pregnant, she referred me to her fertility doctor. Desperate for answers and excited about her outcome, we took a chance and within a few months (with our first round of clomid we were pregnant)!
We were thrilled. Astonished. And so blessed.
But the question was always in the back of my mind. What will happen the next time?
Fast forward to a year after Delaney’s birth and here we are. Not period. Yes, still breastfeeding. And still experiencing a lot of that same symptoms I was before. Which is crazy because when pregnant and the months following her birth I felt AWESOME!
My digestion was on point. I had energy throughout (for the most part) and I was as happy as a clam.
Duh, I was pregnant. My hormones were in alignment and I my body was working well to carry my baby.
Soon after Delaney, the digestive issues slowly started to make their way back into my life, I was dealing with healing diastasis recti (abdominal split) which the IBS-C was not helping and starting my own business. Not to mention a newborn. And lack of sleep. Here came the stress again. I felt like I had to do it all. And I had to do it all perfectly.
So the anxiety, extreme fatigue, body aches, depression , etc. all came to a head again at about 10 months postpartum. And again, I found myself burned out and dealing with the same adrenal fatigue and hormone disregulation I had prior to pregnancy.
Other than the doctors official diagnoses, there were other signs.
1. Umm..period? Hello? Yes, I am still breastfeeding, so there is reason why I don’t have a period, but before I got pregnant in summer 2015 – I had not had my period since Spring 2013, so this has been a long time issue for me.
2. Stress. Anxiety. I’m freaking out! This was huge. I was actually prescribed anti-anxiety medication and Adderall in college and before become pregnant had weaned myself off. I noticed a huge shift in my personality just after our wedding at the end of 2013. This was supposed to be the happiest time of my life. The stress of the wedding was over and all was supposed to be good. Life was supposed to be easy. But I was working like a dog. 6am – 9pm. The only break being the drive to my next appointment, where I would stuff my face with a protein bar or guzzle another cup of coffee to keep going. As much as I was trying to eat well (and I really was), I couldn’t keep up with the life I was living, the lack of sleep, lack of rest or any sort of down time. I was on my feet all day, teaching classes, demoing exercises, walking/running with clients. Trying hard to keep myself healthy by doing my own workouts, grocery shopping, cooking and keeping up with the house. We were leaving every weekend the moment I got home from work to visit friends and family where I would let loose drink and eat whatever the heck I wanted and return home Sunday night ready to wake up at 5am and do it all again. I was…exhausted. I felt as though I was on a hamster wheel continually going around and round. I remember being at the dentist one day and falling asleep in the chair and thinking, “how nice is this, a break”. Now a days, we are still burning the candle at both ends. And it has once again caught up to me. I get so overwhelmed with the smallest tasks. I can’t seem to even find a starting place.
3. Adrenal Fatigue. I was exhausted, but I was still alive. I was still able to perform my workouts and I was still able to be bright cheery Ashley. And then my body started to rebel. I suffered a back injury that should’ve put me on the sideline for weeks, but I was back at it the next day, because my job was physical activity and I had to keep going. My digestive issues started to flare and I was going days, sometimes weeks without having a bowl movement. Also, for those of you that know me, know that I am a pretty upbeat high energy person. Over the last year or so (and the year before Delaney) that energy has definitely started to wane and more recently it has been at an all time low. This has been difficult to deal with, because everyone I speak with is experiencing it too. We are all tired. But I am talking can’t get myself up off the floor kind of tired. Can’t think straight tired. A tired that I am not comfortable with.
4. Food Intolerances. I’m a pretty darn clean eater. I’d say that my diet is pretty tip top, for the most part. But no matter what I did, my IBS-C ensued. No matter what I ate or didn’t eat, I could not figure out how to get things moving. At the end of 2016, I visited a functional medicine doctor who took one look at my skin and noticed all these little bumps on my arms and legs. She immediately told me to cut the gluten. Within a week I started to go to the bathroom more regularly. The next few months, I felt great. I had no problem cutting the gluten, because I knew how much better I felt. But then, things started to flare up again. I am still at a loss here and still on a quest to figure out how to control my IBS-C (which is where to WomanCode Reset has come in handy, as well as some other elimination diets).
5. Low sex drive. This is a personal one. And I’m really putting myself out there on this one. And I think for a lot of us, especially women, we chalk it up to being tired. And yes, that’s exactly what it is. We are exhausted and I was exhausted long before Delaney. I had no energy for any sort of extra curricular activities and absolutely no interest. This doesn’t have to be “normal”. This is hormones y’all!!
6. Brain fog. Moodiness. Irritability. Unmotivated. We can group all of these into one. I was worthless. My brain literally couldn’t put thoughts together. A once super organized, type A, OCD Ashley couldn’t even clean her house. It wasn’t even that I didn’t have the energy, but it was that my mind literally could’t get my body to do it. It took all I had to perform the bare minimum. I was snapping at every little thing Brian said to me. My patience with Delaney was getting shorter. I was becoming disinterested in my once beloved fitness class and clients. I had the passion somewhere, but I was again, just going through the motions to get by. I was mad at myself, but I couldn’t seem to shake it.
Woo. I do not sound like a very fun person right now, huh? So I am determined to make a change.
So what now?
First things first. No, I will not go back on birth control. Ever. And I will say never ever about this one. Fixing hormonal problems with synthetic hormones just does not make sense to me. So here I am trying to correct my gut, hormones and adrenals naturally.
About two weeks ago I finished reading Alissa Viti’s book Woman Code. I was rereading the book on our way down to Virginia that weekend and just started sobbing. I finally reached a breaking point and all of the emotions that I had been trying to voice for the past…however long…came out. Brian and I talked for a long time and have game planned a lose strategy for the future. There are a lot of emotions that come into play with how to get heal myself and the biggest hurdle for me right now it breastfeeding. With my hormones still being skewed fro breastfeeding, it hard to tell where my baseline is. Also, there aren’t many herbal or botanical treatments that my doctor or I feel comfortable with my taking while still breastfeeding, so….I kind of need to figure that out. Eek. So for now, I am just trying to follow to protocol outlined in the book. I have since completed the reset cleanse which was so eye opening and now, even though I am without a period, trying to cycle sync. I am working to tap into my body’s natural rhythms – which I assume is going to take some time.
Other things that I am currently doing to keep my PCOS, IBS-C and symptoms under control :
- Daily stress relieving techniques. This has been a huge one for me. Creating a self-care routine has created a world of a difference so far.
- Epsom salt baths at least 2-3 times a week.
- Essential Oils (DoTerra – lavender, peppermint, balance).
- Journaling a few times a week.
- Daily meditation and/or yoga practice. I had to accept the fact that I can’t always make it to a class now, so I’ve been doing it on my own – even if only for a few minutes.
- Maintaining a healthy work/life balance. Challenging for me, because I always feel like I should be doing more. But now I have a baby and she is more important than anything.
- Dry brushing before I shower. This stimulates the lymph system which helps with detoxification.
- Eating adequate amounts of protein and fat at each meal and snack. I work to control my carbohydrate intake, so that it is spread evenly throughout the day and I limit my sugar to make sure I am not creating a blood sugar SPIKE! I include lots of vegetables (roasted, raw and steamed) , as well as fermented foods like, safer kraut, for gut health!
- Not going too long between meals. Doing so causes blood sugar levels to drop and HANGER sets in. I always have snacks packed in my bag just in case!
- Alcohol consumption. I probably only have a drink (red wine) once or twice a month, but it’s usually of a wedding or a night out with friends. Which usually means I drink wayyy more than I am used to. It throws me off BIG TIME, so I am working to find balance here when I do have a drink or two.
- Eating breakfast within 90 minutes of waking up.
- First thing in the morning = Hot water with lemon + 1 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar + another 16 oz of water. Help gets the bowels going. Also, focusing on water intake throughout the day. This is a conscious effort for me!
- Regular exercise with scheduled rest days. As work to find my cycle I have drastically cut down on the amount of exercise I am doing. This is different for everyone. For someone with adrenal fatigue, like myself, too much exercise can cause further hormone disruption. For now, I am focusing on no longer than 20 minutes of strength training 2-3 times a week, maybe 1 HIIT session (if my body is feeling it), walks and yoga.
- Limiting sugar intake. Even natural sugars from balances, dates, honey, maple syrup, juices, etc.
- Omitting gluten and soy. Both are big hormones disrupters and can be toxic to our systems.
- Omitting coffee, my pre workout and limiting other caffeine sources. I never thought that caffeine really effected me in a negative way until recently. I started to notice that on days that I would have coffee and my pre workout I was an emotional maniac. I couldn’t think clearly and my brain was going a mile a minute. I think Brian was actually scared of me. In addition to this, I was still suffering extreme night sweats. Like waking up DRENCHED and having to put a towel down or get a new blanket. Not to mention…my sweat smelled AWFUL. I never had this problem before and come to find out it was my adrenals working in overdrive. Since omitting those two and limiting coffee from things like matcha and other teas, things have been much more pleasant and the night sweats have STOPPED.
- Ridding my home and make up bag of toxic chemicals that lead to hormones imbalance. I was amazed how much toxic stuff I was surrounding my family and I with. Make-up, detergents, Windex, Clorox, deodorant, perfume, lip gloss and lotions.
- Probiotic, fiber and l-glutamine supplement. Right now I am using Renew Life. Helps with the IBS-C
- Magnesium supplement. Helps with stress, regulate the bowls and sleep!
- Chlorella supplement. Detoxifying.
- Collagen Peptides. Gut healing, blood sugar stabilizing, hair/skin/nails/joints
- Ashwaghanda. Stress regulation.
These are the changes I have made over the past year and these are things that keep me going at this point. Obviously, I still do not have my period back, so when writing this post I am doing it more as an update on where I am right now! My biggest suggestion for those suffering from PCOS, infertility, mood swings, other hormone imbalances – like migraines, extreme cramping, carb/sugar cravings, reliance on caffeine, constipation, night sweats, acne or eczema, bloating, regular cycles, heavy/painful periods, depression…the list could go on – if please read Woman Code. It is extremely eye opening and I believe every woman could benefit from learning about the effects of hormones and how every facet of our life contributes to our health and well being.
As always, I am not a doctor, so please do your own research. I am just here to share my story and hopefully give hope to someone else who may be going through some of these same things!