PCOS – the reality

I thought long and hard about writing this post because the truth of it is that I don’t like to admit failure. I don’t like to admit that I’m limited. I don’t like to admit a great number of things about myself that I perceive as flaws.

I had grand plans for the rest of this month. I was researching articles for posts about acne and exercise and about PCOS and employment. I had funny videos to film and maybe even one last granola recipe to share. There was going to be another week of information and inspiration.

And then in classic PCOS style, I was struck low.

I was really sick last week. As is nearly always the case when I get a bug, my immune system overloads and a cold turned into a secondary infection and then the antibiotics led to a third infection. And because any kind of inflammation just dials right up to max where I’m involved, it moved into my chest and I developed a now familiar racking cough that really, and I mean really, hurts. It takes about 10 days minimum to start feeling human again.

With my whole system on the fritz, my sleep gets disrupted even more than it usually is. I am physically exhausted.

I’m emotionally exhausted too.

Something happened on Monday that I’m not going to go into, but it happened to coincide with the bug I had and my ovulation, and this perfect storm of being sick and having emotional turmoil and a maelstrom of hormones sent me into a mega depressive tailspin. And it’s a vicious cycle – the more depressed I get, the harder I find it to sleep, and the more exhausted I am, the less capable I am of dealing with my feelings.

This kind of emotional divebomb off the end of a mood-swing pendulum has only happened to me once before and the truth is that it’s absolutely terrifying. It’s terrifying because of the strength of my feelings, the almost overwhelming compulsion to engage in unhealthy behaviours (like shopping or binge eating or worse), and the complete inability to manage anything approaching a normal life. I just can’t engage. I struggle to formulate sentences, to get my thumbs to work on a smartphone keypad, to read something aloud. I am literally breaking down. I’m getting through my day and I’m managing my job, but I’m moving house on Saturday (it’s Thursday evening at time of writing) and I have packed a grand total of 5 boxes because I am just paralysed with the weight of my own emotional burden.

It’s brutal.

And to experience that kind of utter hopelessness and distress and appreciate on some level that it may not all genuinely be because of the situation and may be instead partly due to hormones is a really difficult thing to accept. To have the sense that you can’t actually trust your own thoughts or emotions to be genuine is frightening to acknowledge. To think that some chemical imbalance in your bloodstream is driving your life is a bitter pill to swallow. You’re not even safe in your own head.

I’m one of the lucky ones in that I have a pretty high level of self awareness. I’ve broken down and admitted to my nearest and dearest that I need help, that I’m struggling. I’ve diverted what could have been an epic crisis by opening up about it in a safe space and acknowledging what’s going on.

The next step of this for me is recovery. I need to take a time out for self care and to focus on priorities (like moving house!!) in the immediate future until I have the spoons and emotional energy to take on other challenges. What that means in practice is that PCOS Awareness Month ends here. I may come back later on and write those posts – I have every intention of continuing this section of the blog indefinitely but at a much slower pace. I may still film the fun videos. But right now I can’t justify prioritising this over everything else.

I felt really awful about it for a while as I came to accept that I needed to dial everything down, but then I realised that actually it’s almost a perfect end to the month. Because this is the reality of what it’s like to live with PCOS. The depression. The immune system overloads. The raging hormones. This is what it’s like to manage everything as well as you can and to make plans and then to still end up struck low.

This is PCOS. And this is why it’s so damn important for people to understand and recognise it for how damaging it can be and the impact it can have on people’s lives. This is a perfect object lesson for anyone that thinks it’s a minor illness or something that only happens once a month. This is real and it’s devastating and it can affect every part of your life. I fully accept that I’m lucky because I have an amazing support network and I recognised early on what was happening because I’ve been through this before. I asked for help before I hit rock bottom. There are thousands of women out there who go undiagnosed, who won’t know or recognise these mood swings and for whom help may come too late.

This is PCOS and it’s on us as a society to be aware of the realities of it.

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