By Chelsea Lynn
PCOS, which stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, is a common disorder that effects 10-20% of women. Because it characterized by an excess of male hormones, it comes with a myriad of symptoms, like weight gain, weight loss resistance, irregular or absent periods, painful periods, excess hair on the face, hair loss on the head, and more.
While many of the symptoms of PCOS are physical, there’s no shortage of mental and emotional issues either. You can’t always see the effects that PCOS has on someone. Often, we are dealing with these problems in the dark. Problems that nobody knows about. Problems that we don’t quite know how to talk about. We are living a silent struggle.
Here I will outline some of the hidden problems many women with PCOS struggle with. If you have PCOS, you can probably relate to some of this; If you don’t have PCOS, I urge you to read on, because it is likely that you know someone who does.
It’s Not All Physical
The physical symptoms of PCOS are hard enough to deal with, but it doesn’t end there. In fact, my PCOS diagnosis came as a shock to both myself and my doctor, because I wasn’t experiencing many of the common physical symptoms, aside from irregular periods. My doctor brushed it off as no big deal, but in reality, I needed a lot of support. Little did she know, I was dealing with anxiety, social anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, and anger.
Women with PCOS are more likely to have mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Research suggests that even the offspring of women with PCOS are at an increased risk for developing mental health issues, like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Unfortunately, the typical protocols for treating PCOS are birth control pills to regulate cycles and a doctor’s statement of “lose weight.” In reality, women need a lot more support than what’s generally given.
PCOS is the Leading Cause of Female Infertility
One of the hardest parts about PCOS is infertility. Because women with PCOS tend to have reproductive hormones that are out of balance, they often struggle with irregular or even absent periods, which leads to difficulties conceiving. And once a woman with PCOS does conceive, she’s at a much higher risk for pregnancy-related complications, including miscarriage.
As you can imagine, infertility is an extremely lonely journey. Because it’s so personal (and because of misconceptions and unnecessary judgements from others), a lot of women struggle in the dark.
I myself have not yet tried for children, but I do struggle with the fear of infertility. Although I’ve been able to regulate my cycles naturally, by the grace of Allah, I can’t help but wonder what my journey to motherhood will look like. I have hope and trust in Allah, but shaytan likes to come whisper every now and again.
Food is a Source of Anxiety
For many women with PCOS, food is a constant source of anxiety. Because of the hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance that often comes with the diagnosis, many women experience intense sugar cravings, even shortly after eating.
As you might imagine, those cravings create anxiety around food and body. Women with PCOS have an increased risk of an eating disorder, such as Binge Eating Disorder or Bulimia.
I struggled with unhealthy eating habits for a long time, before I was diagnosed with PCOS. I tried diet after diet, but my intense cravings wouldn’t stop. After falling off the wagon too many times, I had enough. I began a cycle of severely restricting my food intake, then binging and purging, thinking that was my only way out. Thankfully, I was able to break the cycle, but I still struggled with food for a long time. It wasn’t until I began digging into research after my PCOS diagnosis that I learned how to control those cravings with real, nutrient-dense foods. I’m still on a journey with food, but alhamdulillah, the journey is looking a lot brighter than it used to.
It’s Hard to Talk About
PCOS isn’t easy to open up about. Because of the physical symptoms, women often feel ashamed of what’s going on with their bodies. Many of the symptoms are also, unfortunately, taboo to talk about within our community. Facial hair, inability to lose weight (no, it’s not just about eating less and moving more), fertility issues, depression, mood swings – these are things that people don’t easily understand.
Especially when it comes to older family members, women with PCOS often let shame and fear of judgement hold them back from talking about what they’re going through. That’s why many of us experience a silent struggle.
It’s Also a Blessing
As unpleasant as PCOS is, it’s also a blessing. A diagnosis means you have a cause. You can start to understand what’s going on in your body and make the necessary changes to fix it. PCOS is a lifelong disorder, but it’s one that can be completely managed by healthy lifestyle changes, alhamdulillah. It’s a push to start caring for your mind and your body and push to start taking care of yourself first.
If you struggle with PCOS, please know that you are not alone. Know that there are plenty of resources out there, and know that you don’t have to struggle in silence. If you know someone with PCOS, please be there to support them. Sometimes they may need advice; sometimes, they may just need a listening ear. If they are making dietary changes, be willing to accommodate them, rather than pushing them to have “just one slice of cake.”
We are all struggling with something, and we all need and crave support. May Allah grant us all ease and help us to be brave enough to ask those around us for the support we so need, and may He help us to rely on Him first, always. Ameen.
About the author:
Chelsea is an American revert Muslimah and a nutritionist who is a lover of natural living and all things health! After being diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome in 2016, she set out on a mission to help other sisters heal naturally and regain their health, happiness, and fertility. You can find her at www.wellnessmuslimah.com as well as on Instagram and Facebook.