i am you...and you are me.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, is a health condition that affects approximately 10 million women around the world. To date, the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it "supposed" to be attributed to hormones. Genetics and environmental factors, such as ethnicity and metabolic disorders, are also believed to be important in the development of PCOS (V. De Leo et al. 2016). PCOS is a leading cause of female infertility and is responsible for a number of symptoms that affect the body both physically and emotionally. Despite how misleading it sounds, many women with PCOS do NOT have multiple cysts on their ovaries.
In recognition of PCOS Awareness Month, I talked with Bri, a Columbia, SC native who was recently diagnosed with PCOS and shares her story. For more information about PCOS, please visit the PCOS Awareness Association. Welcome, Bri...to Dialosophy.
Q: Hey Bri! Thank you for agreeing to talk with Dialosophy. I guess I should first begin by asking the basics...What is PCOS and what causes it?
A: Thank you so much for having me! PCOS stands for polycystic ovary syndrome, which is a hormonal disorder, mainly due to having cysts on your ovaries (but not all women have cysts). The cause isn’t exactly known. Some believe it is genetics or environmental factors or both.
Q: When were you diagnosed with PCOS? If you can remember...at that moment, how did you feel?
A: I was officially diagnosed in March 2019. I remember being slightly sad, because all I could think about was how my journey to having kids would be affected and how much more difficult it would be to lose weight. Those were my main concerns.
Q: Tell us more about your story and journey with PCOS.
A: During the summer of 2013, I did not have a cycle for three months (June-Sept). I thought maybe it was due to me moving and starting college. I visited the woman’s center on campus, was given a hormonal pill to take for 10 days, and then they ran a blood test on me. I asked what would have caused my period to not come and the Dr. told me “Sometimes our bodies just get out of funk.” My blood test came back normal, and after those 10 days...my cycle started and I had it ever since. Thinking back, this is probably when I should have explored the options of me having PCOS. One in every 10 woman has PCOS and half aren’t diagnosed.
Fast forward to July 2018, I took a morning after pill which I was aware would mess with my cycle because “apparently my hormones act up”. I thought I could get the 10 day hormonal pill again, but after three months of not having a cycle again...I went to my primary doctor. Before I went, I called the woman’s health center at my university, spoke with the director, and she mentioned how I can ask for the hormone pill again and that would start my period.
My first visit with my primary doctor... I was told to “lose weight.” After I asked for the hormone pill, a blood test was also done to see if I had diabetes, which came back with my A1c at 5.7% (to be considered normal it has to be 5.6% or below).
Second visit, when I came back with my blood work...I asked for the hormone pill again and was told “We’re going to treat you as if you have PCOS. Take birth control and metformin for three months and come back.”
Please be aware I never wanted to be on birth control and I told them this. I was extremely displeased, crying to them, but also desperate to have my cycle. I took birth control for a month and had a cycle for 4 months (I skipped one month).
In March, I went to an OBGYN, with great reviews and one that I felt like I could trust. She performed an ultrasound on me, and I saw 4 little cysts on my left ovary (I named them after the month I was supposed to have a cycle lol) as well as a blood test where my testosterone levels were slightly high. She sat me down and challenged me to lose 13lbs and that would make a huge difference in my body. She gave me hope that I could still have children.
Since that sit down, my body has been showing out. I had no cycle in April, May-June showed very slight spotting, July (a year after I took the pill) showed very heavy spotting, and August showed slight spotting and heavy flow-but my most normal cycle yet. I would like to think my body is balancing itself out, but I am not a professional.
Q: What are the most common PCOS symptoms?
A: Most common symptoms that I’ve seen are hair loss, hair growth on the body, gaining weight, pelvic/abdominal pain, extreme cramps, heavy periods, acne, fatigue, mood swings, anxiety, and infertility. These are just a few, but I also want to share that every woman deals with different symptoms and that everyone doesn’t have the same ones.
Q: How have you worked to combat the weight gain and insulin levels associated with PCOS?
A: I reached out to a soror of mine (@getfitwith_fini) and she gave me a workout plan along with a meal plan. I followed it for maybe a week or two and lost three pounds! I was extremely excited! Unfortunately, I haven’t been as dedicated as I should but now that I’ve gotten control of somethings, taking control of my health is next! Some of the small changes that I have done in the meantime are drinking more water, cooking more clean/fresh food, and trying to watching my sugar/salt intake.
Q: Did it or does PCOS impact your self-esteem in any way? If so, how do you get through it?
A: It definitely does impact your self-esteem, differently in every woman. For me, my edges have become much thinner and it seems like my weight gain happened rapidly. Most days I don’t feel like myself, I don’t even take pictures as much as I use to. I’m constantly working towards improving myself…that’s how I get through it. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. Lately, I’ve been accomplishing goals that I thought I couldn’t reach before and that encourages me, reminds me that I’m in control, and that I can become who I want to be. I also listen to a lot of Beyonce’ and Lizzo, do my makeup and constantly shout loving things to myself. I also want to add its okay if you can’t push through some days, its okay to cry if needed....just make sure to keep moving!
Q: Did PCOS have any other psychological impacts on your mental health?
A: It sure does! For myself, my anxiety shot up once I stopped having my period. I thought my anxiety came from the toxic "situationship" I was in (it definitely played a big part) but even when I left that, my anxiety was bad. A lot of times I felt crazy. If my brain could think it, it was true to me. It consumed me to a point where I couldn’t get any work done. Thank God for my therapist. Actually, just yesterday... I told her I felt more in control of my anxiety, and that it seemed like my body was balancing itself out.
Q: Have you ever tried any holistic approaches for PCOS? Did they work?
A: The most holistic approach I tried was stopping that birth control and letting my body run its course. At one point I was going to try maca root. I also watched YouTube videos about seeding. I’m still very interested in these things, because the goal is to keep my hormones in balance. Also, I’ve seen some women use the yoni steam...but I’m not familiar with that.
Q: Where did you go for support along your journey? How helpful is having a supportive circle that understands PCOS?
A: My support comes from my friend and my therapist. I was in denial up until recently. I never really wanted to talk about it, because I didn’t want to make it seem important. But once I found out my friend had PCOS (as well as other childhood friends), I found comfort in talking to her about my doctor visits and my concerns without her making it a big deal. And my therapist is just great. She constantly gives me comfort, hope, and she does research in her own time to come back to talk to me. Having a supportive circle that understands PCOS probably is needed because as with anything in life...sometimes it gets hard. Sometimes you don’t want to explain what’s going on, but yet you want someone to understand. I also enjoy comparing new information that we learn to find out what might work for me or someone else.
Q: Okay Bri...this is deep. let’s talk fertility. If I read correctly, PCOS will manifest differently in women in terms of having babies. What has this been like for you? Do you want kids? Is it still possible for you to get pregnant with PCOS? How has this changed (if so) the outlook of your future?
A: I’ve always wanted three kids, but since being diagnosed with PCOS...my periods are so sporadic. I pray every day for the Lord to bless me with at least one (in four years lol).I also try to manifest it any way possible. It’s still very possible to get pregnant with PCOS! Some women get pregnant on while on birth control or Clomid (stimulates ovulation). Some can still use the old fashion way and others might use IVF. I also read that losing weight would help the fertility treatment work better. But also women with PCOS might have a hard time carrying the pregnancy to full term, and I don’t see much of that being talked about.
As far as it changing my outlook, I’m not saying I’m trying to have a kid today...but I would gladly take that role if it was sent my way, ha. But whereas before I wanted to be healthy/fit to be skinny and look cuter, I now want to be healthy for my future family and for myself.
Q: What has your relationship been like with physicians in seeking treatment with PCOS? Have you ever faced any ridicule from healthcare professionals?
A: When it comes to my relationship with physicians...it’s very frustrating to me, because at times I feel like they aren’t listening to me...like when I told them I don’t want to be on birth control but yet they prescribed me birth control anyway. A lot of times I feel like they see another overweight woman, and they just brush over my concerns. There have been times when my doctor or nurse hasn’t called me back when I had concerns. It’s like they’re not going to care until I lose weight, but even after that...I’ll still be black so they probably still won’t care. But...that’s why I found an OBGYN who’s a black woman.
Q: Are you aware of any current PCOS research that you can elaborate on for readers?
A: Currently, I am not. Lately, I’ve seen some interesting things, but don’t know them to be legit or not.
Q: If there is one piece of advice that you could give to a girl or woman with PCOS...what would it be?
A: My piece of advice to any girl or woman with PCOS would be to know everything will work out and there’s nothing to be scared of. You can still be the best version of yourself and accomplish any and everything. You’re unstoppable!!
At the age of five, Briana Austin (best known as Bri), lost her mother to Ovarian Cancer. Wanting to acknowledge her mom and bring awareness, she started her own personal Ovarian Cancer Awareness campaign in September of 2016, with the help of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated. In March of 2019, Briana was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which not only shared the same awareness month as Ovarian Cancer, but also shared the same color-teal. Bri has now made it her mission to spread awareness to both causes. Located in Columbia, SC, in her spare time, Bri enjoys watching YouTube videos, reading books, writing poetry, painting and spending time with her family, friends and her loving cat, Circe.