In ninth grade I admitted to my mom that I wasn’t getting my period. I was sitting at the head of my dining room table, my sister was to my right and my mom sat at the other head, directly across from me. Phoebe had asked my mom a question about puberty and my mom, a very frank veterinarian, gave a complete and detailed medical response.

I stared at my breakfast, a bowl of cereal, and blushed. I was secretly ashamed that my 11-year-old, stick-thin sister was normal and how aware I was that I was not. At school my friends all talked about tampons or pads and how bad their cramps were and so on. I always felt excluded. I had nothing to add to the conversation.

My mom, the smartest and most efficient woman I know, sprung into early-preventative action, recognizing the signs for a very common Ashkenazi Jewish hormonal deficiency. Just a month after I told my mom that not only was my period irregular but I hadn’t had it in over a year, I wound up in the office of a gynecologist, crying. My mom was right, I had polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Essentially, my body produces too much androgen, or male hormones. The hormonal imbalance causes weight gain, irregular periods, acne, excess hair growth and a deeper voice. The best part about PCOS is that controlling your weight is the most effective preventative method for all the negative symptoms, but that no matter how hard you work out or how well you eat, losing weight is roughly a million times harder for someone with PCOS than someone who doesn’t have PCOS.

But the fun doesn’t stop there! Because of the weight gain, women with PCOS have a tendency to be at-risk for developing diabetes and, even worse, issues with infertility because of the lack of a “regular” hormonal cycle.  

I was in ninth grade when I found out that I had to start worrying about my fertility as an adult. That I had to deal with the reality that I might never be able to even have kids, or might have extreme difficulty conceiving. That’s an awful feeling, not just because of the crushing weight of dealing with the far-off future, but because I was different. Let’s be clear, though, I enjoy being different in things that I can control. But it’s hard to come to terms with being “proud” of a hormonal imbalance.

I used, initially, two magic pills to prevent the common side effects of PCOS; birth control and metformin. The birth control was used to regulate my periods, and the metformin was used to help regulate my weight. The catch-22 is that birth control causes weight gain in a lot of women. So I was taking birth control to get a period, gaining weight because of it and using another pill to suppress the effects of the birth control.  

There’s a lot of issues I could cover between ninth grade and now, such as the disgusting amount of blood draws (needles are not my friend), the shame in not feeling as “womanly,” my off-the-chart cortisol levels and the decision to stop using birth control. But the main issue I had to struggle with was my body image.

I still struggle, as most women do. I love the “body positive” movements that have cropped up in the progressive world like wildfire, but I don’t identify with them. I have a dichotomic conscious, where a part of me is so happy with the way I look and the other side just sees a body that is deficient. I shouldn’t be overweight, I eat well (enough) and I exercise (during the summer when school doesn’t consume my life). I make jokes about my lifestyle but I completely understand the mechanics of personal metabolism after extensive meetings with nutritionists and doctors. My body just can’t without a complete motivated dedication to changing physically through extensive dieting and excessive exercising that I don’t have energy for at this point in life.

And I hate that.

I hate the word can’t and I hate that I’m “procrastinating” my own health. The reality is that I’m heavier than I should be and it scares me. I want children one day and I want my own biological children and I know I want to be physically pregnant and not depend on surrogacy.

Here’s the most important thing, though: I do not use PCOS as an excuse for anything I have mentioned in this article, I use it as an explanation. That distinction between excuse and explanation is very important to me. I recognize that to other people struggling with life-threatening or altering diagnoses, my “frustrations” with PCOS are minimal, and I respect that.

And to answer your question, yes. Yes I did just spend an entire article complaining about not getting a regular period. But I’m not sorry that I did. I really wish I did cramp and bleed and got acne and was moody and it gross once a month. But I’m cool with my (sex) hormones. I never had a major turning point from hating to accepting the diagnosis and ultimately being OK with it, but the point is that today, I am.

How to: Be OK with your hormones

1.     You just have to.

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