This week, I decided to write about something that has been affecting me for years, to the point where I bottled all my feelings about it up inside, and still do to this day because it makes me both sad and uncomfortable to think about it, let alone discuss it.
When I was 16, I was going through a hard time at school - my so called friends at the time all turned on me, and one of the things they used to tease me about that affected me the most was my hair - it has always been on the finer, thinner side, but I was, and still am, extremely paranoid about it, and often try and hide it with hats and headbands. My periods were irregular, too, and I put it down to stress, but my parents decided to ask the doctors for a blood test in case I had an overactive thyroid, which is what they suspected in the first place. So, I think it was not long after my 16th birthday, I got called into see a doctor, and they diagnosed me with a condition that I had never heard of before - polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS for short.
For those of you who don't know, polycystic ovary syndrome is basically when your ovaries contain many harmless cysts, which are often unable to release eggs. There are three main features of this condition - cysts that develop in your ovaries, having a high level of insulin or testosterone in your body, and not ovulating regularly. If you have two or more of these symptoms, I'd advise you to get yourself checked out. It seems to be most commonly diagnosed in late teens/early 20s. Apparently, it affects 1 in 5 women, although many do not experience any symptoms. It can also lead to problems in later life, such as an increased risk of diabetes or high cholesterol levels.
Unfortunately for me, I get most of the side effects and symptoms, which include thinner hair, finding it harder to lose weight than other people do, irregular or no periods, acne/oilier skin, and excess body hair, also known as hirsutism. It can also lead to problems with fertility, due to less or no periods, although there are a number of options you can pursue if you are having trouble conceiving naturally.
It is often associated with abnormal amounts of hormones in your body, including having higher levels of insulin. It can often also run in families - for example, one of my cousins also has it, but her symptoms differ to mine - she has worse hirsutism, but she does not have thinner hair, like me. I like that I have someone to reach out to and talk to about it when I am feeling down about it, but when I was first diagnosed I was a mess - I just didn't want to accept that something that seemed so major was happening to me, in the midst of being bullied, my GCSEs and other things that were stressing me out at the time, so I buried my head in the sand and pretty much just shut everyone out and pretended it wasn't happening to me, and that I was fine.
Sadly, polycystic ovaries isn't something that has a cure, but there are many ways that you can help to keep in under control and can be treated. For example, if you are overweight, losing weight and maintaining a healthy diet can do wonders for it. There are also various medications that you can be prescribed for thinner hair, irregular periods, and even if you are having fertility problems.
Luckily, I am on medication for most of my symptoms, and it does not affect me as much as it could, but there are still days I look in the mirror and want to cry about my hair, or days I look myself and think, why is this happening to me?
There is also an amazing charity based in the UK, Verity, who hold conferences on PCOS and who can help you if you or someone in your family have been diagnosed and are struggling - http://www.verity-pcos.org.uk/
So, if you have any of the symptoms mentioned, or are worried at all, please go and get checked out.