I’m Not Good Enough

Proudly yet nervously, I read the piece I had slaved over for days, removing paragraphs, adding words, tweaking here and there until I was happy with it.  I got the expected giggles in all the right places which put me at ease and by the end of it I was smiling on the inside and out.

It was one of my homework assignments for my writing course that I recently started and I’d struggled with it.  I procrastinated because I found it harder to write with a prompt, started over countless times and agonised over every single word.  It was supposed to be short, less than a page.  If you’ve read my blog you’ll know that keeping it short is something I struggle with.  I’d managed to hack the piece down from four pages to one, while still keeping it relevant and I was satisfied.

I wasn’t prepared for the responses.

“It didn’t grab me until the third paragraph, you should have started there.”

“Too many descriptions and flowery words.”

“It’s too long.”

“The last paragraph while wrapping it all up, is it really necessary?”

“Make it more concise.”

“You need less adjectives.”

“Why are you even on this course, you clearly can’t write.”

Okay, so the last comment wasn’t made, but all anxiety would allow me to hear was, “you are not a good enough writer. You should be ashamed.”  I felt judged, looked down on and utterly useless.

It was hard not to cry.  I’d already been feeling inadequate against these other writers, who are very talented with their writing and in my mind, far better at it than me. Obviously I’d known there would be suggestions for improvement, I was just shocked at how brutal the feedback seemed.  While there were positive comments, they paled next to the negative and it stung.

I didn’t understand.  All through school I was told to use lots of adjectives, be descriptive, not to use the same language repeatedly, explain things clearly.  The brief had been straightforward: Be specific.  I’d found it difficult to keep it short while including every element I felt needed to be there to keep the story relevant and yet here they were asking me to cut out the most specific parts.

The course is designed to advance our writing skills.  Open our world to new styles of writing, teach us skills and help us reach whatever writing goals we have.  I always knew that there was room for improvement in my writing, but I wasn’t emotionally ready to hear what I took at the time as just how bad my writing is.  No one said my writing was terrible, anxiety just takes the smallest piece of bait to upset a person like me.

I took notes on everything that was said but struggled for the rest of the class to keep my emotions in check.  Other people read out their work and I felt like they got a more positive response but the thing I failed to pick up on was that every single person got some negative feedback.  I should stop calling it that, it’s actually constructive criticism and it’s incredibly important to the advancement of skills but it felt like a beating.  I never knew how hard it is to receive, as far as I can remember I don’t think I’ve ever had any on my writing before, not that I shared much before my blog, I didn’t have the guts.

The most interesting part of all this is the second piece of homework I read out, the piece I hadn’t worked as hard on and wasn’t as confident with, got much higher praise.  There were still comments about too many adjectives (something that had opened for discussion earlier, where it was discovered that I wasn’t the only one who’d had it hounded into them from a young age to over describe things) and keeping it relevant, which I understood better after the discussions.  I was still reeling a little from comments on my first piece though and felt even more confusion.

Afterwards, one of my classmates approached me and said that she was feeling crestfallen, that reading out pieces and having comments on them is soul destroying.  I was surprised, in my opinion the only thing wrong with her piece was that she had used vertical centering, which wasn’t a writing related issue.  I also felt she’d had mostly positive feedback, but as she described her experience to me I realised that we had both focused on the ‘negative’ and taken it personally.  I thought about this some more on the way home and remembered that most of us had defensively jumped to explain ourselves after any comments were made.  Maybe I wasn’t the only person who’d taken it personally.

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It’s only natural to be upset by peoples critiques on our work, whether it’s writing, art, music, whatever we create.  We work hard on these, they’re our babies.  Ideally, we should take criticisms objectively, learn from them and some of us do.  It’s something I’m going to have to learn to do though and quickly if I want this course to help me.  Anxiety will be a stumbling block, I just have to keep reminding myself that my writing development is far more important than feeding my anxiety.

Smiles and Sunshine
Katie

 

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What About Compassion

I’ve had a song stuck in my head all day today.  Well actually, one line from a song.  The song is Sad Statue  by System Of A Down.  The song, like most System songs is about the some aspect of the state of the world.  The line I’ve had repeating over and over in my head all day is ‘What is in us that turns a deaf ear to the cries of human suffering?!’  It’s a great song, and that line has always struck a chord with me (well, the whole song does but especially that line), so I don’t mind that I’ve been hearing it over and over all day, but I do mind the reason that it came to my mind.

I have a friend who is currently living in Greece.  Her name is Anna and she is hands down the most compassionate and giving person I have ever known.  I haven’t seen her for many years, but when I did spend a lot of time with her, I don’t think I ever knew of her having a paying job.  She studied, but spent the majority of her time volunteering with St John, New Zealands’ ambulance charity and doing other volunteer work.

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As I mentioned above, Anna is currently living in Greece.  To most of us, that would be an exotic and exciting place to live or even holiday, but Anna is there for a different reason.  She’s there as a volunteer, helping the out with the refugee crisis.  She’s been there for about a while, helping people in need who have just arrived off the boats from Turkey, towelling them off as they disembark the dangerous rubber boats, giving them dry clothes, food, hugs, an ear, anything that will help.  She travels to different areas of Greece to help out where she is needed the most, new challenges arising at every point.

It’s winter over there, and every new day brings with it uncertainty.  Not everyone makes the journey across the water, many fall overboard and drown or die of hypothermia and those who do make it are cold, wet and suffering.  These are men, women and children of all ages, living with terror and hope at the same time.  Already having been through hell in their hometowns, they now flee to a new country, the journey long and arduous and the boat ride is by far not the end of it.  From there they go from camp to camp, still uncertain of what will happen even tomorrow.  Their lives have been torn apart through no fault of their own.

Anna is amazing and I will freely admit I could not cope with what she is doing.  I like to help people, but I don’t think I would have the strength to put myself under the stress she has to deal with daily, seeing awful sights of death, suffering and uncertainty and still keep sane enough to support her own living costs, which Anna has to do while she is over there as well.  Being a volunteer goes unpaid after all.

It’s not all bad.  She gets to meet some amazing people and hear their stories, witness the community spirit of the Greek people and volunteers doing what they can to help and experience the appreciation of a cold and wet person receiving dry clothes and a smile for the first time in hours.  There are language barriers, but compassion is the same in any language.  I imagine that it is the heart warming moments like these that make it all worth it for Anna, even on the days where it seems like all is lost.  She blogs about her experiences as well, which I have been reading up intently on.  The really nice part about her blogs is she doesn’t linger on why things are the way they are, she just explains them, how it affects her, her fellow volunteers and the refugees, the good and the bad.

There was a write up on Stuff.co.nz last night about Anna and another Kiwi volunteer and the situation in Greece.  It was a good piece, intended for awareness and as always when reading about the situation, I learned a lot and felt even more in awe of what Anna is doing.

But the comment!

Some articles on Stuff.co.nz are open for comments by readers and there’s always an awful mixture of good and bad comments.  Some pleasant and informative, some even helpful, but as is common with opinions, some downright disgusting and ignorant comments are made.  I’ve made myself a personal rule:  DON’T READ THE COMMENTS!!  As it often makes me irate at the audacity of some people, but today I made an exception.  I expected there to be lovely comments of support, but there was just one, an absolutely disgusting comment that instantly made me feel sick:

“If you do gooders are that keen than let them stay with you.  It’s not our problem.”

Anna shared the link to the article on her Facebook page which is how I found it and after reading this awful comment I immediately commented myself on her link about it.  Anna responded that she has taken to ignoring the comments which made me realise that unfortunately, this is an all too common opinion and I’m sure it’s not just limited to New Zealanders.

I get it.  We all have our own problems.  We all have our own suffering.  Hell, this entire blog started because of how many problems I’ve had.  But we are not the only ones with problems!  If the situation was reversed and we had to flee our country, surely we would want people to help us, not to leave us to suffer in silence without help or hope!  Where is the compassion!

This comment is the reason that I’ve had the line ‘What is in us that turns a deaf ear to the cries of human suffering?!’ Stuck in my head all day.  I’m guilty of it too, I don’t know a lot about why the refugee crisis is happening.  The reason for this is because my anxiety can’t handle it, I can get worked up for days when I think about the state of the world and send myself into depression so I often don’t read news stories or keep up to date with current affairs, however I do want to do what I can to help any bad situation, which is why I help with fundraisers and donate to causes when I can.  Without human kindness where would we be?

I don’t think that there is a lot that can be done about the attitudes of some people towards bad situations, it’s human nature to be selfish and ignorance is bliss, but I do believe that anyone who is in a crisis situation deserves our compassion and where possible our assistance, not just a blind eye turned.  As Anna says “Let us be angry, but let us also learn to channel it into constructive change.”  Which is why I decided to channel my anger on this comment into this post in the hopes of raising some more awareness and maybe getting some more support for the situation.

If you would like to know more about the situation in Greece, you can follow Annas’ journey on her blog The Blog Of Anna McPhee or how you can help from your own couch on her post Lesvos Refugee Crisis: How Can I Help?  

Smiles and Sunshine
Katie

 

The Day The Earth Shook Part Three

Continued from The Day The Earth Shook Part One and Part Two.

February 22nd 2011 started out as an ordinary late summers day. It was a Tuesday, the sun was out but it wasn’t stinky hot. It would later on be overcast and rainy and as far as I can remember the aftershocks had subsided enough for them to not be at the forefront of most peoples minds.

I didn’t own a car at the time, but a friend was out of town and I was lucky enough to have the use of hers that week, which meant I didn’t have to get up quite as early to bus to work. Armed with the bonus sleep in I got up, went to work and had a relatively uneventful morning before settling down to lunch in the staffroom.

The earthquake struck at 12.51. I didn’t hear it coming, but there was no way I could have missed feeling it. I went from sitting still eating at the lunch table, to being rocked around in all directions. Up and down, side to side, there was no pattern, we were just jolted all over like rag dolls. To this day I don’t know how I managed to stay in my seat.

As it hit I froze and observed which seems to be my go to reaction to earthquakes. My workmate across from me remarked that it was the biggest one he’d felt in a while and over the rumbling noises I could hear a truck driver outside shouting “woohoo!” As if he was on a theme park ride. I looked over at him and could physically see this massive truck he was sitting in rocking about, almost jumping off the ground at times.

It stopped as dramatically as it started, he only sound in the immediate seconds after was the creaking of the racking in the warehouse as it swayed from side to side for a few moments before settling back into place. My boss and other workmates rushed through the staffroom to the warehouse to check that everyone inside was okay and I was given strict instructions to stay put.

It was quickly discovered that everyone and everything was fine. About two bottles of wine had fallen over but that was it. We speculated briefly about the size, I was adament that it was over a six, and sent texts to friends and family to make sure everyone was okay before getting back to work, everything was fine after all.

But it wasn’t fine. In the heart of the city and to the east, buildings were noisily crumbling down around the thousands of people who had minutes earlier been enjoying their lunch breaks. Dust was flying, people were injured and dying while others selflessly rushed to help them, putting their own lives in danger at the same time. Car and building alarms were sounding non stop and absolute panic was ensuing as aftershocks hit relentlessly.

We were merely twelve kilometers away and yet for the first half hour or so had no idea this was going on. It wasn’t long before we found out however. Work immediately ceased and we were sent home. I was just about to leave when my boss stopped me, handed me a bottle of wine and whiskey and commented, “you might need these.”

By this stage I’d heard back from my family, who were all okay and out of harms way. I called my sister in Melbourne and started with “I don’t know if you’ve heard…” Before she interrupted me to say it was all they were hearing about and was everyone okay. At the time I was amazed that she was in another country and yet knew more about what was going on than I did, while I was in Christchurch itself.

Incredibly thankful to have the use of my friends car I started the journey home. I lived on the edge of the city centre and what should have been the last five minutes of the drive took well over an hour to get through due to the congestion of everyone trying to get out at the same time. Every single radio station was playing the emergency broadcast and after a while I had to turn it off, it was just too upsetting to hear. I sat in the car, petrified of running out of petrol and enduring aftershock after aftershock while being completely stuck.

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I was a block away from my house when I was met with the above. There was no way I could go down that street, so I pulled over to turn around only to get the car stuck in a wheel sized pothole I hadn’t noticed. After a couple of futile attempts to get it out, I gave up and walked home to be met by a driveway full of silt and my flatmate who had rescued her cats, packed a few things and was off to stay with a friend just out of the city.

As far as damage went, the apartment seemed fine. Most of the second floor items had shifted or fallen, there was no power or water, but it seemed safe enough for now. It was then that my best friend showed up as he knew I’d be alone and I will never forget the look on his face. The normally carefree jovial man was gone, replaced with a ghost. He had no colour in his skin and looked absolutely terrified. He could barely get out sentences and yet he had managed to walk two kilometers to my place. When he finally could speak all he could say was, “I tried to help but there are corpses in the street.”

We didn’t have a lot of time for hanging around. He still hadn’t been home and we needed to get the car unstuck. It looked like we were going to be fighting an uphill battle as far as that was concerned, but then two people on their way home got out of their own cars and helped push me out of the pothole that had since tripled in size. I barely had time to call out thank you before they were on their way again, but that’s what that day was all about. People stopping to quickly help others on their way to dealing with their own emergencies. That and a handful of looters who faced a massive public backlash over the following weeks.

My friend and I walked back to his place, stopping to help people on the way where we could. I had heard on the radio that every single emergency vehicle in the city was in use and I saw proof of this when a fire truck that looked like it should have belonged in the Ferrymead Heritage Museum drove passed loaded with people ready to take action.

We stayed at my friends house for a while, texting everyone to make sure they were okay and time stamping our texts as they were taking hours to go through. As he lived on the third floor we decided that we would feel safer staying at my house and had to make the trip back again. We almost got turned back halfway as there was a citywide curfew, but with most of the city in blackout no one really knew about it. We spent the night on the floor in my lounge, lightly dozing in and out of sleep, woken by every shake, shudder and noise we heard, most of the aftershocks being less than four minutes apart and unable to sleep anyway with the knowledge that people were still trapped inside buildings just down the road from us.

The following day was cleanup day. Everyone was exhausted, stressed, anxious and emotionals wrecks but we had to keep going. Our first job was to attack the silt in the driveway. We quickly got to work, everyone chipping  in as much as possible. A bunch of guys with a wheelbarrow, shovels and a box of beer walked past and gave us a hand. They had been lucky enough to not have any silt to deal with themselves so thought it best to go round the neighborhood seeing who they could lend a hand to. It took ten of us four hours to clear the silt, all the while large aftershocks taunting us as we went.

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Once we were clear, another friend took me to her place on the other side of town for a break. It took us a lot longer than it should have to get there as we kept being detoured due to roads being cracked, flooded and silt laden. It was while I was at her place that I realized that Christchurch had become two different worlds in the space of a minutes. Her side of town, the area where I worked, was mostly unaffected. The shakes could be felt, but that was about it. Life was going on as normal while rescue workers were pulling bodies from the rubble only 10 kilometers away.

The next couple of days, armed with my shovel I spent helping neighbours out with their silt issues. I couldn’t just sit around, I felt like I needed to do something, but I also felt very useless, a feeling that I would have to get used to for a while as a lot of us were powerless to do a lot in the aftermath of the quakes. I had no power or running water and little idea of what was actually happening in the city and suburbs around me but I was comforted by the community spirit I witnessed, strangers helping strangers, friends taking in friends. They say the earthquake brought out the best and worst in people that week but I was lucky enough to only have experienced the best.

Five years ago today, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake of a 5 kilometer depth hit just out of Lyttleton in Christchurch and changed our lives forever. Countless thousands of people were injured, many seriously in the aftermath of falling debris and buildings. 185 people lost their lives, 115 of whom were in the same building in the city center. Rescue teams came in from all over the world to help but unfortunately no one was found alive after the first day.

Some people lost friends and family, some their houses and some their jobs. Life never got back to normal, instead we had what we called the ‘new normal,’ a term used to describe battling with daily unknowns, large aftershocks months later, mental health issues where there had been none before and living in a city we no longer recognized. To this day I walk and drive past some locations and can’t for the life of me remember what used to be there, despite driving past it every day for years before the fact.

Five years on and the city still gives daily reminders of the tragedy, with roadworks covering half the city, many empty lots, some damaged buildings still standing and a lot of people still battling insurance companies over their damaged and ruined houses. Five years on and a lot of us are exhausted, proof of which when an out of the blue magnitude 5.7 earthquake hit our city on Valentines day this year and a lot of people were instantly taken back to February 22nd, panic stricken and anxious for days, despite this quake leaving minimal damage comparatively.

I leave you with this video that captures images a very small portion of the damage not long after the quake hit and their befores. I cried when I watched this video, they may only be buildings, but what they represent is so much more than that. They represent what we have been through and the strength and resilience of the Cantabrians who suffered and yet still keep going despite the daily reminders and constant uncertainty that is our new normal.

When I Found Out I Was Pregnant

I had a feeling that we had been successful in our attempt to get pregnant even before I missed my first period. I don’t know if it was wishful thinking or women’s intuition, but something in me kept telling me that I was pregnant even when it was far too early to tell. I didn’t have any symptoms aside from being a little tired and snappy so there really was no reason to suspect and yet it was all I could think about. So I took a test as soon as it was time enough and sure enough, it was positive.

The range of emotions I felt looking at the test show positive was overwhelming. I was absolutely ecstatic of course, but this was clouded by immense fear. I was instantly terrified that it was another ectopic pregnancy and obviously that was the last thing I wanted.

Zombie was asleep during this freak out of mine and it’s one of the few times that I’ve deliberately woken him up. We’d discussed me taking the test the night before of course, but I wasn’t about to let him sleep when I had news like that especially when I knew how happy he would be.

The first thing I did was make an appointment with my doctor. I had to know it wasn’t ectopic and I had to know fast. I spent the next few hours waiting for my appointment a nervous ball of anxiety. I was at work, but I couldn’t concentrate. All I could think was that I was going to have to go through the horrible experience of losing a baby again, this time a planned one.

As much as she wanted to, my doctor wasn’t able to put my mind at ease. She did all the usual things, blood pressure etc, but until I was able to get a scan there wasn’t a lot anyone could do to calm my nerves. She sent me for blood tests and referred me for an ultrasound. Of course I called to make the scan immediately and they offered to see me that same day, but I was also paranoid about getting in trouble at work, so I opted for the next available time slot of two days later.

Bad idea! While I don’t really remember much about the two days, what I can tell you is that I was in a constant state of panic. Every single time I went to the bathroom I was terrified that I was going to find blood. I started making regular trips even when I didn’t need to go, just to make sure. Of course this didn’t put my mind at ease, but I always felt calmer for a few minutes when I didn’t find blood.

When it came time for the ultrasound I was a mess on the inside but trying to hold it together on the outside. Zombie came with me for moral support which I couldn’t have done without. I don’t know how long we were in the waiting room for, but I felt like a zombie myself the whole time, just staring into space while I waited. I barely heard my name called because I was petrified that I was going to get bad news.

The radiologist was fantastic. She knew why I was there and did her best to put me at ease. She explained every step she was taking and told me that she herself had had a similar experience so she could understand my fear.

The day I had this scan I was approximately five weeks pregnant, so I had to have an internal scan to actually be able to see everything. This is not the most comfortable or dignified experience, but absolutely necessary and I wasn’t about to complain, especially when one of the first things the radiologist confirmed was that not only was I pregnant, but it was in fact in the correct place.

The relief I felt at that moment was like nothing I’ve ever felt before. It felt like I had let go of a breath I’d been holding forever and I was able to relax for the first time since I’d taken the test. All the happy emotions I’d expected to feel upon finding out I was pregnant rushed into me and I just wanted to jump up and down, hug Zombie, cry tears of joy and tell the world.

Of course I kept my composure. The radiologist continued the scan told me exactly what she was doing. She explained what the images were and gave me a few lessons on the early days of pregnancy. It was pretty amazing and I was able to concentrate and take it all in after the good news too.

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I went back to work after the scan which was hard, because I just wanted to celebrate but after the rough couple of days anxiety had given me I though it was important to keep myself in reality. I didn’t realize at the time that those first few days were just the beginning of an absolute rollercoaster of anxiety and emotions like nothing I’d experienced before, but in that moment, I felt like I’d gotten everything I’d ever wanted and that’s a great feeling.

Smiles and Sunshine
Katie

Are You Ready?

One of the biggest hurdles I faced on my road to mental wellness, was the fact that in order to get better, I needed to be honest with myself and admit that the road I was on wasn’t working and that I needed help. In order to be able to do this though, I had to be ready, because becoming mentally well is hard work and not something that just happens overnight.

This probably sounds strange. Why on earth would someone want to be depressed or anxious or otherwise? The reality is, in our unwell state at that point in time, it seems genuinely easier to be unwell. Staying unwell means we don’t have to put in any effort. Staying unwell means we don’t have to worry about the fear of the unknown. Obviously we don’t specifically think these thoughts, but often we feel so hopeless at the time that even the thought of asking for help is just too scary and can send us downhill further.

We all become ready at different times. For some of us, at the first signs of trouble we realize that something is up and can do something about it. For others, we need to fall for a little while before we have the strength to reach out and make a start on recovery, we may not even realize that there’s an issue at first. Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom and some of us may never be ready, which while unfortunate, is just the way it is.

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For a person going through mental illness, some days it takes most of the energy we have just to get out of bed. After that we still have to shower and eat if we are up to it, sometimes getting out of the house to go to work, to do the things that need to be done, just to keep us alive, take everything we have leaving us a shell for the rest of the day. On those days, it’s difficult to even think about getting better.

In my blog posts, I often encourage anyone going through a struggle to reach out for help and I will continue to do this and stand by anyone who does, but I will never force someone to get help. Pushing people before they are ready is as bad as telling them to snap out of it. It can have a negative impact and set them back even further.

Mental illness is hard to deal with for everyone involved. Obviously for the person going through it, but it also impacts on friends and family and not everyone can cope with it and that’s okay too. It can be frustrating to see someone you love suffering when you know exactly what they need to do to get better, but the best thing that can be done for someone who isn’t ready to begin their wellness journey is to be patient with them. They’ll let you know when they are ready.

Smiles and Sunshine
Katie

Fickle

Excited chatter bubbles all around me, confusing yet happy noise filled with laughter and excitement. Voices of all ages, tones and depth, greeting each other, giving introductions about themselves and how they came to be here.

All I can think about is the cheese.

A beautifully laid platter of a pungent blue, a large wedge of brie, spreadable cream cheese and a selection of  crackers taunting me from its position just out of reach. So close, yet so far.

The afghans and savoury muffin bites were a hit, barely landing on the table before hands eargerly reached across to grab them and yet the mouthwatering cheese remains untouched.

No one would notice if I succumbed to temptation, but I don’t want to be first. What on earth would people think if I just got up and helped myself! It’s bad enough that I’m just sitting quietly amongst the group but at least this way I can pretend I’m invisible, jot down notes in my journal, pretend I’m preparing for the class.

What if I stumble as I approach the cheese, get in someones’ way, drop it on them, or worse, what if I can’t stop at one piece? Let’s face it, when it comes to cheese, who can have just a little bit? 

Thoughts of all the different outcomes swirl through my brain, each scenario worse than the last. No. Better to wait it out. I can’t be the first to eat the cheese, because, what if I’m also the last.

First day nerves dont seem to be affecting this group. Conversations flow amongst strangers, as if they were not strangers at all, but old friends reunited, all the while oblivious to the flavour delights they could be experiencing if someone would just pick up that damn knife, slice off a soft peice of cheese, pair it with a cracker and put it in their mouth! It’s cheese! Cheese people! What on earth is holding everyone back!

For me, it’s all come down to this moment.

I’ve been patiently waiting for this day for a long time, emotions of all ranges, nerves, curiosity, apprehension and excitement flowing through me daily as I thought about this class and what it could bring.

Of course anxiety was always at the forefront of my mind. It seems funny now that all those months of  worrying about blundering through my first day, producing terrible pieces and not being good enough have been reduced to irrelevant by a simple plate of cheese.

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Living With PCOS

Something that I haven’t talked about very much on my blog, is that I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, PCOS for short.  I was diagnosed with this when I was eighteen but it’s really only in the last couple of years that I have learned anything about it.  PCOS is where women have an elevated male hormone and comes with a number of symptoms, which differ from woman to woman.  These include irregular or no periods, mood swings and depression, acne, excess facial and body hair, pelvic pain, difficulty conceiving and difficulty losing weight.  Diabetes type 2 can also be associated with PCOS, as can Endometrial cancer and heart disease.

When I was first diagnosed, I had gone for seven months without my period.  At first I didn’t mind, I’m sure all women can relate to the inconvenience that is our monthly visitor, so I didn’t do anything about it.  After a while though, I thought it was a bit strange, so I decided it was time to find out what was going on.

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My doctor told me that it could be PCOS and sent me for an ultrasound and blood tests to investigate further and it wasn’t long before she told me that I did in fact, have PCOS.  Cool, so what I had wrong with me had a name!  She told me that I had too much testosterone and that polycystic meant ‘many cysts.’  I was instantly ashamed, testosterone!  Did that mean I wasn’t really a woman?  Up until that point I didn’t even know that women had testosterone!  She gave me a small leaflet to flick through, put me on a specific contraceptive pill called Estelle, which was apparently designed for women with PCOS and told me to lose weight and quit smoking.  She also told me I would be unlikely to ever fall pregnant and then told me in the next breath that a cure for PCOS was to fall pregnant.  Um…?

I don’t remember a lot about the leaflet, except that it didn’t tell me much other than to tell me that PCOS was the reason I had recently started sprouting random dark hairs on my upper chest, neck and face.  I didn’t have a moustache or anything embarrassing like that, just stray hairs that I regularly plucked to avoid embarrassment.  It was also well before the days of having Google on my phone on the go, so I didn’t really do any research.  It was back when I thought that doctors knew everything and I assumed that the leaflet was all the information that I needed.  I went on the pill, my period came back due to the sugar pills, the excess hair disappeared and after a few months a follow up blood test showed that my testosterone levels were normal.  Cured!

Or so I thought.  It turns out, PCOS has no cure and as soon as I took a break from the pill, the excess hair came back and my testosterone levels soared again.  The cause of PCOS is uncertain, although there is evidence to suggest that it is a genetic condition.  For me, it is likely that PCOS has played a part in my mental illness, although being on The Pill did nothing to alleviate my depression symptoms, so maybe it is not related. Obviously I will never know if depression and anxiety would have been a part of my life without PCOS, but there are strong links associated.  My diagnosis for depression and PCOS were within quick succession of each other, although looking back I feel like I always had a struggle with mental illness, even as a child.

Irregular periods are the norm for me. They are heavy and painful and can happen as often as a week apart and as spaced out as six to seven weeks apart. I don’t calculate them, because I just never know. They are somewhat painful, but as I’ve gotten older the pain has decreased, which I’ve heard is unusual. The downside is as I’ve gotten older, the bad moods that come with my period have gotten worse, especially on the first day. It is not uncommon for the smallest thing to make me instantly ropable on the first day of my period these days.

PCOS is a factor in my struggle to lose weight.  A common symptom of it is insulin resistance and while I don’t have that, like many women with PCOS, I do struggle to lose weight and I gain it back very quickly.  For me, a diet of unprocessed food was the only successful weight loss method, but for other women with PCOS, a low carb diet is the way to go to combat the insulin resistance.  Even then, some women have little success.  Obesity and being overweight is a very common symptom for women with PCOS. It’s an unfortunate catch 22 as there is evidence to suggest that weight loss can help diminish PCOS symptoms, but of course often a lot harder to lose weight when you have it.

I also used to experience a lot of pelvic pain.  It didn’t matter what time of the month it was, I felt period pain all year round, sometimes so extreme that I would have to stop what I was doing and wait it out.  Interestingly enough the pain seemed to be worse when I didn’t have my period.  Since completing my elimination diet, I have only had small amounts of pelvic pain, usually after excessive gluten consumption, and it hasn’t been crippling like it used to be, so again, like with my mental health, I am unsure if this was a PCOS symptom, or coincidence.

The stray hairs are now a part of my daily life, with or without the contraceptive pill.  I have been lucky enough to not experience much acne, even in my teenage years, but I have taken to carrying a pair of tweezers with me wherever I go, in case I notice a dark unwanted hair.  They tend to pop up anywhere on my neck, near my ears on my jawline, between my breasts and anywhere on my chest.  It’s not uncommon for me to spend a few minutes a day, straining the skin on my jawline to make sure I haven’t missed any.  These hairs are darker than my natural hair and also coarser.  They used to be a source of embarrassment for me, but I’ve actually only ever had one comment about one that was on my neck, because it was before I knew that I had them.  I’m pretty sure that until this blog post it was a source of private embarrassment for me.

In the past couple of years I have done a lot more research about PCOS and while I’m in no way an expert, I do feel lucky to have discovered that my suffering of this is mild compared to what a lot of women have to deal with.  Sure, I struggle with weight, irregular periods, have the annoying excess hair and used to have to deal with the pain, but a lot of women have it worse.  For some, it causes extreme heavy and uncomfortable periods, others have to deal with the insulin resistance and others unfortunately do have infertility as a result.

Infertility is not an issue for me.  I am pregnant now for the second time in my life.  The first time, I was on the pill, which obviously failed.  This pregnancy turned out to be ectopic, which also has links to PCOS, but I felt lucky knowing that at least I could get pregnant if I wanted to.  I was on the pill and while that isn’t foolproof, it sure makes it harder to get pregnant, which in my mind meant that fertility, while coming with the risk of another ectopic pregnancy, wasn’t going to be impossible for me.  This time round, my pregnancy was planned amd so far is going well, which is all I can ask for, although I expected it to take a longer period of trying before we had success.  The other thing that surprised me is that I expected the excess hair to go away while pregnant, which it hasn’t.  I now realise that this is something that I will always have to deal with.

For anyone who has been diagnosed with PCOS, I urge you to do your research.  Ask questions, go and see a specialist, don’t just accept it like I did.  There is a lot of misinformation out there, so ask your friends as well.  In the last year I have discovered that a surprisingly large number of the women I know also suffer from PCOS, all to varying degrees and with varying issues of their own.  Some women find ways to cope through diet and exercise and others need more specialised help, but it’s all about not being ashamed and not letting it take over your life.

Smiles and Sunshine
Katie