My name is Amy-Leigh and I’m a thirty year old Trinidadian fitness junkie, healthy foodie, advertising executive, part time photographer, blogger and manager of my hormone imbalance.
My hormone journey began in mid-2011 when I decided to come off birth control. That decision changed my life forever. Even though at the time it up heaved my entire existence, in hindsight it was the best choice I ever made for myself and my life.
My life changed about three months post pill. It started with one cystic pimple and then what seemed like the blink of an eye, my face was covered in painful cystic acne. This somewhat overnight transformation of my once clear skin left me shocked, confused but more so embarrassed. As a teenager I suffered with mild stress acne but once I left high school my skin cleared up quickly. At twenty-five I felt like I had gone back in time and the confident, independent woman that I had become was gone and replaced with an awkward, shy teen who was afraid to go out or look people in the eye for fear that I’d see them staring at my scarred face. Client meetings at work especially caused me serious anxiety.
Acne however was only the beginning. I noticed shortly after that my breast discharged a milk-like fluid when squeezed, I broke out in hives almost every day, I had night sweats, hot flashes, adrenal fatigue and to this day I have painful ovulation. The medical term for it is Mittelscherz and this pain varies from month to month. Sometimes it’s bearable and lasts only a few hours while other times it can last up to twelve hours and is so excruciating that I can barely walk. The silver lining in this however is that now I can always tell the exact date my period will start (which helps a lot when you live on an island and need to plan beach trips).
Needless to say, when all of the above started happening, I made a gynecologist appointment immediately. This first visit to the gynecologist was horrendous and I still get angry when I think about it. Having never done a pap-smear, I decided to kill two birds with one stone i.e. get the procedure done and ask for advice on what he thought (it was a male doctor) was happening to my body. After exhaustingly explaining in detail about all the drastic changes my body had gone through post pill, his only advice was to go back on the pill and try to sell me on taking a different type of birth control. I was adamant that I never wanted to be on birth control again and again all he told me was about the low dose hormone birth control pills that he had. I was livid and left there emotionally dejected and drained.
After confiding to a female coworker about my awful gynecologist visit, she recommended I visit hers. Her gynecologist was female and one of the best in the country. I quickly made an appointment with her but I had to wait three months because she was that in demand. In the meantime, I made my first dermatologist visit. I had always known that my acne was an internal issue so I never frankly thought about going to a dermatologist, but with three months on my hand and my skin not getting any better I figured why not. This skin doctor was quite pleasant and while he did advise also about going back on birth control, he also prescribed vitamin A capsules and the antibiotic, doxycycline. I must say that doxycycline did help to calm my skin flare ups for a little while and I was glad that I made this visit. Of course, with most antibiotic treatments, you can’t stay on them for very long and most times your body becomes resistant to the drugs, which was what happened in my case.
My breakouts started shortly after my last doxycycline prescription ended but thankfully it was time for my other gynecologist visit. This one went a lot better as the female gynecologist was more kind and understanding and after the results came back from my ultrasound she advised that I had no cysts but that she thought I more than likely had PCOS. I was a little taken aback because I had always associated ovarian cysts with PCOS. Now, I’m well aware of the difference between PCO and PCOS. Taking into consideration my desire to stay off birth control, she prescribed that I take Glucophage (also known as metformin) for three months. In total I spent close to 8 months on Glucophage and while it helped to balance back my hormones for a while and control my breakouts, it made me feel terrible. I was always tired and it made my lifelong battle with anxiety and depression worsen. When my last prescription of Glucophage ended, I decided that I had had enough of pills and doctor offices. At this time, I had spent close to two years of my life on a roller coaster of emotions and body changes and I knew that if I didn’t take control, my hormone imbalance would continue to rule my life.
The toughest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life was to continue to believe in myself when setbacks occurred in my hormone imbalance journey and my life in general. It’s been more than a year or so since I’ve been able to really manage my hormonal acne and PCOS symptoms and it’s been the most rewarding experience of my life. Exercising regularly, supplementing with essential vitamins, minerals and fish oils and eating healthier has changed the quality of my life and positively affected my PCOS journey.
Of the three things above, eating healthier was the hardest change to make. I’ve always been a bit of a fitness junkie so getting back into a regular exercise routine wasn’t too hard for me and prior to my hormone imbalance I took a multivitamin off and on so supplementing came naturally. However, when you grow up on an island and more so in an East Indian household where everything delicious is made of white flour and soaked in oil, my diet was my only real obstacle. Instead of taking an extreme approach (which I think only increases the failure rate of sticking to healthier eating) I decided to switch it up instead. I swapped full cream milk with almond milk, I limit white flour or white carbs in my diet and eat mostly whole grain or wheat, I reduced my sugar and salt intake, I cook only with coconut oil and I definitely increased my intake of fruits and veggies. Not only have these changes benefited my skin but it has made the most difference in my mental health journey. This is the only reason I’ve been able to stick to healthier eating. I literally eat better to feel better.
My advice to anyone diagnosed with PCOS is…breathe. After you’ve taken that first breath, start taking measures to gain control of your condition. This is not a death sentence; this is an opportunity to better your body, mind and soul. My diagnosis has been a blessing in disguise to me. When my hormone imbalance battle began I cursed myself for ever taking birth control but in reviewing my family history I’ve come to realize that it may in fact have masked the condition. My mother suffered with terrible acne up to the birth of my brother at age twenty one and many women in my family suffer with infertility, ovarian cysts and fibroids. My main reason for coming off the pill was because my PMS symptoms were getting out of control (especially my mood swings) and I was seeing an increase of acne even while on it. Five years later, I thank God for putting me through this personal test because not only have I gained an immeasurable amount of information and respect on how amazing the female body is but it has allowed me to gain a certain level of control over my mental health which I never thought would happen without medication.
Every woman’s body is beautifully different and my way (regular exercise, supplementing and healthier eating) has been a long journey of much trial and error but I hope that my story would encourage you to take the natural route in dealing with your PCOS because sooner or later you will realize, as I did, that the only person who should have control over you and your body, is you.
To learn more about Amy's journey, read more here: www.naturalleighblog.wordpress.com.