I’m 18 and sitting in the doctor’s office as the barrage of results come in.
Blood tests: close to normal hormonal levels. Ultrasound: healthy ovaries. The diagnosis? “Polycystic ovarian syndrome.” The doctor says it with a dismissive wave of her hand, “very common.”
I give back a blank stare. I’m not impressed with a doctor pulling together wordy names for diseases my body doesn’t exhibit signs of.
“It’s kind of a misnomer,” she says, responding to my apprehensive silence. “It’s generally the diagnosis for women with abnormal menstrual cycles.” She promises the birth control pill she prescribes will fix my fluctuating hormones, that it will regulate my cycle in a way my own cells can’t seem to.
I’m young. I’m naïve and trusting. I want to be fixed and this doctor tells me these pills will do the trick. I try it.
For the next few years I experience regular menstrual cycles, my breast size doesn’t fluctuate and my moon time isn’t wracked with barreling-upon-me pain and heavy flows, but eventually, I can’t justify ingesting chemical hormones any longer. It’s just not right for me. I go off them and see what my body will do. Not much, it turns out. I’m back to extensive gaps between cycles and sprouting hair where most women don’t.
At least I start to feel feelings again.
My body passes through years as I move through healing modalities. I gain insights from Bodytalk, slightly eased symptoms through herbalism and visits to a naturopath, and get closest to regularity with acupuncture. Unfortunately, nothing seems to stick. I feel like I’ll be reliant on something external directing my body toward health forever.
At some point in those years I find myself in the car directly after a doctor’s appointment, chugging water on the way to an emergency ultrasound. A doctor thinks the sudden, intense pain I’m experiencing might be an ectopic pregnancy. I endure medical procedures and struggle to find words to express to my husband what kind of support I need. Turns out a cyst had burst. I guess my diagnosis is coming true.
My marriage doesn’t ever fully recover from the chasm the experience created and, a couple of years later, crumbles fully.
I follow the signs and commit to living in an Ashram for what turns out to be three years. Here, I have structure and support, an intricate framework to delve into my past experiences and what makes me who I am. I go through waves of focussing my energy on my hormonal health. The theme seem to follow me in much of my reflections—the rational versus the irrational, creativity and flow. What causes my irregular cycles? What can I do to be normal? I find answers, I step toward a level of regularity that had been foreign to me, I leave and it does too, but not before one last push with allopathic (Western) medicine to determine where I’m at.
Contrary to my first ultrasound, I now find my right ovary riddled with cysts. While my hormonal levels still hover close to normal, the way my body responds to them is reasoned off as problematic. I don’t find solutions, but there is more knowledge to move forward with.
My journey with irregular hormones has lasted half of my life. In that time, I’ve learned a lot of lessons.
The mind and body are linked in a myriad of ways.
Nothing will be able to fully explain why I menstruated for the first time in a year after finally leaving a relationship, or why I would burst into inexplicable tears upon reading Dr. Christiane Northrup’s Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom.
I’ve explored how, as a child growing up with three brothers, I would unconsciously store shame about being female or feminine into my cells. I’ve explored my stunted creativity—what’s more creative than the process of bringing life into this world—and my distrust that the world has a place for me.
Having such an obvious hormonal imbalance has added fuel to my fire of self-discovery. I want to work in conjunction with my mind, body and spirit to gently listen to what they’re saying. There is no one emotional moment or memory that is responsible for my imbalanced hormones, but every uncovering leads to greater understanding of myself just as I am.
There is no normal, and I am enough.
For so long I’ve held myself to this standard that I’ve wanted to achieve. I’ve wrongfully seen “healthy” as something that exists outside of myself and stretched helplessly toward it. I’ve wanted to fit in, to be like everyone else, and for God’s sake to remove my excess body hair with a wave of a magic wand.
With every realization or every new modality I often think, maybe this will heal me. But life doesn’t work like that. We approach healing by degrees and each step plants me firmly where I am.
I won’t ever be something I’m not. Twenty-eight day cycles are not the golden standard that every real woman has. There is no external measuring stick by which to achieve.
My hormones are a part of me and can shift my state of mind.
Going for long stretches without the influence of regular, cyclic hormones makes me hyper aware of when my blood does course with estrogen and other concoctions. I’ve learned to welcome emotions rather than stuff them down as I have in the past.
Yes, I’ve questioned if my reaction to an off-hand remark or touching video would be the same if I watched it during a week without an upsurge or hormones, but that doesn’t alter its validity. It’s taken me time to get to the point where I can accept an emotional reaction is an authentic expression of who I am in any given moment, even while my rational mind might be standing by flabbergasted at the whole thing.
I’m learning to identify as a whole rather than as a single part, separated by sections of a cycle.
Western, allopathic medicine has its place.
The diagnostic tools available through Western medicine certainly are vast. Unfortunately, they often come with a team of medical professionals pushing us toward making decisions we might not necessarily want to make. While much of my experiences with Western medical doctors have been negative, I have also had encounters with compassionate, caring individuals who I feel have my best interests in mind.
I’ve learned to add allopathic medicine to my team of health care providers in order to support all parts of me: mind, body and spirit.
I continue on this healing path grateful I have the opportunity to learn more about myself. My polycystic ovaries are one tool I have on my journey.
Author: Guenevere Neufeld
Editor: Renee Picard