Last week I sat down and wrote in my journal a list of things that I had kept private from my community. I have always wanted to be transparent with you. I realize that there are some things that I will always keep discreet as they provide no benefit to neither you nor myself in sharing. But, there are still some things that I have gone to great lengths to hide that I am willing to risk expressing in order to feel my more authentic self.
When I was 21 years old and in college, my mother walked up behind me and curiously touched the back of my head with her hand. She said with a concerned motherly tone, “Honey, I’m worried about your hair - it looks like it’s thinning; are you sure you’re eating well enough?”
I took a small mirror in my hand, tilted it downward over my head and was horrified to find my hair thinning in the back of my crown. I, like my mother and sisters, had grown up with such thick Native-American hair that the beautician would often need to thin it in order for it to be manageable. I was in shock, then, to discover this new confused reality and felt completely exposed. “Had everyone else noticed? How long had I been walking around this way?”
My mother had a right to be concerned: At that point I had been a vegetarian for 8 years and was thoroughly clueless to that which was contained in a healthy diet. Over the years I tried changing my diet, quit taking my low estrogen birth control and even took home a box of Rogaine that a close friend gifted me and encouraged me to try. I never opened that box - to me that would be defeat.
As the years went on, the issue persisted and I became even more desperate for an answer. I began wearing bohemian-style head wraps, bandanas, knit hats, baseball caps and fedoras to cover up my secret. I felt so vulnerable, helpless and felt like I was losing my most important connection to my feminine identity.
My mother would send me quarterly articles in the mail about the latest findings on hair-loss and although her intention was pure - it only made me feel worse.
It wasn’t until 2008 that my mother sent me an email revealing that one of my extended family members had recently been diagnosed with a largely genetic condition called **PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) - that I truly paid attention. I read the definition in the link that she had sent and felt a simultaneous sense of relief and fear when I identified with the majority of the symptoms.
As fate would have it I was already enrolled in a 10-week program with a nutritionist, Rose Cole, for other health issues I was facing: I had not menstruated in 7 months and was facing a threat of early menopause if not treated. So - I shared with my nutritionist my mother’s loving, novice diagnosis and she agreed to run a series of natural tests. The tests came back positive for unnaturally high levels of testosterone, low-blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and glucose intolerance. With these results, my nutritionist concurred that a PCOS diagnosis was highly indubitable. Nonetheless, we made an appointment with a sonographer to perform an ultrasound just be sure.
My mother came with me to my appointment and stayed in the waiting room as I went in with the sonographer. I lay down and lifted my shirt above my navel as the technician went about her process. I closed my eyes and grounded my spirit. She said, “Yes, you can see here - these round masses close together - they are cysts.” My heart dropped into the center of the earth as I saw what looked like an army of cysts completely covering my ovaries shoulder to shoulder. I felt a tidal wave of emotion grow in my belly and gain momentum until it was stopped at my throat chakra and so flooded my body.
“Ok, thank you,” I managed to say as I made myself presentable and returned to the waiting room. There, my mother received me anxiously and inquired about the findings: I broke down in tears.
The diagnosis explained my irregular menstrual cycle, hair thinning, weight gain, adult acne, emotional instability, fainting spells, androgenic symptoms, irritability, lack of energy and depression.
My nutritionist put me on the master cleanse immediately followed by a strict three-week sugar cleanse. I started an exercise plan of 4-6 days a week, learned how to eat and drink fluids according to my body’s needs and began taking appropriate natural supplements.
On the morning of Mother’s Day 2008 I woke up and went about my morning routine. When I used the toilet I found that I was menstruating. Tears flowed down my face as I sat there unable to move, sobbing in disbelieve and gratitude. The symbolism of starting on Mother’s Day was overwhelming. Had I gone just 4 more months without menstruating I would have been at risk for early menopause. “I’m a mother,” I cried to myself. “I’m a mother!”
From that day on every time I start my cycle I’m reminded of the blessing of this beautiful gift we are given as women. We flow with the tides and are eternally and tangibly connected to the earth and stars.
Yes, I still hold a vision of my hair being thick again, my skin being completely clear and each of the effects of PCOS to wear down to nothing.
For now, I have hair extensions and makeup to thank for helping me feel glamorous at shows and for photoshoots. And I have you to thank, with your unconditional love, for being open to hearing my truth so there is no longer a need to hide.
I am grateful that I have a reason to hold my overall health of body, mind and spirit as top priority. I am grateful that I am perfectly imperfect so that I have a forever ingrained sense of humility and approachability. I am grateful for this compassion I have for anyone who deals every single day with something special.
It just makes us special, after all. It just makes us special.
**“PCOS is one of the most common endocrine disorders among females. It is thought to be one of the leading causes of female subfertility and the most frequent endocrine problem in women of reproductive age. Finding that the ovaries appear polycystic on ultrasound is common, but it is not an absolute requirement in all definitions of the disorder.
The most common immediate symptoms are anovulation, excess androgenic hormones, and insulin resistance. Anovulation results in irregular menstruation, amenorrhea, and ovulation-related infertility. Hormone imbalance generally causes acne and hirsutism. Insulin resistance is associated with obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol levels. The symptoms and severity of the syndrome vary greatly among affected women.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polycystic_ovary_syndrome]