Although the title of this post is light and humorous, this journal entry is not so funny. I have PCOS. And while I don’t like it to define who I am as a person, sometimes it feels like the symptoms I face are all that people see me for: overweight, acne-filled, hairy faced lady who has mood swings and talks about awkward things like infertility.
I do that – I bring up sensitive issues like fertility in casual conversations with friends and colleagues. I feel that it’s important people know that someone of us struggle but it’s ok to talk about. But, every single time I do bring it up, it makes the person feel extremely awkward. That’s a topic for another day. Let’s focus on today’s journal entry.
On the weekend I bought The Ultimate PCOS Handbook: Lose weight, boost fertility, clear skin and restore self-esteem by Colette Harris & Theresa Cheung at Chapters. I just started reading the intro and already I had a flashback from an incident that has haunted me ever since it happened.
Last year around this time I was living in San Mateo, California with my boss and co-worker. We shared an apartment and they threw me a wonderful birthday party. Some friends came over and we had finger food and drinks and just hung around listening to music and chatting.
Near the end of the night we decided we wanted to head over to one of our friend’s houses who has a hot tub. As soon as I found this out I started panicking as I hadn’t shaved my legs in a week or two (I’m the type that only shaves when I need to and being that it was dead of winter, I didn’t expect to need to shave. Life’s too short to spend it in the shower).
I told my boss that I would need to shave my legs if we were heading over to go in the hot tub. She laughed at me and said that she didn’t shave so I’ll be fine. I insisted that she doesn’t understand – I definitely needed to shave.
For those of you who don’t know this about women with PCOS, they grow excess hair, dark hair, not the blonde peach fuzz, in places men typically do. So, it’s common for women with PCOS to grow hair all over their thighs and the back of their legs, buttocks, treasure trail, feet, hands, arms, cheeks, upper lip, chin, neck, chest, etc. It’s not fun.
So my boss asked me how long I would need to shave, suggesting a couple of minutes. I told her I’d probably need 15 minutes. She thought that was outrageously ridiculous. She suggested I just shave to my knee. I told her, she doesn’t want me to only shave to the knee, trust me. She made me feel like I was crazy. So much so that I started believing that maybe I was being ridiculous. But my self-consciousness of my oddly overly hairiness, thanks to PCOS, forced me to again, insist that I needed 15 minutes to shave my legs. Finally, after much back and fourth, she agreed to preoccupy the guests with conversation while I snuck away to clean myself up. I ran to the shower and got the job done as fast and as safely as I could.
I felt so relieved knowing that my legs were smooth and I wouldn’t be ashamed for them to see me in my bathing suit. So we packed up our stuff and headed over. When we got there, there was a house party going on so we had a couple of drinks, danced to the live DJ playing in their living room (I know right! They had the best life) and enjoyed ourselves. Finally we decided it was hot tub time so the girls and I went to get changed while the boys got changed and got the hot tub going.
The hot tub wasn’t working so the boys had to tinker with the mechanics of it to try and get it working. While we waited, we sat by the open fireplace to keep warm. Half an hour went by and the boys came in to say they couldn’t get it working. So we sat around in our bathing suits and chatted the rest of the night away.
I felt so silly for making such a fuss for having to shave my legs when we never ended up going in the hot tub. But, if I hadn’t shaved, I wouldn’t have been comfortable getting into a bathing suit in the first place so I would have been the one person who “didn’t want to go in the hot tub.”
This incident seems so minor but ever since that day, I’ve felt conflicted about the way my boss made me feel at the time. To be honest, it has kind of eaten my up inside. At the time I didn’t realize that the reason her and I had such vastly different opinions on shaving was due to the fact that we grow hair differently. I had no idea that my extra hair growth was due to my PCOS. Because I had dealt with it since hitting puberty, I just assumed it was normal.
Since then I’ve learned a lot about PCOS, including the symptom of excess hair growth and how it has affected my body and my life. Something as minuscule as keeping a hairless body, especially in the summer, is super challenging for ladies with PCOS. We end up having to shave nearly every day, almost our entire bodies. This takes up a lot of precious time, and it also can cause harsh reactions on the skin.
Because I was blessed with what I call thunder thighs, my thighs rub together when I walk. In the summer, when I may be wearing shorts or dresses, this causes chafing which is extremely painful. I literally cannot wear short-shorts like most women. I literally cannot wear dresses without wearing spandex shorts underneath to prevent my legs from chafing. It’s hard to be a true lady with PCOS.
Long story short, I felt compelled to tell this story in hopes that it might help someone have more sensitivity to those experiencing things you may not understand. Even something as simple as getting into a bathing suit can cause anxiety for many people, including women with PCOS.
As a general rule of thumb, take someone’s word for how they need to handle a situation rather than judging them for doing it differently than you. Trust that they know what they’re doing and don’t need your help optimizing their life. Unless, of course, they ask for your help.
Be sensitive to those with conditions that you don’t understand. But at the same time, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Most people aren’t afraid to talk about their condition – they’d rather it not be the elephant in the room.
Thanks for reading!