At 19, Vicki Psarias’ periods stopped, and she was diagnosed with PCOS. Here, she explains how that felt – and the decisions she had to make.
I was in my first year of university when my periods stopped. At first it was liberating. I found tampons uncomfortable, and I got swept away with the ease and freedom that came with it. No periods: no pain, no hormonal fluctuations.
But that feeling soon faded and I started to crave normality. Over time, not having a period made me feel like less of a woman, like my body was “broken” because I wasn’t bleeding – and I willed them to start again.
I was 11 when I first got my period. My best friend at school had started before me, so I experienced it through her – she’d ring me and tell me all about it, like what it was like, and then several months later I started mine.
My mum and I would talk about periods a lot, she was always really open with me, so I wasn’t embarrassed – but starting my periods was still a milestone of adolescence and quite a significant moment for an 11-year-old. Through my teenage years, my periods were pretty regular, and while I had long cycles they were never really heavy or painful: just the standard hot water bottle scenario or bubbly bath to soothe pain.
And then they stopped.
I didn’t notice at first. Not straight away, anyway. I’d say it took a few months. I was hung up in the bubble of student life, but I remember at one point thinking: hang on, this is odd. So I decided to note it all down – did I have a period in January? February? I couldn’t remember.
Sure, it was fun at first. But it didn’t take long before it became a great worry that was hanging over me all the time. My body wasn’t functioning properly, it wasn’t working. I wanted to be normal, to have a normal reproductive system. I’d sit in halls stressing whether my periods would ever come back – it was stress I shouldn’t have had at 19.
“My body wasn’t functioning properly, it wasn’t working. I wanted to be normal, to have a normal reproductive system.”
After five months, I decided to go to the doctors. I knew I wasn’t pregnant, so I assumed there was something quite wrong with me by this point.
I worried that they wouldn’t take me seriously, or would just assume I was pregnant. I thought that they might just fob me off and send me home – but in fact they did the opposite. The GP referred me to a specialist and soon after I had scans, which revealed cysts on my ovaries. I was given a diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). And the words that followed: “It’s the leading cause of infertility – you are going to have to think about kids before 30.”
I’d heard about PCOS before – I remember Victoria Beckham had been in the news talking about it, so I sort of knew what it was. But I wasn’t clued up, so I did some research. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition affecting women’s ovaries, which can result in irregular periods; fertility struggles; weight gain; and even hair loss. It’s also associated with an increased risk of developing health problems in later life, such as type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol levels.
[Read More: How Much Do You Really Know About PCOS?]
My biggest fear, though, was my periods not coming back. No one could give me any reassurances – “we don’t know” is all they could say. They were hopeful, but no one could guarantee it would happen at that point.
I panicked about the timeframe PCOS put on my fertility. I worried I’d never meet someone – and in any case, I didn’t want to settle down young. As a student, my focus was on a world of work, rather than considering when I might have kids. I wanted to be a film director and I knew full well that a directing career often doesn’t kick off until later on, so having kids young seemed to be totally out of the question.
It was weird, urging my period to start. I followed strict advice from the specialist in those months that followed: I gave up smoking (which I only did socially, anyway), ate more healthily, and chose low GI foods. I exercised more, lost weight, and took care of my body – having no idea whether it was going to make any difference to my periods at all.
I just remember feeling powerless. Not having a period felt symbolic of a lot of decisions I felt I had to make as I was forced to think more seriously about my future than I would’ve liked.
Perhaps it was following the advice, or perhaps my period was always going to come back – but about a year after it had stopped, it finally returned. At first, I felt complete disbelief: it was only spotting, so I assumed I’d hurt myself or something. I didn’t think it was my period because I was so used to not having them.
I didn’t think, until that point, that having periods would be synonymous to me with a working body.
Soon after, they started to come back regularly. And funnily enough, I ended up meeting my partner during my university years. He was at a different uni, I was finishing my MA, and we knew early on how much we loved each other.
I really didn’t expect to meet the person I’d settle down with in my 20s, but I told him pretty quickly about my PCOS, and the advice that I should have kids before I was 30. It didn’t faze him.
We married at 24. I didn’t feel broody, but he did long before me. I remember a moment where I was thinking the pinnacle of success as a filmmaker would be to win a Bafta – but that if I got there and didn’t have kids, it would be a huge shame.
I decided I didn’t want to take the risk – I may not have had the choice later on – so at 28, we started trying for our first baby. I got pregnant within three months – pretty fast for someone with PCOS. At 31, I became pregnant with my second child.
I feel like my uterus was hijacked because of my PCOS – perhaps I had my kids younger than I otherwise would have done, and throughout my life I’ve yoyo-ed with weight, and my periods have been up and down. I also now suffer debilitating ovulation, period pain and acute PMT in some cycles – but the greatest saviour mentally and physically has been exercise.
PCOS is a condition that doesn’t get enough airtime – but it should.
As told to Amy Packham