7/08/2013

One Way Or Another.

I wrote this post a few days ago, and it's left sat in my drafts folder as I'm not usually one to put my private life into the public domain. However I am incredibly aware of how difficult it is to be taken seriously by health professionals, and what a difference having a good or bad GP can make. I hae decided to publish it in the hope that this will help someone else, and encourage whoever is reading this to push their doctor for answers and question their opinions if you feel they are wrong. D x

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I am 31 years old and have been overweight since my mid-teens. As a fun loving and active child, it snuck up on me. I'd never been skinny thanks to my larger frame and swimmers shoulders, but twice weekly dance lessons and a love of long walks with my dad ensured I was healthy and fit. Yet something with my body wasn't right, and aged 15 my weight was quickly sneaking up on me.

I'd turned from a happy child into a self-conscious teenager, and the weight gain was something I really struggled with. I had been following a vegetarian diet since the age of 12 and had no clue as to what was happening with my body. Hormones. Puppy fat. Women's troubles. These were all reasons thrown at me as to what could be going on so I continued to be careful with what I ate and waited for things to go back to normal. Eat less, exercise more, lose weight. It's meant to be that simple, right? Except for some reason, it just wasn't working for me.

The breaking point for me came when my mother asked in the least tactful way possible if I could be pregnant. As someone who hadn't even had a proper boyfriend yet, it completely broke my heart. I stopped going to my dance lessons as I didn't want to be seen in the form fitting practice clothing and promptly found my self confidence dipping. I had dry, flaky skin on my face and body which was being laughed out by my teenaged oily spot-prone patches. I felt an utter mess, both inside and out.

My periods started to be incredibly erratic and it was this which alerted me that there was an underlying issue. After going to see my doctor, his response was to tell me that my periods were playing up because of my weight gain, and to just eat less. No blood tests, no further questions, not a care given.

I felt completely alone and helpless to stop the weight gain so embarked on a war against my body with the intention of clawing back control. What it mean in reality was years of abuse; starvation, severe food issues and self inflicted mental anguish. I constantly found myself defining myself by the numbers on the scale or the size of my clothes. Even how I looked at my creative work was shadowed by how I felt by myself. If I was having a "bad day", my best work suddenly became pointless.

This self-abuse went on for years. I went to diet clinics where I purchased "vitamins and medication" which were effectively legal speed. Despite having researched the danger of taking them, the key one being heart valve failure, I still decided the danger outweighed my current situation and would take them before going to the gym. Looking back, I want to scream at myself for being so stupid, but I was utterly desperate to change the situation as I had no answers for what was going on. It's interesting to note that many people who suffer from PCOS also have tendencies towards bulimia as they frequently experience carbohydrate cravings. This was definitely true for me, and although it didn't help with weight loss, I'd convinced myself that I was somehow helping. The truth was I was giving my body even more of a reason to rebel against me, and I am sure has set my current situation back even further.

Moving forward to now as a 31 year old, I have recently found out some of the answers. Polycystic ovarian syndrome, subclinical hypothyroidism and glucose deficiency disease are the underlying causes for why my body piles on the pounds and refuses to shift them.  But the diagnosis wasn't easy to come by. Having moved to North London with my wonderful boyfriend, I struck gold at my local GP with a young, female doctor who listened to what I said. Many ultrasounds and blood tests later, we were getting somewhere.

Despite the tests on my blood coming back mostly normal or borderline, she allowed me to go on a course of pills called Levothyroxine. Levothyroxine is a synthetic form of the thyroid hormone and is typically used to treat hypothyroidism. Although it didn't produce any weight changes, within days my dry skin which has been a huge issue for me for my entire life vanished. It's not perfect, but bar the skin on my shins, it's normal. For the first time in my life, foundation doesn't make me look like I'm hiding lizard skin underneath and I don't wake up in the morning looking like I've fell asleep face down in a bag of desiccated coconut. It hadn't even occurred to me that my painfully dry skin and weight issue could be related but since all my underlying problems are triggered by hormones, it now makes complete sense.

I felt like I was finally getting somewhere and there was an actual chance that I could get things under control. I know that my natural body shape is curvy and I am absolutely fine with that, but I wanted to look curvy AND healthy. I wanted to be able to enjoy food without fear, I wanted to be able to exercise for fun not for torture. I wanted to be able to spend hot Summer days in sun dresses without feeling the need to layer them with cardigans and leggings as if we're at the start of Autumn. I finally felt like I had someone who was going to get things done; and then she dropped the bombshell that she was leaving my doctors surgery to move to working in a hospital.

Upon meeting my new doctor, it was as if the previous six months of tests and research hadn't happened. I was immediately quizzed about my eating and exercise habits and referred to a dietitian. I was made so miserable by how the situation had turned that I had pretty much given up. I was very honest with him and told him how I was feeling, and to my surprise he started to listen a little more than he had been previously.

After another round of blood tests, the doctor prescribed some medication called Metformin. The pills are usually used to treat type 2 diabetes, but since PCOS is frequently associated with insulin resistance, he decided that it might be the way forward. He also believed that it might help aid a regular cycle, but this has yet to be seen. In fact I've not noticed any difference other than that I feel exhausted and fuzzy much of the time and my eyes keep getting very dry when I'm editing.

And so we come to my appointment on Wednesday. Perhaps the only good thing about my second doctor was that he was keen to make me someone elses problem as soon as possible. So to the Royal Free I went to meet with a consultant who has spent most of her professional career researching and writing papers about PCOS. It was both fascinating and terrifying; she said a lot of things I'd heard before and a lot of things I haven't. The crux of it was that I could starve myself forever and nothing would change - this wasn't my fault, and it wasn't a fight I could win by myself. Diet and exercise help, but ultimately there needs to be some sort of medication based intervention, perhaps even surgery. And that is why for half my life I have been fighting against my body and not able to understand what I was doing that was wrong. The only suggestion was that I make my vegetarian diet a low GI one, so this is what I am going to try next.

It is important for me to say that there is no intention to "fat-shame" with this post. As a photographer, I've come to adore all bodies of different shapes and sizes and have previously found myself completely humbled by people have who contacted me to say that my work has helped them to make them feel better about themselves. I regularly shoot ladies with curves, and love it. But this is a personal journey for me, and a desire to feel comfortable in my own skin. I know I've never going to be smaller than a size 14 - my hourglass shape with it's hips and boobs will make sure of that. This is about me feeling healthy and happy, not sluggish and despondent.

It's very rare that I talk about personal issues with anyone other than those closest to me, but I decided to write this in case the symptoms and issues resonated with anyone else. If you're trying to lose weight but struggle despite doing all the right things, chances are there is an underlying issue. The type of doctor you have will definitely affect your course of treatment - don't be afraid to question them and push for other tests and treatments to see what they say. It has literally taken me half my life and a lot of heartache to get to this point, and I still feel like I am just at the beginning. My next appointment with the consultant is in October, so I guess we will see where we go from there.

2 comments

  1. Diana. I LOVE YOU. Of course I knew about most of these, but it was still heartbreaking to read. I hope you know that I'm here - whatever you need. <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

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