These are 7 things they don't tell you about living with PCOS.

It was a cold, dreary day during my freshman year of college when the doctor said life-changing words:

“You have PCOS," she said unemotionally as she scribbled words on her notepad.

It wasn’t exactly a surprise. My older sister was diagnosed a few years before too, and we’d both experienced the same symptoms leading up to the diagnosis. Still, it wasn't a thrilling thing to be told.


Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal endocrine disorder that affects between 1 in 10 and 1 in 20 women of childbearing age. As many as 5 million women in the United States could be affected, and many cases are undiagnosed. PCOS can cause irregular periods, infertility issues, and drastic changes in appearance, including acne, facial hair, and weight gain.

Being a teenager was already frustrating, but then my health decided to throw that curve ball.

So what did I do? I started running — a lot. Running eventually became my physical and mental refuge. It was a way to release my anger at what I thought was an attack on my womanhood and a way to tone up the parts of my body I had control over.

I completed the San Francisco Rock n' Roll Half Marathon in April 2015. Image from the author, used with permission.

I also changed the way I ate, and I started trying to find a therapist who wouldn't break my bank account.

But the most decisive and important things I've learned, and am still learning, aren't the things my doctor told me during that first appointment. Instead, this illness has taught me about the nitty-gritty of struggling with chronic illness, the gross and empowering things that medical textbooks won't teach you.

Here are some of those lessons that I — and many who have struggled with chronic illnesses — have learned during the journey.

1. My weight doesn’t define me.

Weight dominates women’s magazines. And every day, we’re given information about weighing too much or too little and which bodies are real and which aren’t.

You know what body is real? Yours.

When I found out I had PCOS, I trained for a half marathon, started doing yoga, and changed my diet, thinking that I could slim down to the dream image of my body I had in my head.

Ultimately, I lost a total of five pounds in one year. It was underwhelming, but I felt better than I’d felt during most of my young adult life during that year. My body, while large, gets me to work every day, runs half marathons in different cities, and does some pretty cool things in between. I’ve learned to be grateful for it, at all of its various shapes and sizes.

2. Just because it makes others uncomfortable, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t discuss it.

A lot of people don’t know about PCOS, and most of them don’t want to know more.

PCOS looks pretty different for everyone, but some commonly involved are weight gain, depression, body hair, and infertility. And those aren’t exactly pleasant. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of science out there on how to properly address PCOS just yet, leading to it being commonly misdiagnosed.

When I tried talking about my disease publicly, people were disgusted by it, and I also felt like they didn’t understand how a syndrome like mine could change my life so much. But here’s the thing:

When I talked about PCOS with friends who I trusted, I was more relieved and encouraged. Allowing the people I loved to help me through my health issues made a huge difference, and I’m better for it.

3. I don't need to be a doormat for terrible dates.

I grew up being told that I was intelligent and beautiful (because encouraging parents rock), but PCOS took a bit of a toll on my confidence when it came to dating. And sometimes, when I was getting used to my syndrome, I let society’s standards of worth dictate how I responded to romantic partners.

If someone indicated they were attracted to me, I felt like I had to be grateful for their interest. In turn, I became a doormat for terrible dates, and I accepted the love I thought I deserved because I thought I should be happy with what I got.

I learned quickly, though, that this couldn’t be further from the truth. But it took some heartache, self-reflection, and real talk from friends and family to get there.

4. Infertility is a big issue, but there are options.

I know, I know. Infertility probably isn't something a normal 18-year-old thinks about. But I've always known that I wanted a family of my own one day.

The great thing is there are plenty of resources, scientific breakthroughs, and support systems for people who struggle with infertility. Over the years, I have slowly found other women with PCOS who want to have kids. They are finding their own ways forward, whether that's through medicine, adoption, or in vitro fertilization.

There are options. There are almost always options. You just have to look.

5. Depression does not own me.

Depression is a common symptom of PCOS, and there are days when it's incredibly hard for me to get out of bed.

There are times, all too often, when my life seems amazing on the surface, but I’m crumbling inside. But here’s the thing I've learned: I have power.

I have the power to do things I know will improve my mood, like running, spending time with friends, and going to therapy. I've slowly learned (and am still learning!) the importance of self-care and the reality that self-care looks different for everyone.

Having power doesn’t mean there won’t be difficult days, but it does mean that eventually, I can get through my issues.

6. I enjoy food, and I should keep on enjoying it.

I’m a southern-raised American. I love good food. Like shrimp and grits, and spaghetti, and gelato! I still enjoy all those things and more. Unfortunately, PCOS isn’t exactly a fan of those foods or of carbs or sugar in general.

So while I indulge every now and then, I also focus on balance, and on keeping things in moderation. It keeps my hormones — and my taste buds — pretty happy.

7. I am not PCOS.

I have a syndrome. A frustrating syndrome. A highly under-researched syndrome. I have trouble losing weight, I have facial hair, and I struggle with depression daily.

But I am still not that syndrome.

I’m a writer, a reader, a runner, a traveler, and a Harry Potter fanatic. I am a multilayered person who laughs and drinks and has fun. I sometimes talk too much, put my foot in my mouth, and make really goofy mistakes.

I do all those things because I'm Kayla, not PCOS. And that is the most valuable lesson of all.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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