The Hemp Connection + vegetables

Understanding how PCOS and grief intertwine

Last week I posted this graphic describing the grief process on our Facebook page. It got enough comments that I thought it might be worthwhile to expand on it in a blog post.
If you haven’t miscarried, or lost a family member, or been through a tough breakup, perhaps you don’t think this pertains to you. But there are many, many things you can grieve. --Being told you can’t have children. --Not getting into grad school and having to change your career plans as a result. --Foreclosing on a home. --Getting older. --Being diagnosed with a chronic, non-lifethreatening illness, like PCOS or infertility. --Accepting that your body likely is never going to be sculpted or dieted into that of Gwyneth Paltrow.
Diets? Something to grieve?
In most cases I listed, it’s easy to understand how grieving is the result. Let’s talk for a minute about why dieting and self-medicating are often signs you’re in a grief process.
Grieving, you see, is about change. Any time you have to move out of your comfort zone and adjust to life in a different world, your potential for entering a grief process is high. If the change involves a promotion and a substantial increase in income, it’s a whole lot easier to adjust and accept than one that involves having to accept news you’d rather not hear.
In the case of PCOS, the news, in general, is that choices you have been making in your lifestyle have been counterproductive to your health. And that if you want to regain your health, you’ll need to make different choices.
You’ll need to go to bed earlier.
You’ll need to delegate more.
You’ll need to get to the gym.
You’ll need to eat more vegetables and fewer corn chips.
Looking at the long list of things your husband, your caregiver, your health coach, and your dietitian are asking… and expecting you to do… can seem insurmountable.
I receive, on average, about 5 emails a week from women with PCOS, asking if some supplement (Dr. Oz’ recent show on supplements raised that average), or diet (think HCG), is going to work. I have come to think of those emails as indicators that the person who wrote them is cycling through grief. They just want the PCOS to go away. It won’t go away on its own, the necessary changes that are not user-friendly, and anything that seems like the easy answer seems like it’s worth a try.
It’s when your grief process and my expertise collide that we often butt heads. It is my job, as unpleasant as it may feel on the receiving end, to not allow you to succumb to magical thinking and detours that ultimately keep you grieving. It doesn’t feel good when I give you honest answers to your questions. I’m making you aware of something you’ve been working really hard to avoid, that you’re really needing to move out of your established behavioral comfort zone.
Am I a sadist? Not at all! I just know that the shortest way out of grief is to walk right through it. It is only when you confront the pain, maybe even get really, really angry about it… that you’ll consider a path that may actually work.
I spent an hour on the phone a couple of months ago, with a client who finally “blew” over the fact that her body doesn’t respond to diets, and that when she pushes the diet/exercise/binge/purge thing a bit too far, her body fights back and responds by giving her a weight she doesn’t like. All of the “maybe if I exercise an extra hour today… ” she’s been doing has no logic or science to support it. She’s been bargaining with her body, hoping it will finally give her the answer she wants, that you can use unhealthy means to force your body into being healthy.
The reason the conversation lasted so long is because I sensed she really, really wanted me to just tell her that her way of doing things would eventually be right, and she could avoid the reality of living with PCOS if she could get me to say that. Of course, I couldn’t do that. And she became angry. Really, really angry. And we stayed on the phone as long as she needed to vent.
Dr. Gretchen has written about anger before, and the importance of not ignoring it in order to move into health. If you don’t allow yourself to get angry… you are highly likely to stay stuck in your grief, bouncing back and forth between overdoing the healthy behaviors and overdoing the unhealthy ones and even worse, exhausting yourself into doing absolutely nothing at all.
And because the health-related behaviors you’ve tried have let you down, when you do reach out for help, you’re skeptical of what we at inCYST have to offer you that might be helpful. In addition to the questions I get about supplements, diets, etc., each week, I have at any given time, two or three email threads with women who kind of sort of reach out, but who have already decided that if I don’t give them promises of what they want to hear, that they’re not going to give us a try.
If you’re one of those women, and you’ve felt frustrated, perhaps that my response was curt or not compassionate, I hope this blog post helps you to understand. It’s not that at all. I just know, from over 30 years of doing this work, that if someone comes and they’re still doing a lot of bargaining with themselves, their health, and their bodies, that what they’re asking for is not what I can provide. If I become involved too early in the grief process, I stand to become part of the problem, not the guide to the solution.
I could actually prolong your grief by keeping you stuck thinking there is an easy way out.
I haven’t had PCOS or infertility. But I had a serious athletic injury that took my active life from me for almost two years. My business has hit some really hard times over the years. I’ve lost more than one person in my life, who meant the world to me. I’ve been through all of the emotions and stages in this cycle, more than once, sometimes managing several grief processes and their different stages, simultaneously! Every single time I felt like I couldn’t get up to face the day, or that what I was needing to do to get through that day, was inconceivable and insurmountable, and I challenged myself to get out of bed anyway and do exactly what I didn’t feel like doing… I felt myself move a little further along in the grief. In each case, it’s made me a better person for accepting the challenge.
I wouldn’t be the person I am with the experience, perspective, tolerance, compassion, and motivation that I have, if I had not been challenged to face some really horrible situations. If anyone had come along who tried to remove any of the life events I encountered while dealing with my own grief, I don’t think I would have gotten over it. They would have kept me stuck, as well-intended as they might have been.
My job, the job of all of us here at inCYST, is to understand what it is that you are grieving, to be aware of where you are in the process of grieving it, and to respect that process. Sometimes we have concrete solutions, and sometimes it’s best to step back while you do some things on your own.
It’s called respecting the dignity of the struggle.
I do promise you, there is a light at the end of the tunnel if you accept the challenge. But you’ll probably need to struggle.
One of my friends who knew the most detail of how much I had on my plate and how hard I was fighting to keep that plate from tipping over and crashing to the ground, used to always tell me the best way to eat an elephant was one bit at a time.
I have a special love for elephants now that I have conquered most of the circumstances that had me overwhelmed. Sometimes I think we should include one in our logo design!
I guess the point I want to make here, is that really, a very small part of what we can do for you is prescribe a diet or exercise plan. The biggest part of it, is actually more in Dr. Gretchen’s domain. I think most of you know what you need to do. Understanding why you aren’t doing it, may have a lot to do with grieving.
If you look at that graphic and feel like you’re going around in circles, perhaps spending sometime with Dr. Gretchen, or someone else who can help you step outside of yourself and understand the process without self-judgment, is the next most important investment you can make in your PCOS care and your overall health.

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Understanding how PCOS and grief intertwine + vegetables