I had a nightmare last night. I dreamed I was trying to hold some nameless, faceless woman back. I don’t know who it was, and I don’t know why I had to hold her back. But there was a sense of urgency about it — this feeling gnawing at the pit of my stomach that something really terrible would happen if I wasn’t strong enough to keep her there with me. So I pushed her onto the ground and felt the soft earth shift and slide beneath me as she and I struggled with each other. Her long hair flowed around her, whipping and snapping in some unseen wind. I felt the ends of it strike the skin on my face and arms with stinging blows, and she fought me with a strength that was surprising and terrifying. Her nails grew long and needle-sharp, and she clawed at me, leaving gouges on my hands and arms. She growled in anger and frustration as I fought to hold her there, and I glanced up, seeking her face, trying to meet her eyes. Maybe I wanted to make some sort of connection with her, human to human. Maybe I wanted to find a way to tell her that everything would be all right, that I wouldn’t hurt her. But, as her face came into view, I realized she wasn’t human. It was just a skull, with little, pin-point eyes glaring at me with a mad-eyed expression that chilled me to the bone, and a set of fangs that clicked and clacked together as she bucked and pitched against my weight, seeking to sink her teeth into me and finish me, once and for all.
That’s when I woke up, covered in sweat and shaking with fear. It’s not a rational feeling, this kind of fear. It’s an innate, animalistic instinct that triggers the inner caveman we all have lurking deep down inside of us. It’s a slipping and sliding kind of terror that tells us, with a dreadful certainty, that some huge predator lurks just outside the ring of firelight. And so, we draw ourselves closer to the fire, shivering and praying for the dawn to come. Except, somewhere deep down, past the limits of conscious thought, we suspect the dawn will never happen.
This was at around 3 AM this morning. I got up, got a drink of water, and chided myself for being so silly. It was just a dream, I whispered. It wasn’t real. Go back to sleep. And yet, somehow, sleep never returned. I ended up tossing and turning the rest of the night, hearing the echo of those unearthly growls ringing through my ears and seeing the light glint off of the fangs. I felt alone and cold in the small, still hours of the night.
I have PCOS. For anyone who doesn’t know (because I’ve gotten a lot of “what’s that?” reactions since receiving my diagnosis), PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. I have, undoubtedly, had this my whole life, but it wasn’t diagnosed until about a month ago. I have been struggling with worsening health problems for quite some time — really, since the birth of my daughter. I come from “tough-it-out” people, and, so, I did my best to do just that. I managed to tough it out for many years. (My daughter just turned 11 this week.) But, eventually, I couldn’t handle things any more. It was too hard, and there was too much pain. And so, I began the rounds, going from doctor to doctor until I was able to put a name to what ails me. Suddenly, things that I never understood about my life fell into place and made sense. Now I know why it took me four years to get pregnant. Now I know why, in the 10+ years after my daughter’s birth, I never got pregnant again. Now I know why I had such a struggle with my pregnancy … why my blood pressure shot up toward the end … why I couldn’t go into labor … why I had to have a c-section. Now I know why my hair keeps falling out. And why I struggle so much (and always have) with keeping weight off. And many other things.
I thought I would feel better once I could put a name onto all of it. I thought getting a diagnosis would let me face down my enemy, that I could say, “All right, PCOS. I know who you are, and I know where you live. And it’s time for you to get the hell outta Dodge.” I thought I would feel relieved.
But you know what? I don’t feel any of those things. I feel sad and angry for the chances I lost, for the things I wanted in my life that, now, I know were never meant to be. I feel cheated. I want to find a mountain, stand on the top of it, and scream at the universe, “Fuck you! Why can’t my body work? Why can’t I be normal?” And, the more I learn about PCOS … the more I feel like there’s a veritable roulette wheel of things lining up to kill me down the line: increased risk of diabetes, increased risk of uterine cancer, increased risk of breast cancer, increased risk of ovarian cancer … And those are just the top contenders. At first, I thought, “Well, that’s all right. It could be worse. At least it’ll go away when I hit menopause, right? Maybe being in my second twenties can work in my favor, for a change.” But no. It never goes away. Ever. And so, on top of all of this, I feel afraid. Afraid, afraid, afraid. And small. And very mortal.
I am struggling with this diagnosis. I think it’s a bit of an understatement to say this, but it’s the only way I know how to put it. I am struggling with what this means for my life. I am struggling with how to put all of this information into place so that I can make the changes I need to make for myself and my family. I am struggling to figure out what this means for my daughter, too. I feel like I’ve failed her, in some way, because the chances she will also have this are very high. I guess, right now, I am grieving and fighting with fate all at the same time. There are so many emotions and feelings whirling around in my brain right now that even sorting out a few is difficult. I feel all of these things and nothing, all at the same time. How can that be possible? I don’t know. But I know it is true. Lately, I’ve just wanted to dig a big hole in the ground, crawl into it, and pull the grass up over my head.
This brings me back to my dream from last night. With the clarity that comes as the shadows fade into daylight, I realized the growling, fanged woman was PCOS. This sounded much less silly in my mind, but bear with me. She was the sum of all my fears and all my frantic feelings and all my uncertainty with this diagnosis. Because I can’t help feeling that PCOS is sucking the life out of me and out of my hopes for the future. Fitting she would be a vampire, then, isn’t it? But here’s the thing: she didn’t win. In my dream, the raging, spitting, clawing woman on the ground didn’t win. I might have felt I was losing strength in the face of her rage, but I still held her there. I still held my own.
This morning, the sun came up. The birds started singing. And my heart felt happy and full. I have a beautiful daughter. I have a husband who loves me and supports me. I have many blessings in my life. I may struggle, but I can find the strength to continue moving forward, no matter where that might take me. I am not alone. And so, I turn my face toward the sun and smile. It’s going to be a beautiful day.