The first time I moved away from home, I got three things: a brand-new debit card, a roommate from hell, and a missed period. I had just started my MBA in Mumbai, and was floating through life on a whimsical cloud of newfound friendships, non-existent curfews and weekend jaunts around the city. I barely gave my missed period a thought. I figured it was my body working overtime to acquaint itself with its new surroundings. I was right. And wrong.
By the time September rolled around, I’d gone three months without my period. It was 2010. Justin Bieber had reached unprecedented levels of popularity and selfies had just become the next big thing. Our summer internship placement season had just ended and amid the thrill of landing a summer job with one of the leading FMCG companies in India, the lurking worry of my otherwise-faithful visitor was conveniently dismissed. I’ll worry about it later, I thought. My body is still catching up.
By October, I was worried. Really worried. Four months and no period. What was wrong with me? Until then, I hadn’t told anyone; not even my mother. She scared easy, I reasoned. Not true. Moms are programmed to be problem-solvers. It’s how God made them. When I finally told her, she masked her concern well. In addition to reprimanding me about not telling her sooner, she ordered me to take the next bus to Pune, where my aunt and uncle lived.
On that trip, I was diagnosed with PCOD. I don’t like its full form because it contains the word ‘disease’. But for the benefit of those of you that don’t know what it is, it stands for Polycystic Ovarian Disease, PCOD for short. It isn’t a disease, really. It’s a condition, in which some of the eggs that the ovaries release fail to fall into the uterus. Instead, they latch on to the ovary walls and become cysts. PCOD shows up in various ways, the absence or irregularity of periods being the main one. It also meddles with hormone levels, resulting in excessive facial hair, thinning of the scalp and a rise in weight. And it can also lead to Diabetes.
The only symptom I had was the absence of periods, but frankly, I was relieved that my condition finally had a name. After performing some scans and pronouncing a diagnosis, the doctor handed me some birth control pills and Metformin, medications she said would help regulate my period. She was right. The birth control pills revived my periods, which started arriving like clockwork every month. And the Metformin? Well, that was for blood sugar regulation or some thingamajig. I wasn’t entirely sure, but it was some preventive measure for Diabetes, surely.
The following year, when I was 22, I met a doctor in Bangalore who confirmed my diagnosis. This lovely lady told me to get married and have babies immediately. I thanked her for her sense of humour and went on my way.
I got married in 2015, and didn’t give my condition much of a thought. I continued my daily doses of Metformin; one in the morning and one at night. The birth control pills had long been discontinued, and my periods had settled into a rhythm. It was in June 2016 that I met another gynaecologist in Bangalore. She was aghast that I was still on Metformin, and advised me to stop it immediately.
“Don’t put anymore chemicals into your body. Six years is way too long,” she exclaimed. Turns out I didn’t have PCOD. Scans showed that my ovaries didn’t have cysts. They never did. My missed periods were most likely a result of nutritional deficiencies, lack of sleep and a drastic change in lifestyle. It’s quite tragic that I fed my body six years’ worth of unwelcome chemicals. And that I’ve been misdiagnosed twice. And that I was advised marriage and children at 22 (it was amusing, but still). I’ve found that many doctors find it convenient to use fancy terms as scapegoats, just to validate a condition. Missed periods don’t always mean PCOD. You could be anaemic, exhausted, or underweight. Or it could be a condition I haven’t even captured here. Your condition needn’t be pigeonholed as a disease.
By the time I graduated from university, my roommate and I had become great friends, my debit card wasn’t as great as I thought it would be (it seldom worked, probably because there was no balance, ever), and I had my period back. First impressions ought to be challenged. I’m glad I challenged all of mine.
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