These days, it’s tough not to be familiar with Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s 5 Stages of Grief, first introduced in her book “On Death and Dying” in the late sixties. We’ve seen the stages parodied, discussed in casual conversation, and applied to a boundless variety of scenarios. The reason that Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief are still considered relevant is because they are infinitely applicable to any situation that involves hardship and loss.
A woman who is diagnosed with PCOS is bound to undergo the 5 Stages of Grief, though the stages don’t always appear in the order that they are presented, nor is there a “conventional” amount of time that one should spend in any particular stage. No two women will grieve a PCOS diagnosis exactly alike. That being said, there are certainly some commonalities in the grieving process of women diagnosed with PCOS. It’s helpful to have the ability to identify these stages as they’re occurring, so that you can anticipate what to expect, respond in the healthiest way possible, and understand that there’s a light at the end of this tunnel.
Denial and Isolation
Denial (sometimes combined with isolation) is typically the first stage that a woman will experience after being diagnosed with PCOS. Shock and disbelief over the diagnosis can be so overwhelming that we initially refuse to acknowledge it. After months, even years, of trying to conceive naturally, we continue to deny that PCOS may be the issue. Once diagnosed, the reality is too difficult to face, and all we hear is a jumble of words, the most crushing of all being “infertility.” That can’t be right. We may seek a second doctor’s opinion in hopes that there must have been a mistake. Perhaps Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome isn’t as bad as it sounds, we reason, it’s just a formal name; it doesn’t mean anything. In order to move past the state of denial, it’s critical that we take time to process the situation internally.
Eventually, we come to terms with the fact that PCOS is, in fact, a valid medical condition that many women are affected by, and it has been the root cause of many of our health-related issues. Although we acknowledge the existence and reality of PCOS, we grow angry—at ourselves, our bodies, our friends and family members who aren’t affected by PCOS. Why me and not them? What did I do to deserve this? We search for answers that simply don’t exist, and this feeds and perpetuates our anger. Our bodies may suddenly seem like a foreign entity, an enemy; we blame them for not functioning “normally.” The challenges that lie ahead seem insurmountable, and there’s no easy cure or fix. How are we supposed to feel optimistic?
During the bargaining stage, we spend a great deal of time wishing for our lives back—you know, the ones we had before we were diagnosed with PCOS. We plead that our disorder might be cured or postponed if we give something else up. We are willing to bargain anything in order to reverse the diagnosis. We don’t want to have to change our routines, alter our habits, and accept the bodies that no longer feel “ours.” During this stage, a deeper sadness comes over us, and we might find ourselves frequently crying, praying, or begging for the situation to change.
When our bargaining is fruitless, depression begins to set in. We feel consumed by sadness, upset that nothing seems to be working, and unable to think about anything else. We mourn what feels like the loss of our womanliness. Unfortunately, a necessary part of the healing process is to allow ourselves feel the pain and to grieve. We feel helpless, hopeless, and disconnected as the inevitability of the situation sets in.
Finally, we reach a point where we realize that if we continue to fight PCOS rather than embrace it, we’re only distancing ourselves further from the type of lives we ideally wish to lead. During the acceptance stage, we recognize our ability to change our circumstances. It will certainly require some effort, but we are not confined to or defined by PCOS. So we do what Divas do best: we resolve to do everything in our power to ameliorate our symptoms and create the best lives possible for ourselves.
Being diagnosed with PCOS can be heartbreaking, and every woman grieves the news in a different way. Just because we’ve reached the stage of acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t at times revert to bouts of anger, depression, and even denial. But when we try to visualize PCOS not as a hindrance but as a reason to collectively and holistically better our lives, we are then able to begin living the lives we deserve.