Shruti Haasan talks about dealing with PCOS and endometriosis


Shruti Haasan on dealing with PCOS, painful period cramps & tapping into feminine energy

"It wasn’t comfortable, it wasn’t pretty, there was no great takeaway from it, and it felt like battling through a dense forest all by myself"

By Shruti Haasan  April 14th, 2020

My first period completely changed my life. From being the girl who couldn’t wait to be part of the cool older girl club, I became the girl who spent days doubled up in agony. Very early on, I was diagnosed with endometriosis and dysmenorrhea—both debilitating conditions affecting the uterus and other reproductive organs—and the chronic pain that comes with it is hard to overstate. It was embarrassing when my principal had to call my parents to take me home from school every few weeks because I was so unwell.

In many ways, I was lucky to be in a school with friends who were empathetic; everyone—guys and girls—knew that I was having a rough day and would help me out. My best friend, Neha would often bake cookies for me the next day. There was no stigma around discussing periods at home either. So from day one, I’ve never had to hide it from anyone, and that by itself was a big step for a girl in a country where sanitary napkins are still wrapped in newspaper like it’s illegal.

 

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Through the years, I’ve been on different hormone medications and birth control pills—it’s pretty much the first thing a gynaecologist prescribes for this condition. While it reduces pain by half, any woman who’s been on birth control knows that this respite comes with weight gain and mood swings—the only silver lining here is that you have very clear skin. You’d imagine I would have found a method to this madness in a few years, but every passing month brought in a fresh wave of pain and my emotions were clouded from weeks of PMS-ing.

At 26, I was diagnosed with severe PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). Besides the fact that one in four women in the world suffer from PCOS, no one talks about the subsequent weight gain, unequal weight distribution, excessive hair growth, mood swings, and stomach ailments you’re liable to suffer from as well. While I was aware that my body was going through chemical changes, I couldn’t control the symptoms no matter how hard I tried. It wasn’t comfortable, it wasn’t pretty, there was no great takeaway from it, and it felt like battling through a dense forest all by myself. Acting seemed like my only escape at that time. When I was acting I had to be in character, performing to my best ability, and everything else faded into the background.

 

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But every time the date of my period approached, the anxiety of impending pain loomed over my head. I’d pray I didn’t have to do a dance shoot or be on stage during those days. I would feel uncontrollable rage or really low for days before the period pain kicked in. At one point I thought I was suffering from depression, but it was just my hormones playing havoc because after my periods I went back to being Shruti again. I was on birth control, estrogen supplements, I even tried hormone replacement therapy and everything still felt wrong. Homeopathy and natural methods work for some women, but they did nothing for me.

I was 10kgs heavier than I’ve ever been, and no amount of eating right or exercising seemed to help. My immunity had taken a hit, and add to that the struggle of dealing with comments about my physical appearance from absolute strangers. For a year I couldn’t figure was wrong with me, so I finally decided to take a break from work. It came as a big relief when I found out I had prolactinoma—a rare condition caused by the oversecretion of prolactin that was triggered by PCOS. It’s like when one hormone is out of whack, everything falls out of place. There are days when I hope for menopause, but then I remember that it brings along its own unique problems.

 

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If you have questions , you’ll find the answers in a song

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Being able to talk about it with empathetic friends is comforting, they check in with me every few days. I found an incredible gynaecologist in Mumbai, who hears me out and finds solutions without over medicating me— having a practitioner you’re comfortable is so important for any woman with my condition. I’m thankful to my close team and the people I work with, who rally around me when I’m going through a rough patch. My therapist supports me as I come to terms with what my body is going through without hating myself. Improving my flexibility and consistently exercising helps my body function at its optimum—yoga, squats and hip mobility exercises are great for cramps.

I’m trying to go natural with supplements like evening primrose oil and borage oil because I still need to rely on allopathic medicines to manage pain. However, the biggest learning has been the power of mental strength. I spent my younger years with a negative mindset, cursing my own body, wondering what I had done wrong to deserve this. It took me quite long to realise how this attitude was harming me. We hear about studies on how potatoes grow better to classical music, then why not thank our bodies as well. This mental mind play reduces my anxiety too.

 

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Now I look at my body and say, “We’ve been doing this for years. It’s difficult but we can pull through”. I’ve become my own cheerleader. Now I think of my period as a symbol of feminine strength and fertility. It’s a reminder of what my body is capable of doing. It has the power to heal and repair itself, and I don’t take it for granted anymore. Living with this condition is still a struggle, and there are days when I’m powering through on Feminax (the only painkiller that seems to be working right now), but this understanding of my body is a big part of my healing.

As told to Mamta Mody

Featured Photograph: Tushar Bhardwaj