To my Cysters

3 years ago, I was at the gym, trying to furiously work off the weight that I’d been gaining, but to no avail, could not lose. I ate all the right things, drank zero calories, but I couldn’t lose the weight.

So, I went to the gym regularly to try to get skinny.

This particular day, I was doing my routine 45 minutes on the elliptical, when all of a sudden, I felt some warmth in my abdomen.

My IMMEDIATE thought was “oh no, I got to poop.” Because, you know, sometimes when you work out, your bowels or whatever get exercised too. Or something like that.

But I talked myself out of it; “I’m 20 minutes in. Let’s not make excuses. Don’t stop to poo, you won’t make it to work in time if you have to stop. Let’s just finish the workout!”

But the warming intensified. And all of a sudden, my mind flashed back to an image I saw a few weeks before: a marathon runner, who also had to poo while running a marathon, but worked through the pain…

My brain began flashing this image, and I began to panic.

Am I going to crap myself?

I quickly began to realize that something more painful (albeit less embarrassing) was happening to me: I ruptured my first ovarian cyst. While on the elliptical.

To say I had PTSD about going to the gym again is an understatement, especially after learning that my ovaries are covered in cysts. Yes, I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, a disease that meant:

  • my hormones were bonkers, which explained the intense acne AND the fact that every time I told my new boyfriend (now-husband) goodbye at night, I ugly-cried because I was falling in love.
  • my metabolism was way out of whack, which explained the weight gain and the inability to lose weight like a “normal person.” many women with PCOS are pre-diabetic, so I watch what I eat.
  • my reproductive system hated me. Or at least, that’s my interpretation of the matter.

Having this “hidden” disease is TOUGH, and in youth ministry, it can be tough to stay well while exerting my body to climb mountains, sleep on air mattresses, control my blood sugar so I don’t get hangry, avoid all the sugars at youth events, and not cry all over my students as I wash their feet. It’s the up-and-down roller coasters of emotions and acne and physical pain and mustache hair that sometimes make me feel like I’m “less than.”

And yet I know that there are several other “cysters” out there who are in youth ministry and struggle with this (or other painful reproductive disorders, like endometriosis). Here are a few quick things that have helped me cope and lead:

Be upfront with your boss.

After my first rupture, I had to take a few days off of work. I was honest and up-front with my male boss, even telling him everything that I knew about what was going on with me. He joked that he knew more about my ovaries than his own wife’s; but it helped him understand when I needed a day to work from home because I needed my heating pad.

Pace yourself.

Have you ever had a cyst rupture while you were on stage, preaching?

I have. 🙋🏽‍♀️

It stinks. And while I can’t always control when my body freaks out,  I listen to my body. I slow down. I take time off when I need it. I don’t go nuts at the gym. I have learned to delegate and allow other leaders to step in. I listen to my emotions, and even went to a therapist to talk through my raging hormones. I take time that’s truly “for myself.” And as my body has changed and feels less attractive, I have done special things to treat it like the beautiful queen it is: like regular pedicures and *gasp* my first bikini.

Embrace medication.

I never liked taking so much as ibuprofen, but I soon found myself having to be on birth control to control my hormones. For some reason, I felt wrong for taking birth control as an unmarried woman, even though it really helped my symptoms. From there, I began to embrace an anti-anxiety pill to “tie a bow” on my hormones.

And for a while, I was on Metformin; until I almost crapped myself in Sams Club with a volunteer and a industrial cart full of snacks.

Maybe he was on Metformin too.

Don’t fear the gym.

It was tough for me to get working out again, especially while I was still figuring it all out. A dear friend made me a “PCOS Starter Kit,” sharing with me her best hacks. She took me to the Y, where she let me take water aerobics classes with 15 of our closest 75-and-older lady friends. But she gave me confidence that I could be healthy and happy again. And now that my cysts are better, I’m back on the elliptical, doing my thang. It helps that I work out with a partner, so if something were to happen, I’m not alone. It has eased the traumatic stress.

Fight the anger.

Most women with PCOS deal with infertility. Since children are not in the immediate plan, and therefore I don’t know what my future holds, I meander back and forth between accepting infertility as my reality, and having hope. Either way, I know I will have a family in whatever way it happens. However, as a child-less woman (or as my friend Emily says, “child-free”), I fight a lot of the “when are you going to have kids?” interrogation.

It stinks. And it stings. And sometimes I want to snap back, “Not that it’s any of your business, but my ovaries hate me.”

But I remind myself to stay positive. Not only to protect others from my projections of insecurity, but to remind myself that having a reproductive disorder doesn’t define my story. It’s just this really crappy piece of it, that I am going to overcome, like every other crappy thing that has ever happened to me. We are resurrection people, and I will rise above this.

(And as a side note, why do we expect people to only produce babies vaginally? A 5th grade girl asked me, “Do you and PJ plan to have or adopt children some day?” and I thought WOW THIS NEXT GENERATION IS THE BEST)

For many of you reading this, you might be thinking “wow, this is a lot of info about Heather.”

And sure. But not as much as this guy.

But my hope is, that by sharing my story, that

  1. It can help my fellow Cysters, wondering who else understands their peculiar set of circumstances
  2. It can help prove why, once again, women in youth ministry are so hard core.

ABOUT HEATHER: Heather Lea Kenison is a middle school youth director in Indianapolis, serving with a talented team of staff and volunteer leaders. A newly-wed and one-eyed cat mom, Heather organizes and manages Women in Youth Ministry site and Facebook page. Heather is a devout follower of Jesus, the St. Louis Cardinals, and Youtube beauty gurus.

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