Throughout the years, Rachael Sullivan experienced terrible cramps, unexplained hormonal acne, and irregular periods. At every turn, however, her doubts and concerns were dismissed, brushed under the rug, or never investigated fully by medical practitioners.
In many ways, Rachael’s experience is not that different from many women who learn they have PCOS: it often takes years (and sometimes several misdiagnoses along the way) to finally get the answers they’ve been looking for. After advocating for herself, and not listening to those who readily dismissed key signs and symptoms, Rachael and her husband, Tom Sulivan, decided to tackle her PCOS diagnosis head on.
We sat down with Rachael and Tom to discuss the power of listening to your gut, perseverance in the face of medical gaslighting, and what you can do to better serve your body’s needs, post-PCOS diagnosis, and how to advocate for yourself.
Tell us a little about yourself!
Originally, my husband and I were both born and raised in Chicago, but we moved to Raleigh, North Carolina in 2019 to explore somewhere new. We started our brand, MealsSheEats, in 2021, and we are able to dedicate ourselves to the company full-time!
What’s your experience been like, being diagnosed with PCOS?
I got a PCOS diagnosis in 2020 after several misdiagnoses.
Since I was 18 I have had an irregular menstrual cycle, horrible cramps, and persistent hormonal acne. Of course, these are all things that troubled me, but I could never get an answer about any of these symptoms. In fact, they were sometimes described as “normal parts” of being a woman.
It was only when I was furloughed in 2020 from my job as a flight attendant that I decided to make an appointment, before I lost my health insurance. I wanted to get everything checked out, and I had a sneaking suspicion it could possibly be polycystic ovary syndrome, from research I’d carried out up until that point. Thanks to online resources, I was able to go into my appointments better informed, and more strongly advocate for myself. For me, that included specifically asking for different types of testing to be performed, so I could fully understand what was going on with my body in general and my hormones in particular.
Do you have any advice for other people dealing with PCOS?
Yes! First and foremost, don’t be afraid to keep searching for a doctor that you feel comfortable with, even if this requires several appointments.
I myself made three different OBGYN appointments in the space of a month because my views with certain practitioners regarding treatment just weren’t aligning.
Second, I would say focus on finding a good community who will understand what you’re going through. This could be as small as following certain influencers or resources online, or joining social media subgroups dedicated to managing your PCOS (you can find these on Facebook, Discord, and Reddit). It is so helpful to connect with others in the same situation!
Finally, never let anyone make you feel ashamed or “wrong” for how you choose to nourish your body. You alone know what best aligns with your lifestyle, values, and personal needs: you don’t need to justify your lifestyle or food choices to anyone. I highly encourage you to pay attention to how your body reacts to different things, and try to work with it, so you can feel your best everyday. For me, this manifested in me finding out I had a gluten intolerance: after I switched to an anti-inflammatory diet, my life literally changed. I feel so much more energized and myself.
How has sharing your journey on social media affected your understanding of PCOS?
The biggest thing I’ve come to understand is that PCOS does not discriminate against race or weight. No two people who have PCOS will look, feel, or necessarily act the same. We all have our respective journeys, and being able to share mine has been empowering: I’ve learnt from my own research and experiences, as well as others, how to better manage my symptoms, and I hope that the knowledge I share on my social media inspires other women to do the same.
I also want to reiterate that, despite the process of being diagnosed with PCOS being so overwhelming and stressful at times, it is possible to feel normal again. It just takes a little tender love and care toward your hormones to get there.