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By Cash Arrayo.

Growing up, I was a very “average” high school girl. I stayed active by playing sports, consistently weighed about 120 pounds (slim slim) and had pretty normal skin for a teen.

It wasn’t until I was 18 that I realized something odd: I had never had a pregnancy scare despite being, well, less than diligent about protection.

I went to the doctor to figure out what was up, but to be honest, it felt like neither of us had a clue. He told me most women who ovulate form a “pearl ball,” but I formed a “pearl necklace.” When pressed for more details, he basically said I couldn’t have kids right now and might need help getting pregnant later.

My teen self was like “OK perfect!” But was it really perfect?

Fast forward to age 24, when all of a sudden my face starts breaking out in acne. Not just little bumps here and there, I’m talking full-fledged cystic acne. I was incredibly embarrassed and I tried everything, from changing my diet to investing in a skincare routine (after years of doing pretty much nothing to maintain clear skin). Nothing was working. It also didn’t help that now my increasingly heavy period was overstaying its welcome by weeks. I wondered if it was normal, but — looking back — what the fuck was normal about a three week period and changing tampons almost every two hours? My boyfriend at the time was very supportive, but the acne and weight gain was still hard to take.

At 26, I got online and Google my symptoms and bam! PCOS! Polycystic ovarian syndrome popped up on my screen. The symptoms were spot on — there were even some I noticed but didn’t correlate, like newly spotted chin hairs, mood swings, and the cyst on my ovaries I was made aware of when I fainted a few months prior. Finally, I found a name to match what I’d been dealing with.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a hormonal imbalance which can affect one in five women… and here I was the one in five.

I suffer from a cyst on my ovaries, infertility, weight gain, hirsutism, cystic acne, mood swings, sleep deprivation, depression, and diabetes…and I’m even more susceptible to cancer, which is fucking scary.

For the longest time, I hid my acne by dousing myself in foundation, wearing hats, leaving my hair across my face. I went from an easy 120 pounds to 186. I have more than four cysts on my ovaries and when they rupture it can be brutal — unfortunately for me I fainted at work due to it. My legs sometimes hurt so badly from being pre-diabetic that I have to use motorized carts for transportation. People stare at me and roll their eyes, and my coworkers don’t understand why during my time of the month I have to call off or sit down for a few minutes. My friends are just now understanding why it sometimes takes Jesus himself to get me out of my house due to the severe depression. These things are out of my control; I don’t want to be this person but I am.

Today, I’m an advocate for PCOS awareness, not just for my tired self but for hundreds of people who find me and my page, and feel compelled to tell me their stories and thank me for telling mine. I’m an open book because I want to save others from feeling outcast, depressed, or suicidal. Some people dream of having children and might not ever get that chance due to this nasty thing, but I try to help them focus on the important things in life, and also tell them that surrogacy and adoption are still an option.

So many people are unaware of symptoms because they haven’t been prompted to do the research. Others are terrified because their doctors scared them half to death with uneducated guesses about PCOS. Some have all the symptoms but — just like I once did — thought it was going to go away within a few months or a year. But regardless of their PCOS journey, many people have thanked me because they said if it wasn’t for my Instagram they would have never stepped foot into the doctor’s office to tell them they think they have PCOS.

Regardless, it’s still a hard hard pill to swallow. It’s hard knowing the weight doesn’t want to come off and I have to work twice as hard to get it off. But then I just think “fuck that!” I love how I look, I love my thickness; fat or not I own this shit!

The acne on my face is with me forever and I’ll be okay. I stopped overdoing foundation and learned to love myself completely. I learned to tie my hair up and stop using it as a crutch to hide my imperfections. I’m a badass. Long periods, short periods, excess hair on my face, etc: this is me! I want people all around the world with PCOS to understand it’s a battle, but one we won’t ever be defeated by.

Cash Arrayo is a model, educator and PCOS advocate. Follow her on Instagram to learn more.