Long Read: ‘I’m like, is my brain stupid? How did it just forget my periods’

Training to be an elite doubles shuttler, Anoushka Parikh dreamt of scaling lofty heights. That was till she suddenly started gaining weight despite her punishing 8 hours of training. Confused and body-shamed for days, the former international doubles shuttler would finally begin to comprehend what was happening after the gynaecologist diagnosed her of having polycystic ovary disorder (PCOD), a common irregular menstruation condition among elite athletes which left her emotionally scarred and burnt out of a promising career.

First, they wouldn’t let her forget that she needed to lose weight after gaining 8 kg in five months. And then the gynaecologist – explaining polycystic ovary disorder (PCOD) in an over-cautious, but friendly, effort to simplify the condition – told Anoushka Parikh that her brain might be swamped and forgetting something: To instruct the body about the monthly menstruation.

The former international doubles shuttler recalls sitting across the doctor, taking in the diagnosis, that didn’t join the dots immediately to why she had suddenly gained weight. “So, she’s trying to explain PCO Disorder to me in a very colloquial manner. I still remember, she tells me, ‘Your brain is so occupied doing your routine and other things, that it is forgetting to produce all the functioning hormones.’”

“I’m like, is my brain stupid?”

“How did it just forget or miss out on doing something that it is bound to do?” Anoushka chuckles narrating what was a nightmare even back then, because women grow up knowing one thing from the literal pit of the stomach: Periods don’t ‘forget.’ Now, the brain was playing truant on her. “So basically, I was not ovulating, or it was not regular. So, I would get my period, but only for a day,” she says, recalling her struggle with comprehending what was going on with her body, though the world only fixated on her weight gain.

 

Anoushka had moved from her home in Ahmedabad to the Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad in 2016, and as it happens for elite athletes prepping for international rigours, her training had altered. “Mainly what changed was the intensity of training. From 3-4 hours, it went close to 8 hours a day. And it was a new environment. Food changed big time. And in terms of my cycle, I started getting my period only for one day. I would get it regularly, but only for a day. And I had started to gain a lot of weight – 8 kilos in 5 months is not healthy for a badminton player. It affects your movement directly. And everything else. Everyone would just tell me that ‘you need to lose weight.’ But I wondered how do I lose weight. I’m training 8 hours. I can’t train more than that!”

Angelica Hirschberg, writing for the national library of medicine in National Centre for Biotechnology Information, highlighted the prevalence of the more severe PCOS in the topmost tier of athletes. “PCOS appears to be a common disorder among elite female athletes and is, indeed, the most frequent cause of menstrual disorders among Olympic sportswomen,” according to Hirschberg.

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