I wrote this article last year in early April 2020. Back then I didn’t have the courage to share it, but it’s a new year and I’ve grown to understand that in a world where we all constantly strive for perfection, keeping it real can truly feel and be revolutionary at times. April 2020-Kathrin didn’t know that we’d still be in lockdown in 2021, that I’d still not have found all the answers I was looking for back then and that I’d still be figuring out how to grow into the person my mission needs me to be. But… I’m still trying! And considering how difficult 2020 has been I guess that in itself is already some sort of success! So here’s to a better and most importantly healthy 2021! xo, Kathrin

(A big thank you to Femgems founder Dora Petrova, who recently wrote about her experience with burnout and inspired me to more realness in 2021! Thank you, Dora!)

Kathrin Folkendt. Image: Christina Spörer

April 2020

I’ve been struggling over the past couple of weeks. COVID-19, business, and PCOS… Somehow those three things seem to have joined forces and left me unsure of myself, unfocused and frankly on the verge of burning out. I try to keep it together, keep smiling, and functioning, but the truth is that I’m struggling right now.

I’m safe. I’m healthy-ish. Yet, I find it difficult to cope these days. Most of the time I don’t feel like my struggles with COVID-19 isolation are valid. In fact I’ve been told on numerous occasions over the past couple of weeks, that I’m lucky I don’t have kids, that I’m lucky I’m used to working from home, that I’m lucky my work is online and that I don’t struggle financially right now. Yes. All of these things are true, but that doesn’t change the fact, that I’ve been struggling with my mental health, with self-confidence and that COVID-19 has really caused me to spiral.

Most don’t know that I was diagnosed with PCOS a few years ago. What’s that you may ask…

PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is the most common endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age, and one of the most common causes for infertility. Affected women also struggle with irregular periods, pelvic pain, hirsutism, weight gain, and acne. The condition often goes hand in hand with mental health problems like depression and social anxiety.

I don’t talk about my own struggles with PCOS much and I’ve come to terms with it. I’ve never wanted PCOS to be a big deal in my life, didn’t want the chronic condition to have that kind of power over me, so I quietly dealt with it and moved on. I’ve never wanted to have kids so far, so I haven’t had to face potential infertility. The cosmetic and mental health impact of PCOS, however, has been very real for me. The hormonal imbalance, bad skin, the struggles with my weight, the mood swings. It’s been pretty rough. And on some days it still is. My self-confidence wasn’t great for most of my adult life. Depression and social anxiety were very real for me at times and affected both my personal and professional life. Not feeling deserving of things, I’ve turned down many opportunities.

Eventually I learned how to manage and live with the unpleasant symptoms and to better “manage myself”. I cleaned up my diet, experimented and eventually found a skin care routine that works for me, went through with permanent hair removal. I started a regular ashtanga yoga practice, which helped me to re-focus on what my body could do and think less about what my body looked like and all the things that were wrong with it. Things got better. I felt better. Not great. But better. For women with PCOS a little better is often already a lot.

PCOS is chronic. There is no cure, so it’s about coping. One day at a time. Some days are easier than others. And on some days you just wanna stay in bed and not face the world and yourself. On other days, you’re ok, happy, strong and ready to be the PCOS cyster and warrior the world wants and needs you to be. In my experience, with PCOS you go through stages. Sometimes you’re accepting and understanding, sometimes you’re sad, sometimes you’re angry. 

Since self-isolation started I seem to alternate between anger and sadness a lot. I’m in my mid-30s and currently self-isolating alone at home during the pandemic. I came back to Europe from Asia where I was based because of COVID-19. I don’t have many friends here and I sometimes feel really alone. In Asia I would take good care of myself. I did a lot of yoga, had a well-balanced diet, went to get massages, facials and mani-pedis on the regular. I had a social life, friends around me, felt loved.

But now? I can feel the impact of COVID-19 on my routine and subsequently my mental health.

I know I should eat well. But I don’t.

I know I should stick to my ashtanga yoga practice. But I don’t.

I know I should practice self care. But I don’t.

I know I should believe in myself. But sometimes I don’t.

There’s so many things I should be doing. But I’m not doing them. And it makes me angry and frustrated.

I feel like I work 24/7 sometimes (hashtag hustle culture), and I catch myself thinking… What’s the point? I’m struggling. It’s all too much. Too much to do. Too much to think about. Too many decisions to make. I feel exhausted. Exhausted, sad and angry. But then again also inspired and hopeful sometimes. It’s a strange combination. Talk about mixed feelings, ey?!

It’s really weird, because in a way my PCOS diagnosis kickstarted my interest and desire to learn more about women’s health. And it led me to eventually start Femtech Insider, this platform, and PERLA Health combining my passion for innovation and women’s health. I’m strangely grateful, but it’s bittersweet. PCOS used to be something I thought about every once in a while. Now it’s my job to think and talk about women’s health and PCOS all day every day and I’ve noticed that I think about my own struggles with PCOS a lot more. I’m reminded more and I need to find new ways to cope. It’s been fine for a while, but now during self-isolation, the routine I’d built for myself became hard to maintain. I slipped and I’m feeling the impact on my physical and mental health.

I know COVID-19 isolation won’t last forever and I know recognizing patterns is the first step to breaking them. So writing this, processing this, reflecting on this is a first step for me and I also know I’ll be fine and figure this out. But I’m really sharing this in hopes of connecting with other founders, who build businesses in the health space and are confronted with their own health struggles in the work they do. Have you ever experienced something similar? Is it just me? And if not, how do you all cope with the constant reminders? How do you compartmentalize? I’d love to start a conversation with other patient entrepreneurs or more generally entrepreneurs who work on problems they care really deeply about. So if you have any thoughts, feel free to share them in the comments below or message me. Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening. We got this!

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  • Katharina Eggert
    Posted January 11, 2021 at 1:35 pm 0Likes

    This resonates so much with me, I feel like it is the most difficult thing to build a routine and to motivate yourself every day when there is chaos and uncertainty all around us.

    I am living with a condition that often makes my premenstrual phase hell and while that also drives me to find out more about it and how to help others that live with it, but it is difficult to work on something that is potentially triggering me, reminding me constantly that I will probably feel bad again soon.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and struggles so openly, it feels good to know that I am not alone!

  • Stasia Obremskey
    Posted January 14, 2021 at 7:16 am 0Likes

    Kathrin-thank you for having the courage to share your story. You are not alone although sometimes it probably feels that way. You have the vision and drive to connect this fledging ecosystem of people trying to build businesses to address the many unmet needs in women’s health. I can’t wait for Thursdays to learn about what’s going on around the world that will improve the lives of women! I hope in 2021 our COVID isolation will end and we can find community again.

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