How Coming Off The Pill Messed With My Mental Health
Ah, you really can’t beat sharing stories to make you feel like you’re not alone in a situation – we can all identify with a bit of true-talk after all.
Not only that, being open and honest about real things that happen to real women is the fastest way to smash taboos and get us all talking about tricky topics. There’s no such thing as an over-share – especially on World Mental Health Day.
Here, Tam, 25, tells us how coming off the pill messed with her body – but also her mind.
“When I began taking the pill, for years I loved the ease and control surrounding my period. The only reason I could ever imagine coming off of it was to become pregnant. Why else would you voluntarily stop taking this teeny tiny magic tablet?
“Of course, I now know there are a range of reasons people stop taking the pill, and I feel that there’s a misconception (ha ha) surrounding those who stop taking it in their 20s. Considering a decade of muchos sex and wild lifestyles, and despite the vast range of alternative contraception methods, some still consider it irresponsible to not take oral conception. Erm, hello? Condoms, implants, this new Natural Cycle app that everyone is raving about; there’s loads out there.
“I started taking the pill, aged 17, for painful periods. Although I was thankful that they were pretty regular, Paracetamol, or Feminax, didn’t touch the (uterus’) sides. I have a memory from my early teens of wearing bright pink leggings, a la 80s women gym wear, and curling up in my aunt’s bedroom in agony, as a family party rumbled on downstairs.
The perfect pill
“It took a few months to find the right pill for me, but three months and three brands later, I began taking Yasmin, which I stayed on for the next six years.
“Many people speak of the side effects of the pill. Increase in weight, nausea, headaches, spotting, decreased libido, and many more. I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t experience any side effects at all. The only issue I had were headaches on the last three days of my pill-free week. Brilliant!
“I reveled in knowing exactly what day to expect my period (or withdrawal bleed), and I just took two packets back to back if it were to fall on a slightly inconvenient date. I never once took more than the recommended three packets back to back, and only did that on two occasions in six years. Holidays were fab and period-free, as were key events like graduation and weddings. I was probably a little too blase about condom-less sex (safe sex folks; abide by it. It’ll save you unwanted and – thankfully – unneeded trips to the gross clinic when you’d rather spend your Saturday morning in bed). I had hardly any worries about being on the pill at all.
“Then, last summer, I went to the doctor for my pill check up and she started saying words like “blood clot”, “10 times higher risk”, “not researched” and basically hoodwinked me into coming off my beloved Yasmin pill. Okay, so not exaaaaactly hoodwinked, but she scared me and as a knee jerk reaction I was practically chanting “swap, swap, swap.
Switching it up
“In the first month of being on the new pill, I felt absolutely fine, but then two weeks into the packet, I started to bleed. “What is going on?!” It was not the pill-related control I signed up for. Although I knew this was normal breakthrough bleeding, often experienced in the first three months of a new pill, I freaked out. I didn’t have this with Yasmin. Clearly my body was rejecting this heinous new pill.
“In that moment, in the bathroom, I made the decision to come off the pill completely. I was scared to go on a new pill as I was fearful I would mess up my cycle and body, and Yasmin wasn’t an option from my doctor anymore. So be it I thought; I’ll go au natural now, that’s trendy. Nude makeup, nude nails, it’s totally in. Although I worried about the period pain and not knowing the exact date my period would arrive, it trumped the worry I had over a new pill. Armed with my newly-downloaded Clue app, I marched forward with my pill free body and life.
“Initially, nothing seemed off. There was a welcome silence where my daily pill reminder once went off. It was one less thing to worry about when packing or staying out overnight.
“Three weeks into my pill-free life, the changes to my body started to become apparent. I had not once had achy breasts throughout my life, not in the years before I went on the pill, nor in the years I was on it. But now? Walking hurt. Exercise in a sports bra hurt. Sleeping on my front hurt. I thought my boobs might bleed or even fall off if this were to go on (FYI, obvs they didn’t).
“A few days before my first period, the pain stopped. Thank god. Was this going to happen every month? Yes. Yes, it has. Gooooood.
“My first natural period after coming off of the pill was pleasant. Well, as pleasant as bleeding out your vagina for five days can be. My chronic period pain was gone. The period itself was lighter than prior to the pill, or whilst on it. All hail my natural body and its workings.
“What else was going on, though? As we know, our periods are not just about the physical, but the emotional too and I swear the pill and its synthetic hormones stopped me feeling emotions. Obviously, I felt stuff. My university years span some of the years I was on the pill: I felt ecstasy (the emotion, not the drug), I felt heartbreak, I felt hope. However, I have not cried as much as I have in the last eight months, like, ever. My mum could probably count on one hand the amount of times she’s seen me cry, post toddler tantrums. I prided myself on my lack of tears… until now.
“On the other hand though, a close friend quipped on the phone one day, “I’ve never seen you as genuinely happy, as I have in the last few months. Like, genuine belly laughter, this often”. Clearly, I was up and down. I wouldn’t know when it was going to hit, either. I could be laughing hysterically one morning, and by the afternoon, feel so down. I worried about depression, I thought perhaps I was suffering with another mental health issue, and obsessed over finding the root of my feelings. Initially, the pill – or more specifically the change in my hormones – didn’t even cross my mind. Thankfully, after about three months – though it felt like much longer – the rollercoaster petered and was nothing out of the ordinary.
“A few months later, it was New Years and I was going on a city break with my friends. The little red boxes on Clue mocked me as I realized I would be due on my period… Fan-bloody-tastic. Literally.
“I’m not proud to say, but I fell back into my old hormone pill-popping ways. Call FRANK, quick.
“Worse mistake ever. On the day my period was due, I experienced the worst cramps ever. All of a sudden, I’m in a pub in Edinburgh, unsure if I need to vomit, poop, or just curl up in a ball. We did a grocery shop on the way back to the Airbnb and I’m pretty sure my friend thought I was faking this sudden illness to get out of paying for the food and help carry the bags. However, there was no blood. Weird, huh?
“Anyway, I came home in the new year, hungover AF, came off the pill, had the breakthrough bleed and expected to start the whole emotional saga again. The rollercoaster did come back in full force again, for sure, but something didn’t. My period. I had the withdrawal bleed, but no natural period in the months that followed.
“The start of March marked three period-free months – not counting the forced period as a result of coming off the period – and I began to worry. Seriously worry. For someone who had been regular both before and after using the pill (the first time I came off, anyway), this was terrifying. I started to overthink totally unfeasible possibilities. Was I that drunk after the Christmas party that I’d actually slept with the guy I knew I’d kissed, and now I was pregnant? Were the intense pains at New Years the result of a tumor in my ovaries, and now my days were numbered? I’m quite a rational, non-frilly person, and I genuinely thought these were possibilities. My doctors had a waiting list so damn long, so I booked a doctors appointment for the beginning of April.
“Then, out of nowhere, on the 13th March (I still remember the date), my period came. No pain, no anything. If it were a person, I would say it was some sort of petulant teenager, cooly arriving and questioning what the fuss was all about.
“Since then, I have once used the pill for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday I went on last month. I’d paid over £600 to travel halfway across the world to a place full of sea, pools and less than adequate public toilets. I know, it’s bad. Two of my close galpals joked that they would give me a wide berth upon my return home, knowing full well the emotions that would come full throttle as a result.
“So, here I am, awaiting that first natural period, again. I’ll let you know if it ever arrives”.
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