How The Pill Ruined My Life – My Story (The Full Length Version)

Ok, let’s start with a bit of housekeeping. Boy has it been a minute since I last Sphynxed. In case you don’t know, I publish weekly over at Peaceful Dumpling and frequent the Gram (did I really just write that?) on a regular basis. So, if you want more, I suggest heading over to either of those.

My life is akin to a whirlwind these days and unfortunately I am simply unable to update this blog as much as I’d like. I’ll be a PhD candidate in a few months too, so the excuses will no doubt continue then *sob*. However, I’ll be moving abroad, so I imagine there will be at the very least a sprinkling of Third Culture Kid anecdotes in due course. Not to mention some nerdy science talk about brains and stuff. I’m really selling myself here, aren’t I? Stay tuned.

Something I talk about a lot in person and across the internet is my absolute loathing of hormonal birth control. After all, it stole nearly a decade of my life from me. I’ve previously called it “man’s last exercising power over women” and that belief still rings true. I think it is an abomination that young women aren’t better educated before interfering with their endocrine systems; that we hand over the most sacred, core part of ourselves to an industry that tells us we are dangerous, baby-making machines; that we’re told the problems we’re having with our menstrual cycles are best masked with synthetic hormones instead of being tackled head on -nevermind that they’ll just sit there dormant ready to cause problems later in life…

I’ve been through some horrendous stuff as a result of taking the pill, as you’ll shortly read. But despite it all, I don’t think I’d change it. I love the woman I’ve become, but I do wonder what I could have done with all that stolen time; where I might be if I hadn’t had my mental health affected in the way that it was. God damn do I want things to be different for the next generation of young ladies, so no one has to live the lie I did. I write this in hope.

I so desperately wish that society had been different when I was an eighteen-year-old packing my bags for university. Even prior to that, I wish that the school curriculum in the US and UK where I grew up hadn’t failed me so. Why did no one properly teach me about my menstrual cycle when I was 12 and getting my period for the first time? Why was I led to believe that once a woman gets her period, she’s a baby-making machine? Why did no one tell me that actually, I was only fertile for a small window of the month? Why did no one tell me how important diet was for my endocrine system? Perhaps if I knew what I needed to at the time, I wouldn’t have gone in to the GP to request that fucking pill when I was 18. I went because society told me that that was what responsible women my age did. And responsible I was.

I was in and out of the doctor’s office that day in a matter of minutes and looking back, this horrifies me. “Do you have a family history of DVT or breast cancer?” are not sufficient determinants as to whether the pill is right for someone. Not even close. But it’s all I was asked. So off I went with my first prescription.

So, I’m 18 and I’m popping the pills and heading off to university in a new town with my bags, my books and what felt like adulthood neatly packaged behind those little foil blisters. I remember thinking to myself that I felt like a real woman for maybe the first time. I was taking responsibility for my fertility (or so I foolishly thought) and prioritising my studies.

Then things got weird.

I should have been out and about socialising, but instead I was withdrawn and anxious and spent a lot of time hiding away. To put things into perspective: I’ve moved around a lot in my life and I’m a really outgoing person. This was unusual behaviour for me. On paper, my first semester of uni was a really exciting time, but all I wanted to do was escape to somewhere else… be someone else.

After taking that goddamn pill for a few months without any real reason to (my periods were never a problem and I definitely wasn’t getting frisky), I simply didn’t collect any more from the pharmacy when the pack ran out. In a matter of weeks, I started to feel myself come back to life. Thankfully, I got the chance to enjoy a really great second half of the school year, a fun summer abroad and fulfilling first semester of my second year. Then I met a boy who quickly became a boyfriend.

Back to the doctor’s I traipsed, asking to be put on a different pill because of how badly the Microgynon had fucked with me. He obliged and hooked me up with Marvelon.

Ah, marvellous Marvelon. It seemed to do the trick. The relationship was a trainwreck waiting to happen, but I was definitely more sociable and, you know, in love. Things were pretty good, so I quickly forgot about the pill. Like many women, I swallowed it mindlessly day after day on autopilot. Every morning at 7am. For the next 7 years.

Less than a year after I started taking Marvelon, I began experiencing sharp, stabbing pains in what felt like my ovary. Whenever I’d contort my body while doing yoga or getting sideways and sweaty, the cramps would come. They were unbearable. I mean, we’re talking pass out on the cold bathroom floor when you get up to pee in the night unbearable. Having your housemate discover you with a towel half-pulled over you that you’d used for a blanket because you couldn’t make it back to bed unbearable. There was blood loss too, when I had one of these attacks and I’d be left doubled-over, physically unable to stand up straight for up to 48h afterwards.

I headed to the doctor again and again and again and after trying an elimination diet (because we initially thought it was something wrong with my digestive tract rather than my ovaries) and pressing him about the abnormal bleeding, he finally sent me for an ultrasound that revealed a cyst on my right ovary. It was about 5cm in diameter.

I got scheduled for a laparoscopy during the summer before my third year of uni was due to start. Bear in mind that this is like core data-collecting time if you’re a keen student like me, who wanted to get her disseration sorted ASAP. It was savage having to take time out for surgery, but such is life.

The surgeon did a fantastic job and I don’t have any scarring, so I’m eternally grateful. But I’ll never forget sitting in the follow-up appointment and having him tell me that it was really important that I stay on the pill for the rest of my fertile life because “it’s an excellent way to minimise your risk of developing another cyst, which you might be prone to“.

As you can probably imagine, after the ordeal, that guidance from a medical professional embedded itself deeply into my subconscious. The pill became like water: an essential that I would never be able to live without. (Apart from, you know, baby-making and the on-set of menopause.)

My relationship ended and I stayed on the pill. I met a new dude and a few years went by. We were happy for a while. We moved in together. Then things took a turn for the worse.

I went for an annual pill check-up and the nurse noticed the “old fashioned” pill that I was on and recommended I switch to one with a lower dose. “It’s probably for the best“, she said, “You’re only young and will probably want kids someday, so it’s a good idea if we reduce you to a lower dose.” She sent me home with Loestrin-30 and away I popped.

It wasn’t long before I spiraled into a deep, dark depression and it’s crazy looking back now that I didn’t put two and two together and realise that this turn had coincided with the pill change. But there we go. Hindsight is a funny thing.

I spent a year or two moping around, oscillating between desperately unhappy and numb to the point where thoughts of suicide crossed my radar more often than not. I’d walk the walk and talk the talk, working, socialising and taking care of the fort, but all the while I felt like a complete shell of myself. Again, that pining like I’d had with Microgynon at the tender age of 18 to be somewhere else…someone else.

It’s hard to describe to people who haven’t experienced pill-induced brain fog quite how bad it is. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I can only describe it like being sat in a tinted glass box looking out at the world. No one can see you and you can’t interact with any of them. As you sit there, you question who you are as a person; as a woman. You wonder why you feel so emotionally unstable; why you can’t seem to get to where you want to be; why you feel so disconnected from everyone – even those closest to you.

I went to therapy. We talked about my past. Some of those conversations helped me tackle other, unrelated demons in my life. But for the most part, I spent a lot more money than I really needed to, trying to fix a girl I was breaking on repeat, each day I drugged myself with that pill.

Twenty-seventeen rolled around and I decided to do a year of mini, month-long challenges rather than vague and unattainable new year’s resolutions. This changed things in a pretty big way for me. I was on a journey to my most authentic self, trying to eat better, look after my body and take care of my mental health. Naturally (thankfully) I came to the realisation that the pill I was taking (which I now began to suspect might be the source of my anguish) was perhaps the most inauthentic thing I could possibly be doing to myself.

Let’s think about it: the pill puts our bodies into shutdown; throwing into disarray an effective endocrine system that evolution has taken hundreds of thousands of years to perfect. It floods us with synthetic compounds that interfere with over 150 bodily functions. Because that’s just it; it’s not only the reproductive organs that are affected. There’s our digestion and our mental health and our skin and our cardiovascular system and just about everything else, all because we’re terrified we’ll get pregnant every time we have sex? Or because some doctors shamefully think the solution to heavy periods or PCOS is hormone shutdown rather than looking first at diet and lifestyle?

We only make an important change in our lives when the worst case scenario that might result seems less bad than the reality of the current trajectory. For me, ditching the pill was exactly that. I really didn’t want to get pregnant, but it got to the point where I’d rather possibly find myself with child than live another day as a shell of myself. So I bid it farewell.

Ditching the pill can be really overwhelming, even when intuitively it feels like the right thing to do. I started slow, did my research and utilised some incredible resources. I prepared myself for what might happen to my body as it detoxified itself of the synthetic hormones I’d been pumping into it for years. I prepared myself for how the dynamics might change in my relationship. And then I sat back, tried to relax and armed myself with lots of nourishing foods and skincare as I waited for the hurdles to make themselves known.

I was surprised by how little time passed before I started to feel more like myself again. My relationship was falling apart due to unrelated issues, but I was starting to notice a new confidence budding within me and intuitively knew that this was the start of the rest of my life.

Time passed and the skin eruptions started. Painful, cystic acne that I’d never had before began scarring my face and leaving me self-conscious. I am a swimmer and so being bare-faced is a part of the deal. It was tough having the confidence to stand tall and do so, but I knew it would eventually get better.

I’ll mention that this is the point at which many women go back on the pill. I honestly don’t blame a single one of them. If you’ve experienced years of glowing, clear skin and suddenly have to try to navigate being an adult woman dealing with acne, I wouldn’t be the first to tell you that it isn’t great for your self-esteem. But I persisted.

The months rolled by, my relationship ended, my sex drive reappeared and I looked in the mirror and saw a woman looking back at me with knowing and integrity. For the first time in my adult life, I knew who I really was and what I wanted. And for the first time, I wasn’t scared to go and get it.

In the past year, I have changed my entire life beyond anything I could have ever imagined for myself and I dread to think what kind of hole I’d be in if I hadn’t made that decision to ditch the pill those 18 months ago.

The skin issues have passed, along with most of the growing pains. These days, I pause for a moment most mornings and thank the universe that I made that decision way back when to get to know myself. And I thank myself for sticking with it while my body navigated the chaos.

If you’re thinking of ditching the pill, there are numerous amazing resources available to help you get through the crazy. I recommend starting here. And please do not hesitate to get in touch if have any questions. I am totally here for you girl.

From the bottom of my heart, I want you to know that life can be so much better than how things are right now. The universe is just waiting for you to take that leap of faith and get to know your real, authentic self.

Photo by Paulo Evangelista on Unsplash

“Clean Eating” As Dirty As The Trash – Our Obsession Has Got To Stop

I spend an awful lot of time thinking about food. From what treats I might whip up for a friend’s birthday to how I can use up an obscene quantity of [insert fruit here] that I bought discounted at closing time, cooking and eating are sacred pursuits in my books. My idea of downtime consists of attempting a recipe that’s been on my radar and thus far remained out of reach. A creative challenge, if you will. Or a stroll around the farmer’s market scouting out the freshest and juiciest. And to me, the best part of family time is the pot-luck style weekends we spend together where we each prepare and share something with the clan. Food is life and life is glorious.

There’s an additional set of rules that I play by though, as well as navigating a never-ending sea of deliciousness. They are as follows: sustainability is key and maintaining excellent health paramount. The non-compromisables are:

  1. Ingredients purchased must be naked or housed in minimal/recyclable packaging
  2. Ingredients purchased must be organic and/or local wherever possible; ideally both
  3. No meat, no dairy

I straddle the fence on:

  1. Honey: I’ll allow it if it’s local and/or organic
  2. Eggs: I’ll eat them occasionally if they’re from chickens who live in my neighbourhood, such as those that belong to a friend
  3. Sugar: I am a baker through and through, so I don’t treat it like the devil. I simply keep a check on how much I consume because I’m also trying to heal my endocrine system post-HBC

But something has been on my mind lately; something that worries me so. As I scrutenise the faddy food vibes of the times, I realise that there’s an undeniable impetus in our collective gravitation towards ‘clean eating’ or ‘superfoods’ as if they alone will be our saviours. As I’ve just mentioned – I have rules too, sure. But I worry when I see and hear food being treated as something that has a defined good and bad side. As if devouring a donut is akin to dancing with the devil.

An obsession with healthy eating (formally known as orthorexia) is an interesting one. Give it a cursory glance and you might wonder how on earth it could be a bad thing, but take a closer look and you see that it’s an addiction no better than any other. How can you expect food to save you if your entire body is riddled with anxiety swimming around every mouthful?

Have you seen that coconut oil is now considered akin to poison by Harvard scientist, Karin Michels? I mean, the statement is a little attention-grabbing in my opinion, but Michels highlights the important point that coconut oil does indeed contain 86% saturated fat, which is approximately 1/3 more than butter. And what do we know about consumption of saturated fats? They increase our risk of heart disease and stroke. The word butter is synonymous with obesity these days and coconut oil, well: the lean, mean millenial. But really, when you break it down chemically, it’s all much of a muchness, yet coconut oil has a remarkable cachet that fools consumers into believing that it can do no wrong.

These findings conflict with earlier studies that suggested that coconut oil may lower the risk of heart disease. We also known that it boasts antimicrobial properties which are excellent for the body. But to be treated as a panacea? That’s where things start to fall apart. Why is it that we’re so credulous?

Just as we want our skincare to miraculously perfect us, so too do we want our meals to cure all ailments and help us achieve the kind of perfection that we are exposed to every day via social media, television and the occasional glossy magazine. Unachievable perfection is the thing to strive for. We’re told that it’s real and well within our reach, if only we juice one more jug of greens.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I am a firm believer in the healing powers of food. A big vegetable soup sorts a cold right out and a homemade pesto pizza offers soul food not quite like anything else. But it’s foolish of us to think that eating well can compensate for other areas of our lives that need changing. It will also not help heal of all the inflammation one experiences by panicking that one too many grams of fat or sugar might have been consumed that day. All that stress, all that cortisol in the body, well….no amount of avocado-quinoa-kale salads are going to counteract that.

Optimal health is a multi-faceted state of being that depends upon adequate nutrition, but also mental and physical wellbeing. We know that stress leads to disease. Our lives are busy and they always will be. But if we’re not allowing meal times to be enjoyable and indulgent experiences because we’re too worried that what we’re eating might verge on dirty, we’re missing what’s there; what’s sacred: an opportunity to relax and enjoy ourselves, hopefully in good company.

I also wonder this: why is food getting all the attention? Am I the only one that thinks it’s just a little bit silly that we see no issues with continuing to pollute our seas with ton after ton of plastic and our air with an array of noxious fumes, cut down our rainforests and flood our coastlines and somehow focus all of our attention on what we eat as though it will somehow rectify the deeply unhappy state that we – as part of a collective organism that is life on Planet Earth – find ourselves in? Woah, took a dark turn, right? I don’t beat around no bush. If that’s what you’re after, probably better to go check out one of those clean-eating bloggers who will tell you that green juices are the answers to all of your problems.

Holistic health is the only approach to our wellbeing. True wellbeing. And part of what we need is an environment that is clean and supportive. In its current state, it is blighted; on bowed legs and desperately in need of the respect it deserves. As long as we continue to exploit it as we do, we continue to hurt our health. Yes, no matter the amount of fad foods that we force-feed ourselves. Glyphosate, a decline in bees, air pollution from all the VOCs, microplastics, light pollution, noise pollution…and we think that the quinoa will save us? It’s time to wake up and take a look around. If we spent half as much time on environmental preservation as we do obsessing about our daily juice, we might have a real shot at saving ourselves.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

 

 

So You’re Off The Pill… Now What?

Thank you to everyone who read my last post on nasty hormonal birth control. I had some wonderful feedback from several like-minded ladies who either quit some time ago or needed that extra push to make the decision to do so now. It seems I’ve had conversations in every avenue of my life about HBC and I’m genuinely convinced that the uterus revolution is happening.

I wanted to make this more of an informative post. If you’re feeling the need to throw your pills away, but likening the ‘afterlife’ to standing on the edge of a deep abyss, worry not, I’ve got you covered. I’d like to talk about 4 books today that have utterly changed my life and I’m hoping they can do the same for you. The first two are eye-opening, anger-inducing and damn right essentials that any woman (or girl!) must read if considering HBC. For anyone umming and ahhing, or for someone who’s quit but toying with the idea of crawling back – read these before you do. The other two reads are informative with constructive, concrete steps in maintaining healthy menstrual cycles and using the Fertility Awareness Method either for contraception, conception or simply living more in tune with your body. So, without further ado.

The Pill: Are You Sure It’s For You? By Jane Bennett & Alexandra Pope – I wolfed this down in a couple days and readily thrust it at every girlfriend I can, akin to a grandma trying to carb-load her offspring. Incredibly well-written and full of some pretty horrifying facts, this book discusses recognising the side-effects of HBC, both in the physical and emotional realms. It talks about libido, depression, migraines, cancer, heart disease and the importance of having and accepting your menstrual cycle. It’s a health indicator, after all, and one that can tell us a plethora of important information about how we’re doing from month to month.

Sweetening The Pill (Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control) By Holly Grigg-Spall – This is one that will make you angry, all right! Devoured within days again, this looks at how the pill was created and how it’s become ‘the norm’ for so many women in today’s world. It discusses the approach to contraception in different communities and cultures and highlights the worrying truth that girls as young as 13 are terrified into taking the pill (or other long-term contraception like the implant or IUD) because they’re told they’re walking baby machines. This simply isn’t the case and it puts forth the question of why a male version of the pill was quickly rejected due to ‘potentially harmful side effects’, yet many women live with these unquestioned. A fascinating insight into the world of the pharmaceutical industry and western medicine and how it’s more sinister that you might initially think.

Womancode: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive and Become A Power Source By Alisa Vitti – OK, so the anger has subsided and you’re thirsty for knowledge. You know the pill has been terrible for you and you’ve learned about the importance of having your menstrual cycle month to month. What can you do from here? How can you get back normal cycles after years of having suppressed them? What can you do to have regular cycles so that you can use the Fertility Awareness Method as a form of contraception or conception if trying to have a baby? Womancode is an excellent source of information about how to have a regular cycle and heal conditions like PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids, painful periods, infertility etc. It discusses nutrition, exercise and lifestyle factors that you should consider. It’s a bit of a bible that you’ll want to keep handy and refer to often.

Taking Charge Of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler – The mother of all books on the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), Weschler’s book has been cited countless times and the principles within it adopted by everyone using FAM today. Use this to educate yourself in how to use FAM as a tool for either avoiding or planning baby-making and fling at your friend who says, “oh man, you’re not doing that stupid rhythm method, are you?” This is a book that should be given to every pubescent female as a “period textbook” of sorts so she can track her cycles, learn about her body and use as a form of contraception when she’s ready, avoiding all the nasty side effects of hormonal interference.

I would love to read your recommendations if you’re on a similar journey yourself. What’s been catching your attention? What are your thoughts on HBC?

Save

The Magic of Probiotics and Why You Should Be Eating Fermented Foods

miso soup

For some reason, when I hear the word fermented, I think of it as being synonymous with festering. It’s not. That’s such a putrid, incorrect association that was so unfortunately formed in one of my synapses. But there we go. No, fermentation is actually the chemical breakdown of a substance by one or more microorganisms that convert sugars to acids, gases or alcohol. And when it comes to foods, fermentation makes things better (not like festering, which means something gets worse…). I’ve just finished a course of antibiotics and I believe that stuffing my face full of fermented foods has made all the difference. The usual side-effects that I get were not to be seen, so they clearly did something! And I’ll definitely be carrying on with having them in my diet for numerous other reasons.

Fermented foods include the likes of sauerkraut, kimchee, miso, kombucha, probiotic yoghurt, natto, tempeh, and so many others that you may not have heard of. They’re pungent, acquired-taste-required foods that I feel are losing the battle to the more bland and processed foods on the market. Sure, they’ve got a noticeable taste, but adjust your palette and you’ll be loving them in no time. Especially when you think about all the good that they can do for your body.

When you hear about fermented foods being described as those that are full of bacteria, I realise how that might make you wince. But make no mistake – these are good bacteria. Not the kind that will make you ill. They are species that aid our bodily functions. These include aiding digestion, boosting the immune system, keeping our, ahem, downstairs regions free of nasties like thrush and UTIs, boosting healthier skin, and increasing energy levels. You see, pumping your system full of good bacteria forces out the bad bacteria and yeast that can otherwise take over. The good outcompetes the bad. And these common species fall within two genera: Bifidobacterium spp. and Lactobacillus spp,.

Bifidobacterium spp. are natural inhabitants of our gut, vagina and mouth. Treatments where Bifidobacterium was given to those suffering from colitis was found to reduce inflammation in patients and improve rates of remission. That’s pretty astounding when you think about it. But it doesn’t have to be limited to those suffering from a terrible bowl condition. It reduces inflammation caused by any irritating foods and will combat nasty bloating. There’s also evidence for it helping IBS sufferers, so if you’re one of the many, definitely start consuming.

Then there’s Lactobacillus spp. Lactobacillus acidophilus is one of the most popular for its ability to prevent thrush caused by candida, as well as helping with the gut. It creates by-products that include lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide when it metabolises the foods in our body. These kill off candida yeast. Candida are found naturally in our body and in low numbers do no harm. In fact, they even aid functions like digestion. But when we consume too many sugary carbohydrates, they proliferate. When this happens, it’s bad news. They make us feel tired, cause various autoimmune diseases, cause vaginal infections, make us irritable and make us crave yet more sugary food.

Probiotics are a healthy addition to the diet of anyone at any time, but they really come into their own for those on antibiotics or those having eaten irritating, processed foods. I’ve just been dealing with the former, unfortunately. And I can say from first-hand experience that they have done me the world of good. I’ve had to take antibiotics a good few times in my twenty-six years and every time I do I am met with nausea and thrush. Every. Single. Time. And it sucks. But it’s normal. If you’ve suffered from the same thing, I’m here to tell you that you are not alone! Nausea is listed as a common side effect, but I read about thrush being this ‘very rare’ potential side effect and I’m like, ‘but everyone I know who takes antibiotics gets thrush?’ *bewildered shrug*.

Antibiotics kill off all the bacteria in your body. The aim is to kill what’s made you sick, but a negative side effect is killing everything else off in the process. This includes the healthy, wonderful helpers that keep our bodily functioning nice and efficiently. Combating these side effects can be done by consuming probiotics, whether that’s in food form or in a pill. I put sauerkraut on everything I could this past week, ate a bowl of miso soup every day and took an L. acidophilus capsule daily with a meal. The trick, however, is to try to consume these as far apart from your antibiotics doses as possible, to minimise how many are killed by the antibiotic. I took my first antibiotic when I woke up, but didn’t take my second until 3-4pm, so lunch around midday was a great time to get the probiotics in my system. The same thing occurred for dinner. My last dose of antibiotics was around 10pm, so dinner around 6 or 7pm gave me another opportunity to get my fill. The result? I suffered no negative side effects. Pretty incredible, considering what I’ve experienced in the past.

While I love the strong flavours of kimchi and sauerkraut, they’re obviously not the kinds of foods I’ll be eating every day for the rest of my life now that I’m off the meds. However, I now think of them as delicious medicines, in a weird way. If I’m going to have a veggie dog in a white bread roll, a sauerkraut topping will definitely help the digestion along. Or if I ever have a heavy lunch of pizza and dough balls, an afternoon miso soup will do wonders.

No one likes the bloat, or feeling like their body is heavy and holding on to all that processed, difficult-to-digest material. Do yourself a favour and introduce probiotics as a way of helping yourself along. I know I certainly will be. Now to go make myself some kimchi, because ohmygodit’sthebest. Recipe might follow soon on that one, hmm…

Probiotics! What are your thoughts?!

Save

Save

Pinterest