To my male readers, this is going to be a post about Lady Stuff. If Lady Stuff makes you uncomfortable, avert your eyes now!
I have been avoiding writing this post for a solid year, but it's time. I've skirted around the topic a lot, I've hinted at it, and I've even podcasted about not talking about it.
Thursday morning, I had my annual Lady Checkup, which means it's been a year since I stopped taking hormonal birth control. There, I said it! I have been off the pill for the last year.
In real life, every time I've confessed this to someone, they've become very wide-eyed and excited because they think I'm telling them I am trying to have a baby. When I tell them that no, I'm not trying to get pregnant, they look at me like I've just told them I think the moon landing was staged.
A Little History
Let's back up a little bit. I went on the pill when I was 17. I was very overweight, having a lot of problems emotionally, and dealing with periods that were so severe I'd sometimes have to leave school. This might seem normal for someone in their teens, but after years (5 + at this point) of periods that weren't like that, this was a big change. So, I started taking the pill, and my problems essentially vanished. I stopped gaining weight (at least, for a while), I felt like a functional person, and my periods became regular again. Magic!
This story isn't much different than a lot of other women's stories. Many of us went on the pill for medical reasons, which is one reason I get so worked up about the Sandra Fluke thing (yes, still!)
The reason many of us stayed on the pill may be different. I can say I didn't use the pill for it's most well-known use (cheatin' nature) for several years after starting it. I know at that point, I stayed on it because I was terrified of getting pregnant. Years later, I stopped being so terrified of getting pregnant, but I stayed on it because I was terrified of what going off of it would do to my body. By the time I quit, I'd been on that stuff for ten years.
The Tipping Point
I finally reached the tipping point last year, when I found myself crying on the floor (Taylor Swift-style) because I was so tired. I worked out regularly, I got plenty of sleep, I drank the same amount of coffee every day, but I couldn't keep my eyes open. I'd felt like this for years, but it was starting to get much worse. I was also dealing with never wanting to Do It anyway, the ultimate irony of being on the pill.
I finally confronted my doctor about all this last year. I told him what was wrong with me, and I asked him if he could switch me to a different dosage. He told me that I was already on the lowest hormone combination available, and all I could do was choose to go off of it, or deal with the symptoms. Later, I found some information about how hormonal birth control lowers testosterone, which lowers both alertness and sex drive. I also read that testosterone levels in women naturally decline with age. Those two facts in combination with each other pretty much shut the lid on my decision.
- Almost immediately, I felt awake. I felt like I was experiencing life for the first time. I felt like Zach Braff in Garden State after going off his depression medications, or my grandma after having cataract surgery. I dreamed in colors. Food had taste. I will never, ever go back on the pill if for no other reason than this.
- I'll spare you the details, but feeling awake took care of my Chief Other Complaint too. Ahem.
- I now cycle every 45 days instead of every 28.
- My periods are lighter.
- I don't have cramps.
- I lost weight. (Unfortunately, I also starting running around the same time I quit the pill, so I don't have very good science.)
- I don't have to remember to take a pill everyday, and I don't have to go to the pharmacy every month.
- My skin is a teenager again. This may have to be a separate post.
- I have PMS. I never had PMS when I was on the pill because I wasn't having a real cycle. The nature of having PMS now on a cycle that's 45 days means I always forget when it's scheduled to happen, and instead I just literally feel like I'm going crazy. I don't understand why I hate everyone and suck at everything, and then I remember.
- I have to use alternate forms of birth control. Despite having said so much already, this part is going to stay personal.
So, there you have it. I wanted to share this story with you (dear readers) because I hope it will be helpful for other women who are thinking about making the leap to go off the pill. There are plenty of horror stories out there about women's bodies reacting negatively to going off the pill, as well as plenty of stories about women who got pregnant immediately. Consider this story a victory, at least for now.