It still amazes me, that we as women receive very little information and guidance when it comes to ‘taboo’ subjects like contraception, sex, periods and general vaginal health. Released in 1961 the pill has been a game-changer in terms of giving women more freedom and choice, and yet we still talk about it in a very formal manner. When I think back to all the doctor appointments and nurse check-ups I’ve had regarding the pill, all I can recall are slightly awkward office conversations where most of the information I need is given to me in a leaflet at the end of the session. Maybe this is why it’s only been recently that I’ve had a proper think about what I’m putting into my body and how it all works.
Going on the pill
I started taking the pill at aged 16 and since then I’ve been blindly attending my annual check-ups, getting repeat six-moth prescriptions and taking those little white pills daily. At 16, I didn’t put much thought into it; my mum had told me that the pill had worked for her in helping with period pains and regulation, so I thought I’d see if it did the same for me. If it didn’t, then I would stop and no harm done! I was put on Microgynon, one of the most popular combined pills, which you take at the same time every day for 21 days. Being one of the most commonly used pills I felt I didn’t have much to worry about, and this level of reassurance can also be to blame for my lack of research and desire to know more. Saying that, I never remember there being any discussion around other options; unless you had issues with the pill prescribed there wasn’t usually any chat surrounding different types.
Nevertheless, it did what I needed it to, and soon my period pains had lessened and the dreaded red wave could finally be tracked and prepared for. So really, in the grand scheme of things I’ve actually been pretty lucky in that the pill worked for me first time and I didn’t suffer any serious side effects. My weight didn’t vary, my skin got neither better or worse (I don’t think), and I didn’t suffer from any unusual headaches. So why, after six successful years, have I stopped taking it? Well, I guess it finally dawned on me that this tiny little pill had been the only constant thing in my life since I was 16. How scary is that? I’m a completely different person to who I was at 16! Not only am I now an adult, but so much has happened in that time that a decision made by 16-year-old Bri no longer feels like a decision at all; which, as we can see from my discussion above, was never really fully-formed in the first place.
Coming off the pill
If I’m being completely honest, the main reason I’ve come off the pill is to see what I’m like without it. That may sound silly, but I feel there is so little research done into the pill and how it links to our mental health that I don’t even know if I’m me when I’m on it?? When I get really bad PMS, which includes ridiculous mood swings and feeling very low, anxious and a bit agitated, is that just me? Or is that the pill? Maybe it’s a bit of both – I don’t know! There’s also the fact that hormones are being released into my body unnaturally. Part of me wants to see what my body’s like when it’s performing on its own, and on its own terms. It’s not called Mother Nature for nothing. My body has changed a lot since I was 16 (thank god) and I want to see what my mind and body are like without it.
As you can probably tell this wasn’t a last minute decision, but one that I’ve been mulling over for about a year now. That may sound a bit dramatic but it’s true. I’d tried getting some answers to my queries from doctors and online research, but to no avail. If anything, they made me feel worse! I remember one instance where a doctor told me that since there was a history of breast cancer in my family I should switch pills, and yet another told me it was nothing to worry about? If these sorts of factors are simply down to personal opinion rather than any scientific evidence, then I’d rather take things into my own hands. With that being said, I was still hesitant to come off it. I’d heard some real horror stories about shrinking boobs, face acne and heavy bleeding. It had been so long since I’d worried about poorly-timed periods; especially when I could just skip a month if I wanted to, I couldn’t really remember what my pre-pill periods were like. One of my biggest fears however was, and is, my skin. I’ve had such an up and down relationship with my skin, I really don’t want anything to knock me back again. That’s why when lockdown came around I thought to myself, this is the perfect opportunity! Better now than never. When else will I get the chance to do this experiment and hide from the world if anything goes horrendously wrong? The only way to find answers to my questions was to come off it.
It’s been 2 weeks already and there isn’t much to report just yet, but I’ll be keeping track of any changes and plan to do another blog post on it in a few months time. I’ve also spotted a book called ‘This Is Your Brain on Birth Control: The Surprising Science of Women, Hormones, and the Law of Unintended Consequences’ by Sarah Night, which I’m planning to read and will chat about if I find it insightful!