This post has been a year and a half in the making, and it’s only the first of more to come in a “cycle love” series because I have so much to share with you!
So let’s just cut to the chase: in February 2016 I quit the birth control pill after taking it for 9 years, and I’ve been on a very interesting and empowering adventure ever since as I’ve regained my natural cycle and am re-learning what it’s like to be a woman with all the crazy cyclical changes each month.
I’m usually an open book and love to share what’s happening in my journey from the trenches but I’ve more or less kept this chapter private for the last 18 months because I had to give myself permission to LIVE IT before sharing it.
I’ve finally reached a place where I’m ready to share my story and everything I’m learning because as a life and wellness coach, almost every woman I talk with has experienced using hormonal birth control, hormone related issues, cycle imbalances, mood swings, fertility struggles to some degree, or simply the mental and emotional suffering we go through from not understanding why our energy fluctuates throughout the month.
By making our menstrual cycle an awkward or taboo topic and not talking about it, we isolate ourselves and each other and perpetuate the message that it’s not right to be female and have a cycle, or that having extreme emotions is wrong, or that anything relating to our periods and fertility is something we have to hide and keep secret and discuss in half sentences and whispers and allusions and slang and WOW the world needs all of that to be shattered and obliterated into dust, right?
I guess I need to start from the very beginning.
I started my period later than most of my friends, when I was 13 on a family trip to Holland the summer after 8th grade. My mom helped me borrow some pads from my aunt and I don’t remember it being a really big deal. If anything, I was relieved because (A) I’d avoided the embarrassment of starting in the middle of a school day and (B) I got it before entering high school which was important because I knew that “period talk” was big among the girls at band camp since we lived in cabins together for a week. Awwwww, high school.
Throughout my teenage years I was known to my close friends as being highly sensitive and an emotional rollercoaster. I was easily triggered into sudden inner rages or breakdowns. I didn’t realize this wasn’t normal (because is there anything normal about being a teenage girl? Ha.) and buried myself in school and extracurricular activities and being an overachiever.
By the time I started college, I started to wake up and get curious about what was happening to me. Well, it wasn’t as much of a “wake up” as it was being slammed in the face...
I was busy with my pre-med course load, admissions job, and as usual way too many extracurriculars to keep my scholarships. I had joined a music sorority, was making some great girlfriends, and had just started dating my crush, a cute pole vaulter named Ben.
From the outside, my life looked perfect.
On the inside, I still felt like something was off. I had phases of anxiety that made me feel like a crazy person, I was struggling to keep straight-A’s for the first time in my life, and I was consumed with paranoia about my relationships, convinced that I wasn’t worthy of love and that Ben would leave me for another girl. It was like I was intentionally trying to create non-existent drama or conflict to sabotage myself.
These episodes were usually triggered during times I was sleep deprived or under extra stress and made me feel completely alone and isolated even though that was the farthest thing from the truth when you're in college literally living in a dorm with hundreds of people.
Most of the time I felt completely normal, so I didn’t really tell anyone what was going on because I felt like I was going crazy and didn’t even know how to explain it.
I remember the day everything started to click.
I was the fall of 2006, I was home visiting my family and I started having one of my manic/depressive episodes. I stood on the stairs to the kitchen sobbing uncontrollably to my mom “I don’t even know why I’m crying.”
In my old room I had all my journals from high school and something in the back of my head told me to go through them to see if there was a pattern to my crazy breakdowns.
Sure enough, these episodes all happened about the week before I started my period, although they didn’t fit the typical definition of PMS I’d been fed my whole life (bloating, cravings, feeling minorly irritated). Once my period started, I almost instantly clicked back to my normal self.
I started Googling and almost immediately found a condition I’d never heard of before called PMDD, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
I could identify with almost every single symptom (mood swings, depression, hopelessness, anxiety, intense anger or conflict, feeling out of control, all linked to my period), and I literally felt this huge weight lifted off my body. I wasn’t crazy -- I just had PMDD! I told my mom and we set up an appointment to see the gynecologist.
While 85% of women experience PMS, only up to 5% deal with PMDD.
Back in 2006, PMDD wasn’t widely studied or accepted as anything different than PMS or a minor inconvenience of being female (since then it’s been added to the DSM as its own category of mood disorder), but there was a new birth control called YAZ that was formulated to treat the symptoms.
I started taking YAZ (or generic formulas) when I was 19 years old and didn’t stop for almost a decade, even after my gyno switched me to a different formulas because the risk of blood clots and stroke was so great.
I will say that this is NOT an anti-birth control post. I loved being on birth control!
My periods were so light, I never had cramps.
My mood swings and PMDD disappeared.
I didn’t have to worry about getting pregnant, huzzah!
It was what I needed at the time.
So why did I decide to quit?
After my rocky post-grad school “quarter life crisis," I decided to pivot career paths from environmental science to life and wellness coaching and dove into the world of holistic wellness, spirituality, emotional/mental health, and learning how to view my sensitive nature as a gift instead of a curse to be numbed with medication.
My lifestyle slowly shifted towards habits that made me feel my abolute best from the inside out. Eating healthy, working out, journaling, reading personal development, working with life coaches and energy healers, and surrounding myself with new friends online who were equally passionate about living their best lives.
I had been married for several years, was tuning into my energy and emotions, learning how to slow down and balance my over-achieving drive with my feminine energy and creativity, and all of a sudden I started to wonder why the heck I was still pumping my body with synthetic hormones?
I also knew that I wanted to have a baby within the next couple years and wanted to make sure I had a healthy cycle before we started trying.
Then in fall 2015 two things happened.
- I started experiencing heart palpitations and had a couple of random anxiety attacks.
- I listened to this podcast episode interviewing womens’ health practitioner and hormone specialist Alisa Vitti, where she talked about the importance of hormone health and how we can heal our imbalances with lifestyle changes and immediately ordered her book WomanCode to learn more.
I went to the doctor to make sure I didn’t have a terminal heart condition since I'm a hypochondriac She told me I was perfectly healthy and gave me a prescription for an anxiety medication, which was another wake up call because again, I didn’t want to be dependent on drugs to be happy and healthy.
So I decided to quit two things: caffeine and birth control.
I think I took my last packet of pills in January 2016.
What happened next was quite the adventure. Stay tuned for Part 2 :)
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