Why I Quit the Pill
Hello! Today’s post is a bit of a continuation of my hormonal acne series + an update, with a twist. Specifically, we’re talking today about the synthetic hormones in birth control, and why I decided to quit taking the pill. Enjoy!
We’re talking about birth control today, which I know from personal experience is a contentious topic. So before we begin, I want to be very clear on a few things. Namely: I am NOT here to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. I’m obviously talking about why I chose to stop taking the birth control pill, but that doesn’t mean that it’s “bad” or that YOU shouldn’t take it. I am simply here to share my story in the hopes that it might be helpful to you.
Why I quit the pill
If you’ve been following for some time, you know I’ve been writing about understanding my hormonal acne for a few years now (and dealing with it for way longer than that). It’s been a frustrating journey, with dermatologists only giving me prescriptions to treat my symptoms while not actually addressing or attempting to discover the root cause of said symptoms.
I took matters into my own hands for awhile, reading and researching hormonal acne and hormones in general, and found some measures of success with regards to vitamins and a skincare routine. But, I also learned that hormones are REALLY FREAKING COMPLICATED — because they affect literally every system in our bodies — which left even me at a loss for how to continue.
My next steps happened to come in the form of extreme stress and burnout. Not exactly what I would have wished, but it forced me to stop and admit that I needed to enlist some trained professionals instead of taking everything on by myself. After I spent the latter half of last year removing some of my major stressors, re-discovering what made me truly happy, and practicing letting go of striving for perfection, I felt that it was time to gently dip my toe back into the world of acne and hormones.
Additionally, although I had relieved a lot of the stress and pressure on myself, I was still feeling the lingering effects of pushing myself too hard — in the form of fatigue, lack of libido, and anxiety. As I slowly started to feel ready to TAKE ACTION to take care of myself (as opposed to letting myself do nothing, which was its own form of taking care of myself, at least for a few months), it became clear that I needed to address these symptoms before doing anything else.
I started with a therapist. This post is not really about my mental health, but it’s worth noting that my goal has always been to address my health as a WHOLE, and at least right now that absolutely involves seeing a therapist.
Next I saw a new gynecologist, as well as a trained dietitian who is also licensed in acupuncture and herbal medicine. And although my initial goal was to get two differing opinions, they both said the exact same thing to me: you probably have no testosterone, and it’s probably because you’re on the pill.
I mean. If that’s not a clear message from the universe, I don’t what is!
I was expecting a more complicated answer, but what I got was a pretty clear path forward. Which, after years of fumbling around and trying lots of different things, I wasn’t going to argue with. I went back for lab testing which confirmed the initial suspicion: I had no testosterone. Actually, I had no hormones whatsoever. (Except vitamin D, which is actually a hormone. Thanks, Texas sun.) And so, I made my decision: I’d quit the pill and get and IUD instead.
The reasons WHY the pill was lowering my testosterone and potentially causing other symptoms like anxiety is a whole separate post, but basically it goes like this: because I was orally ingesting the synthetic hormones (estrogen and progestin), those hormones were in my bloodstream and causing systematic changes to my body’s entire hormone system (AKA the endocrine system). The IUD was an attractive alternative because A) It’s even easier than taking a pill — I don’t have to do anything for three years! and B) Although it is still technically hormonal birth control, an IUD is only releasing hormones (small doses of progestin) locally in the uterus versus throughout the whole body. Which means it doesn’t shut my body down completely from making its own hormones.
Side note — sorry if this is TMI — but getting it placed was definitely the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. ?But so far I’m feeling SO MUCH better, and feel confident that it was the right decision for me. And again: just because something is right for me does NOT mean it’s right for you. I cannot stress enough that this was a decision that I could not have come to on my own, and having trained health professionals has been key to making informed decisions.
What I’m doing now
So far it’s been just about three months, and I have seen definite measurable changes. Overall, my anxiety, fatigue, libido, and lack of motivation are so much better. My emotions also feel steadier and more even. I wouldn’t say I’m back to what I’d consider “normal” for myself, but it’s night and day compared to how I felt in the spring and summer of last year. I’m lucky that it’s been a pretty mild winter here in Austin, but I’ve always been affected by the seasons — so the fact that I feel better NOW than last summer is huge.
Again — going to therapy, meditating, and reflecting on and working to change bad habits of overextending myself are definitely also at play here. But I believe we women especially are often made to believe that warning signs of health issues like anxiety and depression are “all in our heads.” I did believe that at one point last year. I was disappointed in myself for being tired all the time, for being emotional, and for not wanting to do anything. But I now have both the opinions of trained health professionals, as well as evidence, that it was actually medication that was contributing to these issues.
In terms of what I’m actually doing, again — the specifics are a whole separate post. But in short, it involves taking bucket fulls of vitamins (not really but it feels like it!) to replenish what the pill depleted, some herbs for anxiety, and bi-weekly acupuncture appointments and check-ins.
My progress has been slow (but steady), and mostly I need daily reminders that this is a slow process and I need to be patient. (The worst! I’m terrible at patience.) However, now that I’m at the three month mark, I am ready to do some follow up testing. As we speak (virtually), I actually have a gut test here that will help us understand what’s going on with my gut microbiome and see how that may be affecting my acne and mood. I am super excited to get those results and nerd about them ?and will definitely be sharing updates as I continue on this journey!
For those in the Austin area, or just if you’re curious:
The gynecologist I see now is Dr. Shawn Tassone.
The acupuncturist (/ dietitian / herbalist) I see is Lauren Hurst. I love that she has training in both Eastern and Western medicine — it helps calm the part of me that NEEDS SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE while also being open to trying new things like acupuncture and herbs. Basically, she’s been awesome.
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