Ditching the Oral Contraceptive: 3 Months Later
If you are curious at all to know, from someone who has been there (and still is there), what it is like coming off The Pill after many years (fourteen years to be more exact), please read on. I've reached the three month mark after stopping my oral contraceptive and in the following text will outline some changes I've noticed, and also a little 'AHA!' moment I experienced during the course of writing this blog.
For those who are not aware of the background to my decision to stop taking an oral contraceptive, let me catch you up. For those who know the story, call it a refresher.
My decision followed on the heels of a slow recovery from a painful mistake, or perhaps the accumulation of poor choices throughout what I thought was a relatively healthy life. The mistake to which I allude was my decision to go the pharmaceutical route to try to get my acne under control. I'd struggled with pimples from teenhood, but at the age of 27 it had gotten worse than ever, with very painful cysts forming along my jawline. On the cusp of starting my first 'grown up job' post degree, I reached a desperate conclusion: I needed drugs to fix me. So off I went to a GP, who very non-chalantly recommended Accutane and a change from my then contraceptive pill called Levlen, to Ginette-35. He told me that my skin would get a bit dry, so I should buy some good moisturiser. He also advised that I will need to get a regular blood test done (I admit, that did not really raise a red flag and I didn't initially look into why blood tests were necessary until damage had already occurred). Finally, he warned me to not get pregnant. And so my journey to unhealth started. One month later, and I'll remember the date forever because I realized something was very wrong on the day of my graduation, I went off the medication but it was too late to avoid the consequences. Don't misunderstand! My skin improved greatly in a short span of time. Rejoice! Never before had my make-up sat so stubbornly at the end of the day exactly where I had applied it that morning!
But what also happened was:
- the insides of my ears bled daily
- my nose bled frequently
- my eyes became sensitive, painful, red, irritated
- both eyes got bacterial infections, and the front corneal layer of cells eroded
- I could no longer wear contact lenses
- I had to put wetting drops in my eyes constantly and for a year gel drops at bedtime, but I still had to carefully prise my eyes open upon waking as they became so dry at night I struggled to open them in the morning
- my throat became very dry and I frequently would randomly start choking!
- I noticed that anyware my body usually would be moist and produce mucous, it no longer was doing the job...
These symptoms were so obviously linked to the medication that I have no uncertainty about whether the drugs were the cause. Some symptoms I suffered later on, and so this leaves the link a little less certain, however I still believe that either the accutane, the Ginette-35 or the combination of both contributed hugely if not entirely to:
- considerable hair loss starting approximately 7 months after starting the drugs
- digestive issues starting approximately 11 months after starting the drugs.
I won't be covering my progress in depth in this blog, but I can reassure you that my hair started to grow back after three months and my relief can not be put into words. The level of stress that repeatedly finding clumps of hair in your hands from a gentle finger combing can create is indescribable. But if I were to try I'd describe it like this: It had an exponential effect on the stress I was already experiencing from dealing with my damaged eyes and the terror of never being able to wear contact lenses again. If my stress was like a spider the new level of stress was like a mommy spider had given birth to a thousand more spiders. It exploded, basically.
One year and nine months later my hair is still growing out and it has never fallen out at quite that same rate, although a few false alarms have occurred where I've briefly lost my mind. It hasn't looked quite right, as you can imagine with my little army of stubbly, wiry hairs pushing through and idly growing at a completely different length than the rest of my hair. But hey, I try to remind myself that eventually it wont look so awkward and to focus on being grateful.
As for my digestive issues, it has now been one and a half years and I've had the most improvement in the last couple of months, to the point that I feel that I might actually return to almost normal someday. But you can read about this in my other blogs where I talk ad-nauseum about it!
So to make a long story not short - not my strong point it turns out - I went through an intense journey to healing that made me question, among other things, every single molecule I put on and in my body. I actually really became more aware of the impacts of lifestyle choices on our health after coming across Gorgeously Green: 8 Simple Steps to an Earth-Friendly Life by Sophie Uliano. To me it was like the flip of a switch. A spotlight on the stealthy role of so many items I've exposed myself to throughout my life. Things like - and this is where the this book just awoke the research beast inside me - shampoo! Soap. Perfume. Air Freshener! I'd felt so out of control and betrayed by my body and this, I suppose, was like a life raft keeping me afloat. At the same time as providing me with an explanation of how I'd gotten to such a low place, it provided me with a mission, some semblance of control, a focus to keep me sane. It seems utterly ridiculous to me now that I'd never made the link as I've always been relatively intelligent, I thought, and incurably curious. But maybe it was just a case of illuminating something I already inherently knew to be true, but had not to this point had any reason to examine.
Fast-forward roughly two and a half years from when it all started (with my eyes as the first to fall), I found myself reading 7 Things Your Doctor Forgot to Tell You: A Guide for Optimal Health by Dr. Warren Sipser and Andi Lew. It made a reference to the risks of contraceptive methods, something I actually had thought of many a time prior to this saga, and it just seemed the natural (no pun intended) next step for me. My body needed a chance to find its footing. An opportunity to figure out what is friend and foe, natural and unnatural, part of it and not a part of it, self and other...Some time to recalibrate. And so I took the plunge and ditched the oral contraceptive.
Sooooo what has it been like? Let me see. Month one I could tell no difference. Month two I could tell no difference. My hair didn't start to fall out of my scalp again. My mood didn't take a dive into a deep pit of despair. My skin remained unchanged i.e. not perfect but not bad either. But...
In month three, I'm going to have to admit, I've come to face the same fate of so many before me. For the first time in two and a half years my skin is looking worse for wear. It is red, inflamed, easily irritated, bumpy, spotty, uneven and angry. I have pimples behind my ears! Thank goodness I can wear my hair loose, but having to wear it loose made me realize that this is not something that has even occupied my thoughts for a second in the last few years: up or down! And then there has been the moods. I hate to have to say this, but I've just had a 'DUH!' moment. Scratch that, I'm going with 'AHA!' moment instead. In month three I experienced a distinct shift in my mental state. I went through a month of feeling low, unloved, unwanted, lonely and very confused. I went through a familiar period self-loathing and questioning my life and my worth. I was very emotional. I thought I knew why I was so upset but looking back I think I actually attributed a great deal of it to the wrong things. And now, reflecting at the end of month three, and feeling a little more upbeat, I'm having my little 'AHA!' moment. If you want to see what kind of thinking and writing sprouts out of 'month three' type of misery read my blog Setting Myself Up. Note that I started the blog in a real low, and finished it a few weeks later in a better place!
Anyway, so it seems that I can never quite win. I win some but then I lose some. It is like there is a homeostasis to my body which requires something to always be a bit sh*t.
I would like to end on a positive note - and I know it took me a long time to get here both in my blog and in life: I am still grateful. I thought I'd soon lose the will to live when my digestive processes were really messed up and it seemed that there would be no end to it, but as I healed I've slowly found my energy returning and with it my motivation to do the normal things I used to do. Things like yoga (something that is very hard to do with reflux anyway), weeding, enjoying life, laughing with friends, eating, eating without fear. I can save my money for non doctor-related spending, and I can make kinder choices for my tummy and body as a whole, and even for my husband and my children to be. For everyone I feed really!
So to conclude, yes, it seems that I have a new battle ahead of me, but it is one that I am almost relieved to be fighting again. This is nothing compared to what life could have been like and I will never be as vain again as I was pre-Accutane. I've learned so many valuable lessons that I pray I will never forget. It just doesn't do to become complacent about health. Trust me, you will regret it when your health is gone. It is not an endless, resilient resource. It is a result of our daily choices! So make them mindfully.
That being said, let it be know that I will not be taking taking this lying down. I've got eyes and mirrors in my house and I'm not a saint am I? I'd like to think I can defeat my seemingly undefeatable tendency toward being pimply. For goodness sake I'm about to turn 30!
One of the things that I've decided to try in addition to the range of health rituals I already practice, based on these recommendations by Hannah Ransom of Holistic Hormonal Health, is a whole food multi-vitamin formulated for women. I chose Garden of Life, Women's Once Daily. I've also just started taking a zinc supplement (I chose Garden of Life, Vitamin Code, Raw Zinc) and a different krill oil supplement by Dr. Mercola.
I'd say I've probably given this enough airtime for today. My husband is waiting patiently for me so that we can go pick a movie for our Saturday night entertainment.
Keep an eye out for my next post if you are interested to see how I progress with this.