Fumble blogger Avery Echo shares her personal experience of the contraceptive pill
A desire to avoid that classic “where on earth did you put those condoms?” awkwardness during sex, and my overwhelming paranoia of getting pregnant were the main reasons I booked a GP appointment to go on the pill.
I walked into the doctor’s office feeling uniformed, slightly nervous, and a little overwhelmed. I was asked a series of questions that I was not prepared for: “any history of blood clots in your family?” “Would you like to take a combination pill or a progestin-only?” I had no idea.
In the end I settled on the combination pill because I was told it was the most effective, and I remembered it was what some of my friends took. At the time I was vaguely warned about certain side effects to look out for – none of which were related to mental health – and I was given a three month trial for my new birth control.
Three months in, and I was fine. Or maybe I wasn’t, I will never really know. I physically didn’t notice much difference in myself, except for a decrease in libido.
Perhaps if I had been warned, I would have stayed more alert for alterations in my mental health, and become more aware of the changes in my mood earlier. But I didn’t – and so I got prescribed an entire year’s worth of pills on my second visit to the GP.
Six months in, I decided to stop taking my pills. I was going on holiday, and the hassle of taking keeping up with my contraceptive during the summer where I was going to be sexually inactive seemed unnecessary. I stopped without consulting my doctor – that was mistake number one.
Barely one week after stopping, my mental health crashed. I had my first ever panic attack. I cried, I felt lonely, hopeless. I started suffering from OCD symptoms, intrusive thoughts, and started seeing a therapist. I calmed down, stabilised a little more.
Then I decided to get back on the pill, and that was mistake number two.
I came crashing right back down, and that is when it hit me. The pill – specifically the imbalance of hormones it causes. I was convinced it had something to do with these relentless mood swings.
In search of answers, I turned to Google and consulted my psychiatrist (who by this point had prescribed me anxiety pills and was yet to prescribe me antidepressants.)
This is when I discovered the pill can trigger mental health side effects, but that this is not very spoken about. According to a 2016 study of more than one million women, those taking hormonal contraceptives are “70% more likely to be on antidepressants” with teenagers having a shocking “80% increased risk of antidepressant use”.
I fell down a rabbit hole of internet threads from women around the world who suffered because of their birth control. The story became even more relatable when I googled the name of the pill I was taking – ‘rigevidon’ – which happens to be one of the cheapest pills for the NHS to give out, making it extremely popular. It turned out a lot of girls were ditching it, and I followed suit.
When I stopped taking the pill for the second time, I was prepared. I knew I was going on yet another imbalance of hormones journey, and as much as I hated having to go through it again, I felt slightly better knowing what had triggered the feelings this time.
Fast forward three months and I can now say I am a different person. I have gone back to condoms – I use the free ones you can pick up at Boots, because they are student budget-friendly, super secure (perfect for a someone paranoid like myself,) and the only form of contraceptive that also protects against sexually transmitted infections.
While I know the pill was not the only reason my mental health deteriorated, I do believe it helped to trigger something in my brain, intensify my emotions and blur my rationality. Without it I feel mentally more stable, my libido has returned to normal (making sex that much better) and I have lost the weight I gained whilst on the pill.
Now – just because I had a negative experience with the pill, does not mean other women will. If you are considering taking the pill, I really hope you are lucky. I hope the first pill you try fits you like a glove.
It wasn’t the case for me, but I am still on the search. Still in recovery from the past few months, I don’t think I’ll try any pill form of contraception in a little while, but there are so many other non-hormonal options out there. From the copper IUD to cervical caps, there will always be something out there for everyone! Just make sure you do your research before you commit.
Illustration by Laura G. Scalco