This was by far a post that I was never sure I would write. I had thought about it a few times, but I always felt it was too personal to talk about. But, if ever there was a time, I feel it’s appropriate to talk about my experience on the contraceptive pill in light of this week being Mental Health Awareness week.
So, where to begin? I started on the pill when I was about 16, because of my struggles with acne. It was kind of a last resort – I’d been flown out to dermatologists, I’d been prescribed all sorts of medication. I was put on one called Dianette, which is basically a really strong version. My acne cleared up within months, and I stayed on it for two years. No problems at all – I was happy and much more confident because my skin troubles were finally starting to shift. However, because of the risks associated with this type of pill, I was only allowed on it for two years. So, at the end of my first year of university, I was taken off them and switched over to one called Yasmin.
I’d heard about Yasmin before. When I was put on Dianette, I did some research on forums (I know, Dr Google). I came across so many women saying that they had experienced all sorts of side effects on this particular brand, so when I was given it, I had doubts at the back of my mind. Nonetheless, I tried them out… and again, everything was fine. I stayed on them for about six months or so; at this point, I was in a relationship, and my boyfriend at the time was working away for months at a time. After a while, I didn’t really see the point in taking them – my skin was under control, and I was forgetting to take them practically every second day. I decided to stop taking them that November. It wasn’t until maybe a month or two afterwards that I had started to notice I felt different… in a good way. Almost as if any struggles I’d been facing before had suddenly drifted away. I wasn’t aware of any difficulties at the time, but I can only describe this feeling as a sudden burst of positivity. I took it as just being a random occurrence of motivation, but it seemed to continue on for months. I started to question the impact the Yasmin pill had on me – was there a chance that I had been affected emotionally while taking them, just without realising? I was never really sure, but I definitely witnessed a positive change upon staying away from them.
Fast forward two and a half years, and unfortunately, my acne issue looked like it was starting to make a return – nowhere near as bad as it was when I was younger, but enough for 20-year-old-me to struggle to deal with it. So, I went back to my GP and asked to be put back on the pill. I talked about how I had got on well with the Dianette, but voiced my concerns over the apparent effects Yasmin had on me. I was given a brand called Rigevidon. Another type I had seen some negative talk on online, but I knew that everyone’s experience on the pill is different, and so I decided to just go with it. First few months, no problems at all. Going into my final year at university, I was relieved that there were no major side effects – I couldn’t afford to have any distractions at that point!
But by the start of December, I’d practically stopped attending my classes. Our university used a scanning system where you had to scan your student card to register your attendance, so I would get a friend to scan me in at least once a week to ensure I wasn’t kicked out. Not that it made much of a difference – I was getting my worst marks since first year because I had no idea what the coursework consisted of when it came to writing reports. It was a scary time, to say the least – I knew I wasn’t just being lazy, but when it came down to it, it was just an issue of not being able to force myself out of my bed. This went beyond getting ready and walking up to university though; often, I couldn’t even get myself out of bed to go and fetch my phone charger. It was an incredibly confusing time. Frustrating, too, because it genuinely seemed like I was just being lazy.
Then came the panic attacks. It all started when I was on my way up to uni for a meeting with my dissertation supervisor, when I had to stop walking out of fear of throwing up. I started getting breathless and everything was spinning, and I eventually even got tearful from freaking out at the thought of walking into the room. I had zero reason to be nervous, and I’d already met the guy before. To this day I’m still not entirely sure where it came from. It lasted for about 10 minutes and I continued on with my day, albeit quite a bit more tired than I was before after such a sudden burst of emotion. This became a bit more frequent, although they only tended to last about three minutes or so. Luckily, a few of my friends recognised what it was before even I did, and found ways to try and calm me down if I was with them.
So far, not great when I was trying to focus all my efforts on my studies. Except, at this point I’d all but given up. What was the point? I’d wanted this degree and worked super hard for it since 2014, but suddenly the thought of dropping out sounded more appealing. I wasn’t even sure that anyone would care, and despite getting on well with people on my course and in my cheerleading team, I was convinced that no one would miss me being there every day because I’d got to the stage where I truly believed no one actually liked me at all, even friends and family. I was emotional all the time, but showing no emotion at the same time, as if I had just switched off. I knew people had “off” days, but this had turned into off months.
I started paying more attention to what people had said about the Rigevidon pill, and began having doubts on how it was impacting me. But – and this is the purpose of this post – I had never had any previous troubles in my life. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have never experienced a close family death, and I’ve had a very happy upbringing. So when I started voicing my concerns, I was met with “but you can’t, there’s no reason to be feeling this way”. I felt that I was being ungrateful for my luck, but I knew this wasn’t me. I was told to get more sleep, drink more water, or better yet, just get on with it because everyone feels down from time to time. The latter is totally true, and I’ve written posts about the importance of doing these things before. But this time I knew it wasn’t because I hadn’t been getting enough sleep.
I went to my GP when I returned home, and explained exactly how I’d been feeling, and to my surprise, I even cried to him. I hardly ever cry in front of people, so to have done that in front of someone I didn’t know shocked me. Straight away, it was identified that everything I was feeling was caused by the additional hormones from the pill I was taking, and that it had gone on to cause depression. It was being termed as “endogenous”, which reflected that it was a result of a chemical effect rather than a reaction to the external environment. I can’t describe the relief I felt to have even had someone simply recognise that the way I was feeling wasn’t just something to wave away. I was taken off the pill straight away, and was given support in bettering my mental health. At this stage, five months on, I feel incredibly lucky that it worked, and I can now look back on it as a dark period of my life rather than one I am still experiencing.
I very rarely tell people about this experience, because I fear that it will reflect badly on me. Only one family member knows about it. I was even warned to consider not writing this in case it had a negative effect on anything I do in the future. But this is the stigma that needs breaking, and keeping quiet would only have gone against everything this week stands for. It is SO important to get it out there that it is totally okay to accept that you’re struggling, and stop this belief that it should be kept quiet and hidden. What’s more, it needs to be recognised that it can hit anyone, no matter the circumstances, no matter the background. You don’t need a tragic or traumatic occurrence to cause these things. My experience happened because I was prescribed something happily, with no worries that it would adversely affect me. You know yourself better than anyone, and if you know you’re not feeling yourself, don’t let others tell you that “shouldn’t be the case”, or assume that there’s a standard pattern that you should be on the look out for. More needs to be done to recognise that there are so many more factors and so many more causes of poor mental health, no matter the extent or the length of time the impact is felt.
I wanted to add my voice to the discussions taking place this week, because for so long I was under the belief that I wasn’t someone mental health would affect. I felt very much on my own when I started worrying about my own well-being, and I want to make a step to change that. I like to think that in acknowledging my experience, there’s maybe someone out there going through the same thing who realises that sometimes, it’s okay not to be okay.