What Happened To Me When I Went Off Of Hormonal Birth Control After 15 Years 

Let me set the scene for you: 

It’s November 2018, and I’m in Bangalore, India lying flat on a steel table without pants on, and my feet splayed out to the side. There were no stirrups, so my legs just sort of awkwardly dangled open enough for the doctor to get a peak. 

I clenched ferociously as she started the pap smear process.

“You said you also wanted to make an appointment to get your IUD out, correct?” she asked, as I fixed my stare on the moldy ceiling above me. 

“Yes…uhhh…I think maybe next week, or something,” I stammered. 

“No, no, no. That doesn’t make any sense. You’re here, I’m here. Better to do it now,” she replied with certainty. 

I tried digging around my brain for any excuse under the sun why I couldn’t do it now. But the truth was just that I was scared of the pain. I’d already made and canceled two appointments before I finally worked up the courage to come here at all. 

Sexual abuse changed me. For the better, and for the worse. 

One of the continual symptoms from my assault experiences is dreading gyno appointments. I mean, let’s be clear, no one– abuse survivor, or not- is exactly jumping for joy when it comes time for an annual pap. I’d just say that my reaction is a little more heightened than your average person, especially if the appointment involves anything painful.

To make matters worse, one of the assaults resulted in me contracting high risk HPV. Which means I need to be really diligent about check ups (as should you, if you have it!) due to the risk of cervical cancer. 

Oh yeah, and I guess just to add salt in the wound- I don’t have a regular doctor, because I live out of a backpack traveling the world. I don’t know what country I’ll be in, and when- which means I just show up to the best rated place on Yelp when the time comes. 

Although this appointment was a little different, because I’d already had my annual check up. But then I started getting yeast infections. Chronically. Like, every week kinda chronically. 

I was 30-years-old at the time, and convinced I was dying when I saw what was coming out of me. A few quick Google deep dives told me, no, it’s not the impending of death- just a regular ‘ole yeast infection. 

Okay, no big deal. I was living on a small tropical island in the Philippines, so I figured the climate, teeny tiny wet bikinis, and tight yoga clothes might have something to do with it. I popped some over the counter meds, and it cleared up.

Then they kept coming back. Again. And again. And again.

This had been going on for about 6 weeks leading up to my yoga retreat in India, where I couldn’t wear leggings to teach because it was too uncomfortable. I also couldn’t go on the bike excursion with my group, because of the discomfort. 

That’s really what put me over the edge. That damn bike ride. 

This is what landed me in this moment- with a stranger in between my legs telling me to take out my IUD. 

I did want it out. This was my second IUD over the course of 8 years, and- to be honest- I loved it. I loved that I didn’t have a period for 8 years, and that I didn’t have to think about taking a pill every day. I loved feeling safe from pregnancy, and didn’t notice any change in my mood or body. 

But when the yeast infections started, and I tried everything under the sun to get rid of them- I had this thought: I just want a clean slate.  

Translation: I wanted to clean up my diet, cut alcohol, and try to get my body back to its most natural state. 

“You have a husband?” She asked, as she swabbed. 

“Yes,” I gulped. Not from the lie, but because this whole pap smear thing never got any easier. 

“And you know that if it comes out, you might get pregnant?” She continued with her clipped manner. 

“Yes, we’re okay with that.” 

This part, unfortunately, was not a lie. My “husband” was really my long-term on-again-off-again boyfriend who I was moving in with in Australia the following week. I told him about wanting to take out my IUD, and we decided together right then and there that we wouldn’t try to get my pregnant by any means- but we wouldn’t *not* try either. 

“Okay then, it’s better to do it now.” Notice how she didn’t ask me, she told me. 

“I’m just a little nervous it’s going to hurt, and I don’t know if I’m ready,” I tried to interject the same time she was counting:

“Three, two, one!” 

Followed by a swift pull, and sharp sting, then a dull ache from the inside out. 

My brain was still trying to catch up with my body. Did she really just pull out my IUD without consent? 

“See, it didn’t hurt,” she said as tapped my knees, gesturing that the exam was over. 

Yep, I guess she did. 

While it certainly wasn’t the most ethical medical experience in the world, I will say that her making the decision for me didn’t leave a whole lot of space for me to ruminate, and spin out about it. So, that was…nice?

When she pulled it out, it felt like my body took a sigh of relief. 

Thank you, my body said. Like she was tired, or something. 

I sort of floated out of the appointment in a daze. The thought of starting a family with someone who I thought was my person (sidenote: thank GOD that didn’t happen, right?), and also one step closer to healing my health woes- I felt like there were all of these possibilities ahead. 

The next month felt like a dream. I moved in with my boyfriend. We played house, decorated, and bought plants. I had more energy, and the new climate was a little friendlier to my (still ever-present) yeast infections. It felt like I was on the path to the rest of my life, as I settled down from a decade of traveling. 

I felt good. Happy. Hopeful. And full of love. 

Until I didn’t. 

Three weeks after I had my IUD taken out, the intrusive thoughts started. I would think about hurting myself just to feel something. I’d catch myself in these thoughts, shake my head, and go on throughout my day. 

I don’t need pain to feel. I’m happy, I told myself. 

About a week later, the depression rolled in like a thick fog dumping a gray filter over my life. I’d rub my eyes, trying to see the beauty that was just there. But it was gone. No more Oz. It was all black and white again. 

The next week, anxiety hit in a debilitating way. I couldn’t go out in public. I couldn’t socialize. I couldn’t even call my own family back. I was a stranger in my own body and mind. And I was fucking terrified. 

On January 1, 2019 I stared at the crashing waves in Byron Bay thinking about ending my life as tears silently soaked into the sand. I didn’t even realize I was crying until the wind hit my wet cheeks. I touched them to be sure. 

Are these my tears? 

It’s hard to be sure when you can’t feel anything anymore. 

I can’t do this anymore, was a looping soundtrack of words bouncing between my ears. 

“Hey, there you are,” my boyfriend said, as he plopped next to me. When he noticed the tears in my empty gaze, he cringed and scooted away. 

He hated me like this. And his repulsion only added fuel to my own inner fire of self-loathing. 

I opened my mouth to tell him something, anything. To tell him about wanting to die, to ask for help, to admit how scared I was. 

He braced himself in preparation for what I might say. He knew. He could see it. And he didn’t want to hold it. It was mine. That much was very clear. 

“Let’s go back to the place,” I said, instead. 

It was mine, after all. I’d have to do this alone even though we were together. 

That first day of January set the tone for my year ahead. I didn’t know it at the time (we rarely do, do we?), but I was about to meet myself for the first time in 15 years. 

I had been on hormonal birth control since I was 15, you see, and I was now 30. I was prescribed birth control before I was even sexually active. Why? Well, after passing out from the period pain (and still getting marked down in PE because my teacher thought I was “faking it”) my mom decided that this simply wasn’t normal. She took me to get an ultrasound, where we found out I had cysts on my ovaries. 

Of course when both of us heard that hormonal birth control would relieve my pain, we were on board. Plus, I thought I was pretty damn cool for getting birth control. Very it-girl vibes, you know. 

Meanwhile, the doctor went on to tell me that because of the cysts, I’d probably have trouble conceiving, and likely wouldn’t be able to have kids. 

That broke something in me. 

But I swallowed my tears, puffed up my chest in a false sense of confidence, and acted like I didn’t care, instead. Naturally. 

I went from the pill, to the patch (which was later recalled), back to the pill. Until…jokes on him…I got pregnant. Yep, that’s right, not only did I get pregnant, but I got pregnant while I was on the pill. 

At this point, I’m 23, and my boyfriend at the time just threw me into a wall in a fit of rage after everyone had left his birthday party. 

“Stupid bitch,” he spat at me in disgust, watching me whimper on the ground for just a moment before storming out. 

I collected myself, used to these drunken “mishaps” I’d been dealing with for the last year. Although I was alone in my apartment at this point, I still felt like I needed to freshen up in some sort of reclamation of dignity. 

That’s when I noticed blood in my underwear. 

And I knew, instantly it was not my period. 

The test gave me a bold + in less than 30 seconds. So did the next 5 I took, hoping for a different outcome. 

I won’t say that choosing to get an abortion was easy. But what was easy was the choice to protect this little being from this monster of a man. I never doubted my decision, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t kill a piece of me, too. 

The pill had clearly failed me, so I figured why not let them insert the IUD while they were already in there for the procedure. I kept that same IUD for the entire 5 years. Like I said, I loved it. Which is why I got another one. And kept that one for 3 years, until that appointment in Bangalore. 

I like to think of hormones as the puppet masters of our lives. They create so much of our personality, they dictate a lot of our choices, and they even impact your mate selection. No seriously, read this study if you don’t believe me. 

My wife and I are trying for babies now. I just did my first round of IUI, which meant I took Clomid and a trigger shot (both are hormonal) as a part of the process. 

When we were driving home, I told her that I felt more equipped for pregnancy than ever after what I went through in 2019 during my hormonal birth control detox. 

“What was it like?” She asked, because she’s lucky enough to have never taken birth control, or anything hormonal, in her life. 

When I was a teenager, I had trouble regulating my emotions. Part of it was just normal teenager puberty stuff, and another piece stemmed from the trauma response to sexual abuse at a young age.

I had a lot of rage. And I’m a very physical person. When the rage struck, it engulfed me like a hot flame that I hated to love. 

I punched people in the face. I broke things. I trashed my room. I self harmed. 

The flame turned into lava, and the lava ran through my veins until it bubbled up and out of me. It destroyed everything it touched. And that destruction felt…good. It took the edge off. 

Clearly there were consequences for my actions, and said consequences taught me how to self-regulate in appropriate ways. I also learned how to shove things down, numb out, and avoid. But that’s really another story for another day. 

When I went off of hormonal birth control, the lava came back. It ripped through me with vengeance, and I felt completely out of control again. Only this time, I was 30, and I knew I couldn’t go around clocking people who pissed me off. 

I also met my sadness. It didn’t show up in the natural ebbs and flows of the ocean, but rather a tidal wave of grief where I’d struggle to breathe. It swallowed me whole. And again, I felt completely out of control. 

I didn’t recognize my own thoughts. I felt like a foreign object. I didn’t trust myself. 

I was scared. 

Because being a stranger in your own mind and body is downright terrifying. 

The first three months were a blur of pain, tears, and gray. So much gray. 

The next three months, the fog started to lift, but still blanketed my thoughts regularly. 

Another three months, and I’m actually settling into this new skin. 

In the final three months of the year, I know exactly who I am and what I want. I trust myself again. I’m confident in my decisions. My emotions are manageable.

I meet my (now) wife. 

I remember when I finally pieced together that I might be feeling the way I was because of the birth control. I furiously started Googling, and everything I read said it would take 6 months to a year. 

A year, I thought. There’s no way I can do this for that long

If you’re that same person now, reading this in the early stages of your detox- I get it. A year sounds like a lifetime when you’re trapped in that certain kind of hell. But guess what? I made it. 

And I bet you can, too. 

Let me give you some advice based on things that worked for me, and things I wished I knew.

Ask for help. 

Get a therapist, if you don’t have one already. If you do, but you don’t think they’re 100% the right fit, then find one who is. I know, I know, the whole courting process for a therapist is draining. But it’s so worth it when you find the right fit. 

Tell the people around you what’s going on, and ask for support from them. The people in your life want to help you. You just have to let them. 

Greet your emotions, rather than hide from them. 

Similar to a psychedelic trip, it’s only going to get worse if you try to resist. You need to be in that surrendered state to ride the waves, instead of fighting the current. 

I know this is a lot easier said than done, but I promise you this allowance of your feelings will allow them to flow through- rather than getting stuck, and magnified. 

Get in your body. 

It can be very disorienting to feel like a stranger in your own body. Try whatever embodiment exercises you enjoy to try to get out of your head, and into your body. 

Obviously I’m a yoga girlie, but honestly anything outside will be helpful. Walk, swim, surf, skate, hike. Just MOVE in a really mindful way. Try to FEEL your body as it moves. Get accustomed to it all over again. 

Movement was also really helpful for me in working through emotions. I was able to channel rage into highly physical activities. Or let sadness wash over me in a really juicy yoga flow. 

Taper off if you can. 

If you can, try to taper off the hormonal birth control that you’re on. A good doctor will recommend this anyway. And if they don’t, demand it. You need to be your own advocate when it comes to health. 

Similar to any major medication, tapering off can make the transition from medicated you, to non-medicated you a little smoother. 

Release judgment, regret, guilt, and shame.

It’s really easy to get caught in the “what if” cycle, or the “I wish I had” cycle. It’s easy to beat ourselves up over choices we made, when we were just trying to do our best. 

Chances are, when you were prescribed birth control no one told you about possible side effects when you come off of it. Which means you were only able to make a consenting decision with the minimal information you had. You did your best. 

Advocate for yourself.

Believe it or not, doctors don’t always have our best interest at heart. That’s not to say that all doctors are evil, with deep pockets for big pharma prescriptions. Because that’s just not true either. 

The point is, it’s easy to give your power away to the people in white coats. And while they often are experts in their field, and likely know a heck of a lot more than you when it comes to medicine, you’re still allowed to ask questions. And you’re allowed to ask for what you need. 

If you’re someone who needs hormonal birth control for PCOS, endometriosis, cysts on ovaries, or painful periods…I get it. Trust me. I was that girl, too. I’m not here to tell you what to do with your body, or whether you should take hormonal birth control or not. That’s a choice that only you can make. 

I am here to encourage you to ask a lot of questions. To not settle. To not give up. To try a variety of things to see what your body responds best to, rather than taking the first pick. 

You deserve to feel happy, healthy, and at home in your body no matter what route you choose. 



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