on feeling better.
It's been a while.
A while since I’ve written anything more than an Instagram caption. Truthfully, its not because I haven’t had anything to say (you all should know me better than that by now) but because so much of me has always been shared here, when I finally stopped having the anxiety-induced impetus to spill onto the page - I was terrified I would jinx it.
I have actually been meaning to write this for a while now. To share more than just the “we’re in it together” internal narratives of confusing panic attacks and “is this depression? feels like depression? might be depression.” I want to share the light at the end of my tunnel too, just not too soon, just in case it slipped shut again.
But 2 years later, it hasn’t. And even though it might feel like I shut the door on this blog, I haven’t. I’m not a doctor (I feel like I’ve said that a lot on here) and I’m not giving you medical advice, but I am sharing what finally lifted some clouds for me.
There are a lot of pieces to the pie. Yoga helps. Daily meditation helps. Lists and breaking down life into bite-sized digestible pieces helps. They’re all important, but at the end of the day it was a chemical change that shifted my entire brain space nearly 2 years ago now.
A little backstory since I’ve got you here:
I started birth control at the ripe old age of 14. Lucky enough to have easy, free access to health care through the wonder of Planned Parenthood and a free clinic down a little hallway off of our high school lunch room (public school for the win). Not wanting my parents to find out that I was having sex, I did what any sensible and terrified 14 year old would do - I made sure I was on birth control (I wanted to have sex with my boyfriend, not end up with my own irrational teenager) and made sure I could hide it. That meant no pill packs, no patch, but instead the genius, and hormonally terrifying, use of the Depo-Provera shot every 3 months. I was lucky not to end up with many of the side effects that some of my friends did those first few years on the shot. I didn’t gain 20 pounds (this is not an exaggeration), I stayed relatively active due to the necessity of team sports, my appetite didn’t go wild, but I’ll never forget laying in my bed for an entire spring break freshman year unable to care about anything or anyone. Teenage angst? Very possible. Earliest indications of a life of fluctuating anxiety and depressive periods? Very possible.
Fast forward to age 29 and I’ve cycled through nearly every hormonal birth control incarnation available. Pills, Nuva ring, more shots, pills that were supposed to eliminate your period altogether, pills that were eventually removed from market, pills, pills, more pills. Only narrowly sidestepping the IUD when a few horror stories from close friends finally shook me loose. I am a feminist. Birth control is a godsend. I don’t have to have kids until I choose to. I am in control. I can focus on my career. But I am sad. And anxious. My drive is quiet and I don’t have a damn clue what my body wants from me.
In 2016, I came across a new study linking birth control pills to depression and anxiety in teenage girls. At the time, I didn’t know that this would be a turning point but it absolutely was. We use research studies as regular resources in our teacher trainings, why on earth wouldn’t I at least try to explore these implications in my own health? I had always heard the stories about the Male Birth Control tests that were halted because the men complained of too many side effects (insert face palm emoji here) but I was never exposed to any real information about how my cycle worked, or what hormonal imbalances might be wreaking havoc on the rest of my being - that part wasn’t included in public school health class.
I went to my doctor and asked to be dropped down to the lowest hormonal pills available. I told her about the study and she warned me not to do anything rash like quit them altogether, that people who have this kind of reaction to hormonal birth control are more likely to have Post Partum Depression (PPD) so its better that I stick with it until I have kids so my system is used to it.
Yes, she really said that. Hey, you might be anxious and depressed but you’ll probably always be so just let it ride!
I took the lower dose for a month, researched the Fertility Awareness Method, talked to friends, devoured books like Women Code (Alissa Vitti), A Mind of your Own (Kelly Brogan), downloaded apps like Flo and Eve, shoved my pill packs to the back of the medicine cabinet and started tracking my body like a maniac. What did I feel? When? Where? Is that new? Whats a Luteal Phase? Ovulation? Wait, thats a good thing?
I had spent so much of my life, referring to my period as a time when I was “broken” - as if the option to have sex was all that deemed it useful, and wishing it away with pills that cut out my phases completely, being content having no idea how my body was supposed to work. It took some real digging in a women’s group to realize what kind of language I had been using with my body for so long. Every descriptor of menstruation was negative, they were all in relation to how my body affected men or the uninvolved population around me. About my ability to have sex. Or whether or not I could practice yoga (and thats a whole other conversation). Even the sweeter terms, “on holiday” or “aunt flow is in town” are still entrenched in a code of silence. Of gross, wrong, negative, something to sweep under the rug, and surely not inconvenience anyone with. It sounds pretty woo-woo, but I knew I had to change my own perceptions and terminology if I was ever going to make peace with my body.
Here in LA, I finally found a wonderful Functional Medicine doctor and acupuncturist who helped me navigate the wild game of re-regulating my cycles. It took at least 18 months for my body to finally figure out its new rhythm, with many months of sporadic cycle lengths and unpredictable periods - hello patience, it was fascinating, frustrating, and liberating all at once. That was amazing side effect number one - after decades of earmuffs, I finally heard what my body was trying to tell me. Quiet at first, but as I became a better listener, it started to speak loud and clear.
Side effect number two? I felt better. Literally. By month 2 and 3 off of hormonal birth control, my daily anxiety had halved. HALVED. Thats 50% less anxiety folks. And that, thats a fucking revolution. A revelation. A damn Christmas miracle.
At first I wasn’t sure it was about the hormones, maybe it’s a coincidence. The placebo effect. But as time went on, Patrick supported the switch, we weren’t ready for kids yet so I tracked, and took my temperature, and we got the hang of the new process. He noticed my improved optimism, mood, playfulness, as I discovered the wonder that is Ovulation Phase (hey ladies, its the best time of the month), I knew. This was the thing. All these years, I had been voluntary stifling my body. I felt better. I thought better. My brain and body finally understood each other and I didn’t want to look back.
So I didn’t. Its been 2 years and I just finally threw out those old packs of pills, something that was such a comfort to me for most of my adult life. And while I absolutely respect the freedom they gave me, and the relief and freedom they give many women across the world, there was another way for me. There also many other contraceptives that are non-hormonal, that continue to empower women, and while many have their own side effects, its up to you to weigh the pros and the cons for your system. Condoms, Copper IUD (still plenty of its own issues, but this is where I almost went when I was ready to quit the hormones), Diaphragms, pull out method (not making any promises here), Fertility Awareness Method (personal favorite).
So here I am. And with all sincerity, I still feel better. It took work and I’m certainly not saying this is the thing for everyone, but it has definitely been a big part of the thing for me.
I’ll be writing more again soon. For years, it seemed anxiety was the driving creative force in my life, but I’m ready for a new impetus. A new force to pull me back to the pen, and in the next few weeks, I’ll finally be ready to share that all with you also. In the meantime, I’ve linked some of the resources I’ve found most helpful below, I hope something in there may serve you along the way as well.
*Please note that I’ve included studies from both sides of the fence, all studies need to be looked into with a grain of salt - including who is conducting them and why. That goes for research we use in the yoga community (theres not much, which means small sample sizes and wide varieties of methods and definitions) and what we read as a headline in papers. I was propelled into further research by a headline, but I didn’t just stop there. Do the research, talk to your doctor, listen to you body - my approach is to try and gather as much information as possible (including my own experiences) and test from there - I encourage you to do the same.
Association of Hormonal Contraception With Depression
Birth Control Causes Depression? Not So Fast
(I highly recommend reading the comments on this one for gems like this: )
Can Hormonal Birth Control Trigger Depression?
The relationship between progestin hormonal contraception and depression: a systematic review: https://www.contraceptionjournal.org/article/S0010-7824(18)30032-5/fulltext
Association of Hormonal Contraception with depression in the postpartum period : https://www.contraceptionjournal.org/article/S0010-7824(17)30406-7/fulltext
Early Weight Gain Predicting Later Weight Gain Among Depot Medroxyprogesterone Acetate Users https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2727133/
Woman Code Book & Flo Living resources: https://www.floliving.com/
A Mind of Your Own by Kelly Brogan M.D. https://kellybroganmd.com/
Period Repair Manual by Lara Briden https://www.larabriden.com/period-repair-manual/
Women’s groups in Los Angeles:
http://wmnspace.com/ (this place is a bit pricey, but the women circles and workshops they offer are wonderful - just pay it out for your budget)
https://thisisloom.com/ (not just aesthetically pleasing, Loom offers top-notch education, support, and resources for all bodies and voices)