THE BLOG
06/11/2014 10:52 am ET Updated Aug 11, 2014

When to Say Goodbye to the Pill

Bustle

This post originally appeared on Bustle.

By Hayley Stevens

Last year, I decided to stop taking my birth control pill. Perhaps this shouldn't have been a big deal, but it felt like I was turning my back on my generation. Still, I had no choice. I needed to get off the pill.

I am convinced that birth control made me depressed. And I don't throw the word depression around lightly: When I was 15, I spent my summer losing 35 pounds. If you can't tell by that number, I was basically anorexic. I was manic about my eating schedule, I was working out all the time and I found little enjoyment in anything. During that same time, my grandmother was also diagnosed with lung cancer.

I remember hours where I would sit in my closet and cry, or even worse, just feel dead to every emotion. There was nothing to be happy about, because there was nothing to feel in the first place.

When I couldn't take it any more, I began to actively work to make changes to my eating habits, allowing me to finally feel free from my first bout of depression. I was not yet on the Pill.

By the time I got to college, I was happy at school. I had a great and supportive group of friends, and I was loving all of my classes. I was finally feeling truly confident in my body and my decisions. Until I started taking Lo Loestrin Fe.

Within weeks, I couldn't engage with my friends, or glean any sense of pleasure or happiness from my surroundings. I gained a not insignificant amount of weight, and couldn't satisfy my appetite. I wanted food simply for the sake of eating, not out of hunger or taste. I was no longer myself. Like years before, I felt empty.

At the time, I didn't make the connection. I just felt that I was depressed and that I didn't know what to do. Looking back now, it seems obvious that the pill had contributed to these moods. In the moment, though, very little made sense, least of all my thoughts and feelings. I truly had no idea that something external could be driving me to have these mood swings. I just thought that I was the problem.

By the time I went to the doctor, I was at a loss when it came to explaining my symptoms. How do I put my feelings and experiences into a cohesive narrative for a doctor who I only see from time to time? How do I attempt to rationalize my irrational behavior? I couldn't really explain to my physician what was going on, and she was clearly unsure what to do -- until she realized that my gynecologist had prescribed Lo Loestrin Fe months before. Knowing my symptoms, she immediately recommended that I stop taking the pill. I did, and within a few weeks, I finally started to feel like myself again.

That was, until last year, when I decided to start a different pill, Viorele. I was in a relationship, and I knew that I wanted to be as safe as possible. I went to a new gynecologist and I told her all about my previous experience on the pill. She assured me that this pill would not effect my moods at all. It might seem crazy, but I really thought that this birth control pill would be different -- I thought that maybe it was just Lo Loestrin Fe that had affected me so horribly. Little did I know that both pills list depression as a (rare) side effect.

So, there I was, taking my first pill of a new pack. The depression set in quickly. Within weeks, I was miserable; I didn't want to be around my friends, and I started to panic. Graduation loomed, and my impending departure was on my mind all the time. Though I had a full-time job completely figured out, suddenly, all of my plans felt constricting and awful.

One Monday, I got an email from the company I had signed with informing me of my official start date. To say that I panicked is an understatement. I laid on the floor and literally couldn't breathe.

I knew it was bad when I began contemplating ways to end my own life. Looking back now, this jump in my thought process seems startling, scary, and just plain irrational. But it completely took over my mind.

One day, my mom called me while I was shopping in Whole Foods. She asked me how I was, and I just broke down sobbing in the middle of the olive oil aisle. Finally, I admitted what I had hidden for months. As we talked, I realized my problems were not novel; this had happened to me before. "Do you think this is the pill again?" she asked delicately. Despite how awful I felt, I realized that this moment was a breakthrough. How had it not occurred to me before?

I spent hours that evening reading online about Viorele. I found that I was not alone in my symptoms, not even a little bit. Many women shared my symptoms and my depression. I stopped taking the pill that night.

My change in mood was noticeable within a week. I felt alive for the first time in months. I was finally excited again about my life, my job, my future, my friends. As I write this a year later, I feel more than alive: I feel like me.

It is with this knowledge, experience, and resolve that I've decided to stop taking any and all forms of the pill. I know people say that you need to find the one that works for you, but I don't have the time or the energy to spend months finding a pill that doesn't make me depressed -- if there is one.

After all, there are other forms of contraception -- and certainly other ways to take care of my skin and my body. It angers me to think that a gynecologist prescribed this birth control to me. It hurts me to know that this birth control will continue to be prescribed to other women who might have similar symptoms. It infuriates me to read how many women share my experience. Depression may not be a common side effect of birth control, and plenty of women may benefit from taking the pill with few side effects, but the fact remains that I am clearly not one of them. And it makes me feel like an outlier.

There is a strange notion among members of my generation that women should be on the pill. Like a talisman it is supposed to protect us and keep us safe from a future we might not want. But why is a medication with so many side effects still viewed as my best option?

Sure, I want to know that I can have sex and be safe, but I also know that there's a lot more to women's birth control than just the pill. Not getting pregnant is just great, and luckily, I don't need to be on the pill to ensure that doesn't happen. I just wish my doctors had articulated that truth more clearly, instead of pushing me a pill.

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