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'I stopped taking the pill after 13 years. It turned my life upside down.'

The decision to stop taking the pill took my husband and I ages to commit to. The voice of my mum was in my head saying, ‘I got pregnant straight away with you when I came off the pill’.

This meant we waited longer to stop it, not wanting kids until around 30, naively thinking the same would happen to me.

I’d been on the pill consistently since I was 16, and I was 29 when I stopped it. Like a lot of other women, I started taking it at the advice of my GP because I had bad skin, terrible period cramps and very irregular periods.

Comparing birth control combination pills. Post continues after video.

Video by Mamamia

For the next 13 years, I had great skin, I would know exactly when I was going to get a period, and it was very convenient not to have to use protection with my husband. I even began to skip periods, so I only had them every three months, again, after consulting with my GP to make sure this was okay.

Unlike a lot of the other stories in the media lately about women not being physically attracted to their partners or losing their sex drive after stopping the pill, this story is about all the other changes I noticed with my health. Resulting in what was one of the hardest years of my life.

Skin changes.

I went off the pill in April and had the usual ‘fake’ period that happens when you stop the active tablets. The first thing I noticed was my skin became very oily. Especially in my ‘T’ zone. I was getting lots of little pimples on my forehead. Then in other areas I’d never had pimples before, like my chest and my back.

Although inconvenient, this didn’t really bother me too much, besides feeling like I needed to take off my make-up at the end of the day when it became all oily and gluggy.

Period changes and PCOS.

I came off the pill because we were ready to start trying for a baby. However, as the months went by, I didn’t get a period, which meant no eggs were being released by my ovaries.

When it got to the three month mark of no period I went to see my GP. She didn’t seem overly concerned but thought it would be a good idea to order a blood test to check my hormone levels and a pelvic ultrasound to see what was happening with my reproductive system.

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The blood test came back fine. No issues with any hormones. However, the pelvic ultrasound showed too many follicles in my ovaries. My GP spoke to me about potentially having Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) but was hesitant to diagnose me as I only had one or possibly two of the symptoms – no period and a bit of acne.

For the record the other main symptoms for PCOS are:

  • Weight gain/or being overweight
  • Acne
  • Excessive facial and body hair growth
  • Irregular periods or no periods
  • Scalp hair loss
  • Mood changes (e.g. anxiety and depression)

My GP referred me to see a fertility specialist to confirm the diagnosis and give my husband and I advice about what we could do to get pregnant.

We booked the appointment, but as with most specialists it was months away.

Mood changes.

The same year, we also started renovating our kitchen. Anyone who has ever done this would know that it’s STRESSFUL. Contractors are the worst, nothing ever happens on time, budgets get blown out and your life and routine goes out the window.

I am a long-time sufferer of anxiety, both generalised and social, but until this point I was able to manage it very well. I was only taking the occasional beta blocker (propranolol) to help control my symptoms during work or certain events where I would need to either present to people or mingle with lots of people.

I was able to manage my generalised anxiety with exercise, meditation, mindfulness and support from my husband, family and friends.

However, during the renovation I found that I couldn’t help over-reacting when something ‘bad’ happened. For example, the wrong benchtop was ordered, so they had to reorder it.

This blew out the timeline and without the bench we weren’t able to get the sink, stove or oven installed. I knew that really, waiting another couple of weeks wasn’t the end of the world.

But I couldn’t help feeling so lost and upset, that I spent an entire day crying. And then another day after that.

Listen to The Quicky, Mamamia’s daily news podcast where host, Claire Murphy, discusses the effect the pill has on what type of men we are attracted to. Post continues below.

One day at work, the kitchen project manager promised that work would get done on the rest of the kitchen and it didn’t happen. I was so upset I had to go home.

I knew my reaction was over the top, but I couldn’t help it. I began having terrible sleep and not wanting to get out of bed in the morning. Not wanting to exercise. Feeling like I had no motivation to do anything.

I needed to continue working to pay for the renovation, so I did, and no one would have known from the outside that I felt different.

But inside I felt so negative about the future and couldn’t see my purpose in life. I went back to see my GP and she had me complete the K10 questionnaire, with the results showing moderate anxious and depressive symptoms.

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She recommended I go on a mental health plan and see a psychologist.

The appointment with the psychologist was a month wait. In the meantime, I used the Employee Assistance Program at my work to speak to a counsellor.

But the woman I spoke to didn’t seem to understand what I was going through and I wasn’t entirely sure she was actually a qualified psychologist.

When the appointment finally came around, I was glad to finally feel understood by the psychologist who didn’t discount my feelings. She explained to me that I was feeling the way I was due to chemical changes to the neurotransmitters in my brain.

No amount of counselling, meditation or mindfulness was going to work until I corrected them with medication.

I went back to my GP to be prescribed Effexor-XR (venlafaxine), which is an anti-depressant that treats generalised anxiety, social anxiety, panic disorder and depression.

There are a lot of anti-depressants on the market, but we chose this one because although it has a lot of side effects, weight gain isn’t one of them and it’s a safer medication to take when pregnant.

I took the medication and started to slowly feel better. I was motivated to exercise again and started training for a 10km fun run.

The kitchen got finished and my life returned back to its usual routine. However, another PCOS symptom started happening to me during this time. Even with running three times a week, I gained about 5kgs over a few months.

PCOS and pre-diabetes.

Finally, I got a period in September – almost five months since stopping the pill. We thought this was great, maybe I’m back to normal now with my ovulation, let’s try properly to get pregnant!

But then 28 days went by, not pregnant, then another month went by. I didn’t get another period until November.

We finally went to see the fertility specialist, who looked at my blood tests and pelvic ultrasound, and confirmed PCOS. She explained that it’s very hard for people with PCOS to fall pregnant due to the irregular periods and not being able to accurately predict when ovulation was happening.

She referred us to a fertility clinic to start ‘letrozole tracking’. This meant they would track my hormones via many (so many) blood tests and tell me when to take the letrozole drug to bring on ovulation.

When they’re sure I’m about to ovulate, they tell me when to have planned sex with my husband.

This could also involve having to inject myself with another drug which is known as the ‘trigger’ to make an ovary release an egg. This assisted fertility costs around $500 per cycle, but there weren’t any other options given to us.

The fertility specialist also recommended doing a glucose tolerance test to check my blood glucose levels. Having glucose intolerance or pre-diabetes is something that’s common for people with PCOS.

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It means the insulin hormone in your body is unable to control the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood and/or the cells in your body are resistant to insulin. This leads to high blood glucose levels, which if left untreated can lead to Type 2 diabetes.

The test was horrible. It’s three fasting blood tests over three hours. Between the first and second test, you drink glucose liquid to see how well your body processes the glucose in your blood. Results came in and surprise, I also had pre-diabetes. This meant I had to start taking metformin tablets twice a day, probably forever, to help my body’s cells become responsive to insulin.

At the time I couldn’t believe this. All my life I’d done everything right to keep my body healthy. I ate healthily (I even had a degree in nutrition), I exercised regularly, I didn’t smoke or drink excessively, I never did any fad diets, I kept myself a healthy weight, I never did drugs, and yet… I was on the path to Type 2 diabetes.

Unbelievable. It now made sense why I had gained weight over the past few months without changing anything.

There isn’t really a happy ending for this story… yet.

I’m now taking four tablets a day – six when also taking letrozole. I’ve done one cycle of letrozole tracking, which didn’t work as the clinic missed the signs I was ovulating.

My husband and I are remaining positive that one of the cycles will work. If they don’t, I’ll then have to get more tests done to check if there are any blockages in my fallopian tubes.

The anti-depressants are working… I think. I didn’t just wake up one day and feel fantastic, it’s been a slow process to get my motivation and positivity back. My husband has been wonderful in listening to me and being there for me to cry or complain to (poor guy).

I guess this story is intended to shed some light on something I didn’t know anything about before I experienced it myself.

If you’ve been on the pill for many years, expect some changes to your skin, periods and mood when you come off it.

PCOS is very common, it affects about 1 in 5 women in Australia. My best friend also has PCOS and, like me, had no idea until she came off the pill too.

If you went on it when you were a teenager due to irregular periods, it could be you’ve had it the whole time and never knew. If you do have PCOS, make sure you also have blood tests done to check your blood glucose levels, as are there are no symptoms of having pre-diabetes.

Don’t feel like you have to keep this to yourself either, the more we talk about it the more support we can offer each other.

Feature Image: Getty.

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