Today I'm talking about...birth control. But only sort of! More than that I want to talk about depression and health and how I'm learning to take charge of all of those things in my own life.
I spent two years on the pill, which triggered crazy mood swings. Over and over I went in to talk to my doctor and they would tell me I was just adjusting to life as a newlywed, I was stressed with school, that there was no way it was affecting me so drastically as my dosage was so low. So I stayed on it until we started trying to get pregnant. I noticed a marked difference after going off the pill. The time that we spent trying to get pregnant and the 10 months of my pregnancy were the most emotionally stable of my marriage, even though that seems so backwards! David couldn't stop saying how relaxed I was, how much like myself I seemed again. I felt calm and in control for the first time in two years despite the ups and downs of trying to get and then being pregnant.
Six weeks after Joony was born I went in to discuss birth control options with my OB. I was interested in the IUD but nervous about the Mirena since it was still hormonal and I had reacted so badly to the pill. He assured me that there was no way the progesterone in the Mirena could affect me emotionally. So I went with it despite a bad gut feeling.
Over the next 3.5 years, I went back in to my doctor several different times because I was struggling so badly with depression and worried it was linked to my birth control. Every time they waved my concerns away and told me there was no way it was. They blamed the mood swings, anxiety, and soul-crushing depression on the adjustment to being a new mother, then the adjustment of weaning, until finally there was no adjustment to blame it on and they said I was just depressed and anxious. Every time they talked to me for 15-20 minutes and prescribed an anti-depressant. I tried to take the pills but couldn't ever decide if the side effects were worse than the mental instability.
Finally, a few months ago, I decided that enough was enough. My bad days were outnumbering the good ones. I had almost no ability to cope with even the most minor of disappointments, which would send me spiraling into either numbing depression or frantic panic attacks. My cycles were irregular and frequent. In short, my birth control wasn't working for me. My thinking was that anxiety and depression were things I had, but my birth control was making them worse. I decided I needed to get my IUD out and see where my mental health was at, then figure out the next steps in treating it.
I hadn't yet found an OB in Arizona, so I started researching and calling around and asking for recommendations. My criteria was simple: I wanted someone who would listen to me. I see doctors because they know more than I do, but I also live inside my body and my brain. I know what's normal for me, and I wanted someone who would trust me when I said I was unhealthy. I finally made an appointment and went in shaking and nervous, prepared to fight and argue and advocate for myself.
The minute I told my new doctor that I was worried the IUD was triggering anxiety and depression, even though my previous OB had told me time and time again there was no way it could be, he interrupted me and seemed almost annoyed. "I don't understand why they would tell you that. It's a hormonal IUD. Even with a small dosage there's a chance it's affecting you. The only was to know for sure it to take it out and see how you do!" I almost started crying right there in my paper gown on the exam table. Just that little bit of validation felt so freeing.
I had the IUD removed four weeks ago and I haven't had a single bad day since. I was told it could take a while for all of the progesterone to get out of my system, so I guess it could be attributed to a placebo effect, but this length of time without a breakdown hasn't happened in over a year. Like I said, my bad days had begun to outnumber my good ones. Every night when David got home from work he would ask me tentatively, "How are you doing today?" A week or so after my appointment I laughed and teased him about it. "What are you expecting when you ask me that?!" He pointed out that before, most nights I would burst into tears or tell him I was struggling to keep it together. I hadn't even realized. I truly feel like I've been lifted from a fog.
The Mirena IUD is not a terrible birth control option. If you do well with hormonal birth control, and SO many people do, that's great! It was wonderful to not have to think about contraception day to day. That wasn't the case for me, and looking back now, I feel angry and betrayed by my doctors in Idaho who told me over and over again that I didn't know what I was talking about. I wish I had stood up for myself sooner. I wish I had been more proactive about taking control of my mental and reproductive health. I wish I'd been able to spend the first 3.5 years of my son's life as the happy, mellow person I've been consistently for the last month. If your doctor is brushing off serious concerns, I hope you'll get a second opinion. I hope you'll find someone who listens carefully to what you're dealing with and then talks with you, not at you, to find the best course of action.
I feel so excited and free by my new ability to cope with the simple ins and outs of the every day. I understand that mental illnesses are complex, heartbreaking, impossible things to reconcile. It's not usually a simple solution. I don't think that my struggle is completely over forever, but I do think I've found a very key trigger for what I was dealing with. And that's really exciting.