Physical Health

I Went Off Birth Control a Year Ago–Here’s Why I’m Going Back On

woman and birth control"
woman and birth control
Graphics by: Caitlin Schneider
Graphics by: Caitlin Schneider

As a Fashion and Beauty Editor, I fall asleep at night dreaming up what outfit I’m going to wear the next day, and my entire TikTok consists of viral products and styling videos. While I’m cognizant of my health, I’m not particularly into the wellness scene. I know exactly what’s happening in the style and beauty universes at any given moment, but a wellness fad could come and go without it ever having been on my radar at all—with one exception: birth control pills.

I went on birth control pills nearly 10 years ago, the summer before my freshman year of college. My mom had an honest conversation with me about birth control and booked me a doctor’s appointment around my 18th birthday, which led to me going on Beyaz, a combination of progestin and estrogen. Until I went off last February, I had been on it ever since and had never tried another method—be it an IUD or a different pill—of hormonal birth control.

For many years, I felt lucky about my experience with the pill. I had no major side effects, and coupled with regular, light periods and little-to-no acne, I felt I had little to complain about. But between TikTok continually telling me that men created birth control pills to keep women down and hearing friends tell me that going off the pill changed their lives for the better, I decided to go off it for the first time in my adult life. Here’s why, over a year later, I’ve decided to go back on.

My experience being on the birth control pill

If I had to describe my 10 years on The Pill, I’d call them “fine.” My lightweight periods came like clockwork every month, my acne was under control, and I felt that all-around, I had few side effects. I do have some anxiety, but after living alone during the pandemic, that felt understandable (who doesn’t, at this point?). But TikTok got me wondering: Did I really have no side effects? What if my general anxiety and moods were related to the pill, but I just didn’t realize it because it was all I knew?

“A surprising feeling I experienced around this time was one of failure, too. Was I not healthy enough, not well enough, to be able to regulate my body’s hormones?”

Going off the pill

Last February, after finishing a pack, I went off the pill cold turkey (which my doctor advised me was fine to do). I had expected an awful period or immediate reckoning, but instead, I experienced… nothing. For months, I didn’t get a period, didn’t get a zit, and overall, felt exactly the same. Until suddenly, I didn’t.

Around the start of summer, I noticed a series of clogged pores around my jawline and forehead—two places I never get acne (if I do, it’s usually on my cheeks). Over time, they, one by one, were turning into massive, painful, under-the-skin cysts unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I was already on spironolactone for acne after a short stint with zits the year before, but my dermatologist upped that dosage to try to get it under control and added a new topical medicine to my regime—all to no avail.

While the wellness girls of TikTok claimed that they lost weight after stopping hormonal birth control, I suddenly gained it. And perhaps the most alarming: I slowly noticed more hair shedding after the shower and eventually realized that I was, in fact, losing quite a bit of hair. My hair stylist commented that my already fine hair seemed even finer without me mentioning it and that I was experiencing a significant enough amount of loss that it was noticeable.

Suddenly, I had a face full of acne, gained weight, lost hair, and developed an overall moodiness that I didn’t have before. I knew that there was going to be an adjustment period after quitting the pill, but experiencing it in real time felt a lot worse than I expected it to. It all made me want to backpedal. The main thought running through my head was, “Why did I do this?”

A surprising feeling I experienced around this time was one of failure, too. Was I not healthy enough, not well enough, to be able to regulate my body’s hormones? Everyone else had such a good experience—why was mine so horrible? I focused on eating clean, managing stress, and incorporating supplements recommended by my doctor to try to make progress—but no vitamin, seed, fruit, or vegetable made even a slight difference in what I was experiencing. I saw women saying that one supplement or one food stopped their post-pill acne in its tracks. Still, after months of trying to solve my problems holistically and none of them making a dent, I realized trying other people’s quick fixes wasn’t only silly. I was actually making some of my symptoms worse.

birth control
Source: @madelinegalassi

Finding a diagnosis

In the depths of my post-pill despair, I decided to make an appointment with a new gynecologist—one who specialized both in traditional and holistic medicine that came recommended by a friend. It was the best experience I had ever had with a doctor. She spent over 90 minutes talking to me, getting to know me, and reassuring me that I wasn’t alone. We decided to do a full blood panel to test my hormone levels and to reconvene in a week.

Much to my dismay, my blood panel came back completely normal. I thought for sure one hormone would be spiked or something would be identified that we could pinpoint and treat, but instead, I was left feeling even more hopeless. My lack of periods concerned my doctor, so we decided to do an ultrasound, where she found cysts on my ovaries. She explained to me that I had PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), which was the culprit for everything from the acne to the weight gain. She told me that I likely had it all along, but my pill had been masking the symptoms.

Why I’m going back on the birth control pill

Getting diagnosed with PCOS explained my symptoms but didn’t come with a quick fix, either. The most common treatment for PCOS is birth control pills, which I told my doctor I wasn’t interested in. I was about six months off birth control and couldn’t imagine going through the misery I’d just experienced again one day down the road. She respected my decision and recommended supplements to me, as well as a prescription medication to help the insulin resistance PCOS comes with. But after another trip to my dermatologist led to yet another prescription to try to beat my acne, I realized that I had gone off one medication only to pick up four new ones to manage the symptoms the original medication was managing on its own. A year down the line, my acne was managed by an antibiotic (for the short term), but none of the other PCOS symptoms had improved at all.

After grappling with my newfound handful of prescriptions and feeling like an utter failure, I realized a hard fact: I was infinitely worse off of the pill than I had been on it. All of my newfound problems had been a non-issue before, and on top of it, I didn’t even feel better mentally. I had listened to stories on social media and expected to come off the pill feeling like life was sunshine and rainbows, but instead, I felt the same mentally and way worse physically. After talking with my doctor, I realized that the thing that made the most sense for me and my PCOS diagnosis was to go back on the pill.

“Having such a hard time going off The Pill felt shockingly lonely. Social media villainizing the pill made me feel like going back on it made me a failure.”

Obviously, I know this isn’t everyone’s experience; I have close friends who had an incredible experience going off the pill, and I know that many women feel the same. But that’s the point: No two experiences going off the pill are alike. What my friends—or, more importantly, influencers on TikTok—went through isn’t what I went through, and it’s impossible to recommend based on your own experience.

Having such a hard time going off the pill felt shockingly lonely. Every story I heard and saw was positive, and social media villainizing the pill made me feel like going back on it made me a failure. For me and my body, hormonal birth control is a good thing. It manages symptoms of a condition that has wreaked havoc on me over the past year and doesn’t make me feel numb or sad like it does many women. Do I wish that women had more options when it comes to birth control? Of course—but the narrative that it’s an exclusively negative thing can be harmful to those with experiences like mine.

I’d never want to scare anyone with my experience; I had an underlying condition that the pill was masking, which made going off of it a surprise of half a dozen symptoms I didn’t know my body could even produce. But I also want people in similar boats as me to know that they aren’t alone. With algorithms regularly delivering videos about how amazing post-pill life is, mine is a story far from that. More than anything, I wish I had been more aware of PCOS symptoms so I could have gotten diagnosed sooner—but at the end of the day, that probably wouldn’t have made a difference in my journey. For me, birth control pills are a positive thing and are an option that I’m now grateful for.

Please consult a doctor or a mental health professional before beginning or stopping any treatments, supplements, or medications. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.