Birth Control Disaster

So let’s talk about birth control. If fertility and female reproduction make you uncomfortable, go away.


For all the rest of y’all, can we agree that if men had uteruses, birth control and menstrual relief would be a more refined science? Just sayin’.

I was on hormonal birth control for 2 weeks. It was in college – junior year – after I had seen my PCP (primary care provider) about chronic amenorrhea (not getting periods). On her advice, I started LoEstrin, a low-dose hormone birth control pill. My period came back, and all was well until the end-of-season conference track meet a fortnight later. I ran the 5k and 10k back to back, a daunting weekend of competition for which I had been 4 months preparing. I adored it: the anticipation, the hard work, the pain, and dedication. But when the gun went off on Saturday for the 5k, something strange happened: my competition surged forward, but I seemed to be moving backwards…through mud.

The pictures afterwards confirmed another horrible truth: not only was I slow… I was fat. I was soft and pudgy, in an unbalanced and lumpy sort of way.

The 10k on Sunday was twice as long, and twice the disaster. My own teammates lapped me at least 3 times. I felt like a horrible, fat joke. I couldn’t figure it out. The only thing I’d changed was the birth control – because my doctor told me it would make me healthier. I scanned the fine print of my prescription, and read a fragment that made my stomach drop: “May cause changes in carbohydrate metabolism.” Instead of sending the energy from food into my muscles as glycogen, the pill hijacked my system and rewired it for packing on the fat.

I was pissed. My doc knew I was an athlete, and her advice fucked up my whole season! And why hadn’t my coach ever warned us of the dangers of birth control??? Actually, I suspect the answer to that one is that she abhorred the idea of any of us exposing our seasons to the risk of unplanned pregnancy. So she pretended that didn’t happen. Suffice it to say, I felt let down by the system. How had this been allowed to happen? I was only doing what I was told by the women in my life that I trusted.

4 years later, I had another menstrual crisis. Over a period (menstrual pun!) of about six months, I was repeatedly bowled over by intense depression and/or anxiety several days preceding my period. The period came and went, and everything would go back to normal. It’s like PMS-ing caused such a dramatic depressive flux that my medication and self-care rituals were but a drop in the anxiety ocean. At least it always magically evaporated a couple days later, and happy, pleasant Rachel returned.

But in that short while, nothing felt okay, and each month the symptoms were more severe than the last. Two months ago, something snapped; I had my first panic attack, and the suicidal ideation returned. I knew it would only last a couple of days, but I felt like I couldn’t make it through. I was scared.

Ever since the track fiasco, I’d avoided gynecologic care. That was 4 years ago. I put on my big-girl pants, and found an OB/GYN whose conception of birth control accommodated my own, i.e. hormonal isn’t the only option. She referred me to a counselor and a psychiatrist, and bestowed upon me a sample pack of a marvelous little supplement called Serenol.

Ah… Serenol. Made of Swedish flower pollen extract, royal jelly (the honey that bees feed their queens), and chromium. Completely unverified by the FDA.  I’ll hop back up on my soapbox to announce that if PMS were a man’s problem, we wouldn’t be relying on no flower-juice pill for some relief, no sir.

This isn’t a sponsored post, by the way. I’m just writing it for all my lady friends who go ape-shit bonkers once a month. By the way, the Emergency Department is always there for life-threatening situations, including mental health crises. I also encourage you to seek a PCP you resonate with, and be painfully blunt about what ails you.

Short story is, I haven’t changed anything about my routine other than taking 2 Serenol a day as per the package. This month: no death-thoughts. No panic attacks, or unstoppable tears. I was short tempered and irritable, but not inclined to slay my boyfriend in a cyclone of fury. I felt like life could go on. I felt like I was in control.

Placebo effect? Maybe. Don’t know, and don’t really care.

photo cred:


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