Here's a topic that not many people are comfortable with broaching: am I crazy? Am I going crazy?
(Keep reading! This post is going to take a different turn than you expect...guaranteed!)
It's obvious that mental health has become a bigger issue in our society and many people will argue and defend various reasons why we have so many diagnosed mental disorders. Some people believe it's because we no longer suppress our feelings--the stiff-upper-lip mentality has generally been removed from our thinking.
Despite the fact though, that we are taught mental health is:
-important to each individual
-those with mental health issues should not be discriminated against
-mental health is a personal thing that we cannot judge someone for
-sickness comes in a variety of ways and is legitimate even if it cannot be physically seen
-drugs will help with those who are suffering,
we still, I think, tend to keep our mental health issues to ourselves and we feel reluctant to admit when we may be depressed or may need to seek therapy.
Although therapy has become almost trendy in the past twenty years, practically speaking, those who cannot afford the exorbitant cost of a therapist learn to suffer alone.
Lately in Ontario we have seen a rash of mental health related incidences between the police force and those who are mentally unstable. I'm not going to digress into that topic.
I want to tell you a story of something I suffered through a couple years and it begins innocuously enough: birth control.
This is the story of how I went crazy...
It all started about 3 1/2 years ago. I struggled with horrific ACNE my entire life. Even though I cut sugars, oil and other triggers out of my diet, I could never get my skin to entirely clear up. Eventually I became to consider the idea of going on birth control, as I had heard that ACNE was often hormone related and birth control could help even those things out.
My mom never advocated for using birth control for a few reasons, but I very much wanted to have clear skin. I also thought it was probably time to start trying out a birth control as I grew older and neared potential marriage. I had no plans to get pregnant right away and had heard far too many horror stories about broken condoms.
The first person I spoke to was a pharmacist who was working on the surgical unit I also work on. When I asked her what type she would recommend, she very diligently did some research and found a whole complex chart with different types of brands and combinations of hormones. As I was a novice with the hormones, she thought it was best to start me on something called Tricyclen Lo.
This is the beginners birth control. The marketing is targeted for young girls who want to rid themselves of ACNE woes at bright young ages of 13, 14, 15. Personally I would have some issue with my tween daughter taking a birth control, but we'll get to that...
All was well and good with Tricyclen Lo. I called my family doctor and asked if I could have a prescription written, telling him this was the drug my pharmacist suggested. He agreed it was a good starting option and wrote me a script. I began taking it.
Honestly, for the first months that I took Tricyclen, it had zero impact on my emotional state. I was actually surprised as I had diligently read the possible side effects sections and I expected at least one of them to happen. My ACNE cleared up within two months. I was a happy camper.
(dun dun dun)
*Some graphic girl stuff*
I began spotting a bit in between my 28-day cycle.
This meant but one thing: the drug wasn't the right fit for me.
I called the doctor right away and told him what was happening.
And here's where things got weird...things that could have been avoided.
My thought when I called my doctor was that because I had had zero side effects, my doctor would bump me up from Tricyclen Lo to simply regular Tricyclen.
Me: I don't think the birth control is holding, blah blah blah.
Me: But it's good in every other fashion so maybe a stronger dose of it?
Dr: I'm going to switch you to Alesse.
I had no say in the matter AND I believed (foolishly) that my doctor knew what he was doing.
So, in the first week of February 2012 I started taking Alesse.
Let me be clear about this. Below are the ingredients in Tricyclen and Alesse:
Tricyclen: Etinyl estradiol & norgestimate
Alesse: Ethinyl estradiol & levonorgesterol
Yes. Two very different combinations. And this is where things got haywire.
The first two months were okay. I felt like myself. I had noticed that my emotional state was more...equalized. I was not robotic, but I didn't have the emotional mood swings that most young women experience. I just was.
After those two months, I started to change, but because the change was so subtle and came on so slowly, I didn't notice it.
I started crying more. In fact, in retrospect, let's even it out and say there are 30 days in a month. I was on Alessa for 6 months. That's an average of 180 days. I would say I cried 120 out of those 180 days. Every single night I would find myself crying about something.
I have always been an emotional person, so I didn't give it any thought. Yes, I cry. Boohoo. Who doesn't. I didn't even see it taking over my entire life. My reactions to situations were WAY off. I would cry over the most minute upset, like running out of milk.
Everything felt wrong. I didn't know what to do. Was it in my head? Are these things worth crying over? Have I always reacted this way? Why do I feel so lonely? Should I be sitting up alone at 3 a.m. crying by myself over literally nothing?
Crying. Depression. Despair. Anger. I started having a combination of these feelings every single day. At one point I thought to myself, 'Is this normal?' I knew that I was a bit different and I had enough awareness to realize it was probably due to the Alesse, but I also thought I should wait it out.
I researched it online and some sites said to wait for the hormones to stabilize. Things would get better, it promised.
I cannot explain how horrific it was. I felt trapped. I was afraid to call my doctor and say, "I think I'm going crazy", because I felt that he would poo-poo away my feelings and tell me to hang on.
The breaking point came, actually, in a No Frills parking lot. Don't worry, it was the ghetto one on Tisdale. I looked normal compared to others around me. I was getting in the car after grocery shopping and Matt called me from...somewhere.
Matt: I'm going to be late getting home tonight, babe. I'm so sorry. Blah blah blah this happened and blah blah blah.
Me: (in my car)
Yes, that's right. I started sobbing on the phone. Matt was cool and apologized again. When he got home that night, he said, "We need to talk" and we sat on the edge of our bed together.
He said that something was very wrong and that I needed to go off the birth control. He insisted that I call my doctor the next day.
(This is another important factor on the danger of Alesse. I consider myself to be a strong, out-spoken person who can take care of herself. While being on Alesse I turned into someone who was too afraid to advocate for themselves. I should have dealt with the situation much sooner than I did, but while a part of me felt like I should get off the drug, another part of me said, "Don't call the doctor, you ARE crazy." Very damaging and subversive emotional effects.)
The next day I was working a twelve hour shift. I was scared of calling the doctor. I thought I could use the shift as an excuse not to do so, but suddenly I felt the urgent need to call him and get it over with.
Me: I was wondering if I could speak to Dr. ____ about my birth control.
Secretary: I'll get him to call you back.
*ten minute interval*
Dr: So you're having issues with the birth control?
Me: *starts sobbing* Is this normal? I can't stop crying. Should I wait this out? I don't know what to do.
(Note: I never made another phone call to my doctor from the nursing station phone again. One never knows when tears will start streaming.)
Dr: (no hesitation) No problem. Let's try you back on the regular Tricyclen.
I was enraged that I had wasted 6 months crying and sobbing like a maniac, feeling abrupt ups-and-downs, generally being crazy, and putting my poor boyfriend and sister through all that pain.
Back on regular Tricyclen: I was fine.
Shortly after that kerfuffle, I went in to work and was talking to a co-worker about feelings and all that stuff. She told me she was feeling down/depressed. I asked why. She told me she had been on a birth control that caused her emotional state to get all messed up and screwed with her head. She had been off of it for FIVE MONTHS and was still feeling the effects. "What birth control?", you ask? Ladies and gentlemen, I present:
Even more shocking: while we were sitting there talking, at least four other people in the general vicinity admitted that they had also taken Alesse for a small amount of time and had suffered some severe emotional side effects. In total, I believe there was six of us who had all been through the same ordeal. Six of us, that we know of. I haven't done an official poll of our mostly female staff, but I am confident I would find more people who also went through a similar situations.
Only one person I have spoke to about Alesse has had a 100% positive experience.
Now why I did I mention mental health earlier in my post? If it wasn't clear from my story, Alesse basically made me go crazy, or made me FEEL like I was going crazy. It was terrible. I felt I was alone and had no one who could empathize with me.
But here are the lessons I have learned from this journey:
1. Advocate for yourself and your health. Your doctor is not perfect and may not make the best choices for you. I should have intuited right away that Alesse was not a good fit. I ignored my gut, which was telling me to get back on Tricyclen. I should never have so passively let me doctor make that important decision for me.
2. Drug companies lie. I still am enraged when I see commercials for Alesse on TV with teenagers running around in short-shorts all happy and healthy. Alesse, without being too dramatic, almost destroyed my emotional and mental sanity. The company will say that it is a minority of people who suffer such strong side effects, but how do we truly know that? This is a drug that should be pulled off the market or should at least be considered as a LAST OPTION.
3. Feelings aren't reality. I kept saying to Matt "I'm going crazy, I'm going crazy", and while I FELT like I was, I wasn't. My hormones were messed up and my emotions were in a turmoil; I can compare it to anxiety attacks I have had. In the moment it feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel and you are done for...but that changes. Hang in there.
4. Share your experiences. If those people I had worked had shared their experience with Alesse earlier, I may have been given the courage to make a change sooner than I did. I now tell everyone who asks my experiences and I think it's important for people to know the damage this oral contraceptive can possibly do.
5. Don't accept your medical state. If you are unhappy with your body and it's reaction to a drug, don't wait it out for six months like I did. Go back to your doctor right away and look for an alternative.
That's my story about Alesse! I realize, of course, that this drug does work completely fine for some people, but I would say that those people ARE in the minority and that this is not a suitable oral contraceptive for most. In fact, avoid birth control if you can! Taking hormones affects you in some way or another, so if you don't have to take it, then simply don't.
I leave you with a Dwightism: