Setback: My Birth Control Pills Induced Acute Mental Disorder

I was really hoping my first post-intro entry in this blog would be filled with great news about how shockingly easy it is to succeed as a freelancer.  Unfortunately, that won’t be the case.  I’ve made not a single penny freelancing yet.  For the past two weeks, I have been struggling with the nightmarish side-effects of a birth control pill called Ortho-Cyclen.

My severe anxiety, bouts of depression and repeated panic attacks reached a climax Friday, when I stopped taking the pill.  Then the symptoms subsided almost entirely.

For those who have never struggled with these symptoms or seen someone close struggle with them, I will later explain in vivid detail their truly crippling nature.  This blog entry is meant to expose the widespread ignorance of the birth control pill’s potentially serious psychological impacts, which can include permanent structural changes in your brain and neurotic symptoms that are widely dismissed as “increased moodiness.”

Admittedly, starting birth control pills at such a huge turning point in my life was not the smartest thing I’ve ever done.  People close to me know I am good at dealing with challenges.  I thrive on uncertainty; I crave obstacles.  However, because of the Ortho-Cyclen, my unstable circumstances served as fuel for an acute stress disorder, colloquially known as a “nervous breakdown.”  And this in spite of the fact that I specifically asked the Planned Parenthood doctor to put me on the safest, lowest-dose birth control pills possible.

Apparently, there is no such thing as a gentle birth control pill.

Since I can’t be of any use providing career advice yet, I’ll recount my experience with birth-control-induced madness, with the hope that it will spare other women.  My consolation right now is that conflict makes for interesting content.  Just fyi: I’m not a scientist, but I have a minor in neuroscience which, coupled with my journalism background, I hope qualifies me to speak somewhat authoritatively about what happened.  Before I proceed, I must acknowledge that for the great majority of women in the world, the pros of birth control pills far outweigh the cons.  I am not here to deny their benefits.  But I think women need to do more careful, independent research and rely less on doctors who,  for some reason, promote this stuff like it’s pregnancy-preventing wheatgrass.

I avoided taking birth control pills for as long as possible.  My mother is an award-winning internist and has always put medicine on a pedestal.  She believes legal drugs are the answer to everything.  When I was little, any worrisome sniffle or cough motivated her to reach for the antibiotics.  Meanwhile, my father is an absolute hippie who despises pharmaceuticals.  When he is sick, he concocts herbal remedies and improves his diet.  In my early 20s, I became convinced I had an incurable yeast infection as a result of the millions of antibiotics I had taken over the course of my life, and my father mailed me a cardboard box filled with grass.  Inside the grass I uncovered several unlabeled glass vials filled with dark, multi-colored liquids and a piece of paper with typed, detailed instructions on how much of what to take when.   The mysterious concoctions did little for me; soon, I would find out that there was nothing wrong with me at all except the damage I had done to myself taking doctor-prescribed fungicidal bombs I didn’t need.

It’s no surprise I have inherited more of my father’s skepticism than my mother’s appreciation for modern medicine.  The idea of preventing pregnancy by altering my hormonal cycle has always seemed horrendously violent to me.  The two times I took birth control pills in my past, one kind transformed me into an emotionally abusive, constantly enraged bitch, and the other completely wiped out my libido.  I decided never to take birth control pills again.

After living with my boyfriend for several months and trying a variety of non-hormonal options, however, I came to the conclusion that maybe I should give birth control pills another try.  After quitting my job and heading to the U.S. to visit family for a few days, I made an appointment at a Planned Parenthood in San Diego.

“Have you ever taken birth control pills before?” the doctor asked me.

“Yes, when I was 19 or so, I tried two different kinds of birth control pills whose names I don’t remember.  One made me really angry, and the other made me never want to have sex.  Can you prescribe me the safest, lowest-dose pill you have?  A second-generation pill?”

First mistake: not remembering the names of my past birth control pills.  Second mistake: depending 100% on the doctor for information.

Thus began my downward spiral into insanity.  I took my first Ortho-Cyclen pill on Friday, March 22, and by April 5 I was face-down on my bed, hyperventilating in the throes of an excruciating panic attack, convinced that my life was over despite the tiny voice of logic that told me, from a far-off irrelevant place, that what I was feeling was the result of the Ortho-Cyclen and had nothing to do with reality.

It started subtly and intensified rapidly.  On Saturday, March 30, the day before my birthday, I burst into tears, 100% certain that my boyfriend had no intention of doing anything for me for my special day.  A few days earlier, he had offered to throw me a party; I said no, I didn’t want to have to clean up the mess.  “I’ll clean up for you,” he said.  “No, I don’t want to socialize,” I responded.  Later, he offered to organize a barbecue or something more low key.  “No,” I said.  “I don’t want to see anybody at all.”

He said no more.  Now, on the night before my birthday, I was certain he didn’t care enough about me to plan something for me and that he had simply dropped the ball.

I trembled with rage.  “How dare you do this to me?”

“What?  We can do whatever you want on your birthday.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head hatefully.  “I don’t want to do anything with you.  You expect me to plan everything. All because you’re lazy.”

Then I burst into tears.  He approached me, but I was inconsolable.  I continued hurling insults at him.

“You don’t appreciate me!  You don’t use your brain!”

Later, I realized how insane I was acting, and apologized.  At midnight, he spent his last few pesos on a slice of cake for me and a candle, and spent the whole next day with me.

The following afternoon, while walking together in our neighborhood, he made a good-natured joke.  Sobbing, I threw myself on the floor, accusing him of being an insensitive asshole.

On April 2, Leo left for work as an extra in a commercial around 7 a.m.  He kissed me on the forehead and told me he would be returning at 9 p.m.  At 10 p.m., while out for dinner with my friends, I started worrying.  He hadn’t replied to a text of mine asking him where he had put Season 6 of  the TV series “Lost.”  I tried calling him, and the call wouldn’t go through.  I wondered if something had happened to him.

By midnight, I was convinced he was dead.  I literally believed that I could see the outline of his ghost at my window, begging me to help him return to the world of the living.  I paced hysterically, hyperventilating, filled with panic.  I would never get to apologize to him for acting so irrational, so insane over the past few days.  I checked the Mexican papers online for news of a murdered Argentine actor.  I asked my roommates, who work with the same agency, to give me a contact.  “Surely the filming just ran late,” they assured me.  “Here’s a number, but nobody will answer until morning.”  I called my mother, sobbing hysterically on the phone to her.  I was convinced his kiss earlier that morning was his way of saying goodbye forever.  I couldn’t sleep, I tossed and turned in bed, crying like crazy, until he arrived at 3 a.m.  Greeted by a hysterical me with mascara staining my entire face, Leo informed me his phone had run out of credit early on in the day and he couldn’t make or receive calls.  He apologized, promising it wouldn’t happen again.

On April 4, I wept uncontrollably all day.  Every email I was getting from editors said some version of, “Promising story, but it’s not for us,” in reply to my pitches.  I was convinced that I was a failure as a journalist and that I would never be able to support myself again.  I spent all day in bed, fighting suicidal thoughts.  Leo tried in vain to console me. Knowing that I was no longer acting like myself and that my behavior/thoughts were unjustified and that it had reached an unacceptable level of intensity, I decided not to take another pill that night.  Screw this shit, I thought, and literally threw the pack of pills out the bathroom window.

The next day was Friday, April 5.  Leo got up early for work again, and he locked the bedroom door from the outside and threw the key under the door.  The forceful manner in which the key slid along the floor convinced me that he hated me.  I stayed in bed, trying to make the feeling go away. “Surely, the hormones are still making you crazy,” I thought.   Then I sat up to check my emails.  I took a deep breath, scared of myself, my hands shaking. “Don’t worry, Jean,” I said to myself.  “If you still don’t have any emails from editors interested in your stories, don’t worry.  You’re just starting out.”

I opened my inbox.  I had received absolutely no new emails.  I felt myself unraveling, that I had no center, that I was literally coming undone and had no idea what to do next.  It was completely unlike me.  I took a deep breath again.  In half an hour, I had to attend a breakfast with the president of an important agriculture organization in Mexico who wanted to sponsor one of my films with Leo.  I needed to go.  I dressed myself, dizzy all the while.  I rode my motorcycle to the interview and sat down in the restaurant.  “You can do this,” I thought.   “This is your job.”  The official arrived, and I was able to keep it together.  We had a pleasant breakfast and a successful exchange of information.  However, I felt the entire time that I was fighting a massive hurricane inside my gut.  When I returned home, I released my hold on it, and vomited ceaselessly.  I had only eaten some fruit at the breakfast, but I could’t stop puking.

Then I read my emails again.  I still had not received a single reply from editors.

That’s when it happened. The only other time I have had a full-blown panic attack was when I was drowning at the edge of the Los Tuxtlas jungle when a rip current pulled me out to sea.  Panic is a sensation I never understood until I experienced it.  I used to hear about people having panic attacks and assumed it meant they were weak humans who let their emotions get out of control.  When panic gripped me (“gripped” is such an appropriate word) in the rip current, I knew that it was the panic itself that was going to kill me, and not the rip current, if I didn’t get it under control.  I knew that if I could keep calm, my chances of survival would increase significantly.  However, panic is uncontrollable, and logic has no power over you once it sets in.

Panic is an animal with teeth that eat you from the inside out.  Rationality literally becomes incomprehensible.  The most horrible possibility becomes the only reality.  In the ocean, I became convinced, 100%, that I was going to die; now, in my bedroom at my desk as panic gripped me again, I was totally certain that quitting my job had been the worst mistake I ever made in my life, and that my future was ruined.  I crawled into bed, trying to expel the feeling from my body with facts: I have enough savings to keep me afloat for quite a while, it’s only been two weeks, you just stopped taking birth-control pills that are probably still screwing with your brain.  But these facts had no effect on me.  The only thing real was my certainty that I was doomed, and my even greater certainty that my uncontrollable emotional reaction to being doomed would doom me further.  I couldn’t breathe.  My career was ruined, and surely Leo would fall out of love with me now that I was a worthless piece of shit, an emotional wreck.  I wanted nothing more than for this feeling to stop, but it was so enormous that I knew I had no power over it.  It had permeated my mind and tainted my perception; it would never go away.  I tried to imagine the plane ride back home out of Mexico, and couldn’t fathom how I could physically drag myself through the process of moving back to the U.S. now that all my hopes and dreams had disintegrated.  My only consolation was the thought that perhaps a mental institution wouldn’t be so bad, after all; maybe the doctors there would take good care of me and make me feel safe.  I gripped the sheets, trying in vain to stabilize myself.  I, a person who actually prefers wild horses that buck and rear and need to be reined in, had become powerless on the back of this internal monster.

I could feel it growing inside me every second.  The only other time I had felt something remotely similar to this was when I took LSD in college and and felt that the devil was taking possession of my body; I once described that experience as “the opposite of giving birth,” feeling that I had to try with all my might to keep an external being from entering me.  I felt that I had two options: stay here and go absolutely insane, or hop on my motorcycle and head to my friend Zerina’s house.  Zerina is a therapist and I figured she’d know how to help me.  Although both options were dangerous, I felt the latter offered me a tiny chance of survival, whereas the former did not.  So I shoved my helmet on my head, dragged myself to my motorcycle and sped to Zerina’s house.  I made it there in one piece, thanks to the fact that it’s Holy Week in Mexico, and there is hardly a soul on the notoriously dangerous roads of the Mexican capital.  I walked into her apartment, my head spinning, feeling faint.  Zerina fed me oatmeal and tranquilizing tea and proceeded to speak rationally to me, reassuring me in a million different ways that everything was going to be okay and that what I was feeling was surely a lingering effect of the birth-control pills.

By that evening, the anxiety has released its hold on me and my body ached all over.  The levels of cortisol in my bloodstream had been so high all day that my muscles were sore.

More than 100 million women take birth control pills worldwide, and many of them have no idea that the intake of these artificial hormones increases their likelihood of succumbing to blood clots and breast cancer, let alone that they can possibly make them go insane.  Doctors prescribe the pill without fully informing women of its risks.  The World Health Organization states that “the health benefits of any method of contraception are far greater than any risk from the method.”  Several gynecologists and general practitioners have scolded me for not being on birth control pills, preaching about their correlation with decreased risk of ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer and colorectal cancer.  Nobody has ever mentioned to me the fact that hormonal contraceptive use is “associated with an increased rate in depression, divorce, tranquilizer use, sexual dysfunction, and suicide and other violent and accidental deaths,” according to cohort trials mentioned in one of the few recent studies on psychological impacts.  Nor had I ever heard of this study on female cynomolgus monkeys, finding that triphasic oral contraceptives disrupted “social behavior, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis regulation (in the brain) and the underlying central nervous system function,” according to the researchers.

Few doctors who prescribe birth control bother to mention the difference between second-generation and third-generation pills.  Both increase the risk of deadly blood clots per 100,000 users, but second-generation pills increase it to 15 while third-generation pills up the risk to 25.  It’s a “small” risk, doctors say.  But do the math yourself: the baseline risk of blood clots is 5 per 100,000.  If 100 million women take either a second- or third-generation birth control pill, that means between 10,000 and 20,000 women have died of blood clots caused by the pill.  And compare it to the risks of taking illegal drugs like Ecstasy, which kills only seven people per million users in the UK and only 1 person per million users in the U.S.   What’s going on here?

Ortho-Cyclen contains 0.04 mg of ethinyl estradiol (man-made strogen) and 0.25 mg of norgestimate.  If you look up “norgestimate” on Google, the first thing that’ll pop up is a Wikipedia page with a half-assed description about it being a “synthetic progestin,” preceded by a helpful Wikipedia warning:

This article does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed(February 2007)

Apparently nobody has thought to improve on the article since 2007.  This seemed fishy to me, so I did more digging.  As I looked through page after page on the Internet, I became increasingly aware of how little information actually exists about norgestimate.  According to Dr. Dawn Stacey at About.com, norgestimate is a third-generation progestin.  When I read that, alarms went off in my head immediately.  The Planned Parenthood doctor had prescribed me Ortho-Cyclen when I asked her specifically for a second-generation birth control pill.  Was Ortho-Cyclen actually a third-generation birth control pill?  What the hell?

Turns out, it is.  But it took way too many Google searches to figure that out.  If I, a journalist and seeker of truth by nature, had trouble finding that info, and was misinformed by my Planned Parenthood doctor, what about the millions of other women who take birth control pills?

If few women are aware of the physiological harms that birth control pills can cause, even fewer know that birth control pills can and will alter their brain structure and neural activity.  In a 2010 study published in Brain Research, it is shown that the brain’s steroid receptors react to synthetic estrogen and progestin with structural modifications.

“The possibility that an accepted form of chemical contraception has the ability to alter the gross structure of the human brain is a cause for concern, even if the changes seem benign — for the moment,” wrote the neuroscientist Craig H. Kinsley in a Sept. 28, 2010 article in Scientific American.  “In any event, women need to have all of the medical and now, neurobiological, information they can use in informing their personal contraceptive decisions.  Like the rest of life, and like the steroid choices made by those ballplayers, there are costs and benefits.  The benefits are well established; the costs, however, are still coming to light.”

Online forums are replete with accounts of birth control pills causing panic, anxiety, and depression.  One woman was diagnosed with panic disorder.  Another stopped being able to take care of her kids.  Countless women have no idea that their sudden anxiety/depression/panic is a result of the pill they just started taking.  How many women are wrongly diagnosed with a chronic mental disorder and put on anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications, when it is their birth control pills causing the problem?  If I had not had an inherent distrust of the pill, and possessed the knowledge that I am fundamentally a strong and emotionally resilient person, I might have thought that my sudden mental problems were related to other factors, such as my career change, and an actual inability to deal with them.  Some women have been on birth control pills so long, with years of anxiety issues since they were teens, that they can’t remember if they were ever normal.  Others develop a physiological dependence on the pill, with an onslaught of mood problems when they try to stop taking it; this is really concerning since women over 35 years old are at a significantly higher risk of breast cancer and blood clots caused by the pill and they should not have to keep taking it.   It is almost impossible to find any reliable, authoritative science explaining widespread psychological side-effects of the pill or their long-term repercussions.  Doctors and pharmaceutical labels dismiss or minimize their importance by lumping them together into an “increased moodiness” category.  Women themselves often fail to recognize the seriousness of the pill’s real psychological impacts, continuing to take a problematic pill for weeks or months in the hope that the “mood swings” will subside eventually.  They’re assured, repeatedly, that birth control pills should stabilize their moods.  And in some cases, that’s true — they’re sometimes prescribed to treat anxiety disorders and PMS.  But in too many other cases, the opposite happens.  For a medicine that’s only 53 years old and causes widespread mood alterations, it has made the female population troublesomely confident.

Birth control pills work in part by interacting directly with the brain; they stimulate or inhibit the release of certain hormones from the hypothalamus and other brain structures.  As a side-effect, the pills sometimes increase the concentration of a brain enzyme that metabolizes serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible in part for feelings of well-being.  That results in a sudden, sometimes sustained drop in brain serotonin levels.  Most likely, that’s what happened to me, the plummeting levels of serotonin causing me to feel extreme anxiety and despair.  When my boyfriend hugged or kissed me, the lack of a serotonin response in my brain made me interpret his actions as meaningless or fake rather than reassuring.   When rejected by editors, the lack of feel-good neurotransmitters in my brain made it impossible to move forward and see other possibilities.  Scientists have also found that serotonin neurons possess receptors for both estrogen and progestin, which means synthetic hormones contained in birth control pills can directly modify gene expression and impact mood, cognition “and other neural circuits,” according to researchers.  Another study showed via functional MRI imaging that synthetic progesterone increased activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain that governs fear and anxiety reactions.

Brain levels of serotonin plummet following cocaine, LSD and Ecstasy consumption.  It’s often referred to as the “come-down” of these illegal drugs.  Scientists cite MDMA’s effects on serotonin as one of the reasons it needs to be banned.  Why is there such widespread intentional silence on the mirror impacts resulting from birth control pill use? Why do so many doctors say, “Just try another pill,” encouraging a woman to spend months in hell, without considering the potential long-term damage to her brain?

There is evidence that the neural rewiring that occurs in the female brain as a result of birth control pills can be permanent.  Since these pills often cause depression, anxiety, panic attacks and have in some cases led to chronic sexual dysfunction, this should really freak you out.

Lately, there is an increased push to sell birth control pills over the counter, without a prescription.  This is highly concerning considering the fact that already, too many women take these pills without having any idea what they do to their brains and bodies.

Clinical trials for reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance, or RISUG, have been slow due to a lack of volunteers in India.  Too few men are willing to risk their penile and testicular health to avoid getting a woman pregnant.  When I asked my boyfriend if he would be willing to undergo this procedure once it was legalized, he shook his head vigorously.  Why are women so willing to endanger their bodies and minds?

There’s no question that the birth control pill has hugely helped the feminist movement and that it has done much in helping to avoid millions of unwanted births, abortions, etc.  But now it’s time to take a step back and make sure we don’t get swept up by the current.  We should make sure we are making informed decisions, which seems very hard to do as things stand; we should ask ourselves why there is so little reliable information out there, and particularly so few studies investigating the structural and chemical changes these pills cause in our brains.  Why are the known risks so often downplayed?  Anyone who interacted with me over the past two weeks knows the pill was not making me “moody” but mentally deranged.

If you want to help elaborate on this investigation, go to the Planned Parenthood closest to you and ask them to prescribe/recommend a second-generation birth control pill.  Email me at jean@jeanguerrero.com letting me know what prescription you receive.  I want to know how many people are misinformed.  Also, please email me or comment with your experiences on birth control pills if you’ve had similar psychological reactions or completely different ones.

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27 thoughts on “Setback: My Birth Control Pills Induced Acute Mental Disorder

  1. When I first met my now husband I was on birth control. The first one I took, which I took for about a year would cause me for have crippling migraines on the ‘non pill’ week. I spoke to my doctor about it who speculated that it was the sudden drop in hormones causing it so swapped me to a low dose pill. I took the low dose pill for about a week and felt awful the whole time. I felt spacey and weak for several days which culminated in me passing out, while sat on a high top stool. Given that the only thing different was the pill I stopped taking it immediately. By the end of the next day I felt fine again! Thankfully after that my husband and I decided to try for a baby so I came off the pill. Since then it has been 6 years and we’re still not pregnant (unexplained infertility). I don’t think I will ever go back on the pill, even if we did get pregnant now.

    • Hey Katy,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m glad the symptoms went away after you stopped taking the pill. So many women let the torture go on for much longer!

  2. Sorry about your experience Jean. I hope that many women find your article and can benefit from learning something important. I am guessing the dr at plannned parenthood didn’t listen to you because they are just succeptible to pharmaceutical companies as any other doctor. They get perks for pushing the pills of a certain company. I also have had problems with hormones. I stated this multiple times to my PP doctor and they repeatedly pushed the nuva ring on them. I told them absolutely no hormones that I definitely wanted the nonhormonal paraguard IUD (i should probably be more informed about this one too). the doctor then told me that they really don’t tend to give that method to someone who is not in a longterm and monogomaous relationship because there are risks. When I told a friend who works for PP as an educator about what the dr had said, she told me the doctor was either lying or misinformed because it absolutely is not true.
    anyway, paraguard is not the best alternative but im happy to be hormone free and not pregnant!

  3. Hello. I just read your article and am concerned. I am going through major guilt, anxiety, and panic attacks ever since I started my birth control. My doctor decided to switch me to a different one…but it’s not going away. My gut is telling me to stop taking it. But the feelings are almost unbearable. Thank you for writing your story.

    • Hi Jessica. Thank you for your message. I am so sorry that you’re going through all that! If the feelings started when you began taking the pill, and there is no other new stressor in your life, then it is likely the pill causing them. If I were you I would find alternative methods of birth control. These feelings of panic and anxiety and other emotions are always downplayed as “mood swings” but my research leads me to believe that they are serious and it does’t make sense for us to have to endure them when there are other options!

  4. Good to know I’m not the only one who thought they were going crazy after going on birth control! I used the IUD Mirena. Because the hormone release is localized, the experience of side effects is supposed to be less severe compared to OCs. If that’s true, then I am definitely not using anything hormonal ever again!

    I feel compelled to point out that you have misrepresented a few of your sources. It’s certainly important for women to understand all of the possible problems associated with hormonal contraceptives, but it’s also important for that information to be accurate. For example, none of the studies you have linked discuss permanent changes in brain structure; they actually discuss temporary morphological changes that are in response to fluctuations in hormone levels. Although it is definitely important to understand that these changes are occurring, it is equally important to understand the nature of said changes. Implying that hormonal contraceptives cause permanent changes in brain structure (which could easily be interpreted as meaning that such contraceptives cause brain damage) can unnecessarily frighten away those considering such options, as well as distress those who are currently or have previously used hormonal contraceptives.
    Additionally, the study you linked on sexual dysfunction does not imply that OCs caused chronic sexual dysfunction. All of the participants in the study, both those who had and had not taken OCs, reported meeting the diagnostic criteria for a sexual dysfunction; thus, it cannot be assumed that the same differences would be found in OC users who do not report experiencing sexual dysfunction, or that OC use caused sexual dysfunction. Again, implying that hormonal contraceptives cause permanent deficits in sexual function can be unnecessarily frightening for those considering such options, as well as be distressing for anyone who is or has taken hormonal contraceptives.

  5. What happened to you, it happened to me too. I took different pills. I don’t feel the same after taking the medicine. My estrogen was so high because of the pills. I still have anxiety, I feel off-balanced, and I have agoraphobia because of the anxiety and panic attacks. I’m wondering if this is permanent or if there’s a chance of this going away.

  6. Hey guys i am currently living an anxiety nightmare ,im having panic attacks,palpatations,sweaty hands etc and its so much worse in the mornings.so i stopped the pill 6days ago… How long will it take for me to start to feel normal again?im overwhelmed with fear that i’ll be stuck like this forever!!!!????!!??? HELP

  7. I’m so glad I found this. I’m 32 years old and I was taking the pill for approx. 8-9 years. Almost a year ago, I decided to get off my expensive name brand for a new, cheaper generic birth control. Almost immediately, I started suffering from intense depression and anxiety. There were a few factors that made it exceptionally hard to identify. One of which is, I’ve had a very, very mild bouts of depression my whole life. Feeling moody was no uncommon. I was also finishing up graduate school while working full time and living on my own, so I assumed the intense anxiety was due to that, even though I’ve never had anxiety before. It became really bad, almost to the point where I was going to seek professional help a few times. Then, one day, very randomly, it occurred to me to do an internet search on my new birth control. At this point I had been on it for 4 or 5 months. I was shocked and relieved to see hundreds of other women who suffered the same side effects. I immediately discontinued use, and I immediately felt better! No lie! Now I’m in a new relationship and I’m struggling with the idea of going on the pill again. I now have to wonder if my mild depression was caused by the pill all along, not to mention if it aided in long term changes to the brain as you suggest above. I’ve only been off the pill for under 3 months now, so it is difficult to gauge it’s possible side effect of mild depression. I also have an under active thyroid which could be contributing to this. When I say mild depression, I really do mean very mild, where I feel more blah then anything. I’ve found the natural remedy to treat this to be consistent exercise and a lean diet. I strongly prefer natural remedies for any ailment, be it psychological or physical. At any rate, thank you for posting this information. I will take all this into consideration before making any new birth control decisions.

  8. hello my name is markita I am 21 I started taking birth control after I had my daughter. I had no experience with birth control. but of course my obgyn kept pushing it down my throat. I knew I would not remember to take a pill everyday so I went to plan parenthood. the lady downplayed the DEPO shot told me it was best for me she failed to tell me all the horrors and side effects of the shot. she didn’t even give me a pamphlet until after she gave me the shot in my arm! I thought nothing would happen to me but I began to have panic attacks. waking up through the night heart racing, irrational thoughts just feeling like I’m dying or like how u said I was on a drug. it actually felt like a bad trip off weed or something. so after the 3months I didn’t get the shot anymore but I still didn’t get a period I still felt the same side effects who even knows how long thiscrap stays in your system. I found out I had a ovarian cyst an my obgyn put me on lomedia fe I was only on it for two weeks an instantly I had panic attacks like no other to the point my fiance wanted to take to the hospital. but afraid they would dismiss it an say i was crazy we didn’t go. I told my doctor an he acted as he heard nothing I freaking said I told him low labido, panic attacks, mood swings, an not being able to sleep he pretty much said will its either this or u get pregnant or ur cyst gets bigger an u need surgery. I quit everything going on a month now an I still feel hopeless every night I am afraid to go to sleep due to I could have a panic attack. my hormones are unbalanced an I have no idea how to even to start to make it right. I am only 21 an my life sucks like this I just want to be happy

  9. Hi Jean. I cannot thank you enough for writing this and I am so thankful I came across it. I started BC almost a year ago. Almost immediately I felt like I was an emotional wreck. I even told my doctor at my next appointment, and she said it should “work itself out”. I started to get extremely anxious, angry and I was always crying. The anxiety got so bad that I would wake up feeling sick and it would last all day. I had panic attacks at work and end up quitting my job because I couldn’t concentrate. I got obsessive thoughts that I couldn’t control. Basically I felt like I was going crazy and was going to have a nervous breakdown. I went to my same Dr because I couldnt deal with the anxiety. She put me on 2 types of anti depressants. Almost immediately, I realized I couldn’t deal with the side effects of those so I stopped taking them.

    I started coming across articles online about BC and mental health. So many other women had the same symptoms I did, which made me feel a lot better. I had a talk with my boyfriend and we decided I would stop taking my pill. It was getting so bad that I had made an appointment to go to therapy, and we were close to breaking up because of my anger and anxiety. I’m hopeful now of what I can feel like after weeks and months of being off the pill. It angers me now that women can be prescribed all these pills that are affecting their mental health so strongly. I wish I would have been more informed, because I never would have taken it and I don’t wish my experience on anybody.

  10. Thankyou for writing this article. This past week i had been having crippling anxiety and panic attacks. I am in the process of emigrating to canada from the uk so at first I put it down to that. I had just came back from a 2 week visit with my family in England. Whilst there I went and grabbed a contraceptive i had used for years in the past called ‘Logynon’. This past year I had been the happiest in my entire life. I have only just figured out these pills had caused me all kinds of mental health issues in the past, and would have continued to do so. I will stop taking the pill after today and hopefully get back to normal again, and I can now see that these pills have wreaked havoc on my life since I was about 15, and I’m 23 now. Being without them for a year then going back on them last week I can see and feel the difference in myself, i am an entirely different person. Mentally deranged is a great way to describe it! Never again.

  11. Thank you for this article. My 17 year old has been on birth control the past two years due to heavy periods. For the past couple of months she has had severe anxiety attacks and we couldn’t understand what was going on. I came upon your article and I am thinking her pills are the culprit. She is going to stop taking them immediately to see if her attacks subside. I am hoping this will help her.

  12. Omg!! Thank you for writing this!!! I’m and having the same anxiety and panic attacks that you had! Problem is I was on BC for 8 years and stopped taking them 6 month ago. 2 months post BC I developed ocd and gad. I know it has to be from the not taking BC. I am so scared I’m Never gonna be normal again. My family md just prescribed anti depression and anti anxiety medication. I really believe it’s got to be a hormonal imbalance.

  13. I was just prescribed birth control a few weeks ago. By day 4 about 45 minutes after I took the pill I felt extreme heaviness in my chest, I start breathing heavy, I was very anxious, scared, I had to clean my entire apartment to keep my mind sane. I knew it was the pill since I absolutely loved my life and was happy with no issues at all until I took this crap. I was fine for a while but now since I’m due for my period my hormones are back to crazy land. I just cried my eyes out and I’m praying to God that I can have my life back.

  14. I was on birth control pills on and off for 10 years. I began to suffer from extreme mood swings, anxiety, and depression. I never had problems with this before BC. I have always been extremely laid back and happy. I quit taking the pills and got back on them recently and had a mental breakdown within a week of taking the pills to the point where my fiance and I almost broke up and my sister refused to speak with me BC I fought with her so bad and my mother was extremely worried about my well being. I had thoughts of slitting my wrists or checking into a mental hospital. I quit taking the pills and within a couple days I felt like myself again. I know the pills are what caused my breakdown. People need to be aware that these pills can mentally destroy you. They almost cost me my life! If you notice this kind of change in your mood when taking these pills, then stop. It is not worth dying or losing the people you love. I’m not sure what form of BC to take now but I know I cannot handle the pills. Best of luck to you all and know you are not alone in your suffering if you are having those problems.

  15. I am 26, happily married and have a reputation as someone who loves life. I knew getting married would mean that I would no longer be covered under my father’s health insurance. I went to planned parenthood hoping to find out about Nexplanon because a friend recommended it. I thought it was a gift to be able to have an active sex life with my husband and not have to worry about an unexpected pregnancy for the next three years. I heavily researched forums and read the pamphlets before having the implant inserted. It seemed the most common issues were irregular periods, weight loss/gain and “moodiness”-all of which were supposed to stabilize in six months according to the GYN. I cannot agree more that the depression and psychological side effects are completely downplayed. I have bouts of intense irrational crying, rage and fear. I even have moments of severe suicidal thoughts. I wanted to jump out a second story window. Like Our Bodies, Ourselves the internet has compiled stories that aren’t made mainstream. Plenty of other women have shared similar experiences striking in similarities (windows). I will have the implant removed as soon as my new teaching job covers my medical insurance.

  16. Hi!! I never had the greatest state of mental health, but since being on birth control my anxiety definitely went through the roof. I spent so many nights feeling like I couldn’t breathe and like I could never get my life back. Everything felt uncontrollable. I’ve gone through some online coaching and it has definitely helped me calm down – it made it easier to not react so strongly to my emotions. I am trying to get off the pill right now and was wondering if you had advice as far as getting your mental health back. Today is the 6th day since the pill and I just feel exhausted and agitated.
    Thank you for sharing your experience.

  17. Hello, I was searching for a link between taking the pill and anxiety and I appreciate your article. I started taking BCP (ortho-cyclen) 3 months before I got married in 2012. 4 months into the pill, as a newlywed, I started having terrible anxiety, imagining that my husband was having an affair, that I had committed an unforgivable sin, etc. I also started suffering from high blood pressure. I didn’t see a connection between the BCP and the anxiety, so I kept taking it another 2 months. At the 6 months mark of taking the pill, my doctor wanted me to switch to the mini pill because if the effects. I researched each methods of contraception and opted for FAM (info at http://www.tcoyf.com) and barrier methods. The effects of the pill took months to dissipate, but I finally regained normalcy. However, it wad them that i started having problems worn my cycles and was diagnosed with PCOS. About 3 months ago, I saw an OB/GYN who scared me half to death with the risk of uterine cancer due to PCOS, and convinced me to take the pill again. She prescribed Lomedia 24 Fe and said this would be better because blah, blah, blah. I started taking it because I thought the problem was only with Ortho-Cyclen. Boy was I wrong! Two weeks ago, the anxiety came back. Once again, it was so intense, at one point, I thought it would be better if I were dead. I immediately stopped taking the pill when that thought crossed my mind and now, two weeks later, I’m almost back to normal. You can’t bet I won’t let anyone convince me to take it again!
    Thank you for giving us this outlet. Doctors usually say it’s not the pull that causes it, but personal experience rebuts that.

  18. I am a 44 year old mother of 5. Over the years I’ve been on various birth control pills, Depo shot , and a hormonal IUD.

    Since the birth of my last child (5.5 years) I have been on birth control pills. I began to spot bleed during the “wrong week”. They put me on a higher dose pill, stating my age or sensitivity to the Rx had changed its effectiveness. I began to have terrible headaches during the placebo week. These headaches were so bad, and nothing could touch or relieve the pain. I called my OBGYN and was put on a continuous dose, meaning I SKIP the period week altogether.. I was happy with that for a while because the headaches stopped.

    When my husband and I decided it was time for him to have a Vasectomy, I decided I was still not ready to stop the birth control pills yet because of the headaches I knew I would get when I did.

    Over the last year I have had episodes of anxiety and depression so severe that I can’t cope with daily tasks, minor issues, and have to fight off thoughts of worthlessness and suicidal thoughts on a regular basis.

    During this time the thought of going off the birth control pill was out of the question because I didn’t want to add any new problems to the ones I was already having, including headaches.

    I was praying for relief – asking God to help me find some meaning in my life or to let me die.

    One day feeling a little bit better than usual I noticed that I hadn’t taken my birth control pill for five days, which is totally unlike me. I thought this might be an answer to my prayers.

    I’ve been off any birth control now for about two months, and I am cautiously optimistic. I’m More calm, more patient, more kind. I haven’t gotten depressed, and the suicidal thoughts have stopped. I came close to an anxiety attack once but it never materialized. I had headaches straight for four weeks, but they have subsided now and still haven’t had a period yet.

    It upsets me to think that for the last 22 years of my marriage I’ve gone through these problems on and off, and thought it was my own emotional problems, and all the while my doctor was encouraging me to take more and more.

    I’m looking forward with faith and hope. I just want to be happy, don’t we all?

  19. Jean, thank you got sharing your story, how are you now? My niece 30 y/0 on sat 7/26/15 is a wreck. She was on BCP from 15-28 y/o when she went off she dropped 20 Lbs and appeared manic. Within 6 months she was severely depressed, anxious and having thoughts of suicide. Now a year and a half later I’ve talfen her to a psychiatrist and she’s just been put on Xanax and lexapro. I would have put it together sooner (correlation with BCP) but an overwhelmed with taking care of parents and working. Any suggestions? And again I hope you are well. Thanks Dee

  20. This is the very first article that I have found that answers my questions. I had issues with birth control pills about 5 years ago… Argued with my doctors when I started having severe anxiety and depression. I told them it was the birth control, they told me to continue taking it and prescribed me an antidepressant. I did the opposite, quit the birth control and said screw the other drugs. Within a month I was myself again. Now like an idiot a year and a half ago I got the skyla iud. I thought it was actually going fine. However I hit rock bottom with guilt anxiety panic and depression. Took an antidepressant for a while which messed even more with my serotonin levels. Finally got off that a month ago. All the bad feelings came back so I had the iud removed a week ago. I’m hoping there is light at the end of the tunnel because these feelings are still effecting my everyday life and after reading this I can only hope the damage isn’t permanant!

  21. Hi Jean, thank you for sharing this article. I am 26 and have been taking the pill for the last 3 months. I had already taken the pill twice before this (once when I was 17 for 2 months; and again when I was 21 for 1 year). I had come off the pill due to bad mood swings and weight gain. I thought I would give it another go, so went back on the pill 3 1/2 months ago. Although I have had mood swings, I felt I was holding it together quite well and was feeling positive that these mood swings would pass once the first 3 month were done (my doctor told me my hormone levels would balance out after 3 months). Until last week that is, when I suffered a very bad panic attack at work. Since then I have felt very overwhelmed about everything, and feel as if i have no control over my emotions. I’m normally very level headed, so these waives of panic are terrifying me. I currently don’t have many stressful factors in my life, so I can’t understand why I feel like this. I have been reading up on all sorts of anxiety disorders, but I don’t think this is the trigger cause. Having read your article, I feel very similar and believe coming off the pill will help me. I don’t think Doctor’s or anyone fully understand the extent the pill has on woman’s body or mind, which is frightening. I wish you luck in bringing more of these issues to light, as I like you said, I think there are many women out there who don’t even realise the pill may be causing them so many problems.

  22. MY DAUGHTER IS ACTING AS IF SHE HAS DEVELOPED A JECKELHYDE PERSONALITY. HAVE NEVER SEEN HER LIKE THIS..MAYBE ONCE A MONTH TENSE, NOW IT IS CONSTANT ANXIETY AND FEARS AND TOUGH ATTITUDE AND CONFUSION. PLEASE SHE WAS PRESCRIBED FOR ACNE..SHE SLEEPS AT LEAST 12 HRS A DAY. SUSPICIOUS OF EVERYTHING. HURTING HERSELF.PLEASE HELP.MY BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER IS BECOMING A BULLY.

  23. Thank you for sharing your experience .. I took birth control in my early 20s and had no major side effects but after a divorce in my early 30s I found a great and amazing man of which I was going to marry in 2104.. I went to the doctor and decided I would take the pill again after 8 years of being pill free..I never told her what pill I took then but asked for the lowest pill she can give me .. I took Loestril.. A low dosage birth control.. Within a week I didnt feel like myself .. My fiancé came into town and I saw him and started crying .. I had panic attack the following morning which scared me .. I was taken to my doctor by my family which he told me to stop taking the pill .. It was so bad that I went into a deep depression and I didn’t even want my fiancé to come close to me and even touch me .. The sad part of this experience is that I cancelled the wedding .. I couldn’t find a reason other than I didn’t feel well to marry this man… It’s been a year or so now .. Since it was a long distance relationship it was hard to see each other especially because I attributed at first that he wasn’t the person for me .. After about 3 months I felt I was finally feeling better .. The anxieties and depression diminished .. But so did my relationship .. He’s now engaged again and marrying someone else .. I think all the time if the pill ruined what could have been a happy life with him or if it was a blessing in disguise .. Regardless I will NEVER take the pill again and hope I will never experience the mental disorders I experienced with the pill .. More women need to be aware of how terrible it can be for them and life altering.

  24. I began taking ortho tricyclin lo about a year and a half ago. First I noticed my hair started falling out in long strands, but figured it was because of something else. I got increasingly sick everyday but tried to ride it out. Everyday I kick myself for not listening to my body. One day I was in the store and had something happen I had never expirienced before, I went to the bathrown because I felt sick and ended up on the floor hyper ventilating. I could no feel my hands or feet, couldn’t see, couldn’t talk, I was sweating profusely. My boyfriend noticed I was gone for far too long and came and picked me up off the floor. My legs were not working at all. I told him I thought I was dieing and to take me to the ER. They told me I had a panic attack. Which I had never had before. For a month I couldn’t leave my bed. Was scared of the shower, my boyfriend, my car. I just laid in bed shaking and crying. I had to take time off of work. I finally decided to do some research myself and found out it was from birth control. When I stopped taking it symptoms got a little better. I was finally able to leave my house, just barely. I was put on multiple anti depressants that just made me worse. Almost two years later here I am. Still miserable and suffering. I go into spells multiple times a day where life just seems too hard, anxiety and panic is just too hard to deal with. But I am making it. I wish women were more aware of the risks of birth control, for I feel I will never get my sanity back. Never genuinely laugh the way I did before, and be that bubbly girl everyone said I was. Please if your body gives you warnings, listen.

  25. I’m feeling very encouraged reading this. I just started birth control again for the first time since getting married almost 7 years ago. A few weeks in, I got a crazy migraine and then bouts of anxiety. I’ve never ever had anxiety attacks, ever, but have had at least 5 since starting the pill last month. I suspected the pill to be the culprit and officially stopped taking it last night after an anxiety attack. I had another one today, but I’m hoping once they’re out of my system, I’ll be back to normal. It’s been brutal. I’m really ready to shake this.

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