coming clean

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Guys, there’s something I’d like to talk to you about which I haven’t mentioned much here on the blog.

And no, despite what my make-up and Photoshop free self-portrait above would suggest, I haven’t been arrested.

(Just in case you were wondering.)

All kidding aside, the past three months have been some of the most challenging of my life. I’m sure that doesn’t come as a surprise if you’ve been following along, a lot has changed. But one thing I’ve been dealing with on top of the elopement, new apartment, wedding, puppy, family events, and career change is the fact that I changed my birth control.

Though I might have mentioned it in passing, I didn’t think that the fact that I changed my prescription the same day that we moved into the new apartment would be important.

In fact, part of my mind still thinks it sounds silly to bring up. But the truth is that despite all of my preconceived notions about the effects of birth control, I have been seriously affected by my new prescription. To the point that not mentioning it here makes me feel fake talking to you day in and day out going forward.

I’m also not sharing this in order to rail against birth control, but rather explain what I’ve been going through lately which has affected me deeply.

Three days into the pill switch (which I take for PCOS), Mr. Lively noticed a marked difference in me. And it wasn’t a good one.

While I thought that having my period only four times a year would be wonderful, what really happened was far from it. For six weeks I had huge mood swings and emotional melt-downs. Though I’ve definitely had mood swings on PMS in the past, this was on a different level. And instead of just getting upset about something (usually not worth that a Class One freak out), I got angry.

And though I might be prone to being sensitive and stressed out, I am not prone to anger.

But that was one of the marked changes right from the get-go.

With everything in my life literally changing week by week, I was steadfast in my belief that it was stress and change that was upsetting me so much, not the pill, as Mr. Lively immediately suspected. 

I assumed that birth control could not make that much of a difference in me. I was determined to take accountability for my actions. Even when they were far from normal. “It’s the move/puppy/family party preparation that’s stressful, not the pill…” 

While Mr. Lively got the brunt of my reactions, I also lashed out at one of my dearest friends.

Eventually, after many melt-downs and the fall out with my friend, I called the doctors office and asked them if there could be any correlation to my freak outs and new prescription. The nurse assured me that I was not crazy, and that I indeed was most likely experiencing a negative side effect from the pills and urged me to wait out a full cycle. Which for my prescription was 12 weeks. She assured me that the symptoms would most likely subside as the weeks wore on.

Knowing that I could have intensely negative outbursts for another eight weeks was devastating. I finally had the humility to realize that I could not “proactivate” my way out of my emotions only to realize that it would continue to be this way for two more months.

Rather than do nothing, or act like it wasn’t really affecting me (like I did early on), I did the one thing that seemed to help: I ran every other day. And while I’m not stranger to running, it’s been a part of my life since cross country in high school, my running routine lately has been one of the most inspired of my life. Each run helped me feel just a little less likely to have an unwelcome meltdown.

I’m happy to say that the running routine paired with time did help the massive mood swings and anger. Meanwhile I still continued to experience a fair share of anxiety, low libido, and a bit of acne.

However, the past nine days the mood swings (including a dozy on Christmas night) have returned and I have since decided to return to my original prescription once this cycle ends, this weekend.

As you can imagine, I am beyond relieved to be going back to my old pill which was stable for several years.

But the fallout from the past three months has taken it’s toll. After my reactions over the past nine days I find myself at a pretty drained place. Emotionally I have taxed myself to the max. I feel immense remorse for my previous behavior and though I now recognize it was somewhat outside my control, I still am the one that said what I said and acted the way I’ve acted.

Though I’m thankful to say Mr. Lively has been incredibly patient with me through this process, it has hurt my dear friendship (which I hope to repair going forward), my confidence in myself (it’s hard to feel good about oneself when one feels out of control of reactions), and my confidence in my career.

But regardless of all the negative that I’ve shared, I have found a few silver linings and spiritual opportunities.

One, is that I have a renewed humility about myself. As I go into 2013 I have wiped clean any self-importance and have a fresh, humble perspective on myself and my future. I have to let go of what I have done poorly, and forgive myself for those negative egoic outbursts.

And I similarly trust that any of the blessings that come my way going forward are also not completely within my control. I can celebrate them without claiming that my ego was the main cause. Great things can happen through me, but they aren’t originating from my ego, so my egoic sense of self shouldn’t get the credit.

If I can absorb this lesson completely, it will be a profound turning point. Though it is hard to understand why such a difficult time in my life happened, the fact that I have this new level of openness and humility is incredible. Though I’ve never been completely wrapped up in myself before, I now truly feel like an empty vessel. Which is a wonderful state to be in, one that Buddhism encourages.

Further, in regards to how this phase of my life will influence my consulting and workshops. I now understand that if this situation in any way feels like it is hindering you from knowing me, then it is not something that would truly help my vocation. 

I also now realize that what I went through is something that others may have gone through, or something some of you may yet experience (though I pray that not be the case). And if this story can help others reject the “I can am always in control of my reactions, not matter what else might be at play hormonally” idea, that is a good thing.

Though proactivity is incredibly powerful, it is not powerful enough to always overcome an intense hormonal reaction.

And it is also a story that shares my own humanity, life lessons, and challenges. I don’t promise to be a guru with my life together perfectly. That’s not why someone should work with me or come to the upcoming workshops. What I do offer is a true, honest, and hopefully helpful depiction of what an intentional life can look like.

Not only will I share the challenges I face, but also how I overcome them or work through them, like I have today. Plus, I have a new found compassion and empathy for others who face similar situations.

I don’t need to be in perfect harmony every day my life to help others in significant ways. I just need to be myself, share my story, and be of service.

Thank you for listening.


PS – For some comic relief, please enjoy this relevant SNL clip.

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  1. Kate

    Jess, thanks for your honesty in this post! It’s sometimes crazy how much we deny our hormones and “blame” other circumstances on our attitudes. I went through a time like this this past year. It took me about 6-8 months to get through it, and be able to look back and it and understand it.
    Loved reading this, am thankful for your site and how inspiring it is!

  2. Erika Penner

    So sorry you had to go through that. Oh man I went through the same thing..except mine was got to the point where B.C. actually destroyed all the probiotics in my stomach and small intestine…I had massive stomach pains and was getting up to go to the bathroom 6-8 times a night. Finally I saw a naturopath who asked me if I had recently gone off B.C. I said yes, cause we were trying to have a baby….well he told me some pretty scary stuff about what it does. NEVER AGAIN…when we had our baby…we just used condoms and that worked just fine…we are now expecting our second and LAST PLANNED pregnancy and I still will not go on B.C. after giving birth. It is not a good thing to be taking and other planning methods should be used instead for sure.

  3. Kate

    Thank you for speaking out about your experience. So many women don’t realize the effect the hormones in birth control can have – I experienced a similar situation when I switched to the generic version of the pill I’d been taking for years. The littlest things would send me into frustration and rage – it was like an out of body experience! I switched to a low estrogen pill as quickly as possible and felt “normal” again, though I’ve since ditched the pill all together because I wanted to nix the hormones all together. I think the pill can be a great option for many women, but they need to pay attention to their bodies and be fully educated about potential side effects. I hope you start to feel 100% yourself again quickly!

  4. Juleen Kenney

    I’m so sorry to hear this! I’ve also had very bad reactions with certain types of birth control. I have some menstrual/hormonal issues as well, so I’ve been on and off different forms of birth control to regulate everything for almost 20 years. I got married 3.5 years ago and also switched to the birth control that gave me 4 periods a year. I had the same type of reaction you are experiencing. I suddenly became a very angry and anxiety-filled person, which is not my nature at all. My brand new husband and I were fighting constantly, I would just snap at the slightest thing. I didn’t want to be around anyone because everything annoyed me. On top of all the moody, emotional issues I also out of the blue gained 60 pounds in 6 months. I didn’t really make the connection that any of this was related to my birth control, I just thought that my husband was being a real jerk and that and excused the weight gain and part of being a newlywed. My mom finally addressed the issue and suggested that I talk to my doctor about it. My doctor suggested that I try a new birth control, and after making the switch things started to settle down pretty rapidly. Eventually I decided to go off of birth control pills altogether though. I highly recommend if things don’t get regulated for you before your prescription runs out that you should insist that your doctor put you on something else! It’s not worth it to feel the way you do!

  5. Joey

    Don’t feel alone. A few years ago, I switched my prescription from brand name to off brand. This was the biggest mistake I could have made and was not worth the extra $10 in my pocket. I was taking it to control my estrogen levels, and luckily for me it was only a month to month supply. I was convinced that the people around me only friended me because they pitied me, and that my boyfriend at the time only loved me because he felt too bad too break up with me. Towards the end of the month, my friend had turned to me and told me she didn’t recognize who I was anymore. She knew from her own personal experience with birth control that it was the wrong prescription for me, and not me alone. The next month, I switched back and felt like I was back to normal. I’m so sorry you had to go through that for an extra 12 weeks. That is ridiculous. The worst part about medication is that it’s trial and error half the time. I know through friends that not all meds to that to you, so don’t be discouraged about trying a different prescription brand. Whatever you do, though, do not use an off-brand company. Not worth it. Hope you feel better soon.

  6. D

    When I was married and taking BC for the first time I had a similar reaction. I looked at a friend one day and said, “I feel crazy…like psycho crazy.” lol It was a seriously notable different feeling. I didn’t know how to describe to someone other than I knew I wasn’t myself and it had to be the BC.

  7. Super Starling!

    You’re so lucky you were able to identify the problem and get off it so quickly! I had a friend whose hair fell out because of birth control, and another who had a series of chemical reactions that caused a mental breakdown and a cyst in her breast. Daily-pill BC has worked for me all right, but when I tried the shot, I was spotting all the time, screaming at everyone, and gaining weight I wasn’t comfortable with.

    It’s hard to have chemicals taking over your life. It seems like neurons and serotonin are abstractions — until you feel yourself turning into a monster. Everyone who has ever had SAD, bipolar disorder, depression, low blood sugar, or a bad chemical reaction will know where you’re coming from. I’m sure Mr. Lively understands, and I hope that your friend comes around. You seem like someone pretty kickass in real life, so s/he probably will.

  8. Leah

    Thank you for being so honest in this post. Something similar happened to me, when I went on birth control to help regulate my hormones because of mood swings. For some reason, either nobody told me or I forgot them telling me that the birth control might do the opposite… which is what happened. I fell into a long depression, which was really bad because I already have been diagnosed with non-med-induced depression! I ended up hurting some people close to me, as well… but literally this Christmas day, about 7 months after I stopped using the birth control and stabilized emotionally again, I got an e-mail from them giving me a second chance. I hope you can talk this over with your friend and reconcile soon. This post helps me know that I’m not the only one this sort of thing has happened to… I really needed this. Thanks!

  9. Michelle

    Thank you for sharing this. I went through a very similar situation right after I got married and it was the hardest time of mylife. I felt so removed from my body that even my friends and husband sent me to a therapist! Turned out all it took was getting off the birth control and a round of antidepressants to turn things around. Now I take neither and feel back to myself! Best wishes!

  10. Britt

    I feel your pain! A few years ago the pill my doctor put me on completely screwed with me. I had terrible acne, was constantly tired but had trouble sleeping, and was generally miserable. All while in 1st year of uni, living in residence. Fun times. I hope you can get this solved quickly Jess!!

  11. Helena

    Jess! This is why I have an IUD (although, honestly, I want to switch to a different kind of IUD, but that is another story). I was on the Ring for awhile and I’ve never been so anxious in my life. I was constantly in contact with my husband while he was at work and if he didn’t respond immediately I was sure it was becuase he had suddenly died and I’d SOB. I was crying ALL THE TIME at the idea of him being dead. It was completely unbearable. The IUD I have (paragaurd) has no hormones, so that’s why I chose it.

    It’s easy to think you should always be in control of your emotions, but in so thinking we do a disservice to ourselves. There is SO much else at play when hormones get involved.

  12. Katie

    Don’t beat yourself up about this! I was in the same boat, but it took me a lot longer to realize it was the birth control’s fault. My lowest low was threatening to pull a gun on my husband (we don’t even own one!!). Don’t know what was going through my head that night, but the day after I called my doc right away. I still apologize to my husband for those crazy months….. BC is a tricky thing. Don’t be afraid to switch meds based on how you feel… took me 4 switches to find the right one and my doc was totally understanding of the whole situation.

  13. Sage Grayson

    Wow, that’s horrible! So sorry you had to go through that. I’m surprised by how many people in the comments went through the same situation. I’m on one of those 4-periods-a-year pills and have been for many, many years. Thankfully, I haven’t had a bad reaction or mood swings. It’s a good thing you figured out what was really going on.

  14. Lucy

    It seems so many of us have been through this! I, too, have gone through a birth-control related depression (although mine had more to do with ignorantly switching prescriptions and then stopping briefly and then starting again on another prescription) that left me without confidence at a crucial turning point in my life. Who knows?: had I not put my body through that extreme hormone shock or had I at least known that fluctuating hormones levels were the cause of my tears, I may have dealt with that turning point much better and not wasted half a year of my life afterwards in depression. How can we get the message out to other women, especially younger women, about the serious side effects birth control can have? I hate to think of how many beautiful ladies feel lost and angry and sad… and alone… because of this!

  15. Erika

    Thank you for posting! Based on the responses, I think a lot of women can relate….and I am one of them as well! I experienced it when I changed birth control and when I stopped taking birth control. Both of which were equally as hard. When I stopped taking them–we were moving as well—and painting and renovating–and boy was it tough…probably harder on my husband. 😉 Just know you are not alone–and I try to remember to apologize to those I need to and realize that God’s mercy and grace are new each day!

  16. susan

    I’m so sorry you had to go through this. BC actually triggered hypothryroidism in me which induced massive mood swings for 18 months (until I was diagnosed). I was a completely different person. I could not live and work in the city and be that way. I now *almost* have two sons (2 yr old and one due in 2 weeks) and going off BC was one of the best things I ever did (after 14 years on the pill). In order to aid in ‘female health’, I started seeing an acupuncturist. The monthly difference in health was astounding…in a good way. I hope you find inner peace again! Also thanks for sharing. I think too many women suffer silently.

  17. Shannyn

    What an honest, amazing thing to share. I had a very similar experience and did not realize that’s what was happening until my best friend (who was on the same pill) and I realized we were having nearly identical issues. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  18. Naomi

    I applaud you for your strength and determination going through this. It’s a horrible story that unfortunately too many of us can relate to. I have a hormonal imbalance myself, have found myself having irregular and unusual emotional reactions, lethargy, depression, etc. and I just gave up. I should take control of my health instead of living this way, I know I should. It’s so hard to find that inner strength to take control back. I’m not there yet, but reading your personal story tells me that I can be.

  19. Jess . . . THANK YOU for sharing this story. I also changed birth control at the same time that I got married, left a job, moved across the country, etc. etc. There should be a warning poster inside every gyno office to warn us about changing prescriptions in the middle of life transitions, yes? Grateful that you shared. You’re not alone, and sharing this makes you even more authentic than you already are.

  20. Jacki

    Oh gosh, I’m so glad you figured out what was going on. For me going OFF birth controls pills had a similar effect and it took a few months to figure it out and get back onto my good old pill. Hormonal stuff really CAN mess with you – thanks for being willing to put it out there and be honest about how much of a loop these things can throw our bodies/emotions for!!

  21. Caroline

    Jess, thank you so much for this post. It was encouraging to hear that someone I had always viewed as “perfect” and “having it all together” could go through some of the same issues that I’ve been going through the past year, also due to health issues/ medicine switching, etc. I know from experiencing that feeling powerless over your emotions–and especially the way you express them– can be one of the most frustrating and confidence-deflating things you can experience. The one piece of advice I can offer is that when you feel yourself starting to get in a mood/ out of control, sometimes the best thing you can do is to simply remove yourself from people you may hurt (if possible), rather than convincing yourself that you can control your emotions in a situation if you just try hard enough…which only makes you feel worse about yourself when you fail to do so. For example, there have been many times when I’ve had to say, “Mom, I’m sorry, but I can’t talk to you on the phone right now because if I do there is a very big chance I will blow up at you for a ridiculous reason, and I know both of us don’t want that to happen.” I’ve found that explaining (when you can and people will understand) works better than simply avoiding calls, hanging out with people, etc. , which will hurt people bc they’ll think you just don’t want to be with them. But, hopefully, your switch back to your old birth control will make it so that you don’t have to use this advice!

  22. Christine

    I went through a similar situation years ago. Thought 4 periods a year would be perfect, so I switched products and had a similar reaction. I suffer from PMDD, and my few weeks after switching were scary. I remember my doctor telling me to just give it a full month to settle into it, and I couldn’t last that long. I went off of it after about 2 weeks. I’m so glad I did.

    I’m so glad I caught this post, I really need to keep reminding myself of this “I don’t need to be in perfect harmony every day my life to help others in significant ways”
    I tend to be hard on myself (who isn’t these days!). Thank you!

  23. Katie Meyers / Meyers Styles

    Jess, As always your honesty & candidness is an inspiration. And, people (myself included) want to work with you for exactly these reasons! I know 2013 has amazing things in store for you!

  24. Rachel

    Love the honesty in this writing, Jess. You are so strong to show us that sometimes we cannot be in control. Sending you many blessings in the new year!

  25. Liz

    So sorry to hear your story. I had a similar experience when switching pills to a generic type. All of my relationships suffered. I actually started thinking maybe I was just a mean person. I got off BC all together and went back to being myself. It is scary to think something you take everyday can have such serious implications. I have now been off all hormonal birth control for about 2 years (never felt better except for mild acne) and will never consider going back.

  26. pve

    i think part of being a woman is having emotions and things occur as nature intended. i was never one for pills or potions.
    glad you came clean.

  27. Melissa

    I tried BC pills for a short time in college and found that it made me extremely emotional and just not feeling like myself. I quit and have never taken it again. The only thing that has been similar is the hormone rush after having each of my 3 kiddos. But each time my body got through that with managing my diet, running and most importantly yoga. I will encourage both of my daughters NOT to use hormonal BC and to pay attention to what diet and artificial substances can do to mood and health. Tha is for sharing and getting the word out!

  28. Serena

    I could so relate to this. I switched to the NuvaRing about six months ago and suddenly started experiencing massive mood swings and a solid five pound weight gain (which never happens to me). For months I blamed it on everything but the pill, but finally I realized that it probably was the NuvaRing and decided to go back to my old birth control. I’m so much happier I did. I’m still trying to lose the five pounds, but my mood swings are gone. Birth control can have crazy affects!

  29. Sarah

    I am so glad to be reading this. Not that you had to go though such a painful experience but that you are using your social network to spread knowledge. This is a topic that affects most women at some point in their life but we generally don’t talk about it publicly. My story: After taking a break from it, I started back on the pill when things began to get serious between with my now husband. He noticed a difference in my personality and overall happiness and actually suggested that I go off B/C. We track fertility using a thermometer and methods from the the book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility”. That way we know our safe window and when we need to use barrier protection. This only works if both of you are committed to being responsible but it means that I have been both chemical free and child-free by choice for the last 8 years. ~ Sarah

  30. Stephanie

    Your honesty and vulnerability are amazing, Jess! A close friend of mine went through a similar experience of not feeling at all like herself with the Pill, and later suspected, sadly, that her time being on it was a major factor in the miscarriage of her first pregnancy. She told me that she eventually realized it wasn’t an issue of which Pill she was taking, it was the Pill itself that was causing her so many problems. Reading so many stories of just going crazy with all the extra hormones and side effects have convinced me that our bodies really aren’t made for long-term birth control.

    Have you heard of Natural Family Planning? Basically, it’s a scientifically proven way of observing the natural changes in your body throughout your cycle to know when you’re fertile and infertile, without having to use anything artificial that can wreak such havoc on your body. When used correctly (there are lots of classes out there for the Creighton Method or sympto-thermal method), NFP is as effective as the Pill, but with none of the side effects. So green, much cheaper, and so much better for your body, not to mention it’s done amazing things for my relationship with my husband. Since there’s a short (1 week-ish) period of abstinence during fertile times of my cycle if we’re trying to avoid pregnancy, we don’t take sex for granted, so rather than falling into using one another for sex because it’s constantly available, we’re better able to really express our love. The times of waiting can be so hard sometimes, but the anticipation, knowing I’m doing the best thing for my health (even condoms can be physically irritating, besides being expensive) and knowing that my husband is so willing to sacrifice definitely make it worth it!

  31. Jess

    Thank you so much everyone for your stories and thoughts on what I’ve been going through and birth control in general.

    I think it’s important that everyone finds the pill or non-pill that is right for them!

  32. Christina

    Thank you for sharing this! Birth control pills certainly can be volatile. I have mercifully been largely unscathed by my experiences. The worst I had was one brand I tried for about 6 months gave me horrible nausea. Or course I didn’t realize at first that the pill was the cause, but it definitely was. The only slight side effect I experience from the pill I’m on now is the occasional low libido, which sucks a lot but is manageable. Plus: I don’t get my period at all! I had no idea, but apparently that is fairly common depending on the woman and the pill she’s on.

    My sister tried an IUD but her body basically rejected it, twice. Now she has an arm implant that seems to be working. Birth control is soooo complicated and so personal, but it feels good to air it out sometimes with a supportive online community. Thanks for bringing it up!

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